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Retooled for school

Godwin students begin school year in reconfigured K-8 buildings


As a first-grader last year, Carlos Ortiz was one of the younger students at North Godwin Elementary. Now he’s top dog.

Second-graders Chloe Powers and Carlos Ortiz were first-graders in two separate kindergarten through fourth-grade buildings last year. Now, they’re under one roof at West Godwin Elementary

“Last year at North, I was in school with a lot of big kids, but this year I’m in school with kids my age,” said Carlos, a second-grader at West Godwin Elementary.

Last year, North Godwin and West Godwin elementaries housed students in kindergarten through fourth grade, while the middle school housed students in fifth through eighth grade.  When the school year commenced Monday, West Godwin opened its doors as a kindergarten through second-grade building, North Godwin as a third- through fifth-grade building, and Godwin Heights Middle School as the place for sixth- through eighth-graders.

While he’s had to get his bearings in the new building, Carlos said he likes the new setup — and he’s not alone.

A Welcome Change

West Godwin Principal Mary Lang said the change has been a welcome one. While the main objective was to move fifth-graders out of middle school, she said, there have been benefits at all grade levels.

Principal Mary Lang in her office at West Godwin Elementary, which now houses students in kindergarten through second grade

“We really felt strongly that it was going to be great for our learning environment to have all of our grade level teachers under the same roof, collaborating and working together,” said Lang, who was principal at North Godwin before moving to West Godwin this year. “Also, it allows for our student population to be together from kindergarten through 12th grade. They’re not making that awkward transition to a different group of peers at sixth grade.”

Last spring, Kristen Socha packed up her classroom at North Godwin, where she taught for 12 years. This summer, she unpacked that classroom at West Godwin, where she now teaches second grade.

“The feeling in the building — the attitude in the building — is very positive,” Socha said. “I think our students feel calmer, the teachers feel calmer and we have a greater opportunity to work together for the better of all the second grade students.”

Socha said that a recent professional development day highlighted this benefit: some teachers had been trained in a certain curriculum and others had not. Being together allowed those teachers who had been trained to share what they had learned.

“Having all the second grade team there, hearing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time lets us work together,” she said. “And it’s not long distance; it’s next door.”

Seventh-grader Liyah Laseur in the Godwin Heights Middle School gym

Taking the Fifth

Perhaps the biggest difference is at Godwin Heights Middle School, where Bradley Tarrance is principal. Last year, the logistics of housing fifth- through eighth-graders were tricky at best with fifth- and sixth-graders on different times and class schedules than the older students. Certain hallways and staircases prohibited older students in an attempt to keep the oldest and youngest students separate.

Now, said Tarrance, there is unity: the sixth, seventh and eighth grades are on the same class schedule, the student body shares student leadership, classrooms are clustered by content rather than grades and there are no prohibited areas for the older students.

By minimizing the logistical and social challenges, Tarrance said, “we can have a laser-like focus on content.”

Seventh grader Liyah Laseur said she likes the new setup, even though the halls are a bit busier during class switches, with three grades switching at the same times.

“I feel like fifth grade is more toward elementary anyways,” Liyah said.

A sign tells Godwin Heights middle schoolers where to go on their second day of school. Students spent the first day getting oriented in their advisory period classroom

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Bridie Bereza
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.

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