Notes to the Narwhal Nation

School Culture

Dear Families,

Can you believe that we only have 13 school days (after today) left to the 2018-2019 school year?  We have many special activities and events happening over the next couple of weeks, so make sure to check the school calendar and mark your family calendar accordingly.  When I look at the school calendar for the next few weeks and also being to plan the calendar for next year, I can’t help thinking about one of our school’s focus topics: School Culture.


School Culture defines our ways of being in relationship together- how it feels, sounds, and looks for all of us to be “at school”.  School Culture describes the relationships between staff members, families and students along different points of contact. What makes up the School Culture at Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center?  What works for us? What doesn’t? What are we each bringing to the experience?


One way to think of the culture of a school is through thinking about our routines, rituals, and relationships/role models.  These three aspects of culture are essential to build a collective identity and collective responsibility, as well as act as the “glue” that makes school cohesive for students.  Let’s take a look at each of these, and as we do, I invite you to think about this closing school year and next year and how you might want to be involved with any of these aspects of school culture:


  • Routines:  Routines are daily.  The purpose of rountines is for efficiency, safety, and consistency for all.  Routines are essential to a strong culture because they ensure flow and predictability, saving personalized attention for higher level needs.  Examples of Routines at GRCDC: Drop off/School Arrival, Pick Up/School Dismissal, Visitor Check Ins, the Link Letter, and Lunch/Recess.


  • Rituals:  Rituals are regular expressions of values and beliefs.  They bring meaning and connection to the school year throughout the days and weeks.  Examples of Rituals at GRCDC: Afternoon Meeting, Portfolio Day, EOY Celebration, 5th grade graduation, Fall/Winter Celebration, Summer Park Meet-Ups.


  • Relationships/Role Modeling:  Students having strong relationships with adults and each other, as well as specific role modeling of healthy relationships, is an important part of social and emotional development.  Our school places a special priority here. Examples of Relationship/Role Modeling at GRCDC: staying with the same teachers for 2 years, partners in different classes (reading buddies, etc.), increased recess time, Safeties program, Mr. Trevor’s Family Liaison role, special guests in the classroom (Grandparent day, visiting weatherman, etc.).


All three of these aspects of a healthy culture should be seen and felt school-wide, as well as in each classroom, within the context of clear expectations for students and a plan for how we respond when things go wrong.  As we move into next year, we are really focusing on working on our school-wide culture- understanding what it means to be a student at GRCDC, the responsibility and privilege each of us have to culture here, and how to ensure that “Education Based on Relationships” results in our student have strong, flexible, and sophisticated social and emotional skills that will allow them to be successful wherever and whatever they would like to do!  If you have thoughts you would like to share on this, please let me know: heynel@childdiscoverycenter.org, 616-459-0330, OR find me at the front gate most mornings!  Thank you!





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Dear Families,
2017 is winding to a close and we are all looking forward to our Holiday Break and the beginning of a whole new year! The new year pushes us to think about the past, feel the present, and plan for the future. Many of us may do this on a personal level, or even a family level. At GRCDC, the team and I are thinking about this on a school level and a community level.

As I look around to take stock of the past, present and future, I think most specifically about what we are trying to grow and who we are trying to be at Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center. Many of us heard about the police detainment of an 11 year old girl of color in our community last week. Being 11, this young girl is the age of many of the students at GRCDC, causing me to wonder, “what if she had been our student? What would our school community be saying?” Further, this has been in the local news, but also covered by national media. If you have friends and family around the country, you may have had folks reach out to you and say, “what’s going on over there in Grand Rapids?” What IS going on over here in Grand Rapids and specifically at the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center? How do race and class impact the life of our community and our school? How do we avoid situations like this happening in the future?

One of my guiding philosophies in life and in education is that relationships matter. Proximity, personal relationship, trust and care can overcome many obstacles- including divides based on race and class. Our school community believes this as well, which is why we proudly state, “Education Based On Relationships.” However, to be in relationship with one another we must be WITH one another. That is one of the elements that makes GRCDC so special. Consider these statistics* regarding local school districts:

What do you notice about GRCDC’s racial and socioecomonic demographics compared to other areas schools? What do you think this means for us, as a school community? What responsibility do we hold as one of the truly diverse community centers in Grand Rapids? I believe it means that we are trying to do something that very few other places (communities and schools) have done well. I believe it means that if we truly harness and lean into our socioeconomic and racial diversity in an intentional and thoughtful way, we can show our children (and other adults in our community) what IS possible in relationship with one another. This doesn’t happen by magic. It doesn’t happen by accident. It requires hard work. It requires being willing to have difficult conversations. It requires being IN RELATIONSHIP with one another. In 2018, I invite each of you to think about our special role in the community and what it means to be in a truly integrated school in such a segregated city. What will it take to create the change necessary to ensure that all of the children in our community have the opportunity to be children? It starts here at the GRCDC. The future is ours.

To 2018,

*statistics taken from niche.com and not necessarily the up to the moment statistics, but can be considered fairly representative of current reality
**if you are interested in reading about why integrated schools can be better for everyone, check out the articles found here and here.

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