While the phrase “we are family” can be said in many languages, its feeling is universal inside the hallways and classrooms at East Kentwood High School.
Students in teacher Geoffrey Westman’s Falcon News Network broadcasting class created an eight-minute, 34-second documentary last spring to tell the story of East Kentwood, or “EK,” through the eyes of students, teachers and administrators. The video recently aired on FNN and at the Kentwood Education Foundation’s annual Black & Red Gala.
It shows school where flags from dozens of countries hang from the ceiling and no one is an outsider. Interviewees said:
“It’s a little piece of heaven.”
“It’s a beautiful space for students to be their authentic selves.”
“It teaches (students) to be human, to take off their ethnocentric lenses and have empathy.”
Twelve students, several of whom graduated last year, took on the project after Mosaic Film Experience representatives approached them about showcasing diversity and inclusion through video. Mosaic founder Skot Welch, whose children graduated from East Kentwood, discussed the idea with Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff. Mosaic, which provides digital media opportunities for youth, introduced students to Carbon Stories Grand Rapids, filmmakers who lent equipment and shared storytelling tips. Students also partnered with The Wyoming/Kentwood channel WKTV.
Students brainstormed their vision, interviewed between 20-30 people and put everything together as a staff.
Class of 2018 graduate Allison Biss spent many hours crafting and editing the documentary. “It’s a representation of what I learned and the experiences I had while at East Kentwood,” said Biss, who is majoring in broadcast and cinematic arts at Central Michigan University. “Often, I asked myself what legacy I would leave after graduating from EK. Through the documentary, I am able to impact others in a positive way, even though I’m no longer a Kentwood student.”
Senior Shamar Green, who worked as a producer, said he wanted the video to convey that EK is “what the world should be,” he said: a place where people from all over the globe come together in harmony.
“People always ask, ‘How does EK work, with all our different ethnicities, races and culture?’” Shamar said. “We wanted to show them that we can handle it. It doesn’t have to be a tolerating thing; it’s an accepting thing.”
Senior Summer Brown, also a producer, said she hopes to counter negative perceptions she sometimes hears about Kentwood. “We are a great school,” she said. “We have all these things going on. We have all these students who love each other and care about each other. We work well together.”
Falcon News Network class member Erik Lopez was interviewed for the documentary. “I basically talked about why I like EK. What I really like about it is the diversity. Being Hispanic, I felt very much like I belong here. I transferred here from another school that wasn’t like that, and I immediately noticed the difference.”
Westman said the project gave students a change to work on something meaningful from start to finish.
“They did a wonderful job,” he said. “I hope it was an eye-opening experience for them as far as the whole process goes, from planning through filming and execution, all the way through the editing phase.”
Welch, of Mosaic, said facilitating the video’s creation was a gift from Mosaic to the district meant to instill a greater sense of inspiration, motivation and honor. Mosaic crew member Liz Merriman and Derk Baartman worked closely with students.
“It is one of the most amazing school districts I‘ve experienced because of its ethnic diversity and the high level of academic excellence they are constant getting awarded for,” Welch said. “It is something that is noteworthy nationwide.”
Inclusion, Academics and So Much More
Along with diversity, students said there is something for everyone at EK, socially and academically. “I don’t see too many kids walk the halls alone,” Shamar said. “Everybody’s got two or three friends they can fit in with. There are many people and so much to do. Eventually you find your footing.”
Summer said career exploration courses like Falcon News Network, clubs, sports and Advanced Placement offerings mean it’s easy to go beyond the basics. “We value academics so much, and it creates a higher level of student-integrated pride in our school,” she said.
“I want the Kentwood community to see (the video) and be prideful and know we are Kentwood. We are family. This is where we come from and we love it.”