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Pioneer Partners provides picture of ‘community rising as one’

Leadership club, elementary students come together through play

Basketball was one of many activities featured during Pioneer Partners, an event that unites East Grand Rapids high-schoolers and elementary students 

East Grand Rapids — The Pioneer Partners program at East Grand Rapids has a history of connecting high-schoolers with elementary students. This year the district cranked things up and expanded the scope of those connections with a massive one-day event involving hundreds of students.

Named for the district’s mascot, Pioneer Partners is an initiative of the high school’s Leadership and Youth Development club. In the past, it constituted any planned smaller-scale pairing of LYD members with elementary students.

But, as senior Katelyn Coles said, “It’s a lot bigger now.”

This year’s mid-March event was an enormous undertaking, and the first to utilize a new simultaneous, multi-school model, said Josh Shattuck, manager of student life and activities at the district. 

Around 100 LYD members visited upwards of 600 younger students at Breton Downs, Lakeside and Wealthy elementaries. It all happened at the same time, with high-schoolers breaking off to guide their elementary counterparts through activities like sports, drawing, yoga, crafts and more.

‘On top of providing opportunities for mentorship and connections for elementary students, Pioneer Partners provides … a leadership opportunity for our high school students.’

— Josh Shattuck, EGR manager of student life and activities

‘A Little Bit of Freedom’

Katelyn, who spent her time leading bracelet-making activities in the Breton Downs Elementary library, said Pioneer Partners is “a good opportunity to talk to younger students and have fun.”

She said she chose to supervise bracelet-making because she loves nurturing the imaginations of younger students.

“I really love creative things, so I thought it was a good way to get students into things that are creative,” Katelyn said. “They get to make choices about what bracelets they use, and they have a little bit of freedom to do whatever they want and talk to high-schoolers and other students.”

Sophomore Grayson Fuller, a former Breton Downs student, helped younger kids play hoops in the gym. He said revisiting his old school was nostalgic, and that Pioneer Partners holds personal value for him.

“I love the EGR community,” Grayson said. “I love seeing the kids happy.” 

Grayson said the event has the effect of “a community rising as one,” adding that it alleviates some intimidation elementary students might feel in the presence of older students.

“I used to fear the high-schoolers,” Grayson said, noting that he hopes the club’s friendly presence will curb any similar feelings among the elementary participants.

Third-grader Grady Evans certainly felt at ease as he played basketball with Grayson and other high-schoolers.

Sports was Grady’s top pick among the day’s activities. 

“I’m just really competitive,” he said. “I like playing sports and playing with other kids.”

Learning Leadership, Responsibility

Pioneer Partners is an important component of EGR’s community-building efforts, said Josh Shattuck, manager of student life and activities.

“On top of providing opportunities for mentorship and connections for elementary students, Pioneer Partners provides … a leadership opportunity for our high school students, as they are given responsibility to help plan, coordinate and execute the event,” Shattuck said. 

He added that though the event was a bigger logistical and organizational effort than ever before, it went well, and the larger model will likely be fine-tuned and used again in the future. 

Read more from East Grand Rapids: 
Celebrating a legacy of kindness with Kabookie Week
Gettin ‘up and active’ on tables, not screens

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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