Homes for the Holidays

Nayeliz Sierra, a fourth-grader at Kelloggsville Southeast Elementary, bounded out the door of her home to greet her teachers

Last week, Kelloggsville students got quite the thrill when teachers from the district came to their homes bearing gift bags.

Nayeliz Sierra, a fourth-grader at Kelloggsville Southeast Elementary, lives at the first stop on the route west of Division Avenue. She bounded out of the front door and into the arms of several teachers, one right after the other, before receiving her bag. Her ear-to-ear smile never faded.

Fourth-grader Nayeliz Sierra beams after receiving her goodie bag

“I think it’s important to make these connections with the families, coming to them instead of them always coming to us,” said Amy Stratton, a third grade teacher at West Kelloggsville Elementary.

Paula Dykstra, community coordinator for Kelloggsville Public Schools, couldn’t agree more. She organized the holiday home visits.

“One reason I really wanted to do this was for our staff to see where and how our students live,” said Dykstra, adding that students throughout the district have a wide range of living circumstances, from a single mother of five living in a two double-bed hotel room to students who live in large homes. “I also did this so the students can see the staff from their schools outside the walls of school. Any way we can include our families is important to Kelloggsville.”

A student, excited to see visitors from his school

By the numbers

Dykstra got the home visit idea from the Kent School Services Network coordinator at Godwin Heights Public Schools, who organized something similar with high school students last year. Dykstra tweaked the idea for Kelloggsville. She said she was blown away by the number of families that wanted to participate in this, its inaugural year.

The staff visited 183 homes, giving bags to 390 students in grades kindergarten through 12. Each bag contained a notebook, Kelloggsville pencil and window cling, a glue stick, crayons or colored pencils, scissors, hot chocolate, mini marshmallows, a candy cane, fruit snacks, and a book. Many items were donated by community partners including Meijer, Target, Owen-Ames-Kimball, ABDick, Culver’s and Flooring America.

Nayeliz Sierra hugs one of her teachers

Home visitors included a school board member, six administrators, 23 school staff, Dykstra’s husband and two bus drivers. Two buses visited homes in the district and three vans ventured farther afield to Schools of Choice students’ homes, going as far north as Plainfield Avenue.

Smiles all around

“Several families wanted staff to come inside and visit, but we were on such a time crunch. We would like to change that for next year,” said Dykstra.

One student told her teacher that her family cleaned the entire house in anticipation of the visit.

Each bag contained a variety of items

“When we pulled up on the bus, little faces would be peering out the front window, waiting for us,” she said.

“After seeing the excited, smiling faces on the children last night, we will most definitely be doing this next year. Even the older high school students were happy to see us.”

Dykstra rode on the bus that visited homes on the east side of Division Avenue.

“When we finished, everyone clapped and said they had a wonderful time.”

Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio.

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