Lightbulb lunches garner student voice

left to right: Anvi Thimmapur, Carter Griffioen, Madison Veenkamp and Corryn Myers help themselves to some post-lunch swag

Their teachers probably do it often; many of their parents, too. At Ada Elementary, a couple dozen students at a time are learning what it’s like to be in on a “working lunch.”

“It means you work while you eat,” explained first-grader Carter Griffioen, as all around him could be heard the sounds of juice boxes crinkling, sandwich bags opening and even corn on the cob being crunched.

Finley Thomas shares with Principal Kimberly Van Antwerp what she thinks makes her school great

For the second year, Principal Kimberly Van Antwerp is hosting the monthly lunch meetings — called lightbulb to signify bright ideas. The event extends the district’s effort to capture student voice, even to its youngest students.

Every month, teachers recommend a different group of students from each grade. The goal is that every student at the school will be in at least one lightbulb lunch every other year, Van Antwerp said.

And the working lunch is lightning fast: within about 30 minutes, each group brainstorms what they think is great about their school and what they think needs improvement.

Wyatt Kurpinski has an idea how to make his school better

Student Voice

On what makes the school great:

“The awesome staff,” offered second-grader Jack Scanlon, who singled out the “lunch ladies” and the “special (education) teachers.”

Added first-grader Jackson VanderWall: “That we get to do math.”

Second-grader Corryn Myers had one that came up again and again: “That everyone is so kind.”

Regarding restorative circles, third-grader Connor Leestma had this to say: “It’s kind of like the Knights of the Roundtable; no one has a bigger say than anyone else.”

Suggestions for improvement included:

“The lunch lines are way too long,” said second-grader Madi Weage. “Hot lunch doesn’t get time to even finish.” To which Principal Van Antwerp replied: “We need to fix that.”

Second-grader Wyatt Kurpinski said “Sometimes if I’m on the buddy bench, people just walk past me.” Van Antwerp said she will remind students during her daily announcements that those on the buddy bench are looking for others to play with.

More playground equipment was a common request among the group of second- and third-graders. Third- and fourth-graders wondered whether they are old enough to choose those they sit with at lunch, instead of having to be with their class; and also brought up safety concerns.

“I have noticed a lot of cracks in the cement, and the parking lot has a lot of pieces coming off,” said fourth-grader Aidan Earhart. “Somebody is going to trip.”

Added fourth-grader Oliver “Ollie” Kulik between bites of salad: “We could paint better lines by the buses so kids know where to walk and where not to.” To that, a classmate replied “Oh, big-time.”

Van Antwerp reminded the lightbulb lunchers that numerous improvements around school have come from student input: such as a bulletin board with regularly updated book recommendations and even bring-your-own soccer balls.

“We want you to know we listen to your ideas, and that your ideas matter,” she said.

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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 or email Morgan.

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