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GRPS school receives national honor, local gift

Prestigious academic designation emphasizes global awareness, artistic expression

Grand Rapids – A Grand Rapids Public School has two new plaques to hang on its walls as 2022 begins.

One comes as a result of Sherwood Park Global Studies Academy, a GRPS PK-6 theme school, just being named an International Baccalaureate World School for the Primary Years Programme. It is one of two such schools in Kent County so named at that level (joining Coit Creative Arts Academy), and just the 26th school in the state.

The Primary Years Programme is for ages 3 to 12, and points of emphasis in the curriculum include developing student connections to the local and global community and expression through the arts.

Which leads to the second plaque. Titled “Around the World,” it includes words from Jill Bouwma, a Sherwood Park neighbor since 1983, and it hangs by a 24-feet-long, almost 6-feet-high puzzle that Bouwma completed over a year and then donated to the school.

Sherwood Park Global Studies Academy Principal Sherrie Ross said it is contributing to the educational opportunities that make her school worthy of its recent accolade.

“Not only is the puzzle a display of patience and perseverance, its intricate showcase of landmarks and physical features throughout the world complements our Global Studies theme and International Baccalaureate curriculum framework,” Ross said. “Staff and student scholars have commented that each time they walk by the puzzle, they discover something new in our world.”

Rigorous, Three-Year IB Process

And while the puzzle took a year to complete, the process of applying to become an International Baccalaureate World School for the Primary Years Programme was even longer – some three years from start to finish.

International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme Coordinator Susan Lee said the process was rigorous.

It began in 2018 when the building applied for and was granted candidacy status, she said. During the three-year candidacy phase, academy staff completed IB-specific training, aligned curriculum, created school policies required by the IB, and implemented PYP elements into teaching and learning as well as school culture and climate. Teachers, she said, spent hours on professional development and even now the work is ongoing.

‘Staff and student scholars have commented that each time they walk by the puzzle, they discover something new in our world.’

– Sherrie Ross, principal

Then, after three years in the candidacy phase, Sherwood Park Global Studies Academy went through a verification or authorization visit with two IB team members sent to review curriculum documents, building policies and more.

Rice added that the team also interviewed students, parents, staff, district administration, community partners and school board members. 

Ross said the work is well worth the final outcome.

“The Primary Years Programme is a student-centered approach to education,” she said. “It reflects the best of educational research, thought leadership and experience derived from IB World Schools. It’s an example of responding to the challenges and opportunities facing young students in our rapidly changing world.”

Susan Lee, International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme coordinator, left, and Sherwood Park Global Studies Academy Principal Sherrie Ross with the plaque naming it as an International Baccalaureate World School for the Primary Years Programme

Thinking Global, Giving Local

For Bouwma the puzzle-maker, nearby Sherwood Park has been a constant for almost her entire life in said rapidly changing world. For her, puzzles pass the time when she’s not assisting customers as part of her duties at Meijer, where she has worked for 12 years.

The Sherwood Park puzzle depicts not just scenes of classic Americana, but also iconic symbols from around the globe. Bouwma said that as she was working on this puzzle, and thinking about a home for it, she and her parents thought of Sherwood Park and its global focus.

“We were so glad to offer the puzzle to the students and staff to enjoy and learn from,” she said. “Our hope is that the students will be inspired and want to learn more about different countries and these wonderful places around the world.”

Her first big puzzle, Bouwma said, had 18,000 pieces. She also has a 41,320-piece Disney-movie-scenes puzzle displayed permanently at Celebration Cinema North. “Around the World,” the puzzle that she donated, is at 42,000 pieces, perhaps her magnum opus.

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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