Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Meet Angel C., a Cook Library Scholar

Angel C. is a notable student from the Cook Library Center who is also part of the Cook Library Scholars program. After spending the last few years at John Ball Zoo School, Angel will soon start his studies at City Middle School.

Angel’s favorite subjects are reading and writing. He also enjoys playing outside and loves to learn through the Cook Library Scholars Program. He said, “You get to learn new things in Khan Academy (a non-profit educational organization’s website which features thousands of educational resources). I learned multiple steps, division, and word problems. I don't like math that much but I'm getting to know more about it. Last year I was struggling but now my grades are getting better.”

Angel appreciates the homework help that is provided, mainly because his mother speaks very little English. He said, “You get to read a lot and learn new words in books,” and that, “If you're struggling with anything, you can get help."

This summer, Angel and his fellow classmates are enjoying oral history tours through the neighborhood led by Grand Valley State University. They ask questions such as, “Will you pass your business along to your family when you get old and retire?” and “Do you like working here?” They receive many moving answers about following their hearts, staying motivated, and working hard.

In addition to the tours, the Cook Library Center has a reading club, drop-in activities, language and math stations, and laptop use for learning. There are several older teens interviewing students and younger teens assisting with science. Other fun and notable offerings include a robotics class with GR Makers; a lush garden and a class on food, nutrition and food justice for kids; a class using poetry and art to explore the issue of immigration; a Leadership Council service project at Roosevelt Park in collaboration with Friends of GR Parks, the YMCA, and Kent County Health Connect; and a family workshop in partnership with LINC on how to save for college.

Kids from the Cook Library Center outside of Sabour Latino, a local restaurant which they visited as a part of their oral history tour. 
Cook Library Scholar Angel C. raising his hand to ask a local business owner a question about the history of the neighborhood.
Local business owner shows pride for her own history by holding up a key chain with the flag of the Dominican Republic on it. 
Some delicious carne (meat) empanadas, which was given to the students as they left the restaurant.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Beautiful Summer Outing

A local performance of Randy Wyatt’s “A Sleeping Beauty Somewhere in Time” provided a positive and enriching experience for children from the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center on the beautiful day of June 27. Not only did the kids get to venture out on a Rapid bus ride to Aquinas College, but they also reveled in the beauty that the campus, the Circle Theatre, and the play itself had to offer.

While waiting for The Rapid outside of the Cook Arts Center, the students wore some of their best clothes and had eager smiles on their faces. When the bus arrived, the seats quickly filled up with the youth and their chaperones. The bus commuted to the Central Station where Cook Arts Center students linked up with the Cook Library Scholars. On this ride from southwest Grand Rapids to the east side of the city, some kids seemed to be captivated, looking out the windows at the “mansions” in Heritage Hill and asking insightful questions about buying and renting houses. Other kids waited patiently, while still others wiggled excitedly.

Once the bus arrived at the stop near campus, the group walked through the lush, green streets toward the Aquinas campus, and arrived at the theater shortly. As they lined up to occupy the rows in the darkly lit theater, smoke machines set the tone of the play. One student practiced his reading the program material. “As our play unfolds,” one student read to Miss Taylor, “take a moment to look at the children around you. Are their eyes full of wonder? Do they believe in an evil faery, talking animals, and a happily ever after? Of course. Do they care that they story is a metaphor or a morality lesson. Absolutely not.”

The lights went down, the play began, and the students watched it play out dramatically through a pervasive cloud of smoke, full of highs and lows, moral lessons, and the token happy ending. The students did, in fact, watch in wonder and anticipation throughout the unique twist on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty. Their eyes lit up with ideas, questions, hope, inspiration, sadness, and mystery. When the play concluded, they clapped enthusiastically for the hard work that the performers did to bring the fairy tale to life.

To seal their experience at the theater to memory, the students were given slips of paper for the actors to autograph. Excitedly filing out to the lobby, the students lined up with others from a variety of schools to capture the attention of the different performers. Some asked for their photos to be taken, and many made it their mission to get the autograph of each actor. To conclude the experience, they were greeted outdoors with a snack and juice, and then they walked to the bus stop for the trip home.

This timely day trip allowed for the perfect getaway for the students who recently departed from their regular school schedules. It also gave them the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company, view the city from a different perspective, watch an entertaining and enlightening performance, and take home some keepsakes from the journey.  

The Cook Arts Center students' silly photo before the trip

The twins, Laila and Tia, enjoying The Rapid bus ride to the Circle Theatre

Tia, Maynor, Rubi, and Elizabeth

Students waiting patiently in the seats of the Circle Theatre

Piper with King Eli (actor Russ Palmitier)

Huldra (actress Madeline Jones) with three siblings: Estelita, Elizabeth, and Maynor

Piper with the dark fairy, Maelstrom (actress Jackie Green)

Laila with the future prince, Troy (Actor Ben Avery)

Rubi making a silly face with Smerkly (Actor Adam Hyde)

Tia with the gargoyle, Braug (Actor Michael Sali)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Día del Sol (Day of the Sun): A Celebration to Benefit the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center

A lively auction bursting with items from local businesses and artists, a delectable Cuban feast prepared by Tommy Fitzgerald, support from generous donors, a successful partnership with Kendall College of Art and Design, a charming dance performance and Latin music: these are only some of the things that made up Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities’ (GAAH’s) 13th annual Día del Sol on June 19. The event was not only inspiring, but raised $48,000 to support the programs of the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center

One of the highlights of the evening was the drama that unfolded over two very special auction items. Every year several dozen elementary students from the Cook Library Center sew two quilts for the silent auction, and this year’s quilts were especially beautiful. Two of the students who worked on the quilts, Juan Diego and Estelita, were in attendance to talk about the project—and talk they did! These children did such a good job of promoting the quilts that the resulting bidding wars generated $400.

All of these things helped to make the fundraiser a fun-filled, entertaining, dynamic evening. This unforgettable day was an opportunity to celebrate our vibrant community and to thank those who give their treasure and talent to GAAH.

With the help of this tremendous group of individuals and businesses, GAAH can continue to deeply impact the lives of many Grandville Avenue neighborhood residents every day. 

Juan Diego and Estelita showing off their quilt to Eva Aguirre Cooper

Some special friends at a colorful table with their Día del Sol programs.

Tommy's delicious Cuban feast

Michael the Accordionist

Guests checking out the artwork in the auction

Volunteer Miss Cat and her niece, Piper

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

GAAH Partners with César E. Chávez Elementary School to Kick-Start Students’ Summers

A week before the last day of school at César E. Chávez Elementary school, the students had the opportunity to participate in activities arranged by the committed and dedicated staff at both the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center. By providing these pre-summer activities, the organization aims to inspire the kids to continue to use their imagination and literacy skills over the course of the few months that they will be away from their regimen with their educators. Not to mention, the collaboration supports continued organizational efforts to sustain creative, effective, strategic partnerships with a variety of facets city-wide. Naturally, this school is an ideal partner for Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities (GAAH).

Between Tuesday, June 4 and Monday, June 9, both facilities of GAAH had the opportunity to meet a myriad of elementary school students. These children poured into our facilities with enthusiastic energy to create, explore, and dance. They participated in various activities, including Father’s Day card-making, flower designing, breakdancing, painting, crafts, reading, and more.

For some of these children, the experience of working with the teachers and staff of GAAH was a first. In fact, when given a tour of the facilities, many of these students could be overheard gasping in awe, saying things such as, “Oh, it’s so beautiful!” And once the activity for the day was complete, the Program Director invited them to sign up at absolutely no cost. When some students heard that they could attend for free, their eyes lit up, and it was apparent that they had already fallen in love with the organization and its mission.

Some of the regular students who have experience with GAAH’s programs conveyed their enthusiasm in a different way. In fact, two Cook Library Scholars wore their name-badges from the program to this outside activity, ultimately indicating their pride, feeling of a sense of belonging, and ownership to the program. In the end, this gesture is a great way to indicate the success of the first year of the Cook Library Scholars.

All in all, this fruitful partnership with César E. Chávez Elementary and GAAH benefits both parties. GAAH is able to attract new students who ultimately will make up the body of the future after-school programs. In turn, the school benefits as a result of the activities, which are planned in hopes that students will be invigorated with enthusiasm for learning, passion for art, and commitment to accomplishment.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Cook Library Scholars Celebrate a Year of Abundant Success

May 29 was a significant and memorable day in Roosevelt Park for our Cook Library Scholars. The birds were chirping, the trees waved gently in the breeze, the sun was shining, and many neighbors were outdoors. After a year of hard work and perseverance that the program’s staff, volunteers, families, and scholars displayed, they could finally kick back and rejoice in all of their triumphs with their new Cook Library Scholars family. Families enjoyed a delicious potluck picnic, complete with a dessert of cake, cupcakes, and ice cream. 

“Certificates of Participation” were awarded to the parents who came to workshops and active in parent enrichment activities. Scholars also received awards such as “Wise Guy,” “Always Cheerful,” and “Future World Changer,” “Mr. Imagination,” “Endless Optimist,” “Expert Reader,” and “Everybody’s Buddy.” There is such great camaraderie among the scholars, that when awards were being called, they were able to accurately guess who would receive it. 

There were also two raffle opportunities. The first, for an iPod Shuffle, was to encourage reading. For every twenty-five books read, a scholar could place one ticket into the drawing box. The second raffle, which was for a bicycle donated by The Motion Initiative, was awarded to those students who succeeded in the Multiplication Challenge, where they were required to memorize multiplication facts. Essentially, the more successes a scholar had throughout the year, the more tickets they could place into the jar. 

There was also an array of outdoor games, including the water balloon toss, face painting, a beanbag toss, sack races, and even tug of war. These were all thoughtfully arranged by the Cook Library Staff, and were extremely popular with the scholars.

As the festivities commenced, the scholars displayed deep gratitude and sincere joy to be with the people who were there with them every step of the way. The beaming smiles on their faces, their unity with one another, and their high spirits made it clear that the time spent in the program has made a tremendous impact on each and every one of them.

All in all, it is safe to say that these students who were found rejoicing in Roosevelt Park truly have a great reason to do so. Not only are these fantastic kids working very hard to ensure a future for themselves, but they have a state-of-the-art team of leaders, collaborators, interns, volunteers, donors, foundations, and friends that are right alongside of them to help them along the way. If only every child in the world had such a reason to celebrate.