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A focus on caring

Krystle Wagner • Mar 16, 2017 at 12:01 PM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — With a smile on their faces, two Young Fives students at Rosy Mound Elementary School shook hands and greeted visitors by saying, “Welcome to our classroom.”

On Wednesday morning, community members and leaders saw firsthand the ongoing efforts aimed at further developing “a community of caring” at the school. The visit was part of Grand Haven Area Public Schools’ efforts to share what’s happening in the district and how they’re working with the community.

“We want to share what education looks like in 2017,” GHAPS Superintendent Andy Ingall said.

While academics is important, Rosy Mound Principal Kevin Blanding said that without relationships and a community of caring, children can’t learn.

The school’s motto — ”building a better me, making a better us” — is something they’ve taken to heart, Blanding said. Through programs and daily interactions with students, the staff works to develop that caring community, he said.

Kids Hope USA is one of the programs highlighted during Wednesday’s presentation. Through the program, Rosy Mound students meet with a mentor once a week. During that weekly hour, they talk, work on school assignments and do fun activities together.

This year, 105 Grand Haven students are being mentored through Kids Hope USA, and 21 students are also being mentored at White Pines Intermediate School and Lakeshore Middle School as part of the Kids Hope Next program.

In an emotional exchange, fourth-grader Savanna Skiles said she enjoys spending time with her mentor.

Skiles’ teacher, Heather Skogen, told the group she’s noticed the girl’s confidence and test scores have improved since she became involved in the program.

Additionally, Rosy Mound is piloting a program called Write Together, in which students write thank you notes and letters of encouragement. They initially wrote to family members, but their efforts have grown to include custodians, bus drivers and students in their classes.

Since launching the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program, more father figures are getting involved in the school, and they’re reporting positive feedback about their experiences, Blanding said.

Students partnered with the school’s PTA to remodel part of the library into a cozy and fun place for Young Fives and kindergartners. With the help of parents and a designer, the students transformed one corner into a space with pillows, color and cushioned seating. Blanding said that partnership helped further develop a sense of community.

“Little things change the sense of community,” he said.

Students are also reaching beyond their school and getting involved in the community. Once a month, the Kids Helping Others Committee gets together and selects an organization that can use their help. Recently, they participated in a coat and jacket drive.

Rosy Mound students are also learning about and understanding their emotions through the Second Step program, which was implemented this school year.

After observing classrooms on Wednesday, the visitors reflected on what they would like the district to continue doing and offered suggestions for the future. They seemed to especially favor a program in which students mentor their peers. Griffin Elementary School PTA President Sara Pokorski said she would like to see it grow and include other students and grades across the district.

Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg commented about students learning about empathy.

“It’s more and more becoming a workplace skill that’s highly valued,” he said. 

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