Urban & suburban students find common interests in 15-year partnership

Students from Grand Rapids and Forest Hills mingle, share Spanish knowledge

Sibley second-grader LaQuon Parker, left, and Ada Vista fourth-grader Josephine Fredlund work together to tie blanket fringe

They had only just met, but conversations among students from two different school districts were so animated they might have been mistaken for lifelong friends.

Inside the gymnasium at Sibley Elementary, second-graders there recently shared books written in Spanish and English, blankets and cookies with fourth-graders from Ada Vista Elementary. The meet-and-greet was the 15th annual gathering of students from the two schools.

One group of boys and girls went around in a circle, taking turns sharing their favorite things. Gymnastics, said one girl. Soccer, said another. “I do too!” said a boy.

In another group, Ada Vista fourth-grader Zoe Wells learned what she had in common with Sibley second-grader Germin Shukuru: their affinity for Marvel comics, the fact they both speak a second language (Spanish for her, Swahili for him), and that both are the youngest children in their families.

Over at a row of tables, Sibley pupil Tarun Williams sat beside Ada Vista student Tynan Goebel and munched on cookies. Tynan’s was covered with chocolate chips and colored candy; Tarun preferred his with frosting only. Already, Tynan had learned, “We both like football, and we both like Skittles.”

Roots in Shared Language

Started by retired Straight Elementary Principal MaryAnn Prischenko and retired Ada Vista Principal Millie Mellgren, the partnership brings together students from the urban school, where the majority of students speak Spanish at home, with students from the suburban Spanish immersion school.

“It was a way to expose our students to new people, to help them learn to open up and speak to others,” said Bernice Wisnieski, a second-grade teacher at Sibley. “And for our Spanish speakers, it’s showing them how others honor their language — which has been very fun to see.”

Lisa Zuñiga, fourth-grade teacher at Ada Vista, said they hope their students “see that they can make connections with kids anywhere.”

“Children are children, whether they live in downtown Grand Rapids, in the suburbs or out in the country,” she said. “Being sister schools should be more than just trading material goods; the communities should come together to get to know each other.”

During the visit, Ada Vista students gave homemade scarves to their new Sibley friends. And students from both schools worked to tie fringe on blankets, which Sibley students will give to families in need or sell and donate the proceeds to the annual Walk for Warmth.

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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