Tag Archives: Godfrey-Lee

School News Network: Grant, donation makes outdoor lab a reality at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools

A wooden stage is taking shape at the Outdoor Learning Lap.

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


Buffered between Godfrey-Lee’s Early Education Center and an industrial building is a swath of wilderness complete with trees, brush and a winding creek. It’s the habitat of birds, small mammals and on recent sunny afternoon, kindergartners.


“Forts are our forte,” joked Deb Schuitema, a math coach who joined in the effort with physical education teacher Julie Swanson to design the new Outdoor Learning Lab’s natural play area.

Kindergartners were challenged to make their own shelters after listening to a story called “A House is a House for Me,” by Mary Ann Hoberman. They used branches and colorful pieces of cloth to design their shelters. Some added rocks and leaves turned into decor, and, when finished, they went inside their “houses” and peeked out of the sheer material.


Kindergartners walk along the rock grotto, counting stones as they go.

Around them, another class joined a representative from Blandford Nature Center in exploring the area for bird habitats. A third class spread out on the grassy hill to read.


“We have had five different classes out here at the same time,” said Swanson, who introduces those in her classes to different ways to use their muscles and develop balance by climbing rocks and jumping from stump to stump. “A year ago, nobody would have come out here.”


The lab, planned for two years, now includes a rock grotto and a sandy play space where toy trucks stay busy excavating. And there’s a nearly complete stage made of logs. Plans are to add a slide built into the hill, a teepee surrounded by native plants, a texture garden and a student-designed nature path.


Physical education teacher Julie Swanson checks out a pine cone with kindergartners

“We really want to make this part of the kids’ everyday experience,” Schuitema said.


The City of Wyoming, Dykema Excavators Inc., and Tontin Lumber Co. donated rocks, downed trees, other materials and services. Last fall, Women Who Care of Kent County, a group that supports non-profit groups, donated $12,000 to the district for outdoor education.


Kindergartners hoisted up big sticks, adding another layer to a fort, and wrapped material around it.


“I like making homes,” said Arielly Sanchez. “We can go in them.”


As class ended, Swanson let out a huge, wolf-like howl, signaling to kindergartners that she needed their attention. They howled back, running up from their shelter-building to head back inside.


Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.

Godfrey-Lee schools induct new members into Hall of Fame

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools inducted six new members into their Hall of Fame prior to a boys basketball game on Jan. 20 at Lee High School. (WKTV)

By K.D. Norris



Godfrey-Lee Public Schools inducted six new members into its Hall of Fame late last month, and while the most Rebel-rousing acceptance speech was given by — no surprise — long-time football coach and educator Thomas DeGennaro, the district’s hall of fame is for more than only athletic personalities.


The induction ceremony, which took place prior to a boys basketball game on Jan. 20 at Lee High School, also included a war hero, a university professor, a long-time school board member, a school band leader and a woman who gave back to the school system almost up to her last day.


Football coach and educator Thomas DeGennaro. (WKTV)

DeGennaro — who has served as teacher, principal and now, again, varsity football coach — was the final of the inductees to speak, and he spoke clearly about what it means to be a Lee High Rebel.


“I have been grateful to work with some of the toughest kids in the United States,” DeGennaro said. “To be a Rebel means you are willing to stand up against the establishment. You have to be willing to put yourself on the line when you stand up. Our kids here do this every day.


“They overcome obstacles that would unimaginable to surrounding districts. Many of our students are immigrants, or children of immigrants, much like my grandparents … These students overcome language, cultural and other challenges that stall most students learning process. Not only do they overcome these obstacles, they excel. … The establishment loves to keep these kids down, but they rebel. They are Rebels.”


DeGennaro’s history in the district includes taking a position on the Lee High faculty in 2002, teaching U.S. History and Geography as well as a variety of other elective social studies courses. But it is on the football field where he did most of his teaching. In 1998, he took over the Rebel football program and coached the first Lee football team ever to make it into the MHSAA playoffs, when his team went 8-2 in the fall of 2006. After an eight-year absence from the sidelines at Lee Field, he returned this past fall and has begun the process of rebuilding a program that has not experience much success since his last season in 2007.


Starting in 2007, the Rebel Hall of Fame selection committee, comprised of members of the Board of Education, district administration, faculty, alumni and the Godfrey-Lee community has selected alumni, staff and other individuals associated with Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in recognition of their achievements and contributions.


The six new members joined forty-two other individuals and one athletic team in the Hall of Fame. David Britten, superintendent of Godfrey-Lee School District, was master of ceremonies of the event.


This year’s inductees also included Staff Sgt. Daniel Hayes, Lee High School class of 2004; Dr. Carl J. Bajema, class of 1955; Dennis E. Groendyke, class of 1979 and Board of Education member from 1999 to 2016; Christine Vettese, district SIG Coordinator for 2010 to 2013; and Robert Hill, high school band director from 1967 to 1981.


Douglas Greenwold, class of 1960, was also selected but requested to delay participation in the induction ceremony until 2018.


Personal stories of dedication


Staff Sgt. Hayes is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan military operations where, with the 101st Airborne Division, he earned the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat in Iraq in 2006. He was later personally awarded the Silver Star, the third highest decoration for valor for gallant actions and devotion to duty, while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. In 2011, he sustained another injury and earned a second Purple Heart. His award was accepted by his aunt.


Dr. Carl J. Bajema, with his wife, Claudia.

Dr. Bajema, after graduating from Lee, earned his Ph.D. in zoology from Michigan State University and retired from Grand Valley State University with the designation of Professor Emeritus in 2007 following a forty-three year teaching and scientific research career. He was also the recipient of the 2009 Distinguished Volunteer Service Award from the Historical Society of Michigan.


And his wife, reading from a statement and speaking for him due to a medical condition that hampers his ability to speak clearly, revealed a little of Dr. Bajema’s own history.


“When I learned I was to receive this Rebel award, I dug into my archives for my report cards, I actually had all my report cards,” Claudia Bajema said, as Carl waved an old report card for the audience to see. “Well, I can assure you that anyone viewing those would not conclude that I would be given one of these prestigious awards.


“I left my mark on the high school in an unconventional way. For several years following my graduation … my lab mate and me were given as an example of how not to do experiments. … we were in a hurry and failed to read all the instructions on how to conduct an experiment … (and) a chemical reaction caused an explosion, a volcano of sorts, leaving a very nasty stain on the ceiling.”


Dennis E. Groendyke

Groendyke, Board of Education member from 1999 to 2016, is a lifelong resident of the district who chose to raise his own family of seven children here and watch them attend Godfrey-Lee schools, according to supplied material. He concluded his service this winter following 17 years, including four-and-one-half years leading the board as president. A strong supporter of athletics, he has provided many hours of volunteer coaching for baseball and softball, including weekend clinics for youth during the school year.


“I love this district, I love the people in it, most of all I love the children,” Groendyke said. “My heart will always be here.”


Robert Hill

Hill was Lee High band director from 1967 to 1981, where he yearly took a “sometimes unruly” group of teen musicians unifying them into well organized marching and concert bands, according to supplied material. A visible teacher and mentor, he could be seen leading his bands at every home football and basketball game, believing that the band was central to inspiring young athletes and building school pride. His musical talents also carried him to perform with the Grand Valley State University faculty orchestra.


“This high school has, and always will, have a very special place in my heart,” Hill said. “I will always remember the joy of teaching students.”


Roberta Burke, sister of Christine Vettese.

Vettese was district SIG coordinator from 2010-13. She died in 2015. When Lee High School needed help with academic improvement to get off a state list of low-performing schools, she came out of retirement from East Grand Rapids schools and applied her many leadership, curriculum, and personal relationship skills to serve as a principle leader in that effort, according to supplied material. Through her advocacy, guidance and dogged persistence, she helped secure grants in excess of $3.5 million dollars over the three years to support the work of teachers, administrators, and students.


Her sister, Roberta Burke, accepted the award.


“I know if she were here today, she would say … its all about the students, and how to get them to be the best they can be,” Burke said, pointing to the heavens. “I know she is looking down right now and saying ‘bravo’ ” for what the district has accomplished.


School News Network: Cyberattack Costs District, Prompts Extra Protection

More districts are having to enroll in cyberattack protection as incident numbers rise.

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


The Godfrey-Lee Public School District battled a continuous malicious cyberattack beginning in September that sometimes left staff members with no access to student emergency and medical information.


The Wyoming Police Department and Michigan State Police are investigating the cyber attack. The district is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the criminal activity.


The entire district internet system was shut down nearly every school day. Attackers did this by jamming the AT&T router with traffic to the point it would shut down.


“It all seemed to be tied to school hours, not always starting the same time of day, but it always would end just as kids were getting out of school,” Superintendent David Britten said. “(AT&T) wouldn’t give us any information at all on where (the traffic) was coming from.”


To fix the problem, AT&T required Godfrey-Lee purchase the protection service.


Teresa Mask, senior public relations manager for AT&T Michigan, declined comment.


While the attacks had stopped as of early December, the district has locked into a three-year contract for a protection service with AT&T, costing $87,000 over three years.


Daniel Townsend, district director of technology and media services, said the cost for AT&T’s protection service is approximately $49,000 for 12 months. That includes a one-time $30,000 fee for an emergency setup. The cost for the remaining two years in the three-year contract is $19,000 a year. The Board of Education approved a $60,000 budget addition for this fiscal year to cover the cost — about the cost of a teacher, Britten said.


The district’s technology team first tried to use an out-of-state company to fix the problem, but that didn’t work because AT&T has control of the infrastructure. The out-of-state company did have another solution, but “it would have been a very complex process involving a lot of man-hours, so we chose to use AT&T since they own the infrastructure and could expedite the process,” Townsend said.


Godfrey-Lee Public Schools is the poorest district in Kent County. Ninety-five percent of students receive free or reduced-cost lunch.


Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about our students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan!

Santa and Mrs. Claus to visit airport during 22nd Annual Holiday Music Festival

Santa visits the Gerald R. Ford International Airport
Santa visits the Gerald R. Ford International Airport

By Tara Hernandez

Gerald R. Ford International Airport


The Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA) is getting into the holiday spirit with a music festival, and a visit from Santa & Mrs. Claus.


Kris Kringle will be listening to children’s requests, and passing out treats with Mrs. Claus in the Airport’s Grand Hall from 1 – 4 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8.  The event is free and the public is welcome to attend. Visitors are encouraged to bring a camera to snap a photo with Santa Claus.  Photos with Santa are free of charge, but the airport is asking guests to bring in two non-perishable food items per person.


In addition to Santa’s appearance, GFIA’s traditional Holiday Music Festival is running the week of December 5-9. The 22nd Annual Holiday Music Festival brings in middle and high school choirs from around West Michigan singing a variety of Christmas carols.


Of the 15 choirs performing, several of those are from the Wyoming and Kentwood area. On Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 1:30 p.m. is Legacy Christian 7th and 8th Grade Choir. Wednesday, Dec. 7, the choir from Godfrey-Lee High School performs at 11 a.m. followed by East Kentwood High School Varsity Voices at noon. Thursday, Dec. 8, the Madrigals from South Christian High School perform at 1 p.m. On Saturday, Dec. 9, the Wyoming Junior High Concert Choir performs at 10 a.m. with the choir from the Potter’s House at 2 p.m.


A full schedule of performances, which run daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., is available on the Airport’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GeraldRFordInternationalAirport.


“Our airport is extremely busy around the holidays, but it is important for us to reflect upon what this season is all about,” said GFIA Interim President & CEO Phil Johnson.  “We are hoping we can put some smiles on children’s faces as they sit on Santa’s lap and listen to carols, and at the same time we are asking West Michigan to give back to the community by donating non-perishable food items to those in need.”


The donated food items will go to Mel Trotter Ministries – a Grand Rapids organization serving the hungry, homeless and hurting in West Michigan through its shelter, food pantry, and job readiness and housing placement services.


“Life-change can start with a meal. That’s why we are blessed to partner with the Gerald R. Ford International Airport during our Fall Food Drive again this year,” said Dennis Van Kampen, CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries. “Partnerships like this one help make it possible for Mel Trotter Ministries to stock our pantry and serve more than 110 families a week who are seeking emergency food assistance.”

School News Network: With books and yarn, Godfrey Lee teacher Rebeca English is definitely a rockstar

Teacher Rebecca English teaches students to knit
Teacher Rebecca English teaches students to knit

By Erin Albanese

School News Network

There are books galore in Rebecca English’s high school classroom. New and old and of many genres, they are categorized and in bins along the walls, on shelves and in a closet-turned-library.


There are also bundles of yarn stacked in a container on the floor, wooly materials to be knit into hats and mittens. Several handmade scarves hang from hooks on the wall.


When it comes to connecting with students, English does so purl by purl and page by page. She invites them into her den-like classroom for endless supplies of books and knitting needles, which she said are great mediums to get students to relax, talk and develop a sense of belonging. Their effectiveness is evidenced by teenagers who pop into the classroom to visit her during lunch every day.


They take a seat to read, eat or just start a conversation.

“When you walk into my room, kids always say it’s like walking into a big hug,” said English, who has taught at Godwin Heights High School for 23 years. “I want it to be cozy and nurturing.”


Sophomore Cecilia Montejo said she started writing poetry after being inspired by English. “You can be comfortable here. It’s a warm place inside school.”


“She has this smile on her face and is always happy,” sophomore LLuvia Fuentes said of English. “It’s full of books. It’s like the library in here.”


Three days a week at noon, the classroom becomes Knitting Club, Writing Club or Book Club, all which English advises. Over half-finished scarves, prose or verse, lots of bonding takes place.


“We talk about different situations, laugh and solve all the world’s problems,” English said.

Reaching Out to ‘Invisible’ Students

Teacher Rebecca English has more than 3,000 books.
Teacher Rebecca English has more than 3,000 books.

English teaches special education English and social studies classes, and general education multicultural literature. A native of Grand Rapids, she grew up “with floor-to-ceiling bookcases” in her home. Her parents (her father was an Episcopal priest) stressed giving above everything else.


So as a teacher, English made it part of her job to do more than required. She jokes that a huge chunk of her paycheck goes toward books. Students call her an Amazon fanatic, and the staff at Schuler Books & Music know her by name.


She started the clubs — Knitting Club is in its third year, Book Club in its second, and Writing Club is new this year — to give students another way to be involved with school.


“I basically just saw a big need,” she said. “Our school offers sports, band, choir, art, but sometimes students fall through the cracks. Sometimes certain students do not feel a sense of belonging and feel disconnected from their own high school.”


English herself was once an “invisible student,” she admitted, so said she relates to those who tend to go unnoticed, those at the back of the class, not an athlete or academic superstar.


She also realized another need in Godwin Heights, a diverse district where more than 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch rates. “Some of our students come to school and this is their safe haven,” English said. “I think every kid wants to feel special in someone’s eyes, like someone’s caring for them.”


So her room is a sanctuary. During club sessions, students feel safe and free. “Goodbye social media for an hour. Goodbye fast-paced world. Goodbye chaos-filled minds,” English said.


English goes the extra mile in other ways. She brings groups of students to movies that are based on the books they read; she takes them shopping and to lunch. She hunts down the right book for the right student. Senior Zy Scott often spends her lunch hour in English’s classroom with a book in her hand. She didn’t even like reading much before she met English, who introduced her to “drama books,” she said.


Students in Knitting Club have ample material.
Students in Knitting Club have ample material.

“Now I read every day,” Zy said. “She knows what kind of books I like, and we talk about them.”


Principal Chad Conklin said English’s work makes a big difference at Godwin Heights.


“Rebecca has a fantastic heart and passion for our students, and she works hard to ensure all students have an opportunity to connect to a club to build a sense of school pride and self confidence,” he said.


English, who has two daughters, even made sure one teenager had a home. “I had a student who needed a foster placement a few years ago.


Davonte ended up living with English’s parents, and now, at age 20, recently moved out on his own, she said.


“I feel kind of like that’s what I was put on Earth to do, to give back,” she said.

Advocating for Students

She is also her students’ biggest champion. In her ninth- and tenth-grade special education English class, she asks Shakespeare trivia questions. Students rattle off answers on his birthdate, wife, family and theatre. They know a lot about the Bard.


“I’d put them against anyone in the school,” she said. “They are Shakespeare experts.”


English loves to see students accomplish their goals, to see them dare to try new things. When they succeed it impacts others, she insists. In Knitting Club, they learn to make beautiful, handmade gifts and to teach others how to knit.


“The look on student’s faces when they come into the Knitting Club glowing because they were able to make a homemade Christmas gift for their family, is priceless.”


Student Edwin Daniels, also a former non-reader, talks about how he’s already read five books this year because English stocked her shelves with a series he really likes.


But getting to know English is about more than books and knowing Shakespeare, he said.


“We share in here. We share whatever. We’re different shades,” he said, about the ethnically diverse class. “(That students are different) doesn’t matter.”


What matters is the way English makes students know they are always welcome by handing them spools of yarn, a favorite novel or a comfy place to talk.


“I cannot help but smile and feel the joy,” she said. “My students have found their place.”


Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about our great students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan!

School News Network: Ring-toss or slime-making, it’s all about fun

Fifth-grader Sebastion Escalante gets his hands messy while Darryl Jackson watches.
Fifth-grader Sebastion Escalante gets his hands messy while Darryl Jackson watches.

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


After school on Mondays through Thursdays, more than 40 middle school students participate in TEAM 21, where they do homework, eat, play sports and participate in activities.


But a recent night was all about fun, complete with doughnuts and apple cider, slime-making and pumpkin ring-toss. Students participated in Lights On Afterschool, a national event that celebrates after-school programs.


TEAM 21 is run through a partnership between the City of Wyoming Parks and Recreation Department and Godfrey-Lee, Wyoming, Godwin Heights and Kelloggsville Public Schools. Fifteen schools offer programs for more than 2,000 students ranging from kindergarten to ninth grade.


Launched in October 2000, Lights On Afterschool promotes the role of after-school programs in keeping kids safe, inspiring them to learn and helping working families. The effort has become a hallmark of the after-school movement and annually sees more than 1 million Americans celebrate at more than 8,000 events nationwide.


Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.

School News Network: Author to student writers ‘Do it because you love it’

MarcyKate Connolly shows Lee students her first list of edits that needed to be done for her novel “Monstrous” - See more at: http://www.schoolnewsnetwork.org/index.php/2016-17/author-student-writers-do-it-because-you-love-it/#sthash.9jll4iM8.dpuf
MarcyKate Connolly shows Lee students her first list of edits that needed to be done for her novel “Monstrous” – 

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


It can be a looooong way from when the first sentences are written to when a completed novel hits the shelves. Publishing is a journey often wrought with rejection and lots of revision, said MarcyKate Connolly, author of fantasy books for middle-grade and young adults.


“If there’s anything I want you to take with you today it’s that writing is rewriting,” Connolly told about 50 Lee Middle-High School students who attended the session because they have an interest in writing.


Connolly talked about the roadmap to publishing, which she learned by writing her books “Monstrous” and “Ravenous,” tales geared toward tweens that have been likened to Frankenstein and the Brothers Grimm.


Connolly, of Boston, made a stop at Lee while visiting Grand Rapids Comic-Con, the popular event where sci-fi, fantasy and comic book fans gather. She explained the quest of a writer, including spending many hours in her “writing cave,” the challenge of finding an agent to represent the book, the experience of rejection and the work that continues after a book is accepted for publishing.

And finally, the thrill of seeing the book at stores and in the hands of others.


MarcyKate Connolly signs a book for the Lee Middle-High School media center
MarcyKate Connolly signs a book for the Lee Middle-High School media center

A marketing professional by day, Connolly said her love for writing and storytelling kept her going despite more than 300 rejections from publishers. She wrote several books that were never published and received her first offer for publishing after four years of trying.


“Publishing is not something you get into thinking you are going to get rich quick or going to be a mega bestseller overnight,” she said. “You do it because you love it.”


Connolly had to re-assess her goals, at one point. “Why am I doing this to myself?” she recalled asking after getting rejection after rejection. So she continued writing for herself, making up the stories and characters she loved.


Kelly McGee, Godfrey-Lee district media specialist, said Connolly’s visit helped students think about writing as a career and the process of becoming an author. He said he hopes to start a student writer’s group. “I think we have a lot of writers here.”


He said he also wanted students to leave with the message that perseverance is required for accomplishing your dreams.


Connolly’s books were published through HarperCollins Publishers. Her next book, “Shadow Weaver,” is scheduled for release in winter 2018.


She encouraged students to find their “tribe” — other writers they can use for empathy, feedback and critique. And no matter how many failed attempts, she urged students to look at it as getting somewhere.


“Whatever words you write are not wasted,” she said.


Freshman Olivia Clark, who loves writing, said Connolly’s words resonated. “Don’t give up. You’ve got to be strong. There are harsh people out there.”


Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about our great students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan!

Re-created music videos help Godfrey-Lee students hone production skills

By Erin Albanese, School News Network


You can “Jump!” in teacher Jeff Patin’s introduction to video production class, or “Walk like an Egyptian,” or go “Dancing in the Dark.”


As part of the class, ninth- through 12th-grade students harked back to the “I want my MTV” decade by creating music videos as they existed when the craft started out. While practicing camera shots, angles and movements, they also learned a little about totally ’80s hair bands and the corny lyrics teenagers rocked to three decades ago.


Godfrey-Lee High School Senior Aracely Quinones records with senior Miguel Lemus

Patin said the project was a way to practice and showcase their video production skills — and, to some extent, entertain him and other Godfrey-Lee Public Schools staff members who remember the decade well. The students recently presented their finished videos to the Board of Education.


“It’s different,” said senior Humberto Gallarzo, about the music from Patin’s generation. Humberto helped produce the video, “Oh Sherrie” by Steve Perry.


Why the ’80s? “That’s my decade,” Patin joked. “Why do something really cinematic when you can do something really cheesy?”


Students are unfamiliar with the songs, he said, and have to take time learning the lyrics. “I chose the ’80s because verbally they are safe (not explicit) and it puts everybody on the same playing field because they don’t know the songs,” Patin explained.


New Tech for Retro Remakes

Unlike in the ’80s, students in the class make their videos with their smart phones and use the Apple program iMovie for editing. The results are shot-for-shot remakes of some of the most memorable songs from 30 years ago, from jumping like Eddie Van Halen to crooning like Rick Springfield over “Jessie’s Girl.” In editing, the original video appeared in the corner of students’ remakes to show how closely they match. “It was hard to stay serious,” said senior Aracely Quinones, who served as camera operator for the “Oh, Sherrie” video.


students-rock-out-to-steve-perry“It’s fun and you’re learning at the same time,” said senior Johnny Lopez, who edited the video. “It gets people out of their comfort zone.”


Because of the music video and other projects in the class, students said they now watch TV and movies in a new way, paying attention to the angles, framing, movements and other elements.’


“I can’t watch a simple show without thinking about this class,” said senior Miguel Lemus.



2016 Election Results: Kent County School Boards

The unofficial election results from Kent County. Winners are in blue.


Godfrey-Lee School Board (2 positions)

Katie Brumley 1068

Lynn D. Velthouse 944


Godwin Heights School Board (3 positions)

Lee Ann Platschorre 1,595

Jan Allen 1,580

Jason Conklin 1565

Richard Hamilton Jr. 1557


Kelloggsville School Board (2 positions)

David L. Skinner, Jr. 2510

Gary Marihugh 2212


Kelloggsville School Board Partial Term Ending 12/31/2018 (1 position)

Donald E. Scott 2992, uncontested


Kentwood School Board (4 positions)

Mary Ann Madden  13466

Angeline M. Forton 12990

Allen Young  12905

Angela Hovermale  12322


Wyoming School Board (2 positions)

Lisa Manley (i) 5,016

Jessica Hanselman 4,640
Adrian Lamar 4,278

Darlene A. Yasick (i) 3,494


Wyoming School Board Partial Term Ending 12/31/2018 (1 position)

Thomas J. Mott 9697, uncontested

How to Reform Education? One District Considers Students’ Needs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By: Erin Albanese — School News Network


Lydia Hernandez took the day off from volunteering at the elementary school to prepare a big meal for visitors from the district’s human-centered design team. Around the table, team members interviewed her for 90 minutes about her husband, who was at work, her background and her education. They asked her about dreams for her children, Kevin, an eighth-grader and Kaylee, a fourth-grader.


The team added Hernandez’s comments, along with those from 19 other district families, to data they are using to reform the district according to the needs of students using the human-centered design process, an approach to problem solving that incorporates the wants and needs of end users of a product or service in every stage. It starts and ends with the beneficiary, in this case Godfrey-Lee students.


“It felt good because they chose my family,” said Hernandez, a committed volunteer at Kaylee’s school. “I was able to talk to them about my story, my family and my kids… The opinion of the parents is important.”


Interviewing families was part of the initial year of the two-year process, under way to improve education in the small, mostly Hispanic, low-income district. The team – nine teachers, five administrators, a support staff member, a Board of Education member, a leadership coach and two design consultants – also spent 60 hours at 22 work sessions exploring information to determine true needs of students.


The process is funded by a $250,000 Steelcase Foundation grant, which is covering guidance by representatives of New North Center, a Holland-based nonprofit hybrid education and business organization. It includes a leadership and accountability coach, stipends for session participation and other tasks.


Of the 20 families, teams interviewed parents of students in the district, parents of graduates, a Schools of Choice parent, and those who are very involved and uninvolved in the schools. Each group interviewed three Hispanic, one black and one white family, mirroring the district’s demographics. They also interviewed an Iraqi family. Plans are to continue interviewing other district stakeholders, such as business people and alumni.


What’s the End Goal?


“Why we are doing this is because we don’t have an education system that helps kids realize their dreams, their vision and their goals for the future,” said Superintendent David Britten.


The team aims to work toward new ideas, instruction philosophies and programs that better suit students’ individual needs, said Britten, who is an advocate for play-based learning in early childhood education and classrooms where all students can take different pathways to develop their own interests.


Currently, schools are run with pre-set expectations that aren’t working for many students, he said. “We are telling them, ‘This is your goal. Your goal is to go to college. This is the path to getting there because it was a path created based on the average student, and everyone is expected to take that same path.'”


The team has studied broad topics: school-parent communication and relationships, creating a culture of acceptance and belonging, socialization in learning, and student choice.


Meetings have resulted in interconnected diagrams under headings like Relevance, Dynamic Learning, Community, Soft Skills and Basic Needs. Hundreds of ideas gathered from district stakeholders are written on Post-It notes with messages such as “Students need to create meaning,” “Students need to do to know” and “Students need today’s interests to be the foundation of new learning.”


Human-design team member Jason Cochran, a teacher at the alternative high school, East Lee, said ideas at the secondary level have included putting students in charge of what goes on at school, making it more of a democratic process in which students have input. Also, he said, that a more flexible schedule may benefit teenagers.


“A big part of it is focusing on what the kids themselves are interested in,” he said, noting that it’s often a battle convincing students what they need to learn.


He asked a few of his own students how they could learn better. “One was very outdoorsy and really into nature and animals,” Cochran said. “Immediately, he said, ‘I wish we could have school outside and learn about things like that. Instead I have to sit at a desk eight hours a day.’ That doesn’t work for him.”


Lydia Hernandez, a mom interviewed by the human-centered design team, makes copies while volunteering at school
Lydia Hernandez, a mom interviewed by the human-centered design team, makes copies while volunteering at school

Getting Rid of The Average


Britten has often said that he envisions a district without clocks, calendars or grade levels and no expectations based on averages. It’s the opposite of the current system, which he calls outdated and ineffective.


“The system itself is a structure based on the average,” he said. “It’s been designed that way purposely, because we have this mythical idea there is an average kid out there, which no one can ever identify because an average kid does not exist.”


Yet, in using a mathematical average with 20 percent at the top and 20 percent at the bottom, somewhere in the middle lies what is currently deemed the “average” child, on which time constraints and curriculum is based.


But peek into a Godfrey-Lee classroom and that child isn’t there. “We have kids all over the place because of poverty, because they’ve moved here from low-performing schools or different countries so they have language barriers,” Britten said. “We are still expected to move them all one full year of academic growth even if they aren’t ready for it.


“Our whole process this year has been to identify that as the problem and to gain empathy with all the stakeholders in this process to see it from their points of view.”


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Wyoming residents certainly purged making city’s community clean-up day a big success

Residents unload trash into the dumpsters during the Wyoming Community Clean-Up Day.
Residents unload trash into the dumpsters during the Wyoming Community Clean-Up Day.

Of those who came, most didn’t mind waiting to dump their trash and other items at the Godfrey-Lee Athletic Field this past Saturday. They were just happy that the City of Wyoming was hosting the Community Clean-Up Day event.


“We’re just appreciative that the City of Wyoming did this,” said Wyoming resident Michael Donavan, who also works at Godfrey-Lee. Donavan said his family recently helped his father clean out his garage and he came with a truck and trailer full of items.


“The wait is not that big of deal,” said Wyoming resident Melissa Digiovanna, who had her own vehicle along with a friend’s truck full of items. “It is just super awesome that the city is doing this.”


Early indicators showed that the Wyoming Community Clean-Up Day was to be a success as the original story on now.wktv.org had more than 425 Facebook shares. City officials said there was a line when the event opened at 8 a.m. this past Saturday with one of the four dumpsters completely full shortly after opening.


The line to get into the Community Clean-Up Day at one point was backed up to where Joosten Street intersected with Godfrey Lee Avenue.
The line to get into the Community Clean-Up Day at one point was backed up to where Joosten Street intersected with Godfrey Lee Avenue.

Nancy Stoddard, who works in the city’s treasurer’s office and was part of the organizing committee, had hoped for about 300 cars. Final count was 332 vehicles  – including some small U-Haul-style trucks. About 130 of those vehicles dropped off household hazardous waste and 33 20-yard roll-offs of trash were collected. Stoddard said she was still waiting on total tonnage collected.


Stoddard said the committee, which was the city employee group Looks Good Committee, already has begun thinking about next year’s event which includes checking with Godfrey-Lee about possibly having the same location. “I have been checking into grant opportunities,” Stoddard said. This year’s event was unwritten by grants. Also Stoddard said next year, organizers are planning to start with eight dumpsters on the ground to help move people through faster.


“The area that we had this year was so spacious, we really had room for more,” Stoddard said.


Megan Kretz, a resource recovery specialist from the Kent County Department of Public Works and who was helping with the event, said the way the Community Clean-Up Day had been organized and laid out, it really didn’t seem like a first-time event. Cars entered through Joosten Street into the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center’s west parking lot and curved around exiting on to Godfrey Avenue. There were several checkpoints where people could unload household hazardous waste, gently used items to the Salvation Army, recycle items and trash.


“It’s a wonderful event,” said Matthis Fields who was with the Salvation Army. “I love doing these type of events. It’s a beautiful day. Nice weather and I am just so glad to be here.”


As Fields talked, one of the volunteers walked by with a fireplace in an unopened box to put on the Salvation Army truck, which was about two-thirds full by noon.


“This just happens to be one of the good parts, events like these,” Fields said with a smile.

Finding and Sharing the Beat

SNNDrums“Drummunity” Encourages Cooperation Through Music

By: Erin Albanese – School News Network


The beat of Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center students’ drums mixed with jangling tambourines, clanging blocks and sounds made by hitting sticks on household items recycled as instruments.


“Let’s all start a beat. … Here we go. … Let’s all start a beat,” said Lori Fithian, whose program Drummunity gets people pounding, tapping and grinning everywhere she goes.


Second-grader Jalyhia Reid bangs on the drum
Second-grader Jalyhia Reid bangs on the drum

As part of music class, students at the preschool-through-second-grade school gathered in a circle with Fithian in the middle, to use bongo and hand drums and other percussion instruments and to play simple drum-circle games.


Together, they made music, playing in unison. Later that evening, parents participated in a community drumming event.


Fithian, an Ann Arbor resident and artist who has studied different drumming traditions, said her concept is simple. “I help people make music together,” she said. “We basically just learn how to cooperate and come together. … It’s not really a musical thing. It’s more of a community-cooperation exercise, though we are using music to learn about all of that.”


First-grader Latrese McFerrin said she learned how to “make echoes” using instruments. “We got to switch instruments like drums and a plastic block,” she said.


Everyone Can Drum


Drummunity brings drumming to schools, libraries, community centers and other locations. Fithian’s visit was paid for through a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.


Isabel Deleon-Magana smiles as she plays
Isabel Deleon-Magana smiles as she plays

Every culture has its own drum tradition and all ages can participate, she said. Getting students to drum with her is different from teaching other instruments.


“Everybody knows how to play drums; even babies can play drums. It’s a really natural thing that people can do together,” she said.


Students learn to keep a steady beat, and a whole lot more.


“They get a little bit of everything,” Fithian said. “They get to pound on something, play something, just explore the different sounds or learn what a drum is and how we can make music together.”


With older kids, Fithian teaches the concept of improvisation, creating new beats as they play. “We are not reading any music here; we are able to make something up with our own creativity.”


Tami Nelson, ECC music teacher, said she planned the event for her students to have the chance to make music with other people.


“This is a very good way for them to interact and see what they can do,” Nelson said. “One of the things about percussion instruments is various ability levels can easily access them. … They get to freely experience their music-making.”


Students said it was an experience they enjoyed. “I liked playing the drum,” said first-grader Taclara O’Bryant. “I like the music.”


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Santa Sends His ‘Elves and More’ to Donate 1,800 New Bikes to Kids

Elves and MoreOn Saturday, December 19, children near the Godfrey-Lee school district right here in Wyoming, MI received a surprise gift sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face. Thanks to the 11th annual Elves & More West Michigan project, 1,800 kids went home as brand-new bike owners.

Each year, organizers of Elves & More decide on an area of need in West Michigan, and bring Christmas joy to families by giving away bikes to kids age 3-16. The location is kept secret until the morning of the giveaway, and then the message is released in a hurry! Families in the Godfrey-Lee area were alerted by a last-minute text through the school district, and the Wyoming police and fire department rolled through neighborhoods announcing the giveaway from their loudspeakers.

Elves and MoreThis year, 300 volunteers unloaded a bevy of bikes from semi-trucks and set up at Lee Middle and High school off of Havana Avenue.

Elves & More is a non-profit organization devoted to bringing hope to children. They do this by raising funds to purchase, assemble and deliver high-quality bikes and treasure boxes to 1,000 children each holiday season.

In the past 11 years, Elves & More West Michigan has provided 11,800 new bikes and helmets to children in need around Grand Rapids.

Last year, 1,500 bikes were donated in Southeast Grand Rapids.

If you’re looking to get involved for next holiday season, visit Elves & More West Michigan! A donation of $65 buys one lucky child a bike and a helmet. This past year, 13 corporate donors helped provide the 1,800 bikes now tearing up the black top in Godfrey-Lee!

School Welcomes Families to Celebrate After-School Programs

First-grader Mia Porter smiles for a photo
First-grader Mia Porter smiles for a photo

By: Erin Albanese – School News Network

The lights were on at the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center and Spiderman and Batman were in the building.

The district’s after-school program, TEAM 21, recently welcomed families and students for a night of games, superhero-mask decorating and Halloween cookie munching during “Lights On After-School.”

About 7,500 after-school programs participated in the annual nationwide event. It was started in 2000 by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization Afterschool Alliance, which promotes keeping the doors open after school to offer academic help and recreation for students.

Sixth-grader Jasmin Landero said TEAM 21 is a great place to stay busy after school
Sixth-grader Jasmin Landero said TEAM 21 is a great place to stay busy after school

Godfrey-Lee TEAM 21 coordinators put their own twist on the evening, inviting families by “Calling All Superheroes” to the event. Sixth-graders led games in the hallways for youngsters, some dressed in costumes. Families ate dinner provided by the school and took photos with their favorite caped crusaders.

“The whole point of the event is to showcase that we are here to help with the kids,” said Brittani Stickler, TEAM 21 site coordinator for the Godfrey-Lee ECC.

While the evening was focused on fun, TEAM 21 offers homework help and enrichment activities after school Monday through Thursday, plus summer programming. “We target at-risk kids and those who need the most academic help,” Stickler said. “It’s been a super help for parents.”

Team 21 is run through a partnership between the City of Wyoming Parks and Recreation Department and Godfrey-Lee, Wyoming, Godwin Heights and Kelloggsville Public Schools, with 15 schools offering programs for students ranging from kindergarten to ninth grade.

Godfrey-Lee is a high-poverty district with a large percentage of English-language learners. Many parents work in the evening and aren’t able to provide homework help, district officials said.

Sixth-grader David Arellano poses with Godfrey-Lee Rebel mascot
Sixth-grader David Arellano poses with Godfrey-Lee Rebel mascot

Ramona Maleka Freeman came to the event with her five children, two of whom regularly attend TEAM 21. “I like the way they help out with homework and spend a lot of time loving and caring for the kids. I like that it’s a positive program and the kids aren’t out learning negative things.”

Sixth-grader Jasmin Landero spread orange frosting on a cookie. “TEAM 21, to me, is not just a school thing. We get school stuff done, but we really have fun.”

Need for After-school Programs by the Numbers

•    19.4 million kids would participate in an after-school program if one were available to them.
•    11.3 million kids are on their own in the hours after school.
•    23 million parents of school-age children work outside of the home full time.
•    An analysis of 68 after-school studies found that students participating in high-quality after-school programs went to school more, behaved better, received better grades and performed better on tests compared to non-participants.
•    A study of outcomes associated with participation in after-school programs found that students who regularly participate during elementary school showed a variety of gains, including narrowing the math achievement gap at grade five between high-income and low-income students; improving work habits and self-efficiency; and reducing absences.

Be sure to check out School News Network for more stories about our great students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan!