The experience of students of color in the Grand Rapids classroom

Nov 21, 2018

Credit Grand Rapids Public Schools

In Grand Rapids Public Schools, students of color are a little over two grades behind white students. African American students are three times as likely to be suspended as white students, according to data from GRPS. 

“Unfortunately this is the real data, something that has been an issue within the district for many, many years. We are working to implement restorative practices of restorative justice. In fact we have had more than 1500 restorative circles. So we know the data is there, we know the data is not good and we know that we have a lot of work to do.” 

That is John Helmholdt, the spokesperson for the Grand Rapids Public Schools District.

Although graduation rates have increased to 66% percent from 45% six years ago, there are still some inconsistencies, according to Helmholdt. 

“Where some students are suspended for one day for the same offense and another student is suspended for ten days.” 

As a witness to the experiences of students of color in the classroom through his advocacy work in education Kyle Lim says classrooms are places of great pain for many students of color in Grand Rapids. Lim is the Director of Education at the Grand Rapids Urban League. 

“We have this understanding not just in Grand Rapids, but in the US, of schools as these benevolent institutions that are designed to teach and grow and nurture children, and the sad reality is that in schools across the country and Grand Rapids is no exception, educational institutions are often sites of great suffering for kids of color.”

Lim says to address some of those inconcistencies, schools need to ask themselves if their policies are focused on caring for students of color.  

“What are the policies, practices and procedures that you are putting in place to ensure that black kids in particular are being cared for within that.”

Michelle Jokisch Polo, WGVU News.