Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Meet Noemi G., Future Politician

Noemi G. is a Grandville Avenue teenager with a bright and promising future. This 16-year-old high school junior loves politics and photography and dreams of being governor one day. She participates in Calling All Colors, GAAH’s Teen Leaders in the Arts program, and was even interviewed for The Rapidian’s Elevating Voices project. When reflecting upon her passion for politics, she said that she found it “interesting how one single opinion can change a law or create something.” She said that when it comes to making changes, she would start with the education system in Grand Rapids because we could do a lot better. “No one is stepping up to that,” she said.

Noemi thinks the Cook Arts Center provides students with a safe space where ”they can be whatever they want to be without having to fit into the boxes that we call the education system.” Her recognition of the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center’s work to create a place for Grandville Avenue youth is fitting in light of the recent development in the organization’s Teen Leaders in the Arts program.

After years of developing creative, safe, enriching programs for youth in Grandville Avenue neighborhood, the staff and leadership team at GAAH began to notice a lack of retention after a certain age. This issue of keeping teenagers interested was addressed by research conducted by Program Director Steffanie Rosalez. Steffanie visited The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, a pioneer in innovative youth programming, where she learned that the teen retention rates increase significantly if they are part of the decision-making process. She discovered that the key to retaining youth beyond elementary school is to simply ask them what they want to do and then make it possible for them do it.

The idea of autonomy became a crucial principle behind the development of this program. The program the teens helped to create included choosing an artistic discipline in which to receive private instruction, working at GAAH’s facilities to gain valuable work experience and earn real paychecks, creating and presenting materials about key neighborhood issues, planning and participating in engaging field trips to cultural institutions, and more.

Noemi’s particular choice for the arts component of the program was, of course, photography. After taking an entire summer of private lessons from a professional photographer from Bultman Studios, she is eager to utilize these skills to do a campaign of images to help promote important meetings with GR Forward in the neighborhood.

(More Story Matters pieces featuring neighborhood youth and their families can be found on The Rapidian’s website or on GAAH’s YouTube.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Cook Library Center: A Place for All

Edgar, a fifth grader at Burton Elementary School, is one of the 21 students at the Cook Library Center who can proudly call themselves Cook Library Achievers. As a student who visits the library daily, Edgar enjoys art and soccer. His favorite creative activity is drawing cars. Edgar’s parents, who emigrated from Mexico, are agricultural workers; his father harvests flowers and his mother carrots. Although his family’s primary language is Spanish, Edgar is learning to read and write in both English and Spanish, giving him the distinct skill of being a bilingual and biliterate child. Edgar sees his career being a necessary step to personal success. He said, “I want to save money to buy my very own house.” In fact, he looks forward to painting it himself.

Young Edgar is a great example of how the Cook Library Achievers program allows students who are not enrolled in the Cook Library Scholars program to receive the attention, tutoring, mentorship and guidance they need. The program, sometimes warmly referred to as “The Overachievers,” mirrors the Cook Library Scholars. Participants get a name tag, have a meal time, receive homework help and tutoring, have their homework reviewed, and are guided to read for 20 minutes. Once those activities are finished, they are invited to play spelling or math games.

Sue Garza, Director of the Cook Library Center, said that the Achievers are treated with exceptional care. The program allows youth who cannot be a part of the Scholars program due to capacity limitations or scheduling conflicts to still benefit from the enriching programs that are offered at the Cook Library Center on a daily basis. Being committed to providing engaging after-school programs to the youth in the neighborhood, she reflected, “It’s really important for me as the director of our local library to help the community as a whole.”