The Rapidian

Reading paves the way to college for students at Harrison Park School

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell promotes literacy at a Challenge Scholars Program event at Harrison Park School
Mayor George Heartwell talks with young students about the importance of reading

Mayor George Heartwell talks with young students about the importance of reading /Lindsay McHolme

Underwriting support from:
Schools of Hope teacher Benjamin Oliver with his students, whose children attend Harrison Park School

Schools of Hope teacher Benjamin Oliver with his students, whose children attend Harrison Park School /Lindsay McHolme

In collaboration with Kristin Brace

Mayor Heartwell sat down on the gymnasium floor at Grand Rapids Public Schools' Harrison Park School and asked, “Does anyone know what the mayor does?”

The first response from the crowd of first- and second-graders was, “Publishes books!”

While the answer wasn’t exactly accurate, it was in keeping with the January 25 “Focus on Literacy” assembly.

The event was part of the Challenge Scholars Program, an initiative to create a college-going culture in school communities where post high school education is not traditionally an option. Funded by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the program provides additional academic support to students and will award college scholarships beginning with the class of 2020.   

After another child suggested that the mayor “helps the city,” Mayor Heartwell had a new question for the young students.

“How many of you want to be mayor someday?”

Almost all of the children raised their hands.

The mayor went on to explain that he reads a lot of documents for work, so when he goes home, he likes to read books for fun. He also enjoys reading books to his grandchildren. He told the students that if they wanted to be mayor someday, they would have to keep working on their reading skills.

“Promise me you’ll keep reading,” Mayor Heartwell said.

A child presented the mayor with a card from the students.

Also at the event was Liz Knapp, Regional Branch Manager for the Grand Rapids Public Library, with a giant library card in tow. The library provided information about the Mayor’s Book Club, and representatives from the Literacy Center of West Michigan were present with a resource table.

Local colleges and universities participated in the assembly as well. Hope College, Calvin College, and Grand Valley State University are each partnering with Harrison Park School by collecting books for the students and recruiting volunteers to work in classrooms and as tutors.

The message of the morning was clear: reading paves the way for the future. Thanks to the involvement of concerned teachers, parents, and community members, the future of these children looks bright.  

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