The focus on community-building starts in our school and works its way into every area of our lives. It gives our family a sense of purpose.” – Ty Van Wingen
This month, the Family and Community Engagement team met with Michele Venegas and Ty Van Wingen to discuss their family’s choice to attend GRPS schools, how the pandemic affected their children, and what they’re looking forward to in the coming school year. Michele is the owner and founder of Joyful Sounds Music Studio, where she oversees a program called Music Together, which gives families of children aged 0-8 the opportunity to come together around music and movement. Ty works as a realtor at Greenridge Realty and is a proud GRPS alum; his grandfather even taught at Creston High School in the 1920s! The family’s youngest, Selah, is going into 3rd grade at Congress Elementary, and their middle child, Tobin, is starting 10th grade at Grand Rapids Museum Middle School. Jonah, their oldest, attends Grand Valley.
What has your family enjoyed most about being part of the GRPS district?
The family describes their experience in GRPS as a positive one that was made even better by their involvement in their neighborhood school community. Though Michele is new to the public school setting, she says she is really loving being a part of GRPS. “Having a student enrolled in a neighborhood school has shifted the way I think about the importance of the public school system in our larger community,” she mentioned. Ty added that he’s grateful for the diversity that his children enjoy as part of their school experience. “They are being prepared for the real world,” Ty said.
How was the last school year under the Return to Learn plan? How did your family adapt to circumstances following the COVID-19 outbreak?
Last year was a struggle for many families, and Michele and Ty mentioned that their family also went through a period of transition. They feel that the socio-emotional side of school is just as important as the academic side, and their children really missed that. “Last year was really hard, but we felt strongly about our commitment to not bail on this district,” Michele remembers. Still, there were challenges. They describe their daughter, Selah, as a very social student, so the isolation was especially difficult for her. Their son Tobin was just starting high school last year, so making the adjustment to distance learning presented an additional challenge to an already tricky period of transition.
However, Michele and Ty consider themselves fortunate to have been able to get through the 2020-2021 school year as a two-parent family. They feel that their family has gotten even stronger in the face of the pandemic!
What lessons have you learned throughout the past year that you feel has shaped your family for the better?
Michele and Ty say that they have come together a lot as a family unit since the pandemic began. All the changes to work and school forced the family to slow down and appreciate each other more. “By necessity, we all had to become each others’ best friends,” Ty joked. Michele mentioned that, when the family went on vacation this summer to the Upper Peninsula and out to California, she could feel the sense that her family had become more tight-knit during the past year and a half of COVID. “You could feel that all of us had grown closer,” she said.
What are your thoughts on being part of a neighborhood school?
With regard to Congress Elementary, Ty mentioned that he feels super proud to have his daughter enrolled at a school that places such importance on the idea of community. “The focus on community-building starts in our school and works its way into every area of our lives. It gives our family a sense of purpose,” he said. Michele agreed. “Congress is a special place. The families are wonderful. There’s a true feeling of community at our school, and it’s great to be a part of that.”
What is your family most looking forward to in the coming school year?
When asked what they are most looking forward to in the coming year, both Michele and Ty agree that they’d like to see more routine during the 2021-2022 school year. “It’ll be nice to not have to wear all the different hats – the social worker, the school nurse, the cafeteria worker, etc.” says Michele, who already balances her roles as mother and business owner with a life as a professional musician. Once things start to regain a sense of normalcy, she and Ty look forward to being able to dedicate themselves to their work again. Having to be in ‘survival mode’ has been hard on the family, so they are looking forward to Selah and Tobin being able to start being around their friends and enjoy life outside of home.
We couldn’t agree more! The Family and Community Engagement office is SO excited to have our students back in their classrooms, 100% in person, 5 days a week!