GRPS museum school attracting outside students

The Grand Rapids Public Museum's enclosed carousel overlooks the Grand River. (File photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools received 200 applications to fill 60 sixth-grade seats in its Museum School, about half of those who applied were from outside the district or had never gone to GRPS before.

“Her whole class was interested and hoping to get in of course they didn’t but fortunately we did,” said Yvonne Briley-Wilson.  Briley-Wilson lives in the Forest Hills School District, and her daughter Madison fought to go to the new school, even though she had to go through a lottery to get in.

“She cannot wait,” said Briley-Wilson. “She is excited about going to middle school, which can be a little nervous.”

Briley-Wilson’s daughter filled one of nine spots, which makes up 15 percent of the class that went to students from out of the district.

Of the more than 200 applications, district spokesperson John Helmholdt said that more than half of them were from students outside the district boundaries or from those who had never attended a GRPS school before.

Helmholdt said they were “a little surprised” by the reaction from the community, but “we knew that this was a hot attraction.”

According to the school principal, Christopher Hanks, 51 students accepted live within GRPS boundaries.  Of those, 25 students did not attend a GRPS school last year.

One of those students was the daughter of the assistant to the Grand Rapids city manager, Tom Almonte.

Almonte’s daughter went to private school last year, but will attend the Museum School in the fall.

“In the beginning, to be honest, when we looked at options GRPS was not an option,” said Almonte.

A couple of years down the line, Almonte said that the Museum School has become the best option for his daughter, Sophia.  He said he thinks it will offer the best education, chances for creativity and also a chance to be a member of a diverse community.

“The perception that GRPS shouldn’t be an option is actually changing, so we are actually embracing the fact that GRPS is a new place and we wanted to embrace that and give GRPS an opportunity,” said Almonte.

Helmholdt said those numbers show the district’s Transformation Plan is working to retain students in Grand Rapids, as well as attract those from outside the area.

The school itself is still under construction. Currently the finishing touches are going on two classrooms on the third floor, but eventually the school will take up most of the fourth floor of the building.

“Everybody doesn’t learn the same. Everybody doesn’t understand in the same way, and I think that’s where [GRPS has] the advantage over some of the other districts here, and that they are not only aware of that but in creating their schools they are very sensitive to that,” said Briley-Wilson.

Hanks, the school principal, echoed that sentiment.  He also stressed that the school is about more than a bricks and mortar building.

“We keep saying the community is our classroom so we’re going to make that a reality,” said Hanks. “On a regular basis, we’ll be heading across the bridge, and exploring downtown, and drawing on expertise and resources from the city.”

“I think [GRPS is] very intentional, and I think they definitely have a desire to create alternatives, and schools of innovation, as they call them to turn that reputation around,” said Briley-Wilson.  “As long as my child is learning and growing and happy I will never regret it.”

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