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Museum School high school on exhibit

On the morning of August 15th, students, teachers, administrators, local officials, and community members celebrated the opening of the Grand Rapids Public Museum School high school in the old Public Museum building, 54 Jefferson Ave. SE.

After the ribbon cutting, highlighted by remarks from 9th graders Jourdin Merrill and Haley Miller, tours and a street party continued the celebration. Those old enough to remember visits to the building when it functioned as a museum appreciated a renovation that has not altered the character of the building.

“The purpose of all the spaces is to be dynamic and used in different ways for different purposes,” says Chris Hanks, Museum School principal.

The main hall remains intact, its display cases updated for exhibits made by the school’s students. North of the main hall, the front half of the first floor is a multi-purpose space for theatre, music, and videography. A large common area and glass-walled rehearsal spaces have all the tech needed to support student projects. Retractable glass doors opening on the main hall open up both spaces for large group activities. The back half provides instructional space and labs for studying existing museum artifacts, processing new artifacts for the collection, and designing exhibits. In addition, the building connects to the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s archives building.

“The students will have a close relationship with (the Public Museum’s) curatorial staff,” Hanks says. “They will bring artifacts here. They will do research on artifacts and learn about protecting and preserving artifacts.”

South of the main hall, a small cafeteria offers limited seating as students and teachers will be encouraged to eat lunch together in collaborative spaces throughout the school. To the front, the design lab brings shop class into the 21st century.

“Design lab is an arts space, a maker space. I think of it like shop class for creative professionals,” Hanks says. “Students will do a lot of computer-based design. We have a 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, all sorts of printing, a miter saw, and other tools. A separate clean lab maintains air quality for the 3D printers and laser cutters. We hope our students will start businesses using that equipment, serving small businesses downtown.”

Upstairs, the north wing, dedicated to English, language arts, science, and social studies, has classrooms on either side with a large, casual common space in between. The curriculum is organized for three or four teachers to co-teach 80 to 90 students in different configurations. The south wing is set up for teaching design, tech, and mathematics. Throughout the school, video displays, mics, and speakers give every student front-row access to instruction. Built-in benches along both long upstairs hallways provide further space for students to study or collaborate in small groups.

“It is a different model in the sense that we are trying to break down barriers between teachers and students,” Hanks says. “We encourage them to have lunch together, work together, and collaborate.”

The ribbon-cutting event not only celebrated the Museum School’s expansion but also applauded its status as one of ten XQ Super Schools in the U.S. The XQ: The Super School Project launched in September 2015 as an open call to rethink and design the American high school.

When the public museum was first founded, the Grand Rapids School Board oversaw it; artifacts were displayed at Central High School. When Grand Rapids architect, Roger Allen, designed the 54 Jefferson building in the late 1930s, he created a space that met visitors at street level, symbolizing accessibility and free dissemination of knowledge to all. The GRPS Museum School “utilizes design thinking techniques, an immersive environment, and real-life experiences that inspire passionate curiosity, nurture creative problem solving, cultivate critical thinking, and instigate innovation.”

Reconnecting the historic Grand Rapids Public Museum building with Grand Rapids Public School students both honors its past and continues its original mission into the future.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor


Roberto Clemente Park’s a natural: Two City departments collaborate on a remarkable park project

When the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department began planning extensive infrastructure upgrades to control stormwater runoff in the Godfrey Avenue/Rumsey Street area, they sought out an unusual partner: Parks and Recreation. Their inquiry of whether Roberto Clemente Park could be a part of their plan has inspired one of the most innovative city park renovation plans to date.

“A couple of years ago, when they asked if there could be stormwater storage in the park, lightbulbs started going off,” says David Marquardt, director, City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. “We said, ‘yes, but let’s look at this together to build in some opportunities that not only benefit storm water runoff but also benefit park users.’”

The resulting design will make Roberto Clemente Park one of the most fun places for kids to enjoy natural play and outdoor learning. The design was inspired by Grand Rapids’ involvement as a Cities Connecting Children to Nature cohort, a program of the Children & Nature Network. Rain gardens, bioswales, and tributary streams that cleanse and manage stormwater will double as educational sites and natural play areas. Students from adjacent Southwest Community Campus school will be able to walk down the steps to new outdoor classrooms.

“We started initial public outreach with the neighborhood and got some good feedback and direction,” Marquardt says. “This is a unique and distinct opportunity for Roberto Clemente Park, not only in building in some typical park improvements for this park space but doing so, in part, with the Department of Environmental Services.”

That community feedback has inspired several of the planned improvements. The existing skate park’s new elements will include connecting skate paths throughout the park. Reconstruction of the existing soccer field will improve drainage and extend the playing season. A new picnic shelter will give families and community members a place to host meals, parties, and events. An approved basketball court and bike racks are also part of the plan.

“Community members have had a lot of good ideas,” Marquardt says. “What I always find inspiring is community members’ stories, their deep interest in these park spaces, and how they can become more relevant for them as they think about using them with their families and their friends. These ideas aren’t necessarily coming from the Parks department but from the people that use these spaces, which is always the way we prefer to do our work.”

Marquardt notes that Parks and Recreation will host an upcoming series of community meetings to gather even more input from residents living near the park. If grant funds from the Michigan DNR come through in December of this year as hoped, construction on the project will commence the summer of 2019—and will take about six months to complete. The Department of Environmental Services will provide roughly $900,000 of the estimated $1.6 million price-tag. Between $300,000 and $400,000 will come from City millage funding and the remaining funding coming from grants.

“Since the millage passed in 2013, the City has invested roughly $8 million of those park millage dollars. While that is significant, what is inspiring is that we’ve leveraged those $8 million to capture another $4 million of outside funding to support park improvement projects,” he says. “Partnerships with the Michigan DNR, the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services, local nonprofits, and private partners have really helped carry these park improvement projects so much further than we could go with park millage funding alone.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Image courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation


Check it out: Kelloggsville High School brings new library home to students and neighbors

In January 2018, Kelloggsville High School's new, two-story, 6,000 square-foot media center became the newest Kent District Library (KDL) branch. During the school day, only students access it. (Of the 800 students that signed up for new library cards, 394 used them before the end of January.) Three days a week, after school, and alternate Saturdays, the Kelloggsville KDL branch opens to the public. During the summer, the library will be open during staggered hours, six days a week.

“Kelloggsville High School students now have this amazing library full of KDL’s collections right in their school. This enables them to connect to all the resources available at KDL. They can have any book in the KDL collection put on hold and sent to their library,” says Lindsey Dorfman, director of branch services and operations for KDL. “It also gives them access to the Michigan Electronic Library and opens up a world of resources, for example, all the databases that KDL subscribes to.”

The new branch also benefits Wyoming’s Kelloggsville neighborhood, where many residents don’t have transportation to the Wyoming or Kentwood libraries. “This branch gives them easy access to everything KDL has to offer—resources and activities—and it provides a safe space to go hang out and connect,” Dorfman says.

The library’s grand opening took place January 17, 2018 during the district’s monthly “Rocket Family Night.” According to Dorfman, 30 community members who did not have library cards signed up for one during the event.

“We had a wonderful turnout with parents, students, and community members,” she says. “Everybody had a really good time exploring the space and learning about all the resources.”

Local librarian led the way

Jim Ward, a Forest Hills Public Schools librarian for nearly 40 years, was instrumental in bringing the KDL branch to the school. When he was a kid in the 60s, the Kentwood Library was located in the Kelloggsville Public Schools neighborhood, just east of Division Avenue near 44th Street.

“My mom used to take me to that library. It was the first one I ever went into,” he says. “Now, most suburban libraries are in more affluent areas. When I presented the idea to KDL’s executive director, Lance Werner, I said this gives you the chance to serve an urban community.”

Ward remained in the district. He and his wife, Jane Ward, sent their three daughters through Kelloggsville schools. After the girls graduated, the Wards continued their involvement there. Jane Ward serves as a trustee on the Kelloggsville school board. In 2014, the district asked Jim to consult on the school’s new media center.

“When we were looking at designing the facility, we went to Thornapple Kellogg High School. They had a (Barry County) public library in their school. I said, ‘Let’s try to do this,’” Ward says. “Kelloggsville, like much of Wyoming, is becoming more and more urbanized. For kids to go to the public library three miles to Wyoming or five miles to Kentwood, there is not a direct bus route. This allows them to have access to all of the services, which is major.”

“It’s more than books”

For students who can’t afford computers, that access plays a huge role in their success at school. They not only use the library’s eight terminals, each loaded with word processing and other software, they can also check out iPads.

“It’s more than books. Having access to books online and information through the library’s connections pushes the door wide open,” Ward says. “If students can check out a device that gets them more access, then boom!”

KDL and Kelloggsville Public Schools are sharing the cost of employing Courtnei Moyses, the branch’s youth and school librarian. A third partner in the project, the Steelcase Foundation, awarded a $250,000 grant that will help fund the project over the next three years.

“One of our main goals at KDL is to make library use easy and more convenient for everybody,” Dorfman concludes. “We thought this was a fabulous opportunity to do that.”

KDL Kelloggsville Branch
Kelloggsville High School, 4787 Division Ave. SW, Wyoming, MI 49548. Bus Route 1.

School year hours:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday: 3 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • First and third Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

June 18 - August 17, 2018 hours:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday and Thursday: 12 – 8 p.m.
  • First and third Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Kent District Library


Local First workshop encourages local businesses to establish equitable business practices, invest

About a year ago, employees at the nonprofit organization Local First started setting aside some time out of each staff meeting to be reserved specifically for discussion and debate.

 

Led by a different staff member each time, employees volunteer to bring in an article or video about a wide range of topics that are somehow related to issues or ideas surrounding things like inclusion, diversity, equity, and cultural competency, and then for about 10-15 minutes, they just listen to each other.

 

We discuss those articles and learn from the different perspectives and I think it’s helped us to shift our own perspective,” says Elissa Hillary, president of Local First. “…(We) have more empathy for others and all of the different kinds of experiences people can have.”

 

She says these discussions have changed the way her organization thinks about its own programming, a constant reminder to consider all of the different kinds of perspectives or circumstances that can shape a person’s experience, and to try harder as an organization to be proactive in removing any potential barriers for equal opportunity.

 

“With this most recent street party event, it prompted us to make sure we had barrier-free access for people with wheelchairs or strollers so they could get to the front of the stage to see the show, and make sure all of our signage was bilingual,” says Hillary. “When you have a heightened awareness, all kinds of things can spring from these conversations.”

 

And while honest dialogue is a necessary catalyst for any kind of advancement seeking a more inclusive and equitable culture, so is knowing how to create actionable steps that implement real change. During the most recent installment of the 2017 Measure What Matters workshop series, panelists taught participants how to do just that.

 

Hosted at the offices of LINC Community Revitalization at 1167 Madison Ave. SE, the workshop titled “Implementing Policies Promoting Inclusion and Equity” explored the importance of supporting an inclusive local economy, providing its participants—largely members of local and small business community—with the resources to develop and implement equitable and inclusive practices under their own roofs.

 

During the workshop, a panel of four different diversity and inclusion experts offered insights into creating ethical business practices that promote access and inclusion for people with mental and physical differences. Participants learned not only how to create official value statements and written inclusion policies for their businesses, but also ways to implement company-wide policies and encourage conversations among employees.
 

“Small businesses are uniquely poised to be in contact and in relationships with their communities, and we see that both in the services and things they offer,” says Hillary says. “But that can also be true in the way they hire and recruit employees from the neighborhoods in which they are located and those surrounding neighborhoods.”

 

While having a concrete statement for a businesses inclusion and equity policy can definitely help an organization define itself externally, Hillary says its even more valuable when it comes to internal decision making.

 

“There are a multitude of ways that having a specific [inclusion and equity] statements or policies around diversity, inclusion, and equity can make a difference,” she says. “It can affect the way an organization thinks about hiring, the way an organization thinks about procurement and purchasing, the way an organization thinks about any number of things.”

 

When it comes to what kind of business practices fall under that umbrella of diversity, inclusion, and equity, Hillary says it’s a pretty wide range and oftentimes varies depending on the specific needs of a business’ employees or community.

 

“For example, if your business is hiring for people within walking distance, think about whether or not those people might need access to public transportation, or if they are able to walk or bike to work. Then, as an employer, create policies that can help support that,” she says, adding that another example would be business trying to make a real effort to foster a workplace that is friendly for all types of employees, whether that means creating policies that help support working parents or support diversity and inclusion efforts.

 

“Basically, it’s making an effort to meet people where they are in a really human way to ensure they have a great work experience,” says Hillary. “And in turn, you’ll benefit from having a really talented workforce.”

 

Local First is hosting its next Measure What Matters event at The Greenwell in East Hills on June 26 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The networking mixer will gather community members and decision makers to socialize and discuss ways to use business as a force for good. To learn more about Local First programming and upcoming events, visit Local First's event page or find it here on Facebook.

 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Images courtesy of Local First

 

GROW's micro-loan program increases opportunities for women entrepreneurs in West Michigan

Although the organization Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women (GROW) has been an active entrepreneurial resource for West Michigan women interested in business ownership for more than 25 years, CEO Bonnie Nawara says it’s not uncommon for she and her co-workers to be approached at speaking engagements by attendees who can’t believe they’ve never heard of the organization before. 

“I think the city has grown, and I think there are a lot of new people that aren’t familiar with the resources available to them in the city,” says Nawara, whose organization’s micro-loan program will now be able to provide more support than ever before thanks to a recent designation as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). In order to receive this certification from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, the organization must have a primary mission of promoting community development, providing financial products and services; serving one or more defined low-income target markets; maintaining accountability to the community it serves; and being a legal non-governmental entity. 

Nawara says the CDFI designation will allow for GROW’s micro-loan program to offer five times the funding it has in the past, increasing from $50,000 to $250,000, creating even more financial support options to be provided alongside its professional, high-quality training and business counseling programs in finance, management, marketing, and strategic planning.

Over the past four and a half years, GROW has provided more than $1 million in these micro-loan funds, helping local individuals create more than 53 new businesses, fund 21 new start-ups, and create 92 jobs in low to moderate income communities last year alone. And although 77 percent of GROW’s clients are women, the organization’s service demographics reach beyond gender to include 23 men, and 51 percent of the businesses served by GROW’s micro-loan program are minority owned. 

“If you are a micro-borrower under GROW’s umbrella, then our training resources are free resources to you, and we really encourage our borrowers to take advantage of that,” Nawara says.

For more information on GROW, its micro-loan program, or educational opportunities for new business owners, visit www.http://www.growbusiness.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women

Disability Advocates summer day camp empowers disabled community to organize

It took a bariatric weight loss surgery and a few years of emotional rebuilding before Grand Rapids resident Michele Childs felt comfortable enough to speak out and advocate for herself again. 

“I would say the last four years I’ve been really out there in my community. I had bariatric surgery to help with all of the weight I needed to lose, and after that I finally was confident enough to start speaking out,” says Childs, a Detroit native turned local community activist after years of feeling discriminated against for not only her weight, but also her race as an African American woman. “Being obese, you’re shy you don’t want to speak out; nobody takes you seriously.” 

While raising two children as a single mother, her challenges were only exacerbated by severe depression and other mental health issues that made daily life a much larger battle and although she’s in a much better place than she was five or six years ago, Childs says she still struggles to find steady work and spends a lot of her time volunteering at homeless shelters, food pantries, and tutoring children when she’s not sharing her story as the speaker for numerous community events. 

She says her disability — unique to her circumstance and individual self— is the kind of disability people don’t think about too often, but it’s the kind she’s hoping she will be able to help combat with the help of organizations like Disability Advocates of Kent County, which held its very first advocacy summer camp last week. 

Running from 1:30-5 p.m. on Aug. 2, 3, 4, and 6, the four-day camp was spearheaded by DAKC Community Organizer Adelyn VanTol, who wanted to give more people with disabilities a chance to engage with one another about how to best advocate for themselves and the larger community. 

VanTol says the idea for the camp was the brainchild of herself and Grand Valley State University occupational therapy professor Jennifer Freesman. 

“She was expressing how occupational therapy really is about community and about the barriers in communities that prevent people from having the occupations they love,” says VanTol, adding that traditional education, however, was more focused on the individual barriers affecting single persons versus the larger systemic barriers that exist, like lack of public transportation or the need for personal care attendants to help disabled people get dressed in the morning so they can make it to work on time. 

So the two organizations partnered together, bringing in Freeman’s occupational therapy students from GVSU to work alongside the disabled campers, 12 of which registered for this summer’s flagship day camp. 

Each day, the campers listened to a speaker discuss their experiences or advocacy work in a specific topic, then together picked the topic they thought most important to address and from there began to discuss solutions and strategies for implementation — the latter an important part for VanTol as an organizer, as she wanted to make sure her camp could bridge the gap between discussion and action, equipping campers not only with the knowledge, but also the tools to be effective advocates. 

“A big point of this is giving people a sense of their own power,” VanTol says. “In this first camp, we really have found people who recognize their own power and they’re excited just to have some resources available to help them use their own voice and work with others who are in the same boat.” 

For more information on the organization and its programming, visit Disability Advocates of Kent County online or find them here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Adelyn VanTol/Disability Advocates KC
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