Principal Ryan Huppert (second from left) with City High students Z'nya McSpadden, Estrella Govea-Garcia and Tobin Hanks (left to right) in front of City's main entrance
In the almost 40 years the U.S. Department of Education has been recognizing exemplary elementary, middle and high schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools, a GRPS school had never been so honored.
That “never” became a first in 2019 when City High/Middle School broke the drought for GRPS and earned a spot on the list of 362 schools nationwide, including just three high schools in Michigan, newly named Blue Ribbon Schools.
The program honors schools for either overall academic excellence or for progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups and City was honored in the former category. Principal Ryan Huppert said the award is both recognition and encouragement.
“It affirms that an urban and diverse public school is achieving at the highest levels nationally,” he said. “It recognizes the hard work of all of our kids, our staff, our families, and the whole City community to be an exemplary school nationwide.”
Principal Ryan Huppert (left) speaks at the ceremony, saying the building renovations provide ‘an environment that shows kids that they are valued’
He added that City, while deservedly praised for its academic accolades, is more balanced than people might sometimes assume.
“Our kids are academic and athletic and artistic,” he said. “They’re active volunteers in the community, and often those experiences turn into internships and jobs. They get involved in local political campaigns. They make up the majority of the athletes on some of the (high school) teams they’re on (with Ottawa Hills and Union). They’re well-rounded kids.”
Z’nya McSpaden, a sophomore who will be part of Union’s varsity basketball team this winter, agreed with her principal. She said it’s still sometimes difficult for people to get past the old stereotypes of City. “At Union they sometimes see us as just the smart kids,” she said. “But there’s more (to City) than that.”
In fact, less than a week after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at City to mark the Blue Ribbon award, Huppert spent two days camping with 62 City juniors and seniors at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a trip free for the students, many of whom had never camped before, thanks to funding from the Wege Foundation. There, on the shores of Lake Michigan, students and teachers cooked meals together, cleaned up afterward, hiked, journaled, read and more, in an experience that Huppert described as “some of the most powerful ways we connect with kids.”
And the day after his return from the camping trip, Huppert found himself participating in an extensive conference call, planning for another recent singular City honor: an invitation for the school’s marching band to participate in the 2020 National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
Huppert said that the 115-member City marching band, under Director Katie Vermeer, has played in numerous community parades and special days in the past, and regularly plays at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids for GRPS home games, but he admitted that playing in D.C. will be a bit of a jump.
“This is the big leagues of marching bands,” he said with a big smile. “It is a large and special opportunity.”
For City students, the education they are receiving in their historic building on Plainfield Avenue is also a large and special opportunity.