The Rapidian

It's all about the kids

Personal account of working with GRPS youth.
Underwriting support from:

GRPS Millage

Voting yes will ensure that the funds the schools have don't get reallocated and instead are used to pay teachers and get textbooks.

Kids learn better in environments that are warm, dry and safe.

Efficient infrastructure and reduced waste will create long-term savings for the district.



/front of my classroom

/summer school

My father teaches American history, so I value education and think its quality is crucial for the advancement of our nation. This past year I served at-risk youth in a Grand Rapids elementary school through Americorps. During this experience I noticed many conditions were different from what I experienced in the schools of my suburban youth. There was a huge disparity in the quality of teachers, available resources, food options, and basic needs such as heat, air conditioning, and janitorial staff. After I noticed this, I began to research Grand Rapids Public Schools to learn about how education systems worked. According to report by Grand Valley State University titled "Evaluating Public School Funding In Michigan and The Impact Of Proposal A" our school system has a high-needs population with 76% of the families meeting at-risk standards. The funding differences are great because such a large portion comes from property taxes.

Millage on November 8

There’s an upcoming millage in Grand Rapids to increase funds for public schools. It's important that even if your children don’t attend Grand Rapids Public Schools that you vote yes, because the kids are brilliant and deserve the same opportunities as any child.

Why the Kids are so Cool

My first week of teaching with Americorps, I gave a blank map of the United States to the class and asked the kids to draw what America meant to them. Some drew their favorite sports teams, music artists, celebrities, or food. The girls drew hearts and peace signs, and the guys drew their favorite sports teams. Everyone drew celebrities, food, and musicians. One girl drew every state a different color, and put smack-dab in the middle of the country a rainbow. The rainbow defied state lines. I thought that was pretty smart, and appreciated her unique vision of our country.

What the Kids Taught Me

Towards the end of the year, a boy that always had trouble following directions presented his perspective to me. It always seemed he didn’t follow directions or listen to authority because he was a critic and questioned things. I’m not sure he always knew when to pick his battles, but I understood the struggle. He’ll be remembered until I die because he taught me the most important lesson of my life.


After a week of bickering between the boys and girls, I wrote the word “respect” on the board, and asked the class to write about it in hopes they would begin to cooperate. Underneath “respect” was a list of communities: self, family, friends, school, city and country. It was always important they had artistic and creative expression in the classroom so my guidelines and boundaries were fairly relaxed when it came to writing and self-expression. This boy in the class never listened, and was always getting in trouble and kicked out of the classroom. He came up to me and said, “Miss Nancy, the girls won’t stop talking and I can’t get anything done” so I moved his desk closer to mine. When he finished his assignment, this is what his paper said, written in proper English and the best hand-writing of anyone in the class:

“Respect. Respect is to be nice. If you respect someone they will respect you back. If you don’t then you won’t get your respect back. Respect should spread around the U.S.” He ended up eventually being kicked out of our program, but I’ll tell you, that boy could do anything. I gave him a journal and still have that paper on my bedroom wall.

The Future

The kids are smart downtown, and they deserve the same quality and respect I received growing up in the suburbs. The boilers in some of the schools date back to the 1960s (read more on the Grand Rapids Press article). That is the same decade that the Civil Rights Act passed. I taught a summer program without any air-conditioning, and it wasn't easy teaching in the heat. I can only imagine how hard it was for the kids.

Please vote yes on November 8. I know we can do better, Grand Rapids.

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Thank you for writing this.  As someone who did grow up in GR I wasn't really even aware of the disparity between city and suburban schools until high school. Many people see these kids as "at risk" and to me it was just a peer group. Our HS newspaper was stopped from publishing the per student dollars in our district compared to some of the surrounding areas. You did find the cool kids and I'm confident you've made a difference. Again, thank you.