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Suburban-rural swap illustrates similarities, differences between high schools

Bubble-bursting by way of switcheroo

Kent City, Kelloggsville — They were working on an assignment in a Kent City High School economics class when suddenly, Cheyenne Maloley’s eyes widened and she turned to her seatmate, Tina Le.

“The water! We forgot the water! You have to try the water here,” Cheyenne, a Kent City junior, whispered excitedly to Tina, a Kelloggsville High School senior. 

The two quickly obtained a bathroom pass from their teacher and scurried down the hallway toward the nearest drinking fountain, Cheyenne leading the way. 

“She was, like, obsessed with our water,” Tina said by way of explanation to this reporter, who was following along curiously. 

“The Kelloggsville water tasted really good!” Cheyenne defended herself. “The water in Kent City tastes like minerals… pennies or something. She has to try it.” 

They arrived at the drinking fountain and Cheyenne opened her arms in a flourish, inviting her guest to give it a try. Tina pulled back her hair, took a sip and… paused.

Then she made a face. 

“I thought you were exaggerating!” Tina exclaimed to Cheyenne, who was grinning. “It does taste kind of like the ground. I miss my water!”


While Cheyenne would later call Tina’s reaction the highlight of her day, Tina’s visit to Kent City was, of course, about much more than water tasting.

Over the course of a few weeks this spring, 18 high-schoolers from Kelloggsville and 18 from Kent City took part in a first-of-its-kind “student swap” experience. Each student was paired at random with a peer from the other district, and spent one day at each high school, either playing host or experiencing school as a visitor. 

The goal, said Kent City Superintendent Bill Crane, was to “get kids out of their bubble.”

“It’s a big world out there, and I think that this is a very good opportunity for students to work with others that don’t have the same background as them,” Crane said. “It’s a chance to get kids together who normally wouldn’t be, and have them learn from each other, see how both schools run and maybe spark some ideas on how their school can do things differently.”

A tale of two districts

Size of district
Kent City: 68 square miles
Kelloggsville: 4 square miles

Number of school buildings
Kent City: 3
Kelloggsville: 7

2023-24 high-school enrollment
Kent City: 375 students
Kelloggsville: 599 students

2024 seniors
Kent City: 98
Kelloggsville: 112

Partnering with Kelloggsville was a natural choice for Crane, who started his career teaching middle and high school social studies there before moving into administration in Kent City. In fact, Crane taught eighth grade alongside Kelloggsville’s current Superintendent Jim Alston and current high school Principal Nick Patin before their careers went in separate directions. 

Crane said his friends in Kelloggsville committed to the project from the start.

“No one was exactly sure what this was going to look like, but we all knew it would be a benefit to the kids,” he said. “I want (students) to see everything that Kent County has to offer — whether it’s an inner-city school or a rural school out by the apple orchards, there’s always new opportunities to explore and ways to improve on things.”

The participating students — hand-selected by their principals — had immediate buy-in, too, said Jordan Stuhan, Kent City High School principal. 

“We didn’t have to do or say a whole lot to get them talking,” Stuhan said. “They built relationships quickly. They were spotting differences right away and making suggestions to me almost immediately.”

‘Whether it’s an inner-city school or a rural school out by the apple orchards, there’s always new opportunities to explore and ways to improve on things.’

— Kent City Superintendent Bill Crane

Similarities, Differences

At one of the swap days in Kelloggsville, junior Kim Zamudio and her Kent City partner, junior Joandy Matias, attended Kim’s civics class together. Joandy took the lead in a project on political views, reading provided statements aloud to the group. 

Kelloggsville junior Kim Zamudio, left, and Kent City junior Joandy Matias walk through the halls of Kelloggsville High School

“We have a government class where we study the different parts of the government, but it doesn’t go (as) in-depth as it does here,” Joandy said. 

Kim and Joandy both said they wanted to be part of the swap to see other schools and meet other students. 

But also, “I wanted to see if (Kent City) would be any different from this school,” Kim added.

Students participating in the swap pointed out a lot of visible differences, such as Kent City’s reliance on Chromebooks, versus Kelloggsville’s mix of paper and computer assignments. Or Kelloggsville’s two-story building with its sprawling atrium and flags representing its students’ ethnic backgrounds, versus Kent City’s single-story building with a smaller, humble entrance. Others noted different rules on cell phone use or the number of windows in each classroom. 

They also picked up on some intangible differences.

“There was a lot less diversity there,” Kim said of Kent City. “It seemed like they had a lot of free time and more college classes. There also were a lot of social groups (arranged) by hobbies and, being a small school, everyone seemed to know everybody.”

On Diversity

Kelloggsville High School Principal Nick Patin knew students would notice differences immediately, “but we also hope that they will see the similarities,” he said. “We like them to understand that while there are differences, their high schools really are not all that different.”

For Kent City’s Cheyenne and Kelloggsville’s Tina, discovering those similarities meant abandoning some stereotypes. Tina, who has attended Kelloggsville schools her whole life, admitted she had a very specific vision of Kent City in her head.

“My school is very diverse, so I wanted to see a school where it’s predominantly white and feel what that’s like,” Tina said. “I was envisioning, like, those schools you see in the movies, like a boarding school type thing, where they’re all just good kids, everybody does their work, listens to the teacher and just sits like this (she straightened her back into a stiff, upright posture).”

Then Tina got to Cheyenne’s economics class and watched the teacher reprimand the students for not listening to a student teacher the day before. 

“I was real surprised at that,” Tina admitted. “They were acting up. Messing around and talking a lot. It was just the same as what we have sometimes (in Kelloggsville).”

While neither wanted to make the experience wholly about race, Tina and Cheyenne said it was hard to discuss the process without including that aspect. 

“The most interesting part to me of all of this was probably seeing the diversity in their school,” said Cheyenne, who got to attend a meeting of Kelloggsville’s Asian American club with Tina during her visit. “You come to our school and it’s mostly one race with a few pops of color in here, so it was nice to see their different clubs and all that. 

“I think that is valuable because it’s important to see how other people live their life on a daily basis.”

More Swaps Ahead

Now that the swaps are over, both district principals plan to chat with the students who participated to hear what they observed, and it is hoped, to generate some ideas for innovation and/or improvement at their respective high schools. 

“With our kids having the opportunity to be in a setting that’s more diverse and observe what impact that has on the building culture, I hope we’ll get to have some conversations around that,” said Kent City’s Stuhan. “The reality is … most of our graduates are going to have to know how to work with and understand the perspective of people from other settings in the future, so my hope is that (the swap) makes a bit of impact there.”

Kelloggsville’s Patin agreed, and noted that he saw some true friendships form, with some of his students later traveling to Kent City to watch a basketball game.  

Both principals expect to swap students again in the future. And Tina — despite still preferring Kelloggsville’s water — said she’d do it again.

“I was surprised that a school so far away from us, in such a rural area, can be so similar,” she said. “The way the teachers teach, how the students are … there’s just teeny, tiny different things here and there. I love my school, but it’s nice to get out and see that.”

Reporter Joanne Bailey-Boorsma contributed to this story.

Read more: 
Phalanx formations teach an ancient lesson in human ingenuity
Intramural program provides sports, social skills practice

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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