Welcoming Parents to Come See the “Magic” of Learning

Student-led Tours Give Parents Inside Look

Central Elementary parent Rochelle Selbach learns about a computer program from Destinee Lakey, left, and Janelle Fluit

Bill Fischer is a college professor, but when it comes to K-12 education he feels he has a lot to learn. So he took advantage of a recent opportunity to see a bit of how his fourth-grade son, Dylan, learns at Central Elementary School.

After a quick tour of the school while taking notes on a clipboard, Fischer marveled at the process.

“Your kid goes to thisplace – this black hole they enter – and they come out and they’re definitely smarter,” said Fischer, a professor of digital media at Kendall College of Art and Design. “They’re learning all kinds of stuff. You wonder, how is that happening? What kind of magic is happening in here?

“It is magic,” he added. “It’s just sublime.”

Fischer and two other Central parents caught a glimpse of the magic, as part of a district-wide event called Celebration of Learning. Kenowa Hills’ six schools invited parents and others to tour their buildings and see for themselves what goes on in classrooms every day. About 35 visitors came to enjoy tours largely led by students.

The event evolved from administrators’ discussions that schools generally have done a poor job in welcoming parents and community members into their buildings, said Assistant Superintendent Michael Burde.

“So our driving question was, how can we begin to change this paradigm?” Burde said. “We came up with the idea to do just that: open our doors to our parents and community members to discuss and showcase some of the great things happening throughout each and every one of our schools.”

At Central Elementary, Fischer was one of six parents to visit the school of nearly 700 students. After meeting with Principal Cherie Horner and Dean of Students Katie Bush, Fischer’s group of three was led on a tour by fourth-graders Mandee Cassis and Gavin Rykse, and fifth-graders Luke Krzewski and Laura Lohmann. They happily touted the school’s plusses, reading from scripts based on student council input.

“The students are respectful and inspiring,” Luke told the group in a hallway. Added Laura, “Our teachers are kind and help us learn.” Later she told a visitor, “I love my school. Learning is usually easy, and easygoing.”

Students highlighted food drives, an active PTO and the school’s more than 200 volunteers. But they also pointed out problems such as a water-damaged ceiling in the library and the need for bathrooms nearer to young students — noting these would be fixed by a $55 million bond issue the district is requesting in May.

Building administrators talked about the changes and challenges brought on the by Journey to Excellence, the district’s new performance-based curriculum. It calls on teachers to gear their instruction to several different learning levels in the same class and requires students to master certain skills before moving ahead.

“It’s hard work, but it’s the right thing to do,” Horner told the group in a post-tour discussion.

Rochelle Selbach, mother of first-grader Carson and third-grader Lew, took the afternoon off from teaching in Northview Public Schools to see how it was done in their school. She liked what she saw.

“I loved how they’re such little leaders here,” she said of the tour guides, adding, “It’s a busy, learning place.”

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Central Elementary School

Serving as happy tour guides are (from left) Mandee Cassis, Laura Lohmann, Luke Krzewski and Gavin Rykse
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press 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. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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