The Rapidian

Education workshop seeks to build community for better schools at Neighborhood Summit

Join East Hills Loves Congress board member Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford and former Congress Principal Bridget Cheney at the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit, on Friday, March 11 at GRPS University to discuss reclaiming neighborhood schools.
Student performing at Congress Elementary School

Student performing at Congress Elementary School /Courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Schools

Underwriting support from:

Register for the Summit by Friday!

Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit 

Friday, March 11

9:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m.

GRPS University- 1400 Fuller Ave NE.

 

Learn more about the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit on the City's website.

Registration is required by this Friday, February 26. 

Congress Elementary School

Congress Elementary School /Courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Schools

Congress Elementary School

Congress Elementary School /Courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Schools

It takes a village to raise a child. Congress Elementary is putting that thought into action.

Five years ago, a handful of neighbors and community leaders met with then Congress Principal Bridget Cheney and Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. The neighborhood had a simple idea: they wanted to reclaim their community’s school. Superintendent Neal had the same idea. They got to work the next day.

Sandwiched between the East Hills and Eastown neighborhood, Congress Elementary is doing amazing things. As a part of the Superintendent’s Transformation Plan, Congress was designated a “neighborhood school reclamation project” by GRPS. At the same time, the neighborhood and East Hills Neighborhood Association formed a new group, known as East Hills Love Congress (EHLC).

The projects started small, including replacing the soccer nets on the playground, hanging more student artwork on the walls, offering Zumba in the evening at the school, and recruiting parents, community partners and new neighbors to join the table. A few neighbors turned into a dozen and momentum was growing.  

EHLC was meeting monthly and the scope of projects grew. Brightly colored letters spelling out the name of the school were added to the fence running along Lake Drive. The letters help the school stand out more in the neighborhood and raise the awareness of passersby. A chapter of Girls on the Run, a program teaching girls life skills through running, was formed. A garden with plots for the neighbors, Congress families, and students was constructed thanks to the generous support of the family of the late Cornelius Kos. The Cornelius Kos Community/School Garden is now incorporated into 3rd graders lesson plans offering a unique opportunity for Congress students. Local organizations, including Brewery Vivant, partner with the school to maintain the garden and educate students.

A key to the transformation at Congress was that fact that it opened its doors to the community. One Thursday a month, future Congress parent Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford hosts coffee for neighbors. She brings her coffee maker and Congress families bring their not-yet-school-age children to the library. It creates an opportunity for parents to connect inside the school, while building relationships that extend into the neighborhood.

At the same time, Congress families opened their homes. In 2015, families and neighbors hosted five house parties. These casual gatherings give the community a chance to learn more about the exciting things going on at Congress. They have become an opportunity to meet other interested prospective families and neighbors, meet and talk to the principal, ask and answer questions and discuss all things Congress in an informal setting.

The impact of the reclamation has not been limited to the exterior of the building or the neighborhood. Congress formed a weekly mentorship program and crafts unique learning plans and individual goals for each student. In 2014, 89% of students met their goals. Their MAP scores are rising continuously, and they have seen some of the highest gains in the district for two years running. Congress has a free stringed instruments program that begins in kindergarten. In 2014, Congress was recognized as the safest school in GRPS. It has the lowest suspension rate in the district and one of the best attendance rates in the city.

Last fall, Congress got a new principal. Erek Kooyman has picked up seamlessly where Bridget Cheney left off. This January’s house party had the highest attendance of any previously and resulted in two new families enrolling, all thanks to the partnership between the school and the community. Congress is filled with energy, excitement, engagement and much, much more.

Congress and EHLC are committed to more opportunities to connect with the neighborhood and share the success. Congress is just one of the 52 schools in the district. Whether there is a school in your backyard, across the parking lot or down the road, there is always an opportunity to reclaim your neighborhood school.

Join East Hills Loves Congress board member Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford and former Congress Principal Bridget Cheney at the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit, on Friday, March 11, from 9:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. at GRPS University located at 1400 Fuller Ave NE.

In their breakout session, they will be discussing the techniques they used to initiate the reclamation project, form the neighborhood association-led East Hills Loves Congress, and build community partnerships. Involvement in a neighborhood school reclamation project is not limited to families or individuals with school age children, either. Whether you have children or not, whether your children are currently attending a GRPS school or whether they graduated a decade or more ago, you are invited to come learn more about Congress’s story and the amazing outcomes that are possible when a neighborhood and school work together.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to reclaim a school.

Learn more about the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit on the City's website. Registration is required by this Friday, February 26. 

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