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Grand Rapids schools attract thousands to “park parties”

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor asks students to pick spelling or math questions to get a book-bag at the park party Monday night in Clemente Park.

More than a thousand children and their parents are expected to mark the start of the school year at a park in Grand Rapids Tuesday afternoon. Hundreds of kids swarmed Clemente Park Monday evening; jumping in a bounce house, getting their faces painted, eating hot dogs, and signing up for afterschool programs.

Grand Rapids Public Schools is hosting the parties to get parents information and kids excited about the new school year. For four year-round schools in Grand Rapids, classes start this Thursday.

Grand Rapids School Superintendent Bernard Taylor says with the schools-of-choice program, no school district can assume families will automatically send their children to their home district.

“With the amount of competition that exists today for students we have to do everything we can to make sure that they know we want to serve them and that we’re able to serve them. So this is really, its marketing.”

Schools get money based in part on how many students show up for class in the fall. The more students, the more money a district gets from the state. Grand Rapids, like most large districts in Michigan, has been losing students.

At least a thousand people showed up at the first party Monday night for games, raffles, free food and school supplies. Grand Rapids schools got sponsors and grant money to pay for the park parties.

Callie Williams brought her three boys, aged 13, 11 and 2.

“This is great for some people to get some school supplies if they can’t afford them. Some people just come out and get some information, some people come out to be nosy; see what’s going on. I like it.”

Her son Markel Williams is going into 8th grade at GRPS’ University Prep Academy.

“I came to earn stuff, have fun and do things I wouldn’t be able to do when I’m at home.”

Four other park parties are scheduled in August.

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