Kentwood — Omar Arredondo sets up his video camera in the Brookwood Elementary School STEM room, ready to film Young Fives students as they design mazes for robot bugs to navigate.
Arredondo, accompanied by friend and photographer Shafi Subhan, is shooting a video story about the district’s new elementary STEM program.
It’s the kind of assignment that Arredondo loves. He gets to showcase the district and the thousands of students who represent languages and cultures from all over the globe. He is capturing the many ways they are learning and the teachers who serve them.
The founder of AVES Films produces videos for Kentwood Public Schools. He is an East Kentwood High School graduate himself who immigrated from Mexico as a sixth-grader.
‘Kentwood … made me who I am and helped me at the perfect time in my life.’— Omar Arredondo
“Kentwood holds a special place in my heart,” he said. “I think it kind of made me who I am and helped me at the perfect time in my life.”
Arredondo shared his own story of how he went from a shy newcomer student to professional videographer and business owner. He also serves clients in Grand Rapids including downtown economic development, nonprofits and business organizations.
Tim Hargis, Kentwood’s director of communications, said Arredondo brings a special lens to his work: the perspective of a Kentwood graduate.
“The quality of the work they do is second to none,” said Hargis, who plans the stories with Arredondo. “Omar and his team deliver quality, finished products that help us tell the story of Kentwood … I really think Omar is the Kentwood story. For us to have a partner storyteller who understands the district, we could not ask for anything better.”
Added Superintendent Kevin Polston, “We at KPS couldn’t be more proud than to partner with Omar and AVES Films. As an EK alumni, his story is our story. Omar is a highly skilled creative who tells the story of KPS in an effective and engaging manner.”
A Teacher Made the Difference
It was an English-language learner teacher at Crestwood Middle School that drew Arredondo out of his shell. When he moved from Mexico City with his parents and sister in 2006, Arredondo didn’t speak any English.
Santiago Garcia helped him feel comfortable.
“I was so thankful because I had a teacher that spoke Spanish,” said Arredondo, while seated at Start Garden, a co-working space inside the historic Trust Building at 40 Pearl St. NW, in Grand Rapids, where he holds meetings with his video production crew. “I don’t think I realized then, but I see as an adult how important that was for my first year. It really helped me adapt.”
At Crestwood, it wasn’t long before Arredondo learned English and began to acclimate to his new home and school. He made friends, played soccer and discovered his interest in video production his senior year at East Kentwood High School. In teacher Geoffrey Westman’s Falcon News Network class, he got to tell stories of teachers, students, sports and happenings in the school. It was where he first thought about going to college for video.
“I enjoyed telling stories through video,” he said. “It was a way of expressing myself that I never had found before, of being able to get my thoughts and ideas into the world. I love seeing the people’s reaction to what you created. I was like, ‘OK, I want to do this again and again and again.’”
After graduating from East Kentwood in 2012, Arredondo majored in broadcasting cinematic arts at Central Michigan University. After graduating from there in 2017, he embarked on a work away program in Spain where he started a web page called Inspired Life Media that featured stories that connected humans from around the world to inspire people to travel.
A Stint As An Educator
When he returned to the U.S., Arredondo searched for a job in video production, which proved difficult. He started substitute teaching in Kentwood Public Schools and loved it so much that when offered an ELL interventionist position at Crestwood, he took it. He still thinks becoming a professor might be in his future.
“It was super rewarding. That’s when I reflected on the impact Mr. Garcia had on me. It make me think ‘How can I be a Mr. Garcia for these kids?’
“I would go home feeling fulfilled every single day.”
He went on to work as an ELL interventionist at the high school for a year, but still wanted to pursue his dream. He landed a job at Wood TV8 as the director of community affairs, through which he connected with many community partners. It gave him the confidence to branch out on his own and start his own business.
He chose the name Aves, meaning “bird” in Spanish, and representing freedom. The name is symbolic to him in other ways, including in working with fellow EK Falcons.
“When you see a flock of birds they are all flying as one. They are moving faster because they are flying together. As I build my own team, I always say my mission is that we are going to fly, as we all have the same goal to produce and tell great stories and do whatever it takes to get there together.”
What started as a one-man band has grown into a four-member team of East Kentwood graduates, including producer Luiza Herdy, photographer Subhan and editor Aidan Baas.
Arredondo and the crew produce everything from commercials to public service announcements to stories highlighting people’s lived experiences. For Kentwood, they highlight district news and events, such as the first day of school, East Kentwood Graduation 2023 and Facilities and Operations.
Back in the STEM classroom at Brookwood Elementary, Arredondo interviews teacher Jenna Williams and Instructional Technology coordinator Brooke Storms. He then captures the students as they busily build their mazes. He gets footage of their designs, trial and errors and their excitement as their bugs move through their mazes.
He knows he’s documenting one of the “100 positive stories” in any given month at the district he attended.
“I take every opportunity I get to show the story of Kentwood in a positive light, and show people how cool that place is.”
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