GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — The leaderboard is the first thing the students see when they walk through the doors at West Elementary School in Grandville: six different banners, with a smiling student’s face being proudly projected for the entire school to see.

It’s not just how students start their days. It’s how the school is teaching throughout the day, too.

“It’s a great way to get them started in a positive way for their school day,” Principal John Wondergem said. “We have our staff that greets them. They see the House Point leaderboard. I mean, it’s just smiles and just a great culture piece for our building.”

Wondergem may be new to the elementary school, but the program he helps operate is not. A few years ago, West Elementary brought in the house system, developed by the Ron Clark Academy in Georgia.

The system breaks the entire student body into different houses, mixing students of all grade levels together to create a stronger school community.

“At the beginning of each school year, we have our new students and our kindergarten students that will get sorted into houses, much like the Harry Potter system,” Wondergem said. “Twice a month, we have what we call house meetings, where we get all of our kids together in our houses to do community service projects, our character-building lessons and just a lot of that good people stuff that we wish to see in all of our students.”

West Elementary is broken into six different houses, all named after bulldogs because they are the Grandville Bulldogs: Banter, Campeiro, Dorset, Victorian, Ca De Bou and Blue Bloods.

The students are awarded points for behavior that goes above and beyond what is expected of them. Wondergem gave examples of a student picking up trash that did not belong to them or showing extra care for their newer kindergarten students.

“If there’s one word that I think stands out as something that we really take pride in with this, amongst all of them, I would say belonging,” Wondergem said. “Belonging for our students, belonging for our staff, for our families to have that sense of assurance that their students are cared for, that their students are welcome, that their students are appreciated, not just within their classroom, but across the entire school building.”

This year, Wondergem applied for Family Fare’s One School at a Time grant. It’s $1,000 awarded to one West Michigan school each month that can demonstrate how it would use the money to positively impact its students, staff and community.

Emily Woodrow, the Grandville Family Fare store director, was able to present Wondergem with a $1,000 check. For her, it was more than just an opportunity to give back as a Family Fare employee.

“It really means a lot to me to be a part of Family Fare and I’m so proud to be able to give back to the community, especially a community so close to my heart,” Woodrow said. “I have kids that go to the Grandville schools. So this is something that is going to impact my children for years to come.”

Wondergem says the school will use the money to help offset the IT costs that come from operating the app needed to award students points and update the leaderboard in real-time. He sees it as an opportunity to continue to embed this style of teaching into the life-curriculum at West Elementary.  

“We talk about reading, writing, math, all of our wonderful subjects are so important. But ultimately, we want to teach our kids how to be good people and how to interact and how to navigate this world,” Wondergem said. “Those are the skills that, when we see that, we just want to celebrate it and shout it out like crazy.”

You can give your school a chance at receiving the One School at a Time Grant here.