I am delighted to be writing and editing for the Kent ISD School News Network, of which I have been on staff since its founding in 2013. That’s because I love to go into classrooms, see teachers turn on the lightbulbs in students’ heads and watch the fascinating process of young people learning new things.
I have done a lot of this in my many years in journalism. I’ve spent countless hours at school board meetings, covered reams of standardized tests and written about the perennial problems of school funding. But my most gratifying stories have been spent sitting in little chairs next to kindergartners learning their letters, or in class with high schoolers practicing debate or studying Shakespeare.
I started my reporting career in high school, covering sports for my hometown newspaper in Williamston. After studying creative writing at Michigan State University, I returned to serve as sports editor for The Towne Courier in East Lansing before becoming news editor of the Williamston Enterprise. I covered Williamston schools during those financially strapped years of the early 1980s.
I also covered education in Kentucky, where I earned my bachelor’s degree at Murray State University, before coming to The Grand Rapids Press in 1985. There I began covering Grand Rapids Public Schools along with education issues more broadly. Writing about school board elections, grading scandals and bruising budget meetings was tough, but going into classrooms was a joy.
Most joyful were the stories I wrote on the 1987 Fountain School kindergarten class – the future Class of 2000. That turned into a 13-year series following those students all the way to graduation – or, in some cases, to dropping out. Their stories of those students, as they grew from wide-eyed children to worldly adolescents, vividly captured the challenges, triumphs and heartbreaks of public education.
Some years later, I wrote a four-part series on why students drop out for the former Flair section. These young people taught me much about how difficult school and life can be if you don’t fit the usual mold.
Although I went on become religion editor, I never lost interest or involvement in education. As my son and daughter went through Grand Rapids Public Schools, I helped initiate GRPS Arts Advocates, a nonprofit promoting school music and art. Arts Advocates raised nearly $100,000 in its annual Arts Jam concert and art auction. I also helped with other parents and school staff to form ACE High, an arts and communications sub-school at Union High School.
I believe strongly in the value of public schools, not just to students but to their communities. I coordinate coverage of our 20 public school districts, Kent ISD programs and GRCC, and help plan and write issue stories that span school districts, such as poverty, mental health and bullying.
I want to help strengthen our schools by writing honestly and fairly about what goes on inside them, from the teacher who inspires the troublemaker to write a great poem, to the student who does her homework in a homeless shelter. I won’t shy from addressing problems. But I’ll be sure to write about the little miracles of teaching and learning that take place every day.