Grand Valley Magazine Fall 2014 - (Page 16)

ry project Histo holars to roots sc hborhood their neig by Michele Coffill W hat do you think of when you hear the word "home?" The roof over your head? The people who share your residence? For 31 young students who participated in the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities Cook Library Scholars (CLS) program "home" meant a broad term that rooted them to their diverse and historic Grand Rapids neighborhood and to their parents' native countries. Through an oral history project facilitated by Grand Valley's Kutsche Office of Local History, the CLS students documented the Grandville Avenue neighborhood. Their work - a video documentary and exhibited materials showing 60 years of the neighborhood - debuted at the Cook Library Center in September during Hispanic Heritage Month. Melanie Shell-Weiss, director of the Kutsche Office of Local History, said beginning the project first meant tangibly showing the kindergarteneighth graders what historical documents and archival material meant. A trip to the Grand Rapids Public Library main branch dispelled any mysteries, she said. "They thought being able to go through the vault at the library was like being able to walk into a bank vault," Shell-Weiss said. At the GRPL Local History Office, Tim Gleisner showed students photographs 16 Fall '14 "We're teaching the kids to be critical thinkers, to take in the reality they know and turn that into a way that empowers them." - Melanie Shell-Weiss, director of the Kutsche Office of Local History of their houses as they looked in the 1950s and '60s; the photos were pulled from the real estate holdings collection. Gleisner is the head of GRPL's history and special collections department and serves on the advisory council for the Kutsche Office. Shell-Weiss said viewing photos of their homes drew insightful comments from the students such as "I belong," "I matter," "My house is in the library." One young scholar proved historical materials may not always be accurate. After insisting the photo Gleisner showed her was not her family's house, he conducted further research and found the girl's address was one of the first Habitat for Humanity homes in Grand Rapids. The house in the photo had been demolished. Gleisner was among the oral history project facilitators who led students on weekly tours of the neighborhood, noting buildings that have changed hands or other significant structures. Shell-Weiss said the Grandville Avenue neighborhood - bordered by Wealthy Street (north), Burton Street (south), Century Street (east), and Clyde Park and Godfrey Street (west) - once served as the gateway to Grand Rapids. "No matter where your folks came from or what nationality they were, this is the place people came first," she said, adding the neighborhood's access to factories, churches and main roads once made it a desirable location. Giving the students a sense of place beyond those borders was important, Shell-Weiss said, as all 31 scholars have parents who immigrated to Grand Rapids from Mexico, Guatemala or West Africa. "For all these kids, their earliest memories are of Grand Rapids. It's the only place they know. But when you say 'home' to them, it means different things," Shell-Weiss said. "Many of the young people say they long to see the countries where their parents came from and where they still have family." Using tablets and audio recorders, students interviewed their parents for the oral history project before learning about their neighborhood. Melissa Baker-Boosamra, CLS program director, said their interview questions were thoughtful. "They asked what it was like to grow up in Mexico, and had many

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Grand Valley Magazine Fall 2014

Campus News
Donor Impact
International Education
From Application to Admission
History Project Roots Scholars to Their Neighborhood
In the Weeds
College of Education Celebrates 50 Years
Focal Point
Q&A Diana Lawson
Off the Path
Alumni News

Grand Valley Magazine Fall 2014