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Schools Feed Students’ Tummies and Minds over the Summer

Carmen Grant eagerly read aloud a Mother Goose story about a little boy who looks after the sheep, while Debby Brown held the book open for her and listened intently.

“He’s under the hay-cock. Will you wake him?” 7-year-old Carmen read carefully. “No, not I, for if I do he’s sure to cry.”

Then the Beach Elementary School second-grader called out to her mother standing nearby, “Mommy, I’m reading already!”

Mommy was just as proud as she watched Carmen dig into one of the many books given to children at Cedar Springs Mobile Estates, along with free lunches brought by staff from Cedar Springs Public Schools.

“She loves the one-on-one attention and she loves to read,” Anngelle Grant said of Carmen. “When we go for car rides, she brings books with her.”

Carmen is one of many children at the mobile home park who have benefited this summer from a bookmobile and lunch program coordinated by Kent School Services Network, which brings social and medical services to schools and students’ homes.

Youths 18 and under have received free sack lunches twice a week thanks to a federal grant. The bookmobile piggy-backed on the lunch program as teachers and administrators brought hundreds of volumes from their classrooms and homes.Donna Frank, a program assistant with Cedar Springs Public Schools, reads to Omar DeLeon Jr., a second-grader at Beach Elementary

For mobile-home park residents and their children, the program has made for a healthier and happier summer.

“It’s very helpful, especially for a lot of kids here that don’t have a lot to do,” said Anngelle Grant. “It gives them something to look forward to.”

Books Stem Summer Slide

Kent School Services Network initiated the meals-and-books program to supplement services it provides Mobile Estates families during the school year. About 260 Cedar Springs students live in the mobile-home park, said Jodi West, a KSSN community school coordinator.

Some 20 students there receive mental-health services through KSSN’s collaboration with the Arbor Circle counseling agency. KSSN staff have worked to improve school attendance by offering transportation and visiting with families, helped provide food and clothing, and made referrals to the Kent County Department of Human Services.

“We just saw the need here, knowing the summer slide (in learning) that happens with children,” West said, adding that it shows students their teachers care about them personally. “It’s been good for the teachers as well. I think it’s going to help them be a little more compassionate when they’re working with students.”

Cedar Trails instructional coach Hilary Meulenberg reads with (left) her daughter Ruby and Sara Ann Allen, a Cedar Trails Elementary first-graderThe Kent County Health Department has also provided workshops on resolving conflict, stress, anxiety and other issues, while Kent District Library has signed children up with library cards. KSSN teamed with residents and volunteers from Calvary Assembly of God to mow lawns and clean up the development.

Jen Cook, a second-grade teacher at Beach Elementary, was one of the teachers who gave out books to Carmen and other children.

“I cleaned out my room and brought a couple boxes of books to donate,” Cook said. “It helps make my job easier in the fall when they have access to books and don’t have that summer slide.”

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Kent School Services Network

KSSN in Cedar Springs

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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