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‘I Can Be Anything I Want’


Godfrey Elementary students’ musings about what it means to be an American are on display on a mixed-media mural of a flag in the lower level of Lee High School.

“Freedom.” “Peace.” “Kindness.” “Family for Life.” “Independence.” “Hard work pays off.” “God bless America” and “I love the U.S.A with all my heart” are messages on individual tiles that blend to create an image of the American flag.

Words and pictures decorate the 312 tiles on the mural, created by students and teachers and assembled by the organization I Pledge USA, founded by ArtPrize artist Rip Maclay of Milwaukee.

Godfrey-Lee students find their tiles in the assemblage of pieces
Godfrey-Lee students find their tiles in the assemblage of pieces

After seeing a similar piece during a field trip with students at the annual Grand Rapids competition, social worker Lisa VandeWaa wanted students to make their own customized piece. The company provided the tiles for students to decorate, and VandeWaa sent them back to be assembled, framed and sealed.

In art teacher Rosanne Steffens’ classes, students considered “What’s important to you about living here?” she recalled. They thought about their country, state and community in designing their tiles.

“I thought it would be so cool to see what the community means to them,” VandeWaa said. The district is majority Hispanic and low-income, and includes many new immigrants, so they have perspectives she wants others to see.

Students adorned their squares of work with historic figures like Abraham Lincoln, pictures of their homes, peace signs and and images depicting their dreams.

“I want to be a soccer player when I grow up,” said fifth-grader Julian Flores. “I can be anything I want because I live here.”

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ArtPrize Piece

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She 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, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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