Tag Archives: Wyoming Public Schools

School News Network: Kent County school districts make breakfast more accessible

Kindergaren teacher Joy Howard hands Jerez Prebble his morning meal.

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


Just after the morning school bell rings, West Kelloggsville Elementary School teacher Joy Howard calls up her kindergartners one-by-one to hand them breakfast. They settle back in their seats to sip milk and juice, nibble cereal, crunch apples and devour muffins.


“It makes us healthy,” said kindergartner Jerez Prebble, after polishing off his morning meal.


Following spring break, six teachers at West served breakfast in the classroom as a way to make sure their students not only had the option to eat at school, but that a meal was put right in front of them every morning. It’s a way to get more children eating; while free breakfast has been available to all students before school through the School Breakfast Program for years, the number of them arriving in time to eat was lagging. At West, 79 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.


“The percentage of students at West eating breakfast was way lower than you’d expect the need to be,” said Principal Eric Schilthuis. “We want them to have a nutritious meal to get them through the morning.”


It’s a common scenario. Nationwide, 21 million U.S. children get free or reduced-price school lunch, but only half of those students get breakfast even though they are eligible. That’s according to No Kid Hungry, a campaign of Share Our Strength, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that connects children with healthy food offered through federal programs such as the School Breakfast and Summer Meals. In Michigan, offering breakfast is mandated in schools with a free and reduced-lunch population of more than 20 percent. Some low-income districts offer free breakfast to all students.


Research shows starting the day with breakfast has long-term benefits. According to the report, “Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis” by Deloitte and the No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices, students who eat breakfast attend an average of 1.5 more days of school; average 17.5 percent higher on math tests; and are 20 percent more likely to graduate high school.


Since serving it in the classroom, breakfast participation at West jumped from about 35 percent to 68 percent building-wide. That should increase more when more teachers offer it next school year. “It’s been a great success here,” said Brenda Jansen, food service director.


Dexter Andrew digs into breakfast at West Kelloggsville Elementary.

The Big Picture

The story is bigger than breakfast: it’s about ending childhood hunger. Amy Klinkoski, breakfast coach for Michigan No Kid Hungry, is working with Kent County districts, including Kelloggsville, to make breakfast more accessible.


Klinkoski recently coached food service directors on implementing a “Grab and Go” option at Union and Ottawa Hills high schools and C.A. Frost middle and high schools. The option allows students to grab prepackaged breakfasts from mobile carts in high traffic areas, such as hallways, entryways or cafeterias. Since starting the option, the number of Union High students eating breakfast has increased by 250 to 300 students per day, she said.

East Kentwood High School offers vending and smoothies to students until mid-morning, and has the highest percentage of students who eat breakfast at a Kent County high school, Klinkoski said.



Wyoming, Godwin Heights, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, and Alpine Elementary in Kenowa Hills Public Schools have had breakfast in the classroom in place for several years.


Xaded Douglas has got milk.

In Wyoming’s Oriole Park Elementary School, second-grade teacher Danielle Terpstra said eating breakfast in the classroom is part of the routine for at least 50 percent of students. She keeps leftover breakfast items around for snacks later, so nearly every student in her room eats something.


“Some of the kids eat the food as breakfast, morning snack, some at lunch, and even ask to take some home,” Terpstra said. “I believe it gives the kids the necessary start to a healthy body and brain for learning that day.


“I am thankful that we can fill that basic need for so many of them,” she added. “I don’t have any test scores to back my claims, but I really believe that the breakfast is one thing we can do to get our kids just what they need at the start of the day.”


Klinkoski reminds hesitant educators that offering breakfast at the beginning of instruction time is the same type of interruption as having snack time later — and keeps hunger in check earlier. Also, increased revenue from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for more breakfasts offsets the cost of labor and food.


Alaina Humphrey enjoys her juice box.

Why it Matters

According to the report “Ending Childhood Hunger” from The Lunch Box, a network supporting healthy school food programs, 48.8 million Americans — including 13 million children — live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. As a result, they struggle with hunger at some time during the year. The average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program monthly benefit is $1.46 per meal, and nearly half of SNAP recipients are children. Three out of four teachers say their students regularly come to school hungry.


In her kindergarten classroom, Joy Howard agreed starting the day with breakfast in class helps her students be more ready to learn until lunchtime.


“Some of the children who needed it the most were missing it,” she said. “There’s a comfort knowing that if they haven’t eaten, they can get it here.”

School News Network: Kentwood, Wyoming school leaders join others in speaking out against educational cuts


Kelloggsville students; earn about butterflies at TEAM 21 (courtesy photo)

By Charles Honey and Erin Albanese

School News Network


In the library of Harrison Park School, Ryan Rose read aloud from a book about African animals as a dozen students listened expectantly.


“We all went on a safari, past an old Acadia tree,” Rose read. “Nearby, giraffes were grazing. Caleb counted three.”


The children broke into screams of laughter and pointed at their classmate Caleb, the designated giraffe-spotter. They were learning about animals, but having plenty of fun as well.


This is the LOOP program, which serves about 3,000 children from Grand Rapids Public Schools with after-school learning, recreation and meals five days a week. Under the federal education budget proposed by President Donald Trump, it would be eliminated.


Students participate in team-building activities at West Elementary’s TEAM 21 program (courtesy photo)

GRPS and other school districts in Kent ISD are responding with alarm to the proposed $9.2 billion in cuts to the U.S. Education Department budget, which is now being taken up by Congress. Among its many effects on local school districts, the 13.5-percent spending reduction would eliminate a $1.2 billion grant program for after-school and summer programming.


School leaders are speaking out against many of the proposed cuts, such as $2 billion in grants for teacher development as well as reductions in special-education funding. But of particular concern is cutting off funding for after-school and summer programs that serve some 6,500 students in Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming. More than $8 million was awarded this year to districts in those cities by the Michigan Department of Education, which administers the federal grants for the state.


Second grader Miquean Hawkins proudly shows off his giraffe-walk, as site supervisor Ryan Rose asks students to identify African animal’s at the Harrison. Park School LOOP program

“Just the mere fact the president has proposed such dramatic cuts to public education creates this level of uncertainty, at a time when we have finally stabilized our district,” said John Helmholdt, GRPS executive director of communications and external affairs. “It’s sending a signal that they’re disinvesting in public education, disinvesting in public school teachers, and that they don’t value after-school programming.”


‘Devastating Impact’


Helmholdt and GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal last week met with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, telling the 3rd District congressman the proposed budget would cost GRPS more than $8 million. That includes nearly $4 million from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant for the LOOP program. Without replacement funding, that program would be eliminated, they said.


“We wouldn’t be able to do this” if federal funding is axed, said Irma Alicia Lopez, director of the LOOP program. “There’s no way.”


Planting apple trees was one of many funactivbites during TEAM 21 summer programming (courtesy photo)

Earlier this year, the Grand Rapids Board of Education issued a statement that the proposed budget would have a “devastating impact” on the schools and community, asserting programs like LOOP and professional development for teachers are “increasing student achievement and helping more students graduate.”


Amash issued a statement saying it was great to hear of the “impressive progress” GRPS has made in recent years, and that he will “discuss these issues with my colleagues as Congress prepares its own budget and appropriations.”


Schools just south of Grand Rapids also would take a huge hit. The TEAM 21 after-school program serves 15 schools and over 2,000 K-8 students in the Wyoming, Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights and Kelloggsville districts. It also offers a six-week, full-day summer program including academics and enrichment activities like field trips and exposure to careers.


TEAM 21 is funded entirely through the federal grant program with a budget of more than $2 million, employing 80 staff members during the school year and 100-plus in the summer.


Elena Borjas-Garfio, left, and Morgan Williams paint miniature African hand pianos as part of the afternoon LOOP.

“That money is never going to be able to be made up by local districts if it’s eliminated,” said Scott Bloem, TEAM 21 program director.


Bloem notes that in the districts it serves, 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. TEAM 21 provides students a dinner and snack along with transportation.


“I think it’s a shocking suggestion (that these programs could be cut) and I think a lot of people would agree with me,” Bloem said, adding the programs receive broad support from people regardless of political affiliation. “It’s really shocking news that this is even being discussed.”


Becki Barrenger, assistant project director for Kentwood Public Schools’ after-school and summer program ARCH, said the program is licensed to serve up to 1,500 students across 15 sites, though numbers fluctuate. It is funded completely by the 21st Century fund with three $675,000 grants, each serving five sites.


“I truly believe in this program and I believe it’s made a difference in the lives of our students and their families,” Barrenger said. “I want to see it in our community for years to come. I think it’s necessary and needed.”


Second-grader La’Rae Murray gets a warm hug form LOOP program supervisor Irma Alicia Lopez.

Investment or Disinvestment?


Their perspective is far different from that of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who in announcing the budget called it a “historic investment in America’s students.” The West Michigan native touted it as returning decision-making to the states and more control to parents while providing more options for school choice, including $250 million to provide private-school vouchers and $167 million more for charter schools.


DeVos asserted the budget maintains support for vulnerable students but takes “a hard look at programs that sound nice but simply haven’t yielded the desired outcomes.” One of those, she argued, is the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which her budget outline said “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.”


Local school and civic officials strongly disagree.


In Wyoming, Grand Rapids and elsewhere, the benefits of after-school and summer programs are multifaceted, officials say. Among them: a safe environment for youths who might otherwise be unsupervised; nurturing relationships with caring adults; extra academic help; and exposure to cultural experiences and possible career fields.


The programs’ worth is attested to by strong demand from parents, said Lynn Heemstra, executive director of Our Community’s Children, a partnership between the City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Public Schools and the community.


Fifth graders Iyanna Wright, left, and Devin Allen enjoy making random patterns with their pendulum-paint technique.

Heemstra works with after-school program providers as part of the ELO Network, a coalition of community stakeholders consisting of over 60 organizations serving over 21,000 children at 180 sites, to help after-school programs shape curriculum around academics and enrichment including exposure to careers. Many programs have more demand than space for students, she said.


“There continues to be waiting lists for students. As after-school programs become more tuned into science and math and those kinds of programs, there is greater demand.”


Programs such as LOOP, TEAM 21 and Kentwood’s ARCH provide a safe environment for many low-income students whose parents work two to three jobs, Heemstra said. “The majority of our kids, 99 percent, are not involved with the police and we know that for a fact.”


A 2014 report by the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University found a 44 percent drop in Grand Rapids juveniles involved in crime or curfew violations from 2006 to 2012. While many factors may have contributed, the report notes a major increase in after-school programming since 2001 aimed to make “a positive impact on the life trajectories of Grand Rapids’ children.”


Heemstra said students in after-school programs, especially African-American and Latino males, are doing better academically than those who aren’t, and all students have better school attendance than those not in programs. The ELO Network provides data on those trends, while Johnson Center research shows African-American students in after-school programs are 1.5 times more likely to meet or exceed growth expectations in math than non-participants, Heemstra said.


“If those programs are not there, the communities are going to see some repercussions,” she said.


Blandford Nature Center presents All About owls during TEAM 21 at Parkview Elementary School (courtesy photo)

In Wyoming, more than 90 percent of parents surveyed said their children are getting better grades and have better homework completion because of TEAM 21, and 97 percent say “staff know how to work with a child like mine,” Bloem said.


A Parent’s Perspective


Lisa and Jordan Wiseman’s twin daughters, fifth-grade Wyoming Intermediate School students Carmen and Cadia, have been attending TEAM 21’s after-school and summer programs for several years, beginning as Oriole Park Elementary students.


“At first it was something they could do that was fun during the summer,” Lisa Wiseman said. “Then, as they got older they needed a little help in certain areas, and it wasn’t difficult to convince them to go because they had been going and had fun.


“That worked for me because I was able to pick them up after I got out of work,” she added. “They would get help with their homework and it would be all done by the time I pick them up to take them home.”


It was particularly helpful this school year for Carmen while 10-year-old Cadia spent many days in the hospital receiving treatment for leukemia. “Carmen welcomed the distraction,” Wiseman said.


Cadia continues to recover, and both girls are enrolled in the summer program, partly because Cadia missed quite a bit of school, their mother said.


If TEAM 21 is eliminated, it would be “a huge loss” for many Wyoming families will be negatively impacted, Wiseman said.


“It gives the kids something to do in the summer. So many of these kids have parents who work during the day. They get breakfast and lunch (during the summer and dinner during the school year), which helps a lot of the lower-income families.”


Local and National Pushback


Heemstra’s office is working with the Michigan Afterschool Partnership to advocate for programs at the federal and local levels, and make sure the public is more aware of their importance by spreading the word. Our Community’s Children is also advocating for the State of Michigan to match the 21st Century grant funds, as well as tapping other potential funding sources.


Despite the uncertainty around the 21st Century program, the Michigan Department of Education plans to announce 2017-18 grant awards in the next few weeks, said spokesman William DiSessa.


At the national level, ASSA: The School Superintendents Association is lobbying against what it calls “deep, damaging cuts” in federal funding. After-school funding in particular has had broad, bipartisan support from Congress in the past, as a proven program to help provide structure, academic enrichment and social support in students’ lives, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate director for policy and advocacy. She noted some programs for older students include college guidance, mental-health counseling and teen pregnancy reduction.


“The neediest communities tend to be the poorest, meaning they’re disproportionately reliant on federal dollars,” Ellerson Ng said, adding that eliminating after-school funding “disproportionately impacts students who need it the most.”


She said the chances of the budget being approved by Congress in its current form are “next to none.” Indeed, during DeVos’ testimony this week before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Republican chairman Sen. Roy Blunt said deep cuts to programs such as after-school would be “all but impossible” to get through Congress.


However, Ellerson Ng said lawmakers must be held accountable based on what students need, not on this proposed budget: “We cannot allow a very flawed Trump proposal to become a baseline to measure anything realistic. Because the Trump budget is unrealistic.”



Impact is Academic… and Beyond


Back at Harrison Park School, students spent an afternoon earlier this semester doing lots of things, starting with an hour of help with homework. Fourth-graders split for the gym while younger students did crafts centered on African cultural studies: making necklaces in the style of the Masai people, or painting African thumb pianos. Fifth- and sixth-graders created bright, splashy paintings using a pendulum.


They were supervised by staff from the YMCA, one of three partner agencies that run LOOP programs at about 30 GRPS schools. Others are United Methodist Community House and Camp Fire West Michigan 4C (see related story).


A big plus for these students is the friendships and relationships they build, said Lopez, who’s directed LOOP for five years.


“If they’re not in sports, they have something they’re attached to,” she said. “Parents are always so grateful, because they see the students more outgoing, more interested in coming to school. I think the interest in coming to school and having better attendance is because they are building those relationships and are more social.”


That spills over into academic gains in the classroom and fewer chronic absences, she added.


Ryan Rose, the site coordinator, says LOOP creates a supportive atmosphere.


“They’re with people who care about them, and they feel safe and it’s fun,” Rose said. “It motivates them to want to come to school, because they know they’re a part of LOOP, and then they engage throughout the school day.”


At the end of the afternoon, students would take home snacks provided by Kids’ Food Basket; middle school students get hot meals provided by the YMCA.


All told it was a full afternoon for students, of the kind Lopez hopes will be able to continue. If not, she doesn’t know what parents would do who can’t afford child care, or what students would do without the structure of LOOP.


“What are they going to do after school, if there’s no funding?” she said. “It would be a huge loss for the kids, and for the families.”


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

School News Network: For immigrant families, ‘There’s a lot of fear’

Alexandra Gillett, attorney with Justice for our Neighbors, and Ana Raquel Devereaux, an attorney with Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, explain people’s rights regardless of immigration status

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


Kent School Services Network coordinator Erika VanDyke wasn’t sure what the turnout would be for a recent “Know Your Rights” event for immigrants at Wyoming’s West Elementary School. Staff had purposely not asked people to register, and they advertised it as a basic community-resource event because they knew families could easily be scared away.


“In the current political climate there’s a lot of fear,” VanDyke said, adding that she’s heard from parents and community members who aren’t sure right now what their protections include. “There’s a lot of fear from our families. As a KSSN school, we want to be a place where families can come with questions and get answers.”


About 15 people attended the districtwide event, aimed at providing members of the Hispanic community with knowledge about responding to immigration officials and preparing for encounters.


Immigration arrests are up 38 percent in the first three months of the Trump administration. Wyoming Public Schools’ Hispanic student population is about 40 percent.


The event was presented by VanDyke, English-language learner teacher Ruth Rolff, and representatives from Justice For Our Neighbors, a United Methodist immigration ministry in West Michigan; the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan; and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.


Cherry Health and Strong Beginnings also provided information about health care services.


Larry Figuero said he attended as a community member

Supporting the Community

Presenters defined immigrant rights at traffic stops, and what to do if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials come to the house, workplace or stop someone in public. They stressed creating an emergency response plan, keeping all documents in an easily accessible place, speaking to an immigration lawyer to assess individual immigration status, and having a plan to protect one’s family.


They also explained how to grant power of attorney and how to tell whether a search warrant is real. They emphasized not signing anything without speaking with an attorney if arrested.


VanDyke said she’s had families call her to ask whether they should go to immigration check-ins.


“They have called and said ‘I don’t know if I should go or not,'” she said. “It’s not my job to tell them what to do, but it’s my job to say ‘Here are the resources, here are people you can talk to so you can make that decision.’


“We want to make sure families have information, because that’s part of being a community school,” she added. “For me it’s critical that particularly with this population, that they have access to this knowledge.”


Participants asked questions on topics ranging from driving legally in the U.S. to situations involving U.S.-born children in undocumented families.


Rolff said schools are supposed to be protected spaces where ICE can’t enter, like churches. Still, much is uncertain.


“Even though families trust us, there’s fear,” she said. “The schools are here to help them. Our No. 1 priority is the kids, which means the parents as well. … If parents have any questions, they can come to the school. If we don’t have the answers, we will do our best to find the answers for them.”


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

School News Network: A Boost for Bicycle Safety, with Cheers

Second grader Jaylene Carrera receives her new helmet custom fitted by Kim Hernden, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital injury prevention specialist

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


West Elementary School second-grader Max Troche plans to wear his brand new helmet when he rides his green and black bike this spring.


“I’m excited because the helmet I have hurts my head,” Max said.


Thanks to a donation from Hudsonville Rocket Cheer, a program for girls in first through eighth grades, he is one of 520 kindergarten through fourth-grade students at West who have brand-new bicycle helmets.


Kim Hernden, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital injury prevention specialist, gets the fit just right for second grader Yulian Merced

Along with the headgear, they received helmet fittings from Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital representatives, who led education sessions on bike safety. Students learned how, when and why to wear bike helmets.


In 2016, of nine children admitted to the hospital because of bike accidents, only two were wearing helmets, said Kim Hernden, DeVos Children’s Hospital injury prevention specialist.


Britni Schipper, director and owner of Hudsonville Rocket Cheer, said the program hosts a fundraising event every year. “We wanted the girls to learn more than just the sport of cheer,” she said. “By collecting funds, the girls learned to come together as a team to be able to give back to our community.”


Schipper and her assistant director are both emergency room nurses at Spectrum Health, so keeping children safe is “near and dear to our hearts,” she added.


West Elementary physical education teacher Shani Padding helped share information on bike safety during the fitting session. “It’s been fun for me to see the kids being excited about being safe,” she said.


West Elementary School second-grader Max Troche plans to wear his brand new helmet when he rides his green and black bike this spring.


“I’m excited because the helmet I have hurts my head,” Max said.


Thanks to a donation from Hudsonville Rocket Cheer, a program for girls in first through eighth grades, he is one of 520 kindergarten through fourth-grade students at West who have brand-new bicycle helmets.


Along with the headgear, they received helmet fittings from Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital representatives, who led education sessions on bike safety. Students learned how, when and why to wear bike helmets.


In 2016, of nine children admitted to the hospital because of bike accidents, only two were wearing helmets, said Kim Hernden, DeVos Children’s Hospital injury prevention specialist.


Britni Schipper, director and owner of Hudsonville Rocket Cheer, said the program hosts a fundraising event every year. “We wanted the girls to learn more than just the sport of cheer,” she said. “By collecting funds, the girls learned to come together as a team to be able to give back to our community.”


Schipper and her assistant director are both emergency room nurses at Spectrum Health, so keeping children safe is “near and dear to our hearts,” she added.


West Elementary physical education teacher Shani Padding helped share information on bike safety during the fitting session. “It’s been fun for me to see the kids being excited about being safe,” she said.


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


Kentwood, Wyoming residents head to the polls tomorrow for millage proposals

Tomorrow both residents of Kentwood and Wyoming will be heading to the polls to vote on millage proposals.


Residents from the two cities – along with all of Kent County – will be voting on a proposed Kent Intermediate School District Regional Enhancement Millage. The property tax increase of .9 mills would be distributed to all 20 school districts in Kent County for the next 10 years. The amount is about .90 cent of taxable evaluation. For a $200,000 home, the taxable evaluation would be $100,000 with the increase being about $90 per year.



If passed, each district would receive an additional $211 per student each year, which can be used to supplement the funding that comes from the state of Michigan. School officials have stated the funding would be used to help maintain programs, improve services and meet other needs. Each school district will be able to determine how to spend the money. For more information on the district’s plans for the money, clicking on the school’s name which will direct you to the School News Network stories. For more on the millage, click here.


Godfrey Lee Public Schools will receive about $450,000.


Godwin Heights Public Schools will receive about $500,000.


Kelloggsville Public Schools will receive about $470,000.


Wyoming Public Schools will receive about $900,000.


Also, the residents of Wyoming are being asked to vote for flexible funding by opening up its library maintenance millage to help with park improvements. The city is seeking about .16 of the .39 of the mill levy to help with park improvements at four parks, Ferrand, Ideal, Gezon, and Jackson. The nearly $800,000 per year raised would be use to pay a 15-year bond of $4.4 million. The cost for the average Wyoming homeowner would be about $12 a year, according to city officials. For more about the millage, visit WYParks.com.

School News Network: Settling conflict by settling minds with connective art

Student-made mandala supports Restorative Justice

By Erin Albanese School News Network


With colorful petals radiating from a bright orange center, the mandala Circle of Art rug represents the universe and all its connectivity.


For members of Wyoming High School’s National Art Honor Society, it’s also a way of connecting with a program right in their school that helps reduce conflict and unite people.


Sinai Salvador, Cecilia Medina and Bekah Luce created the mandala Circle of Art to symbolize restorative justice

NAHS members and juniors Sinai Salvador, Cecilia Medina and Bekah Luce created the rug at the request of Marilyn Booker, who facilitates restorative justice circles at the high school. Booker wanted a symbol that complemented her practice, and students came up with the design. They showcased the rug at the district’s recent Fine Arts Festival.


Restorative justice, an outreach of the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan that started at the high school last school year, is a non-punitive, conflict-resolution program that helps students solve differences using trained mediators.


Connecting, Uniting, Restoring

In restorative circles, students who are having conflicts tell each other through guided conversation with Booker what’s on their minds. They hold something, like a squishy ball, to indicate their turn to speak. The goal is to reduce suspensions and address harmful behaviors in a therapeutic way. It has been successful and was expanded to the junior high this school year.


Booker lays the rug on the floor in the middle of the circles to give students a focal point if they aren’t quite ready to meet eye-to-eye.


“We made the rug to help relieve anxiety with these groups,” said Bekah. “A lot of times the kids don’t feel comfortable and don’t know where to look.”


The circle is a universal and eternal symbol seen in many aspects of life: the sun, the moon, the earth and the universe. Conflict is also a universal and eternal issue in society, Booker said: “In a circle, there is no disconnect. We are all connected in some way, shape, or form. … Part of doing circles is every voice is important.


“We are restoring kids instead of pushing them out,” she said.


Wyoming is a very diverse district, the fourth most diverse in the state, according to the website, Niche. In that context, Sinai explained the depth she sees in the piece.


“You can think of all the colors we connected in the mandala rug as all the races that are connected in our school society,” Sinai said. “That’s why it’s used in the restorative program. It gets everyone together.”


She sees the school’s diversity as a plus for understanding, noting “we all get along. It doesn’t matter where you come from, we all understand that we have different customs, but we all come together because we are all equal.


Restorative justice facilitator Marilyn Booker (far left) hosts a Restorative Circle, with the mandala rug in the center, with, from left, students Kiara Kornoelje, Ashley Elliott, Makenna Vanderstolp and Shay Sees

“It’s a way for the school environment to flourish. That’s also why we picked the flower.”


Art and Its Many Connections

Wyoming High’s National Art Honor Society, which includes 21 students, focuses on creating art that connects with the greater community, school community and with themselves, said adviser and art teacher Robin Gransow-Higley.


In 1978, the National Art Education Association began the NAHS program to inspire and recognize students who have shown an outstanding ability and interest in art, though it’s open to all students.


Wyoming NAHS students organized the district’s recent Fine Arts Festival, which included works from those in grades K-12, plus choir and theater performances, demonstrations by various clubs, face-painting and other activities. Students are also creating a mural representing student athletics and activities.


The club aims to encircle the community it its own way, through art, Higley said.


“They connect with the greater community, school community and with themselves,” she said.

School News Network: District faces deficit, hopes to maintain staffing

Superintendent Thomas Reeder

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


On May 2, voters in the Kent ISD region will be asked to approve a 0.9 mill tax for local school districts, generating $211 per student to maintain programs, improve services and meet other needs. School News Network is offering information on what the millage means for each of the 20 districts in the Kent ISD. Today we focus on Wyoming Public Schools. SNN spoke with Superintendent Thomas Reeder


How much revenue would your district gain from the millage in the first year?


It depends on student enrollment changes, but in excess of $900,000.


What would you spend that increased revenue on, and how would this help your students?
“Our focus will be to maintain or improve upon our current staffing related to classroom instruction,” Reeder said, noting that the amount of revenue that would go toward staffing would depend on state funding and whether the district faces a budget crunch. Gov. Snyder has proposed a 1.3 percent increase in the state per-student aid budget for schools.


Other goals are increasing the number of extended-day and summer programs for all students, “from our most at-risk to our most gifted,” with more classes and learning opportunities. Ideas are for computer, band and theater programming.


A Parkview Elementary student picks out a book at his reading level. The district hopes to give every student more learning opportunities with the enhancement millage. (Photo courtesy of School News Network)

The district is also looking at improving technology support and resources at all levels, as well as increasing safety and security at all sites with improved surveillance equipment, Reeder said. Purchasing a bus each year to keep the fleet current is another goal.


The district also would like to add more staff members to work with students experiencing mental-health challenges.


If the millage were to fail, what changes or cuts would you have to make next school year?
“We will continue to make reductions as necessary, attempting to stay as far away from the classroom as possible, but will be unable to add any programming or other resources to the current model,” Reeder said. “The impact depends very much on what decisions are made at the state level related to funding.”


The district faces a projected $910,000 deficit in next year’s budget, depending on enrollment, and has a fund balance of about 10 percent. The recommended fund balance for Michigan schools is 15 to 20 percent, according to the Michigan School Business Officials.


What objections have you heard, if any, from your community, and what is your response?
Reeder said he has not yet heard any objections. He plans to host two community meetings in April to discuss the enhancement millage and a Wyoming Public Schools November bond request that would not raise property taxes.


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

School News Network: Language, Culture and ‘Jambo!’

Editor’s Note: Places of Refuge is a series focusing on refugee students and their journeys, their new lives and hopes for a future in West Michigan, and the many ways schools and community organizations are working to meet their needs.


Tito Ekundat, teacher Rebecca Bing, and Toussaint Melchsedek give their Swahili greeting, “Jambo!” (Photo provided by School News Network.)

By Erin Albanese 

School News Network


Sixth grade teacher Rebecca Bing remembers a particularly tough day at school. She walked down the hall, feeling a little tired and pensive. Suddenly, Toussaint Melchsedek passed by, a big smile on his face, and said, “Jambo!”


“All of a sudden I felt so happy,” she told Toussaint, a sixth-grader, and Tito Ekundat, a fifth-grader, of the memory. “Whenever you guys talk to me it reminds me of home, and it makes me feel so thankful that I get to work here and that I get to speak with you guys.”


Toussaint Melchsedek, a refugee student from the Congo, is known around school for his big smile.

At Wyoming Intermediate School, “Jambo!” brings about lots of smiles. Whenever Bing sees Toussaint or Tito, they all wave with two hands and yell the Swahili greeting. Bing often has candy on hand for Tito, who has a sweet tooth.


“It’s candy, hugs and ‘Jambo!'” said Bing, with a laugh.


Toussaint and Tito are refugee children from the Congo region, which is made up of two war-torn countries along the Congo River in Central Africa. They immigrated to the U.S. with their families after living in refugee camps in Rwanda and Tanzania. This is Toussaint’s second year as a Wyoming student and Tito’s first. The boys speak Swahili and tribal languages, and have found a connection with Bing, who was raised in Africa by missionary parents.


Bing, who still calls Africa home, speaks Swahili, recently honing the language she had set aside for 17 years to help Toussaint and Tito. While they all speak different forms of the language, the trio is able to converse about school, sports, family life and much more.


“We make it work, don’t we?” Bing said to the boys.


Tito Ekundat, a refugee student from the Congo, takes notes with his fifth grade class

Bing helps provide communication to the boys’ parents. She led the effort to have the families fill out Christmas wish lists that led to many donations of toys and clothes from staff members. Toussaint, who speaks much more English than Tito, also helps translate for his younger friend.


“She’s so helpful,” said EL teacher Marissa Bliss about Bing’s work with the boys’ parents. “We’ve been able to communicate with the families. Having her experience and background builds the trust with them too. We’ve had a lot of success getting communication to the family. It makes a big difference.”


Bonding Over ‘Home’

Bing, who has taught in Wyoming Public Schools since 2014, was raised in Maryland until sixth grade, when she moved to Africa with her parents, Dale and Carol Linton, missionary teachers at an international school in Ethiopia and Kenya. Africa became Bing’s home until she returned to attend Hope College. “My memories are so rich… I loved the culture; I loved interacting with the people and all the friends I made. I really acclimated well to that being my home.”


Tito and Toussaint are getting used to their new home in the U.S., and share lots of good news with Bing. Toussaint recently learned to ride a bike, a skill he talks about with pride. He also likes being able to take hot showers, the changing seasons and that “we have money,” he said. He has learned to speak English and to read.


“I like America because you always have food and there’s no hunger. In Africa you have hunger,” he said.


Tito loves soccer and his house, and is clearly adored by his classmates, some of whom are also working to learn basic Swahili.


Bing remembers experiencing culture shock when she returned to the U.S. in 2000. She didn’t know what the internet was, hadn’t learned to drive and had forgotten about everyday American particulars, like that stores have automatic doors. “I was so out of tune with my age group,” she said.


At Wyoming Intermediate, Tito and Toussaint’s peers are happy to spend time getting to know the boys. “Students are very welcoming and eager to learn about your culture and to share,” Bing said. “It’s a great place to have that initial school experience…It welcomes that diversity.”


Tito and Toussaint remind Bing of her own childhood and the friends she made across the globe years ago. “I think it is just the biggest blessing to be able to work here and it’s so neat to see how it all comes together. It’s such a joy for me to come to school and see how little bits of that prior life come into my work life. I get to use (a language) I haven’t used in such a long time and interact with people from my homeland.”


Local high school sports schedule: Jan. 23-30

Looking for a Wyoming and Kentwood area high school varsity sports event to get out to? Here is your weekly list.


Monday, Jan. 23, 2017

Girls Basketball

Grand Rapids Thunder @ West Michigan Lutheran

Boys/Girls Bowling

Wyoming Lee @ Godwin Heights

Kelloggsville @ Hopkins

South Christian @ Wayland

East Kentwood @ Hudsonville

Girls Gymnastics

East Kentwood @ Lowell


Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017

Girls Basketball

Covert @ Zion Christian

Christian @ Wyoming

Hopkins @ Kelloggsville

East Kentwood @ Hudsonville

Holland Calvary @ Tri-Unity Christian

Boys Basketball

Covert @ Zion Christian

Wyoming @ Christian

Wyoming Lee @ Godwin Heights

Kelloggsville @ Hopkins

Covenant Christian @ South Christian

Hudsonville @ East Kentwood

Fennville @ Tri-Unity Christian

Girls Cheer

@ East Kentwood


Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017

Girls Basketball 

WMAI @ Grand River Prep

Boys Basketball

WMAI @ Grand River Prep

Boys/Girls Bowling

Wayland @ Wyoming

Wyoming Lee @ NorthPointe Christian

Godwin Heights @ Calvin Christian

Kelloggsville @ Kent City

Middleville T-K @ South Christian

Grand Haven @ East Kentwood

Girls Cheer

Wyoming @ Middleville T-K

Wyoming Lee @ Hopkins

Godwin Heights @ Hopkins

Kelloggsville @ Hopkins

Boys Wrestling

Wyoming @ Zeeland West

Wyoming Lee @ Comstock Park

NorthPointe Christian @ Godwin Heights

Belding @ Kelloggsville

Grand Haven @ East Kentwood

Girls Gymnastics

FH Central @ East Kentwood


Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017

Boys Basketball

Hudsonville Hornets @ West Michigan Aviation

Girls Basketball

West Michigan Aviation @ Tri-Unity Christian

Boys Swimming

South Christian @ Middleville T-K

Hudsonville @ East Kentwood


Friday, Jan. 27, 2017

Girls Basketball

Zion Christian @ Grand River Prep

Wyoming @ Hudsonville

Godwin Heights @ NorthPointe Christian

Kelloggsville @ Belding

Middleville T-K @ South Christian

Rockford @ East Kentwood

Boys Basketball

Zion Christian @ Grand River Prep

Wellspring Prep @ Potter’s House

Wyoming @ Hudsonville

Wyoming Lee @ Hopkins

Godwin Heights @ NorthPointe Christian

Kelloggsville @ Belding

Middleville T-K @ South Christian

Rockford @ East Kentwood

Ellington Academy @ Tri-Unity Christian


Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017

Boys/Girls Bowling

Wyoming @ Rockford

Godwin Heights @ Rockford

Wyoming Lee @ East Kentwood

Kelloggsville @ East Kentwood

South Christian @ Rockford

Boys Wrestling

Wyoming @ Montague

Wyoming Lee @ Reed City

Godwin Heights @ Okemos

East Kentwood @ Lakewood

Girls Cheer

Wyoming @ East Kentwood – LMCCOA

Kelloggsville @ East Kentwood – LMCCOA

Boys Swimming

South Christian @ Hudsonville

Girls Dance

East Kentwood @ Jenison

Girls Gymnastics

East Kentwood @ Kenowa Hills


Monday, Jan. 30, 2017

Boys/Girls Bowling

Potter’s House @ Christian

South Christian @ Christian

Wyoming @ FH Eastern

Kelloggsville @ Wyoming Lee

Godwin Heights @ Hopkins

Caledonia @ East Kentwood

Girls Basketball

Hudsonville Hornets @ West Michigan Lutheran

Kelloggsville @ Martin

Girls Cheer

Godwin Heights @ Hastings

Girls Gymnastics

East Kentwood @ Kenowa Hills


Wyoming Public School District seeks public input on bond request

Would not raise property taxes, officials say

By Erin Albanese

School News Network


In eyeing the needs of the district and planning for the next 30 years, administrators are considering a November bond request that would not raise property taxes.


But first, they are seeking input from parents, teachers, students and community members concerning what facility improvements they would support –– and which ones they want most.


Parents and staff members were emailed links to fill out by the end of January, and a postcard with information about the online survey is being mailed to residents. The board could vote to approve ballot language in late spring.


Voters will be presented with a millage proposal that won’t result in an increase in taxes because existing debt will be expiring. The new millage request will be for the same number of mills or fewer than the mills saved from the expiring debt. A new levy would generate some dollars in 2018, with the balance to come in 2022, to fund upgrades and improvements at its aging facilities.


Because voters rejected two attempts to pass major bond requests in August and November 2013, the district is taking a long-term approach to the plan. If voters approved a request in November, the sale of bonds in spring 2018 would generate about $20 million. When existing debt expires in 2021 and 2022, the district could sell the remainder of the bonds to generate approximately another $45 million, said Matt Lewis, assistant superintendent of finance and administrative services.


The multi-series arrangement allows flexibility, Lewis said. “We can control the amount of the sale so we don’t raise taxes.”


That’s key, said Superintendent Tom Reeder, because “We said we would not return to the public if it would cost them any more in taxes.”


Reeder noted that a favorable market has made it possible to move ahead with a new request. “We said, ‘If the money is available without raising taxes next year, could we start the projects that much earlier?’ ”


The majority of bond funds generated in 2018 would most likely be invested at Wyoming High School, at 1350 Prairie Parkway. “It is the building with the most needs,” Reeder said. “We want the high school to be the flagship of the community.”


Some district needs have changed since the 2013 bond requests failed. The district moved forward with securing school entrances. A 10-year sinking fund levy passed in May — also with no tax increase — generates about $400,000 a year for maintenance such as roof and parking lot repairs.


The survey questions gauge community opinions on immediate and future needs in the district, which enrolls about 4,300 students. It asks for input concerning the following:

  • enhancing landscaping and elementary playgrounds
  • improving curb appeal of buildings
  • upgrades to the fine arts center located at the junior high
  • adding a new fine arts center on the high school campus
  • upgrades to outdoor athletic facilities
  • adding artificial turf at the high school stadium
  • upgrading indoor athletic facilities
  • updating labs to support science, engineering, technology and math
  • dedicated music and art space at the elementary schools
  • improvements to parking and traffic flow at schools
  • adding windows to allow for more natural light
  • technology
  • grade configuration at schools

In moving forward, the district will form a planning committee involving parents, staff and community members. Community forums will be scheduled.


Give your feedback here.

‘The Whole District is a Family’

teacher academy
New Wyoming Public Schools Staff members get to know each other during the New Teacher Academy

By: Erin Albanese — School News Network


Thirty-three new teachers and 22 support staff members, including food service positions, bus drivers and paraprofessionals, are getting to know district students this month.


It’s the biggest crop of new hires for many years in Wyoming Public Schools, administrators said.


New teachers replace 28 long-time district teachers who accepted a buyout incentive last spring. Teachers with 20 years or more in the district who were making $70,000 or more qualified for the buyout, which was $45,000 to retire or resign.


New teachers include recent college graduates beginning their first teaching jobs. Others are from charter schools and out-of-state districts, said Sarah Earnest, superintendent for employee relationships.


Teachers recently completed a three-day New Teacher Academy at Wyoming Junior High to work on building collaboration, connections and culture. The district’s theme this year is “Better Together,” Assistant Superintendent Craig Hoekstra said.


New Wyoming Intermediate School English-language learner teacher Marissa Bliss is among a crop of 33 new teachers in the district
New Wyoming Intermediate School English-language learner teacher Marissa Bliss is among a crop of 33 new teachers in the district

Each teacher will become part of the story and history of the district, he added. “We all have skills and talents. How do we grow from one and other?”


New Wyoming High School geometry teacher Jeffrey Kordich, a Grand Valley State University graduate, starts at Wyoming after teaching physical education for three years at Korea International School in South Korea. He also spent three years teaching math in Quito, Ecuador.


“I love the diversity I’m seeing in the students and staff, and just the excitement and positive energy that Wyoming Public Schools has for education.”


Liz Kenney, a new second grade teacher at West Elementary, comes from Benton Harbor Charter School Academy, and has also taught math intervention at North Godwin Elementary School, in Godwin Heights Public Schools. She is a GVSU graduate.


“One of the biggest things I’m most excited about is you can definitely feel the family here. They’re always talking about building relationships. They mean it. The whole district is a family and that’s very evident,,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to working with teachers and collaborating because they’ve effectively done that here.”


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

Wyoming Bond Proposal passes

WKTV takes seriously its role as a communications provider. We want our community to be well informed and more involved in local matters.


Bond Proposal – Yes



This proposal will allow the school district to continue to levy the statutory rate of not to exceed 18 mills on all property, except principal residence and other property exempted by law, required for the school district to receive its revenue per pupil foundation allowance.

Wyoming High School Dean of Students Fired for Altercation with a Student

Courtesy of Scout.com
Courtesy of Scout.com

After an incident of alleged assault involving a student and another employee, the Wyoming High School dean of students was fired. The incident happened on Tuesday after Rueben Riley, 31, was sent to a classroom to help remove a misbehaving student.


The district released a statement on Thursday evening regarding the altercation:

On January 26 around 2:00 pm, Mr. Rueben Riley, a dean of students and assistant football coach at Wyoming High School, was forced to remove a student from class for being disruptive.  The student refused to leave, necessitating Mr. Riley to physically guide him out.  During that encounter, Mr. Riley became too physical with the student, who, at one point during the exchange was forced to the ground.

The district fully understands that there may be times that require a staff member to intervene physically in a situation–to break up a fight or to protect themselves personally.  In this case the district determined that there was no immediate need for the amount of force used.  Mr. Riley, who had been a model employee for the district and a champion for struggling students, was removed from his position yesterday and is no longer employed at Wyoming Public Schools.

It is vitally important for the district that its students and parents are ensured a safe, welcoming learning environment.  When that environment is jeopardized for any reason, we will take swift action to make a correction.  Our nearly 500 employees come to work every day committed to helping students succeed and feel at home here.  This was an unfortunate incident that does not represent the care and dedication of our employees.


Riley, an assistant football coach at Wyoming High School and former football player at the University of Michigan and in the NFL, was arraigned Wednesday for misdemeanor assault and released on a $100 bond.


Some students have taken to twitter with the hashtag #BringBackRiley in support of their former teacher and coach.

Adult Students Look to Education to Help their Children

School News NetworkBy: Erin Albanese – School News Network

Lori Hayes is finishing up math and science courses in the Wyoming Public Schools Adult Education Program to earn her GED. Once in awhile, she has to bring her 10-year-old daughter, Chloe, to class with her.

One day, after listening to a lesson led by teacher Justin Van Etten, Chloe walked up to the white board and correctly finished a math problem. “That’s why I’m doing this,” said Hayes, who has two other daughters, ages 17 and 15. “I didn’t really see how important this is until I saw her up there doing what I was learning. It was inspiring.”

Hayes, 37, is among thousands of adults statewide working to earn GEDs, improving their basic literacy and math skills or learning English in state-funded adult education programs. They are seeking brighter futures, better paying jobs, college degrees and careers. Many, like Hayes, also hope to give their children a better chance at their own dreams.

School News NetworkHayes and Jeremy Showell, also a Wyoming student, served as first-hand voices on the impact of adult education programs and the need for improved investment and resources. They joined fellow students from across the state in addressing legislators and key policymakers during “FamilySpeak: Building Family Literacy Through Adult Education” at the State Capitol in Lansing.

The event was hosted by Michigan’s Children, a nonprofit organization focused on the needs of the most challenged children from birth to adulthood and their families, and the Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education, which works to provide a framework for community education at the local, state and federal levels.

Bob Steeh, president of MACAE, said state aid for adult education was reduced in the 1990s from $80 million to $22 million, forcing many programs to close. Now allocations total about $25 million, and students in state-funded programs, usually run through school districts, have dropped from 80,000 to 29,000 per year. Programs decreased from 175 to 75.

Fewer locations mean many students make long daily treks to get to class.

School News Network“It all equates to how you can access programs. My biggest argument is if we want to curb poverty and change the lives of families, we have to do something about that,” Steeh said.

As the state is pushing to improve third-grade reading proficiency, investment needs to target the entire family, said Michele Corey, vice president of programs for Michigan’s Children. Statewide, 42,000 people ages 18-34 have less than a ninth-grade education.

“There’s a lot of evidence that talks about how connected the kids’ educational success is with their parents’ educational success,” she said.

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

Wyoming’s New ‘Sinking Fund’ Will Keep School Infrastructure Afloat

Wyoming Public SchoolsOn election day, the Wyoming Public School District was hopeful the citizens of Wyoming would vote to pass the funding request. The request was for a sinking fund, a shorter, smaller stream of money that acts differently from a bond issue.

“It was very hard to get a read on the way the public felt. It was very quiet,” explained Superintendent Tom Reeder. “We tried to be as informative as possible over social media and school news letters.”

The sinking fund request was passed by a vote of 1,445 to 978 and won every precinct.

The new funding will raise over $400,000 per year with little, if any, increase to the Wyoming tax payers. The sinking fund will help pay for infrastructure updates until the next bond proposal between the 2021/22 and 2022/23 school year. By that time, the District’s millages will be down to zero. Much like paying off a house mortgage.

How is a sinking fund different from a bond issue? Well, for starters, a sinking fund is for a much shorter period of time. On top of the duration, a sinking fund provides a little bit of money at a time instead of it all upfront. With a sinking fund, no debt needs to be repaid because a smaller amount of money is being brought in to pay for numerous projects. With a bond issue, the millages passed off to the taxpayer pay off the debt for the large lump sum taken upfront.

Wyoming Junior HighOn the whole, sinking funds are more economical for smaller projects because there is no interest paid on the projects; you pay as you go.

Now that we’ve covered the jargon on the difference between a sinking fund and a bond, it’s time to talk about the real meat of what was voted on – where is the money going?

Quick answer, it’s going towards small projects that need repair on a schedule. Things like roofs, parking lots, and mechanical equipment.

Longer – more detailed – answer, it’s going towards safety and security, efficiency, and infrastructure tune-ups district wide. The breakdown is below.

Replace and Re-key Doors: Doors are rusted and multiple keys are needed in one building. Re-keying allows for a master-key allowing access to multiple school buildings.

Emergency Lighting: Emergency lighting systems are outdated and need to be upgraded for increased safety in the event of an emergency or loss of power.

Upgrade heating and cooling units: Current system runs at high output all the time.

Install High Efficiency Heating System: New web-based control unit updated system will help with energy savings by allowing the heating system to run at lower output during mild weather.

WyomingExterior Lights: Provide better nighttime lighting for after school events.

Remodel Student bathrooms: Replace bathroom fixtures with energy-efficient fixtures and use low maintenance materials to reduce cleaning times and extend useful life.

Replace or Repair Roofs: Building roofs are past their 20-year useful lives. Recent inspections indicate that future leaks are only a matter of time.

Parking Lots: Lots are in need of resurfacing. Parking lot capacity would be increased to ease congestion of drop-off and pick-up areas.

Superintendent Reeder was very thankful to the public and adamant that the funds were needed, “We are very thankful to the public and we will stay transparent with where the money is going. Our buildings are 50 years old. They may look nice on the outside, but issues are starting to present themselves and they need to be fixed.”

Proposals Passed and Incumbents Stand Strong after Votes are Counted

VoteBy: Mike DeWitt

The results are in!

Steven Redmond
Steven Redmond

Kentwood and Wyoming residents visited the polls yesterday to cast their votes in the local elections and proposals. Between the two cities, there were two school district proposals and three city commission elections.


Commissioner At Large

Incumbent Commissioner-at-large Steven Redmond (appointed in March 2015) ran against Thomas Webb. Webb won the August primary by 46 votes, but both he and Redmond had to run again in November because neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. This time, Redmond toppled Webb by winning 54 percent of the vote with a final tally of 2,147 to 1,855.

Robert Coughlin
Robert Coughlin
Commissioner (1st Ward)

Robert Coughlin ran for re-election against William Wenzel, and the voters decided to keep the incumbent in his chair. Coughlin won the race with 67 percent of the vote in a final tally of 1,293 to 637.

Commissioner (2nd Ward)

Michael Brown ran unopposed for his re-election. Brown pulled in all 1,715 votes.

Michael Brown
Michael Brown
Kentwood Public Schools

After voters initially said no to a $64.86 million bond proposal back in May (by only 353 votes), the Kentwood School District rededicated their efforts towards getting the word out on why the bond was needed. The new bond focused on building, security, and technology renovations and improvements. It was placed back on to the November ballot and passed by a vote count of 3,125 to 2,108.


WyomingWyoming Public Schools

Voters in Wyoming voted to pass a building and site sinking fund for Wyoming Public Schools that will raise about $400,000 each year. The sinking fund will go to infrastructure repairs like roofs, parking lots, doors, windows, and boilers. The fund should get the district to 2021, then a millage can be proposed to renovate all the schools in the district.

International Exchange Students Enrich High School Culture

Chinese Students Zheng "Kelly" Haohua and Guo "James" Kaixiang discuss instruments with Band Director Jane Detweiler
Chinese Students Zheng “Kelly” Haohua and Guo “James” Kaixiang discuss instruments with Band Director Jane Detweiler

By: Erin Albanese – School News Network

Chinese students Zheng “Kelly” Haohua and Guo “James” Kaixiang chatted with Band Director Jane Detweiler about playing instruments in the Wyoming High School band. Brazilian student Gabriel Lopez Alves quickly alternated his arms in a fast up-and-down motion using battle ropes in gym class, and Thai student Noparrat (Mint) Likhithattaslip and German student Veronika Rieks settled into their seats in English class.

It was a typical day at Wyoming High School. But this school year, the already diverse student body has gotten even more so thanks to new agreements with international student-exchange agencies. Thirteen students from 10 countries recently arrived to attend Wyoming High School for up to two years.

Five students from Guangzhou, China, are attending through the Weiming Education Group. Eight others come from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Germany and Turkey, coordinated through Educatius International and other study abroad companies.

Several plan to attend college courses next school year through the Wyoming Middle College, a dual-enrollment program with Grand Rapids Community College.

Brazilian student Gabriel Lopez Alves experiences physical education in America
Brazilian student Gabriel Lopez Alves experiences physical education in America

“I want to learn English really well,” said Chinese student Xie “Niko” Wei, from China, who is interested in economics and business. “I hope I can graduate this year. I want to enjoy every second in America. I want to learn all about the culture of Americans and how this country works. As we know, America is the strongest country in the world. There are a lot of different things we can learn.”

Spanish student Lucia Oliveros-Rodrigues said she’s come to develop her language skills and learn about America.

“I came here because I wanted to change my life and improve my English,” she said. “I want to learn six different languages.”

Why Wyoming is a Perfect Fit

Weiming Education Group coordinators approached Wyoming administrators about hosting Chinese students because of Wyoming High School’s diverse student body and strong English Language Learner support system, said Superintendent Tom Reeder. The student body already represents 20 different birth countries with a large EL population. Flags from every country line a hallway by the main office.

Standing out because of one’s nationality just doesn’t happen at Wyoming, said Superintendent Tom Reeder.

“We thought, ‘Why not bring even more diversity?'” Reeder said. It is the first time in several years that Wyoming has enrolled international exchange students.

Weiming has partnerships with several Michigan high schools including East Kentwood, Rockford, Traverse City, Byron High School in Byron Area Schools, Oxford High School in Oxford Community Schools, and Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills Schools.

Nopparet "Mint" Likhithattaslip, from Thailand, exchanges phone numbers with Veronika Rieks, from Germany
Nopparet “Mint” Likhithattaslip, from Thailand, exchanges phone numbers with Veronika Rieks, from Germany

“The exchange students are fitting in real well,” said Dean of Students Jesus Hernandez, who is helping coordinate the program. “They will need support in the building, and the staff stepped up and want to help.”

The district receives $10,000 per student from Weiming Education Group and $4,000 per Educatius student, in addition to state per-pupil aid, Reeder said.

All in the Family

The students are living with local host families, who are introducing them to culture through food, travel and customs. Senior Vanessa Cage’s family is hosting Chinese student Zhu “Mike” Zicheng. Since his arrival, they’ve gone to a water park, shopping and on other excursions. Other students have visited the lakeshore, taken bike rides and gone camping with host families.

“It’s really fun. Mike’s really funny,” Vanessa said. “He taught us a lot of Chinese words. I know my name in Chinese.”

As a student, Vanessa sees the international program as a positive.

“I think it’s better for the whole school,” she said. “I’ve gone to four different schools and they weren’t diverse. That’s why I love this school. Everybody’s nice here. I haven’t met anyone who puts people out for what they are.”

Hernandez and Reeder said they are hopeful the program will expand over the next few years.

“It’s that whole piece of understanding each other, understanding people from different parts of the world who our kids can gain knowledge from. I think it’s part of the Wyoming dream to see this expand. Absolutely,” Hernandez said.


Weiming Education Group
SNN story on Rockford Exchange Students
SNN stories on Weiming
Chinese Students in Kentwood and Rockford: So Far, So Good

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

Kids and Mental Health: ‘Parenting Doesn’t Come With a Manual’

During Wyoming Public Schools’ mental health series, parents and students explored ways to improve communication with each other.

Listening before reacting; approaching each other at the right time; using good body language and knowing what’s going on in students’ lives were some of the tips.

Student Deja Coldiron responds to tips on communicating with parents
Student Deja Coldiron responds to tips on communication with parents.

“Parenting doesn’t come with a manual,” said Anne Maede, who has a freshman and a junior in the district and attended the series for information. “It’s hard being a parent, but to have the opportunity to hear these ideas is refreshing on how positive parenting can be.”

 Positive relationships are key to good metal health, said Wyoming Junior High social worker Brooke Davis. When it comes to suicide prevention issues such as depression and anxiety, effective communication and knowing what resources to seek if mental illness is suspected are crucial.She and other educators recently hosted the three-week series at Wyoming Junior High School to link families with resources and get students involved with positive activities.

Topics included “Emotional Wellness: Live, Laugh, Love, with Christy Buck,” executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan; “Communicating with Youth,” with Pastor Raycheen Sims, from Grand Rapids First Church; and “Communicating with Adults,” with Pastor Tommy McCaul, also from Grand Rapids First Church.

“As a district, we decided to look at the area of how to reach parents on the topic of mental health,” Davis said. “I talk to students and they sometimes don’t feel a part of anything. We really want them to get connected.”

Myths and Facts Concerning Mental HealthMyth: Troubled youth just need more discipline.
Fact: Almost 20 percent of youths in juvenile justice facilities have a serious emotional disturbance, and most have a diagnosable mental disorder.Myth: Teenagers don’t suffer from “real” mental illnesses–they are just moody.
Fact: One in five teens has some type of mental health problem in a given year. Ten million children and adolescents suffer from a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.Myth: People who abuse drugs aren’t sick, they’re just weak.
Fact: Over 66 percent of young people with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health problem that complicates treatment.Myth: Eating disorders only affect celebrities and models.
Fact: Three to 5 percent of teenage girls and 4 to 10 percent of boys have a diagnosable eating disorder. Anorexia affects 2.5 million Americans and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.Myth: Children are too young to get depressed; it must be something else.
Fact: More than 2 million children suffer from depression in the United States, and more than half of them go untreated.

Myth: We’re good people. Mental illness doesn’t happen in our family.
Fact: One in four families is affected by a mental health problem.

Myth: Childhood mental health problems are the result of poor parenting.
Fact: If someone in your family has a mental illness, then you may have a greater chance of developing the illness. Mental illness generally has little or nothing to do with parenting.

Myth: Talk about suicide is an idle threat that need not be taken seriously.
Fact: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among high school students and the second leading cause among college students. Talk about suicide should always be taken seriously.

Source: Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan

Knowing Where to Turn

The topic is especially relevant at Wyoming Junior High, where students, staff and community members were hit hard by the suicide death of ninth-grader Brandon Larsen in October, Davis said.

“For us, it is getting kids to communicate with adults and adults to communicate with kids in an appropriate fashion so they trust us. We believe that leads to kids being more connected to the community, so we start to see a decrease in that suicide rate we’ve started to see a spike in,” she said.

That message resonated with Grace Terpstra, a Grandville High School sophomore and member of the Wyoming Teen Council.

Pastor Tommy McCaul, from Grand Rapids First Church, talks to students about communicating well

“A lot of kids really struggle with mental health,” she said. “This is very important because it honestly shapes who they are and who they become.”According to data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, from 1986 to 2000, suicide rates in the U.S. dropped from 12.5 to 10.4 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in the population. Over the next 12 years, however, the rate generally increased, and by 2013 stood at 12.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2013, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

Brandon’s death led to a district investigation on whether he had been bullied at school. Though the investigation resulted in no evidence of that occurring, Davis said it’s imperative students notify adults when they see bullying, and learn to be strong enough to take a stand.

Closing gaps and building bridges is the result of effective dialogue, and Davis said it can have a tremendous impact on mental well-being.

Wyoming Junior High social worker Brooke Davis works to build awareness of mental health issues
Wyoming Junior High Social Worker Brooke Davis works to build awareness of mental health issues.

Wyoming Junior High social worker Brooke Davis works to build awareness of mental health issues

The series culminated in a “Camp & Resource Fair Extravaganza,” where families received information on summer camp opportunities for students to have positive experiences during the summer.

The effort involved a partnership with Wyoming-based Grand Rapids First Church, the City of Wyoming Teen Council and several organizations including Network 180, a community mental health authority for Kent County.