Guest Blog: Berniz Constanza Terpstra, KSSN Community School

Let me tell you about a 12-year-old girl whose life was forever changed by the generosity of her community.

She was the daughter of a woman who fled a civil war in Guatemala and found herself an undocumented immigrant with a small child in the United States. A woman who had language barriers.  A woman who did not know how the school system worked in the United States, yet worked double shifts in hopes that it would help her family succeed.

At school, the girl fell in love with band class. Knowing that larger instruments were the most expensive, she chose the clarinet so that her mom might be able to afford the rental fee. Her band teacher Mrs. Flores made her feel like the most important girl in the world, while her instrument made her feel like she was part of something bigger than herself. For the first time, she found a place where she knew that she belonged. After the first year, her mom broke the news that she could no longer afford the rental of the clarinet. Her heart was broken.

When Mrs. Flores found out, she decided to take on the monthly payments because she saw something in this student. It was this gift that changed the course of this student’s life forever. She not only excelled at the clarinet, but her belief in herself and her ability to succeed skyrocketed. That confidence took her to college and into her career today.

That student is me.

My name is Berniz Constanza Terpstra and I am the Kent School Services Network Community School Coordinator at Gerald R. Ford Academic Center. Kent School Services Network is a non-profit partner of the schools that help students and families access needed resources – from school supplies to food, secure housing and a sense of community. One of our biggest partners in our work to create a community of learning at Ford School is the Student Advancement Foundation.

Every day at Ford, I look straight in the eyes of students and see how their emotions change day in and day out. I share their struggles and their successes. Some of our students come to school filled with anxiety, facing many daily obstacles, while others are simply trying to cope with things happening around them that are beyond their control. I see students who are energized because of art class or a chance to play their favorite instrument. For others, it’s a game day where they get to compete in a sport that makes them feel like champions for the first time in their lives.

Daniel’s story.

Attendance is taken in the morning and morning Daniel, a first-grade student, is absent. Again.

You and I know that coming dressed for success at work increases our confidence and results in a job well done.  Now, imagine for a moment that you could not attend school because you did not have a clean uniform to wear.

Daniel, a respectful, kind young man was that student last year, but he didn’t want to get in trouble for wearing the wrong uniform. Although Daniel’s family was trying hard to save the money to purchase school clothes, paying the rent took priority. So instead, he chose to stay home, missing school and falling behind.

But Daniel’s story doesn’t end there. Through the Student Advancement Foundation’s principal’s fund, we were empowered to purchase school uniforms for Daniel. This was a seemingly simple act, but with a profound result. Today, Daniel has a new demeanor. He is confident as he walks through the doors, proud to be a student with nearly perfect attendance. Mornings no longer start with an absence from Daniel – who is now a second grader – but with him in class, ready to learn.

GRSAF’s involvement.

All throughout the day, I see students benefitting from GRSAF. During one stop in the library, I watched a class of fourth graders diligently researching information for their science project. One group of students watched photosynthesis videos on the library’s iPad. If it wasn’t for the Student Advancement Foundation, they would not have those iPads. They would not see things come to life in full color. Our library is fully equipped thanks to the generosity of our community.

Imagine for a moment if our schools couldn’t offer band or orchestra. Imagine for a moment that our students could not attend school because they did not have a clean uniform to wear. Imagine for a moment what our schools would be like if we didn’t have access to a vibrant library. And imagine, what our community would miss if deep childhood friendships weren’t developed in youth sports.

I know firsthand that being involved in band and student athletics were huge contributions to my success. If it wasn’t for Mrs. Flores stepping up and saying yes, I would not be here today, making a difference in the lives of children just like me.

GRSAF invests in my students at Ford and each day I see how lives are changing because of this investment. I am confident that every penny that is invested in this foundation is breaking cycles and creating the future of our great city. You are their Mrs. Flores.

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