Wyoming— Third-grader Danica Cason described what it’s like to have Sheryl “Sheri” Adams as a teacher: “It’s really, really boring,” she said, before pausing and giving two exaggerated winks and a huge smile.
“Boring” is an inside joke in Adams’ class, where every school week ends with “Boring Friday.” The sarcastic title means time for fun, like covering the sidewalks outside in chalky messages; decorating Kids Food Basket sack lunches, or – as they did recently – creating playdough bodies for smiley and frowny-face ping-pong ball heads.
“Boring Friday is so incredible,” said third-grader Audrey Scribner. “Mrs. Adams does a bunch of fun things. She makes people feel good about themselves.”
Adams’ presence at Oriole Park Elementary dates back to kindergarten, when she was a student herself in the neighborhood school along a tree-lined street. The hundreds of children she’s educated since are her legacy. She has spent 27 years as a teacher at Oriole Park, where she started as a student teacher in 1995.
“Everything I have done for education in elementary has been at Oriole Park,” said Adams, who attended there until fifth-grade when her family moved to another neighborhood.
She transferred to the former Huntington Woods Elementary and continued in the district until graduating from the former Wyoming Park High School in 1990. She earned her teaching degree from Grand Rapids Baptist College, now Cornerstone University. She earned her master’s degree from Grand Valley State University, and an English Language Learner endorsement from Aquinas College.
To her, the school is home as much as the city is itself. The daughter of the late former City of Wyoming Mayor Carol Sheets, Adams always lived in Wyoming, raising her three children with her husband, JJ, and giving back in many ways through education.
Getting to Know Bees, Fuzzy & Ruby Tuesday
Adams honors every student and helps nurture their gifts. “I have a passion for children and they bring me so much joy,” she said. “I feel like it’s a reciprocal relationship: I bring them joy; they bring me joy.”
She gives them funny monikers – Ruby Tuesday, Fuzzy and Bees are a few. That’s a new tradition started by Bigfoot. Adams laughed, remembering the student stomping around the room after she read a story about the mythical creature. It was 2020-2021, when half the students were enrolled in remote learning due to the pandemic.
“Everyone started calling him Bigfoot,” she said, which kicked off a naming trend. “Soon, everyone had a nickname.”
Before long, even students’ Zoom accounts appeared under their special names, every one of which has real meaning, Adams said. Sophia Estrada’s nickname is The Look, Sophia said, looking up from her playdough to demonstrate the face she knows catches Adams’ attention; Violet VanderEnde is Kitty Cat, named for her kitty cat headband, and Yazmin Whittaker-Morales is Shep because of her fluffy fleece coat.
Building a Sense of Belonging
Oriole Park uses a practice called looping, which means teachers stay with the same group for two years. Adams will have her current third-graders as fourth-graders as well. It makes for an emotional farewell at the end of year two, when students exit Oriole Park and head to Wyoming Intermediate School. Her last group endured pandemic learning together, and supported one another to become “amazing readers and writers and speakers,” their teacher said. “It was a bittersweet day when they left our school.”
Adams, whose grandparents were immigrants from the Netherlands, also loves to celebrate the diversity of her students.
“When I first started teaching in Wyoming, it was not as multicultural as it is today. Being multicultural is a blessing… I’m very passionate about honoring each child and their history and where they come from.”
‘I have a passion for children and they bring me so much joy,” she said. “I feel like it’s a reciprocal relationship: I bring them joy; they bring me joy.’– Sheri Adams
One activity she’s done for fourth-graders with colleague Ginger Elsenheimer is a simulation of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Many students play immigrants from their own families’ countries.
Elsenheimer said Adams is always thinking about others.
“She is a great teaching partner. She collaborates well with others. She remembers things that are important to people on the staff and is sure to ask them about it. That may seem like a small thing, but it’s huge as a busy teacher.”
Adams makes sure every student feels a sense of belonging, and that’s appreciated, said Laura Sluys, who teaches special education. “She’s welcoming to my students with special needs to make sure they feel included in her classroom.”
When the pandemic affected classroom teaching, Sluys’ students spent a large chunk of the day in Adams’ classroom while Sluys worked remotely with other students. Now the two classes come together at breakfast, lunch and specials like art, physical education, science and, of course, Boring Friday.
“They are just part of our group,” Adams said, noting that the students don’t see each other as separate groups. “We’ve seen that be very successful.”
Last school year, Adams received a $1,000 check for her classroom from Lake Michigan Credit Union as part of its Roots in Education campaign.
A parent nominated Adams. “Mrs. Sheri Adams is a remarkable educator,” the parent wrote. “She is dedicated, innovative, passionate and she cares deeply about the whole child. She knows each of her students on a personal level and routinely provides them opportunities to discover and pursue their dreams.”
Adams is quick to credit everyone around her for what they bring to her beloved school.
“I look at the environment of Oriole Park. Our school is a rock star. Every teacher is a rock star here… We, as a group, want to support all children and all teachers.”