By: Erin Albanese — School News Network
West Godwin Elementary School Principal Steve Minard remembers interviewing teachers for a third-grade position. One candidate had an ideal background: an elementary education degree from Hope College and teaching experience in Honduras.
Later that afternoon, another teacher interviewed with the same story. She had the same degree and former teaching job in Honduras. Minard told her about the coincidence.
“We’re sisters,” Libby Klooster explained.
Sisters Sarah David and Libby Klooster were vying for the same job, but rooting each other on at the same time. Both were seeking the next step in a similar journey. They grew up in Grand Rapids, attended Grand Rapids Christian Schools, earned their teaching degrees at Hope College and taught together at American School of Tegucigalpa, located in the capital of Honduras.
Two Spanish-speaking teachers with a background in Central America were too good to pass up, administrators decided. So they hired them both: David to the third-grade post and Klooster as a first grade teacher. “It was like back in Honduras,” Klooster said, noting they had taught the same grades there.
Now, both in their third year teaching at West Godwin, their passion for children and bilingual language skills serve well. Forty-percent of students are English-language learners, and 36 percent are native Spanish speakers. David now teaches fourth grade and Klooster, younger by three years, still teaches first grade.
“It’s pretty cool that they’re sisters because they can talk and interact with their students and help each other out,” said Diamond Jean, a fourth-grade student in David’s class.
Language, Culture and Bridge-Building
The American School of Tegucigalpa is prestigious, and families pay high tuition. West Godwin, by contrast, is a high-poverty district. David and Klooster said they love helping students who are learning English, talking with parents whose culture and language they understand, and embracing the community.
“I just got a new student from the Dominican Republic and she speaks no English,” Klooster said. “So I’m so happy I can tell her what to do in Spanish, and my students are also such a help.”
David has a student from Cuba who started the school year speaking no English. “Now I have her reading huge books in English because I was able to communicate with her.”
The sisters’ ability to connect with the students in invaluable, said West Godwin instruction specialist Karen Baum.
“They both have a passion for the kids in this building and this community,” Baum said. “They have really high expectations for kids… Learning can be really challenging for some of our kids, and both Libby and Sarah work harder to make sure the kids get what they need and meet the high expectations the State of Michigan and Godwin has for first- and forth-graders.”
David and Klooster, who grew up in a household with four children, both decided they wanted to be teachers during a high school mission trip in Trinidad and Tobego where they visited orphanages and taught vacation Bible school. Their father is a retired Ottawa Hills High School teacher.
While attending Hope, David was recruited to teach at the International School of Tegucigalpa. She taught there one year before moving to the American School of Tegucigalpa, where she taught for seven years. The school was English-immersion for students hoping to eventually attend college in the United States. David wanted to learn Spanish.
“Because I loved it so much I decided to stay for eight years and got my sister to come down,” David said. She married a Honduran man and they now have two children.
Klooster joined David after a brief time teaching on the island of Roatan. She taught in Honduras for five years, staying one year after David returned with her husband to raise their children in Michigan.
What led them to Godwin Heights ties back to their love for Honduras.
“I loved the culture in Honduras and the people were so welcoming, loving and caring and would do anything for you,” Klooster said. “The culture is something I really miss. I’m so glad we work here because half my class is ELL, and I get to talk to parents in the morning in Spanish and still feel that culture.”
David taught in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, which is also largely Hispanic, for one year after returning from Honduras. “I knew I wanted a job where I can use my Spanish and be a part of that culture still.”
While the sisters have different teaching styles, Minard said they look out for every child.
“They both have really unique and wonderful qualities they bring to the building and are both extremely positive people who have incredible work ethic,” he said.
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