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$20 million bilingual school opens on GR’s Southwest Side

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After years of planning and a delay caused by the pandemic, Grand Rapids Public Schools’ new bilingual immersion school on the Southwest Side is finally welcoming students inside.

The new Southwest Middle/High School, which cost about $20 million, stands Oakland Avenue SW at Franklin Street. You may have seen it driving along US-131 south of the S-curve.

The bilingual program, the first of its kind in the neighborhood, teaches students in both English and Spanish.

“We not only equip the students with the bilingual skills, so the language, but also cultural competency, which is very important,” Southwest Middle/High Principal Carlos De La Barrera explained.

He said it has been a long time in the making.

“Before this school, students had to travel 5 miles either way to Union or Ottawa High schools,” De La Barrera said. “I think it is very significant.”

Southwest Middle/High is an expansion of the district’s preschool- through eighth-grade bilingual program. It began virtually in March 2020 and finally got to welcome students into the new building in January of this year. 

“It was really amazing. I mean, it’s not only seeing the students back. There’s nothing like that personal communication,” De La Barrera said.

The Southwest Community Campus, which the school is a part of, as a whole has around 900 students and is about 80% Latino, reflecting the neighborhood it serves.

Visual arts teacher Matt Lafleur said working out of Southwest Middle/High has been eye-opening.

“It’s been huge for me,” he said. “Growing up, how it is for a completely different generation of people who aren’t like me, so which has been a gift.”

He and De La Barrera are glad to be moving forward with in-person leaning and helping students from all backgrounds succeed.

“I think for me, having the opportunity to equip the students with a future, it is crucial,” De La Barrera said.

Southwest Middle/High will add a grade every year, beginning with ninth grade this year and 10th grade next year, until it eventually reaches full capacity.

“I can’t wait to see it full of kids,” Lafleur said.