Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Neighborhood Student Discusses Life on Grandville Avenue

Neighborhood Student Discusses Life on Grandville Avenue 

One of GAAH's neighborhood sixth graders discusses her life as a student at the Potter’s House School and Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities at both the Cook Library Center and the Cook Arts Center.

Giselle, Age 13

Giselle is definitely not your average sixth grader in America. Giselle is an identical twin sister in her immediate family of six. Her twin sister's name is Ailyn. Not only that, but her oldest sister Kenia is special needs, with Prader-Willi Syndrome, and although she was born here, her parents are immigrants from Mexico City. In addition, “My family has twelve sets of twins,” she said. That’s right: she also belongs to an even more substantial family that claims a grand total of twenty-four individuals that can call themselves a twin. To top it all off, Giselle comes out of this situation as an incredibly bright, kind, gentle-spirited girl who truly cherishes her life in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood.

When approached, Giselle was eager and enthusiastic to eloquently speak about her life at the Potter’s House School, at the Cook Arts Center, and at the Cook Library Center. Her favorite food is lasagna, her prized color is green, her preferred sport is soccer, and the most important topic of discussion for her seems to be reading. Tablet in hand, she carefully detailed every single book that she adored, including Tuck Everlasting. "It’s sad and mysterious,” she articulated. “It tells the story in a detailed way which is just breathtaking.” Other favorites include The Tale of Emily Windsnap and Tip Face Bunyan.

Giselle was also compelled to talk about her relationship to her family, in particular her sister. “I am always watching after my little sister to make sure that she is not being bad. Nadia does not pay attention. I have to make sure she’s doing her homework and paying attention.  I need to make sure that she doesn’t wander,” she said.

Interestingly enough, the combination of her love for books and her extra-large family is why she loves the Cook Library Center so much. “At home, it’s not comfortable. My sisters and brothers are all there, and there is nowhere to sit. The table is always crowded. There’s no work space.” So instead, she spends many of her evenings at the Cook Library Center. Homework help, an array of materials to borrow, and computer work stations allow her to have a comfortable, quiet place to work. “There is no internet at home, which means I can’t use my tablet,” she said. “At the library, there is a computer where I can type my projects.” Plus, the myriad of library staff, tutors, and friends allows Giselle to ask for help virtually any time that she is there. “I feel close to Miss Sue. (Sue Garza, Cook Library Center Director) She is very helpful. If I’m stuck on a problem, she can help me. If she’s too busy, she can make sure someone else is there to help,” she asserted.

So what does a normal week look like to this 13-year-old Grandville Avenue resident? It’s actually quite impressive. She detailed her week as follows:

Monday through Friday, during normal school hours, Giselle takes classes at Potter’s House School. Then, on Mondays, she has a moment to return home to say hello to her father, have a snack, and then return to the Cook Library Center from 4:30-6:30pm to work on homework.

After school on Tuesday, Giselle enjoys a photography class at the Cook Arts Center from 4:30-5:30pm, and then works with her tutor, who travels to the center from 6:30-7:30pm. This particular tutor is one that she speaks highly of. She even was preparing a gift for her the day that I spoke with her. “She really helped out with my grades,” she declared, “I got her a big beautiful coffee mug, a sparkly bag, and an angel.”  

On Wednesdays, Giselle has a half-day at Potter’s House. Then, she is allowed to take extra classes, including technology and band, where she learns how to type and play the trumpet. She is home by 2pm, only to return to the Cook Arts Center at 4:30pm to work in Intermediate Potter’s Wheel, which is another activity that she was thrilled to talk about in depth. “You have to make sure that you have the right pedal speed, and hold your hands really hard, making sure they’re centered. You have to make sure the top isn’t wiggly, and then open it up,” she continued, beaming. “I started doing pottery when I was 6 ½ years old. I thought, ‘Oh, I can’t do this!’ But, I have gotten better.” After Potter’s Wheel, she volunteers to help with the very young children’s clay class, charmingly named Crazy Clay, from 5:30-6:30pm. Contradictory to what the title suggests, Giselle helps to keep the situation fairly calm. “I pass out clay, get the tools, help them put their aprons on, help put things away, help them wash their hands, and put their pieces on the shelves.” To top it all off, Giselle takes a sewing class from 6:30-8pm on Wednesday evening. “I like to stay busy,” she expressed.

Thursday after school, Giselle takes crocheting at 4:30pm. Then, she volunteers to help in Plaster and Play-Doh. Her tutor then returns to the Cook Arts Center from 6:30-7:30pm. And Fridays, Giselle has soccer practice from 5:30-7:30pm after her normal school day.

This demanding schedule does not phase Giselle one bit, in fact, she deeply enjoys her experiences at Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities facilities. And after all is said and done, this bright girl is always looking toward the future and her connection with these spaces. When asked about continuing her involvement and life at the Cook Library Center and the Cook Arts Center, she responded with, “I would like to come back to either teach or be a secretary. Once, Miss Bethany had a meeting, and asked me to be in charge of the phone. I answered the phone and made sure that the calls were put on hold.” Finally, and most poignantly, she expressed, “Most people here get along. Everyone that comes to the center has fun, and we make everything work. Everyone works very hard to keep this place nice… I just hope that I can keep coming for many years to come.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

Andy Angelo Press Club Featured in The Rapidian!

One of our students, Edgar, made his debut in the Rapidian yesterday with a video telling a story about how Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities' Cook Art Center and the Creative Youth Center is building youth literacy through the Andy Angelo Press Club!

Click here for the article!

Click here to view the video! 

Ver este video en español!

Congratulations, Edgar!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cook Arts Center Students Share their Gifts with the Community

So many times, when we think of gifts, our minds entertain images of objects that can be purchased with money, such as extravagant diamonds exchanged between spouses, everyday cups of coffee purchased for our colleagues, or even generous donations to causes that we advocate for. However, on the sunny afternoons of the first two Wednesdays of April, the Cook Arts Center students gave us something different: without any money, these students provided a variety of substantial, vibrant, impressive gifts to the community of Grand Rapids.

The first example of these incredible gifts is the charming recital that was held for the public, neighborhood families and friends, and our staff. With the intent of displaying all that was learned in the last semester, the marvelous works of art displayed proudly included gorgeous paintings, photographs, sewing projects, and performances. The children played guitar, piano, and drums for a significantly large crowd. They performed a variety of types of dance, including ballet, hip hop, the gorgeous folkloric Mexican dance, and the increasingly popular breakdancing by Aerial Tactic. Members of the audience were smiling, clapping, laughing, and cheering, demonstrating that the richness of their culture spread to everyone in the room, giving them rewards much greater than any gold could. This lively celebration not only allowed the community to see the work and artistic expression of the children in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood, but also shed light on the extraordinary culture that surrounds the center every single day.

The second gift that the children of the Cook Arts Center gave to the community of Grand Rapids came from a very unique, unexpected opportunity. As a result of a collaboration with donor who lives at a beautiful local retirement community, Beacon Hill, the boys men of the Aerial Tactic breakdance crew were invited to perform for the senior citizens living there. The afternoon started with the crew setting up their special mat while the crowd began to filter into the room. They seemed unsure of what was going to happen next, but after a brief introduction of the students, the dynamic dancing began. The audience, encouraged to make noise if they enjoyed the moves that they were seeing, proved to be one of the most active, participatory groups that the crew ever performed for. With their laughter, their “ooh’s and ahh’s” and their encouragement toward the young ones to dance their hearts out, a unique, unprecedented energy filled the room. Later, many of the seniors enthusiastically inquired about a variety of things such as, “What is the history of break dancing?”, “How do you keep from hurting yourself?”, and “How does this help with your schoolwork?” The kids and their teacher spoke eloquently to the curious audience, telling them that dance practice taught them discipline, self-esteem, and the payoff of hard work. One student in particular, Antonio, has expressed that breakdancing completely changed his life. This is a primary example of the myriad of gifts that these incredibly talented young people possess, and how the Cook Arts Center provides them a key to unlock them. Moreover, it highlights just a fragment of the potential that they have to make an impact on the community at large, and ultimately, the world.

All in all, when thinking of gifts, it is important to remember that they do not always come in the form of physical things. Thus, the Cook Arts Center’s assistance to the youth of the Grandville Avenue area is not a one-way street. Although it is true that we continue to carry out the mission of enriching the lives of neighborhood youth through diverse and engaging programs at the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center, it is also true that they enhance ours immensely in return. Without the neighborhood’s incredible culture, sense of family, ability to celebrate joyously, and the talents of the children, the Grand Rapids community would be lacking tremendously. The Cook Arts Center’s partnership with the remarkable families in this neighborhood allows the students here to discover, develop, and display their artistic talents, which in turn inspires us to help them become the leaders of tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cook Library Scholars Experience the Journeys of "Esperanza Rising"

It doesn't matter if you’re wrong or right – you can always start over.

That was what one young Cook Library Scholar took away as the moral of the 2000 young adult novel written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising. 

This book has been the primary reading project for the Cook Library Scholars since mid-January. In its expressive, poetic style, the story follows a wealthy young girl, Esperanza, on her dramatic journey to a poor Mexican labor camp in California during the Great Depression. The sudden move was spurred by her politically driven uncle after he takes her affluent father’s life, burns her mansion to the ground, attempts to marry her mother, and eventually forces her out of her homeland. Eventually, the book celebrates her victory. Despite all of the tragedy that she experienced, and the poor conditions in which she now lives, Esperanza finds the strength to rise above it all in order to embrace her new life in the United States.

As the young Cook Library Scholars gathered around a circle to read the last few pages of this powerful saga, it was clear that they were connecting to the moral of Esperanza’s story. As the assigned readers recited in both English and Spanish, some holding hands, others peering over their friends’ shoulders to view the text within, the expressions on their faces were telling. They can relate to this hard-hitting resolution, as it is one that is very close to home for many of them. In fact, when asked the question by Miss Taylor, “Why does the book say that we should never be afraid to start over?” many eagerly raised their hands. Insightfully, some expressed that, “If you make some mistakes in your life you shouldn't be afraid to come out,” and that, “Esperanza’s life was turned around, and now she has a whole new life.” 

As a seamless conclusion to the celebration, the scholars gathered around a spread of many of the culturally rich foods that Esperanza enjoyed during her travels. The children waited in line to try things such as papaya, cantaloupe, plums, and flan. They even felt the sensation of having mashed avocado in their hands, as Esperanza did when using it to soothe a cut on her own hand. This culmination allowed the scholars, who spent two-and-a-half months reading, listening to, interpreting, and drawing the struggles of Esperanza, to now also taste her journey firsthand.

Moreover, the Cook Library Scholars program, under the umbrella of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, is similar to Esperanza Rising in the way that it aims to provide the young scholars with an equally hopeful, fresh perspective on their own lives. It promises them both a safe space as well as the resources to nurture academic achievement and intellectual growth where they otherwise may not have such a remarkable opportunity. Ultimately, not only did the scholars get a taste of the foods in Esperanza Rising, but they also learned how they can conquer any challenges that face them, both with their new experiences at the Cook Library Center, as well as with the incredible excursions that lie ahead.