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The impact of a story

Multi-literature class offers views into other worlds

Godwin — It was the colorful cover of “Like Home” that attracted junior Makyra Keels to the book. 

“I think I picked it because it reminded me of a TV show, like ‘Riverdale’ or ‘Outer Banks,’” Makyra said. “It is a teenage group with a lot of stuff going on, (plus) some mystery and drama, and the cover was eye-catching.”

Senior Jahayra Chavez-Hernandez selected “We Are Not From Here” because she thought she would relate to the story, which is about immigrants.

“My family is from Guatemala, and they immigrated here,” Jahayra explained. “I believe the book will give me insight into the hardships of coming to America, as well as a different view of the struggles to get to the United States and what someone is willing to do to come here.”

Makyra and Jahayra are among about 20 students participating in the elective Multicultural Literature class at Godwin Heights High School. It’s an exploration of multiple texts that focus on diverse cultural perspectives. 

Students read several novels that present new and unique perspectives, exploring how gender, race, nationality, language, ability and orientation shape understanding of the world and one another. 

Left, seniors Rogelio Aparicio and Jahayra Chavez-Hernandez start their book, ‘We Are Not From Here’

Windows, Mirrors, Sliding Doors

The elective was added to the high school curriculum in 2011 but had not been offered for a few years. While interviewing for a job in the district, the course was mentioned to instructor Anneke Louder.

“This is a passion area for me,” Louder said. “I told them, this is exactly what I wanted to teach.”

Louder was hired a few years ago, but due to the pandemic the course’s restart was delayed until this school year. 

For the first half of the semester, the class reads “A Very Large Expanse of Sea” by Tahereh Mafi, which tells the story of Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl living in a post-9/11 world. The second half of the semester, students select a book from a list provided. 

Students explore books as a window, a view into someone else’s life; mirrors, reflecting their own culture or life; and sliding doors, entering the story and becoming part of the world. They study and discuss topics, themes and literary elements, and can create art focused on the books they are reading and make presentations.

More Than A Single Story

Sophomore Marely Rodriguez-Perez said the team activities got students involved with one another, discovering connections they did not previously know they had. 

“In that class I learned about what a single story was, and the dangers because of it,” Marely said. “I never knew what it was before, but afterward I learned that it was about how one perspective toward a certain culture/ethnicity/race could change the thoughts of others, making them automatically assume stuff, and come to conclusions about that perspective that are not even true. 

“It made me think if anyone had a single story about me, and if I also had one about others.” 

Senior Kylee Davenport, left, with sophomore Jessica Cerantes-Sosa show off the book their group selected, ‘Refugee’

The impact of a single story taught senior Malachi Moore the power of a story and how a single story can influence a person and the world

He said since the class, he has set the goal of learning both sides of a story before making a decision. 

‘I learned that it was about how one perspective toward a certain culture/ethnicity/race could change the thoughts of others, making them automatically assume stuff, and come to conclusions … that are not even true.’

— sophomore Marley Rodriguez-Perez

Added sophomore Vanessa Daly, who took the class in the fall: “Before, I did think that people with a different culture from me can’t relate or don’t relate to me, but there were times when I could relate to the characters and have a connection with them.

“They (have) the same feelings as me, as well as the same thoughts and views on life. We compared relating to a character to looking at ourselves in the mirror, as we could see ourselves in them. While reading these books, I could see myself standing in front of a mirror and looking back at the character.” 

Read more from Godwin Heights:
Newly configured preschool focuses on being inclusive
Just call her ‘Grandma’

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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