Making summer matter: Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities keeps students engaged

School's out for summer soon, but one local organization continues to offer students experiences creating studio art, exploring leadership, and even performing in a rock band. By providing a variety of creative, engaging summer programming, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities keeps students following their passions even during the dog days of summer.
Despite the school year coming to a close, learning is always going on at Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities. By enriching the neighborhood through a variety of diverse and engaging programming, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities is constantly providing something for kids and teenagers to do during the summer.
These summer programs aren't meant to replace or replicate the kinds of structured, academic learning that happens during the school year. Instead, the multi-disciplinary, participatory summer offerings at GAAH strive to spark students' creativity and keep them engaged in following their passion and forming their identity during the warmer months.
“When you’re [young], you’re already building your identity,” says Steffanie Rosalez, program director for the Cook Arts Center. “The activities that are surrounding you and your environment and the relation in which you see yourself to those things really has an impact on your future. So when kids are constantly surrounding themselves with [activities], they’re forming their identity.”
At both GAAH's facilities, the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center, the importance of learning and constant engagement is a mission both centers live up to with their wide variety of summer programming through the collaboration of local organizations. Through the Believe 2 Become neighborhood initiative, the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities organization strives to help students achieve and pursue a love for education in their future through their “Make Summer Matter” program.
Each facility provides programs that cater to the K-12 age group, with specific programming to help students gain valuable skills in various disciplines. In the Cook Library Center, for example, the S.T.E.A.M.M. program is doing just that.
The “Full S.T.E.A.M.M. Ahead!” program is headed by Cook Library Center Director Sue Garza and focuses on the science, technology, engineering, art, math, and music realms of learning. The program, which runs from July 6 through July 31, is intended to expose kids to the realm of critical learning through a system of workshops, projects and field trips.
“[This program] is just exposing kids to other avenues and occupations that they may not have exposure to in other ways,” says Garza.
By collaborating with other Grand Rapids organizations, such as the YMCA, Kids’ Food Basket and the Creative Youth Center, the programs offered by both the Cook Library Center and the Cook Arts Center work to enrich the students that file through their facilities through cultural immersion and involvement.
“Learning doesn’t have to stop in the summer,” says Garza. “It can continue and be fun and engaging and the whole family can participate.”
The Cook Arts Center is also planning a variety of engaging programs, some beloved annual favorites and others new, creative offerings.
The Summer Arts & Learning program is structured like a summer day camp and is available to students ages five through 12. Fifty students rotate through several activities per day. The Cook Arts Center has four studios within its walls, including dance, music, art, and ceramics. Through the incorporation of important fundamentals of learning, such as math, reading, visual arts, the activities that students participate in help stimulate minds and encourage learning.
The “Teen Leaders in the Arts” program is structured through the Youth Driven Spaces Programming Model, a model that empowers teens to choose their programming and learning objectives. Through field trips, projects and building portfolio experience, teens in this program are set up for success. It also keeps students engaged in learning and leadership after middle school. There is also a chance to give back to their community, with mural restorations in the possible works.
“I did trips like [this] when I was in high school,” says Rosalez. “It changed my life.”
Under Rosalez's leadership, the center will also offer their annual “Girls Rock! Grand Rapids” program. With the programming running from August 17 to August 23, girls ages eight to 16 are invited to be in a rock band. This volunteer-run program encourages girls to learn instruments, join together and perform in front of a crowd, while also recording the song they perform. Students involved have the opportunity to take instrumental lessons, write music in workshops, try their hand at writing song lyrics, and perform. Rosalez says Girls Rock! Grand Rapids works to empower young girls and to break the stereotype that only men make it in the music business.
With thoughtful, community-centered planning and execution, the programs that are offered by both the Cook Library Center and Arts Center exist to serve the community in which they are built.
“Our organization exists to be a resource for the people who live in this neighborhood and to provide [people] with opportunities,” says Rosalez.
Rosalez and Garza know these kinds of summer opportunities will prepare students for a lifetime of experiences. Through constant interactions and learning opportunities during the summer, students who are constantly engaged with activities and learning are more apt to want to continue their education.
“[We’re] finding that interest, finding that passion,” says Garza. “By being able to explore that passion in a safe environment, that gives you the tools that you need to encourage you.”
Of course, there are some barriers that prevent kids from participating in these events. With the main complaint being transportation, the program directors for the G.A.A.H. are working with whatever comes their way, working with bus routes and even a shuttle system to allow more students to access summer fun.
So while school may almost be out for summer, by empowering residents of the neighborhood along Grandville Avenue and offering smart, meaningful summer opportunities, Garza and Rosalez find that passion is always alive in their community.
For more information on future programming, please visit

Mayra Monroy is an Aquinas College student studying Communication and Journalism. Mayra is a Texas native living in West Michigan and enjoys studying the culture and artistic atmosphere of Grand Rapids. 

Photography by Adam Bird 

This story is part of a series of solutions-focused stories and profiles about the programs and people that are positively impacting the lives of Michigan kids. The series is produced by Michigan Nightlight and is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read other stories in this series here.

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