"We love the arts focus…Coit is a gem."

Phil and Lavonne are committed to the City of Grand Rapids, so when they moved into their new home in 2007, they wanted to send their two boys to their neighborhood elementary school, Coit Creative Arts Academy.

They made their commitment to Coit along with their neighbors, so 11 kids were walking to school together every day, and their parents were volunteering and getting involved in the school. The school had a great reputation in the neighborhood, but wasn’t that well known throughout the city.

“I feel like Coit is a gem of a school in the city. Like this gem of a school that not everyone knows about,” said Lavonne.

They also liked the fact that Coit is an art school with opportunities for students to do art, music, band, choir, dance, and theater.

“We love the arts focus. If I could choose a focus, it would be the arts because I think it gives the most well-rounded education,” said Lavonne.

In addition to taking art and music classes, all the students in the school are involved in the annual theater and dance productions. Last year, students performed “The Sound of Music”. Phil and Lavonne’s 5th grader, Isaac, helped make the props and build the set as part of his honors art club.

“The highlight of my year is the dance performance. Every single child in that school performs on stage, in every class. I don’t think I’ve been through one of those performances without tears. It is so beautiful to watch these kids move and express themselves,” said Lavonne.

The Shaafsma’s are honest about their experience and talk about a district cutback on the arts that temporarily reduced art and music time at Coit. However, Lavonne says that has completely changed since the implementation of Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal’s Transformation Plan.

Lavonne said, “In the last two years, I have seen a total turnaround, a commitment to the arts, extending time for music, extending time for the visual arts.”

Coit has not only brought back the extra time for the arts and incorporated the arts into all subject areas, but it also started new arts initiatives, including a violin program. Coupled with an outstanding staff, Coit is a special place to be.

“I love the teachers at Coit. I could talk about every single grade because I remember all of the kids’ teachers, and how they’ve supported my kids, and how invested they are in teaching the kids, how accessible they are,” said Lavonne.

Isaac agrees. The first thing he talks about when asked about his school is how the teachers are always ready to help, all he has to do is raise his hand.

Phil sees it too. He said, “Isaac is already saying ‘Ms. Smith is my favorite teacher.’ And he’s got classmates too that are doing really well in that setting of clear boundaries and very high expectations.”

Lavonne elaborates, “She is already taking them to colleges on college campus visits to prime them for the expectation that they will attend college.”

Their older child, Owen, has moved on to Blandford School, a 6th grade only test-in program. His parents believe the foundation laid at Coit is part of the reason he is successful in middle school.

Isaac’s final words to other kids? “You can have a really fun time. It’s a really good school if you want to do art and music and all those stuff, you should go there.” 


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