Community Partnerships Make Big Things Possible for Elementary School

Two-year-old Marla Kaniewsky plays ball with Cornerstone University volunteer Sarah Brackenhoff and Parkview Elementary first-grade teacher Sarah Huizen

Jeremiah Wardell answered questions about how to best support the education of his son, Parkview Elementary School third-grader Braiden White. On big poster boards, he filled in facts about attendance, reading and even sleeping.

After that, the father-son duo was off to play games at the huge Grand Rapids First Church Life Center Building in Wyoming, where more than 400 Parkview students and families attended for a night of fun, learning and getting to know each other.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Wardell said of the Parkview Family Fun Night. “It’s a chance to get together, meet with other parents, learn some facts and have fun with your kid.”

Wyoming Public Schools students Jennifer Cruz-Ochoa, Yahair Rangel and Annali Berales hang out during the Parkview Family Fun Night
Wyoming Public Schools students Jennifer Cruz-Ochoa, Yahair Rangel and Annali Berales hang out during the Parkview Family Fun Night

The evening was made possible through partnerships supported by Kent School Services Network, a community-wide effort that brings health and human services staff directly into schools.

Increasing parent involvement, connecting families and improving academics and attendance are all goals of KSSN, which is run through a partnership with several districts and Kent ISD. At Parkview, about 86 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, so families’ needs are high.

“Involving our parents in fun activities with their kids shows them we want them to be involved,” said Teresa Dood, KSSN coordinator for Parkview, located in Wyoming Public Schools. “But it also helps build the parent-to-parent connections we would like to see improved, so parents can offer support to each other when things are challenging,”

Team Effort Helps Families

The event was organized by the Community School Leadership Team, comprising Dood, school staff members and Wyoming business and church representatives.

“It’s great to have these partnerships, because this amazing event wouldn’t have happened with just (involvement from) Parkview,” said Principal Katie Jobson, adding that the role of parents in education is crucial. “It’s huge in supporting kids. It takes a village to raise a child: You hear that, and it sounds very cliche, but I think it’s so true.”

Grand Rapids First provided use of its multi-use facility for free. Teachers and volunteers from the church and Cornerstone University ran activities and served pizza. Wyoming Park United Methodist Church and Car City also contributed.

Volunteers included Wyoming West Elementary teacher Lani Dykhouse, who attends Grand Rapids First. She said the church continually invests in the community, “no strings attached,” with events and services to provide whatever students and families need.

“It’s important to us, because we are being the hands and feet of Jesus in the community,” Dykhouse said.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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