Former rivals, Ypsilanti students promote positive culture in newly merged district
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“Grizz-lies grizz-lies grizz-lies ”
It may be an unfamiliar chant for those in the Ypsilanti area now—but a group of dedicated students have been working to make the Grizzly mascot the symbol of a new identity for Ypsilanti Community Schools.
The product of Willow Run and Ypsilanti school districts, YCS will merge the former rivals together on the first day of class Sept. 3.
Several programs collaborated with YCS for a two-day student summit Thursday and Friday at the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, where teens from both former districts engaged in activities to help create a new identity for YCS.
Students wrote and recorded a rap theme song, crafted swag buttons, painted murals, recorded videos and shot portraits to use within YCS. With less than two weeks to go until the first day of school, positive energy abounded from the 20 students that attended the workshop.
Watch students record the end of the theme song:
Moving away from the former district’s old reputations and sometimes negative perceptions has been very important to the students involved in the program, said John Weiss, executive director of the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor.
“These students that want to lead the culture change are not your traditional leaders,” Weiss said.
As an Ypsilanti resident, Weiss said he helped with the planning of the new district. The adults in the district are all hopeful and positive that YCS’ creation will mean great things for the quality of education that students receive.
Weiss said he’s worked to convey to students that it’s up to them to make the change they want to see in the new school year. The projects students have engaged in will set the culture in their own words, Weiss said.
Geairis Vinston, 16, attended Ypsilanti New Tech High School last year. When he and his friends learned of the consolidation last spring, he said there was some initial negativity in conversations about the next school year.
Historically, there has been sports-motivated rivalry and name calling from all sides, Geairis said.
“We just didn’t like each other at all,” Geairis said.
Geairis said he’s excited for the first day of school and to bring a positive attitude to the hallways. Most of his friends are excited about the change now, he said.
Making new friends with other students before school started through the Neutral Zone program was “crucial,” Geairis said, “so that when you get there you won’t have to rely on old friends.”
Latearia Johnson, 15, was a sophomore at Willow Run High School last year. This year, she’ll be entering Ypsilanti Community High School as a junior.
At first, Latearia said she thought the beginning of a new school year in a consolidated district would be “chaos.”
People thought there might be fights because of the former rivalries, she said—but now that’s changed for Latearia. After meeting some new people at the Neutral Zone, Latearia said she’s ready for anything.
Latearia was a part of the group that put together a theme rap song for YCS, which includes positive motivational messages that Latearia said she hopes students keep in mind this year.
Bright Futures, the Safe & Supportive Schools program collaborated with the Neutral Zone to host the two-day student engagement summit. The program follows months of previous sessions that many of the students had been involved in.
Several students in Willow Run schools had been working with the Neutral Zone and the Safe & Supportive Schools program to improve the climate in the school last year. When the formal announcement came of the district’s consolidation, the students wanted to pursue programs to ease the unification process, Weiss said.
Students from both Willow Run and Ypsilanti high schools swapped schools for a day, and have been working with the Bright Futures after school program at Eastern Michigan University as well.