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Cook Library Scholars: A pathway of opportunity

Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities provides a safe and welcoming environment where students can flourish.
Cook Library Scholars

Cook Library Scholars /Eric Tank

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Rubi loves to practice her writing skills

Rubi loves to practice her writing skills /Courtesy of GAAH

Itza loves diving into new books

Itza loves diving into new books /Courtesy of GAAH

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Meet two special girls from the Grandville Avenue neighborhood: Rubi and Itza.

Rubi is in the second grade at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School (formerly Hall School) where she is one of the best students in her class.

“That girl’s like a sponge,” her teacher, Michelle DeBoer, says.

Reading is Rubi’s favorite thing to do because she likes to “learn new words and learn about new ideas,” but writing is a close second. Rubi says that in kindergarten she didn’t like to write, but her attitude changed when she discovered that she wrote faster than anyone in her class.

Rubi has a sharp memory and a strong work ethic. She loves to tell long, elaborate stories. She is a walking encyclopedia about the panda, her favorite animal.

Itza, a third grader at Chavez Elementary, is a voracious reader. Her reading group recently read a thirty-chapter book that Itza finished while most of the other students were still on chapter 10.

“I read this book so fast it got stuck in my head,” she said.

During a recent discussion about leadership and the different types of leaders who have made a difference in their lives, Itza had this perceptive comment.

“There are even some people who stand up for animals and for plants; without our plants and animals we couldn’t live on the earth,” she said.

Rubi and Itza both come from impoverished, Spanish-speaking homes, and the statistics do not work in their favor. There is evidence that Latino students in Grand Rapids Public Schools tend to fall further and further behind their classmates with each school year. The ETS Center for Research points to a large body of research showing that children growing up in poverty “complete less schooling, work and earn less as adults, are more likely to receive public assistance, and have poorer health. Boys growing up in poverty are more likely to be arrested as adults, and their female peers are more likely to give birth outside of marriage.”

But Rubi and Itza have something else in common. Both were identified by their teachers as being exceptionally bright, motivated students with the potential for success if given the opportunity.

A new program at the Cook Library Center provides a pathway of opportunity for exceptional students like Rubi and Itza. Cook Library Scholars (CLS) is a comprehensive, long-term after-school and summer program that helps children achieve academic success in elementary and secondary school, prepares them for college and empowers them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Rubi, Itza, and 28 other children from the Grandville Avenue neighborhood comprise the inaugural class of Cook Library Scholars. Every day begins with a warm welcome from CLS staff and a family style meal. This is a time to unwind after a long day at school, catch up with friends and staff, and participate in group discussions.

Then it’s on to that day’s activities. Itza receives help with her homework from a Calvin College student, and Rubi reads books that challenge her reading level. Rubi spends extra time on creative writing, and Itza works on math comprehension. Rubi takes violin lessons at the Cook Arts Center, and Itza soon will join the girls’ choir at her school.                           

Both girls take part in yoga, zumba and other fitness classes provided by the YMCA.

Next spring Rubi and Itza will explore the history of their families and the Grandville Avenue neighborhood through a youth-led oral history project in collaboration with Grand Valley State University’s Kutsche Office of Local History. The girls will participate in a Young Leaders group that will identify needs in the community and design service projects to address them.

As teenagers, Rubi and Itza will develop youth-led programming for younger CLS students. They will work together with CLS staff to identify needs and interests of younger students, and they will design and implement programs to meet those needs.

Rubi, Itza and their families will receive assistance with their college applications. When they get to college, Itza and Rubi will continue to be supported by CLS staff. As young women, they will return to the CLS program to inspire the next generation of students, first as college students and then as successful career women and community leaders.

The Cook Library Scholars program gives Rubi, Itza and their CLS classmates an opportunity to rise above their circumstances and pursue successful, fulfilling careers. It makes it possible for them to transform the cycle of poverty into a cycle of opportunity for their children and their children’s children.

Special thanks to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Steelcase Foundation and the Wege Foundation for making this program possible.

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