Retirees and Honorees 2021

The Jenison Public Schools tradition of excellence shone through a difficult year. Today, I want to honor the newly retired, deeply dedicated, hardworking support staff who have given so much and the ‘Top Ten of 2021’ which is comprised of some pretty amazing graduates.

Heroes on Wheels: Mr. Denny and Mrs. K

Denny Wilson and Sharilyn Kowalczyk have been in the business of lovingly transporting our most precious cargo for a combined 42 years! These friendly bus drivers have many fans along their route who are sad they won’t behind the wheel next fall. Congratulations to these dedicated drivers and invaluable members of the Jenison Public Schools community! I’m so thankful for the million smiles they’ve given to their student riders over the years!

Denny is a United States Navy Veteran and retiree of General Motors. He has loved being a part of JPS for the last 14 years. When he’s not behind the wheel of a big yellow bus, he likes to golf, camp, do wood working and spend time with his 5 children, 9 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

Denny’s plans for retirement include sleeping in and visiting national parks with his wife. One of his favorite pieces of advice is “Stick with the bunch and you won’t get peeled.”

Shari had a career path in mind however, circumstances changed following a bad car accident. An ironic, yet perfect career match was made when she applied with the Jenison Transportation Department. Driving the bus helped increase her confidence behind the wheel and gave her so many lifelong friends. She calls herself lucky to have had a job she has enjoyed for 28 years. She’ll take with her many great memories of the students along her route and especially 14 years of School Bus Road-eo competitions at the county, state and nationals level.

Shari and her husband, John look forward to spending time with children and grandchildren. They also plan to travel and spend time at their little shack in Tennessee. Will Shari assume her spot behind the wheel?

Unsung Heroes: Choral Accompanists

As a fixture behind the piano with the Jenison Junior High School choirs, Beth Sweers and Andrea Pohler had one of the best seats in the house to witness the growing talent of our students.

Beth has been at the piano for 17 years working alongside the Jenison Junior High Arietta and Male Chorus. She is also involved in the music ministry at her church as organist, pianist, and most recently added handbells to her repertoire. Other than music, Beth’s hobbies include snowskiing, knitting and quilting. She has really enjoyed her time at the junior high and knows she will miss the the staff and watching the students develop and grow.

She anticipates a retirement full of extra time with her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. Beth isn’t afraid of adventure and looks forward to traveling many miles with her husband, Steve. She once navigated the massive Tokyo, Japan, subway system and didn’t get lost!!

Andrea has been accompanying the choirs at Jenison Jr. High since 1997. She also considers her 24 years an honor and she will miss the daily interactions with the choir students and the teachers whom she calls, the most talented musical team in the state. She feels blessed and has been proud to be a part of it all.

Andrea is looking forward to having more time for hiking trips to the mountains and biking adventures with her husband. She will also enjoy quiet cups of coffee on the porch with a good book.

Jenison High School – CLASS OF 2021 TOP TEN

A few days before they crossed the football field to the tune of pomp and circumstance, we had the opportunity to celebrate the Top Ten students from the Class of 2021 at their recognition luncheon. These students prove to us that hard work pays off in big ways!

In order to achieve this high level of success, students must put in an incredible amount of effort and hard work throughout high school, including several AP classes. Their ability to focus, motivate themselves, and remain organized, helped them accomplish their goals. They deserve applause for the persistent focus they exhibited during their career as a student and they definitely finished strong after the last 15 months of the pandemic. Our world will be a better place because of these individuals! Their future is very bright!

The Class of 2018 Top 10 are:

  • Elizabeth Ashby
  • Kate Boutell
  • Roberto Garcia
  • Hannah Groothuis, Saludatorian
  • Liana Kaiser
  • Braden Milnamow
  • Elizabeth Schuurman, Valedictorian
  • Claudia Ten Elshof
  • Ella Uganski
  • Connor Vachon

Congratulations to this incredible group of young men and women!

We are so proud of you. The future is yours for the taking!

Commencement 2021

The Class of 2021 has had one of the most unique experiences of any class in the history of Jenison Public Schools. These students stood very tall in the face of a 15-month international pandemic and navigated all of the obstacles that threatened to stand in the way of completing their senior year of high school. Their flexible mindset allowed them to adapt, alter, modify, tweak, and still make things happen within the changing regulations that governed us this year. They finished strong and it was such an honor to be with them last week – in person, celebrating with a relatively ‘normal’ commencement ceremony.

While he addressed the graduating class, Dr. Brandon Graham, Principal of Jenison Public High School shared a quote by Bob Goff; “Embrace uncertainty, some of the most beautiful chapters in your life won’t have a title until much later.” I love this quote and I want to encourage our graduates (as well as all Jenison students and family members who have lived through this time) that even though we may not realize it today, the moments of uncertainty these last 15 months have created something in us.

For our Jenison 2021 graduates, it has strengthened their character, honed their creativity and broadened their perspectives. I believe they will come to know just how much their hard work of relentless flexibility and perseverance this year has played a role in their lives as they move onto the next chapter of their lives. There is no doubt in my mind that each of our graduates has a very bright future ahead of them.

Congratulations Jenison High School Class of 2021!


Sounds of Spring

Historically, the month of May seems to be one of the busiest months of the school year; and it’s somewhat relieving to see some of that normal busyness return this year! Spring sports and music programs are keeping our athletic and music departments very busy – not to mention, many Jenison families are involved in both programs.

First, a recognition of the honor our district has received by once again being named one of the ‘Best Communities for Music Education’. This continued esteem is a reflection of all the hardworking faculty and staff, student and parent support given to our music programs through the years. The efforts in this program make it one of the things that truly helps Jenison Public Schools stand apart.

On a near nightly basis for the past few weeks, our student musicians filled the Jenison Center for the Arts auditorium with the gift of spectacular music.


The Junior High and High School choirs had been absent from the stage for way too long. It was an awesome collection of concerts as they performed new and traditional pieces showcasing the range of their talent. One of the most touching pieces of this time of year is the JJHS Girls choir performing their traditional medley of service songs to honor our military service men and women.

Jenison Choirs award a scholarship recognizing two graduating seniors who give of their time, talent, and dedication to the choir program, but are not looking to be in the spotlight for solos or other individualized performances. It was an honor to see the ‘Unsung Hero Scholarship’ presented to Carmine Sabatini and Riley Volkema.

With virtual schooling and other challenges they have had to adapt to, the choir students are also ending the year with knowledge and skills in the music production and editing tools as well as strong and unified choral vocal skills. You can enjoy the performances of this year through the Jenison Choirs YouTube page.

The Elementary Choir also produced a very special virtual performance this year. Check out their amazing message while you enjoy their talent.


The Junior High and High School Band groups (Concert Band, Symphonic Band, Wind Symphony, Jazz Band and Percussion Ensemble) were all very busy with performances this spring as well.

One highlight of the spring band concerts was the High School Wind Symphony as they gave the world premiere performance of a new piece entitled “Horror Vacui”. This was a piece written by Michigan composer, Andrew David Perkins. Composed to emulate the film scores of both classic and contemporary horror movies, the piece was exceptionally challenging to prepare and perform – especially given this year’s performer constraints of masks, bell covers, and six foot spacing in rehearsal and on stage. Under the direction of Dave Zamborsky, the students took on all the challenges and presented a breath taking performance.

The Jenison High School Bands also present three distinguished awards at the conclusion of their season.

Across the nation, the John Philip Sousa band award is considered the most prestigious award given in recognition of outstanding achievement and interest in instrumental music. The recipient of this year’s John Philip Sousa band award is Matt Keith.

The Jenison Band Directors’ Award is given to a senior who has contributed significantly to the Jenison band program. The recipients of this years Jenison Band Directors’ Award are Dylan Newberry and Madelyn Schab.

The Ted Bazany Senior Music Scholarship was established in 1998 by Mr. Ted Bazany, Jenison band Director Emeritus. Each year this scholarship award is given to a senior pursuing a degree in music. The recipient of this year‘s Ted Bazany senior music scholarship is Madelyn Schab.

If this wasn’t enough to keep them all busy for the spring season, planning and preparation is already underway for the upcoming Marching Band season. Mark your calendars and save the date for our first marching band performance of the 2021 production, “Spirits of the Canyon” on Friday, August 6 at 7:00pm in Mackenzie Stadium. It is always an immense treat to see these shows come to life.


Nick Majestic received the National School Orchestra Association’s Director’s Award. The award recognizes musical excellence in the JHS orchestra program. Nick displayed this as concertmaster of the Jenison Orchestras, numerous 1st division awards at District and State Solo and Ensemble Festivals and his spring recital.

Gabriella Bennetts was named Outstanding Orchestra Student for her consistent work ethic and musical skill demonstrated throughout her time in the orchestra program.  Gabbie performed this year with the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony in addition to earning 1st divisions at State and District Solo and Ensemble Festivals.

Among the many amazing pieces performed by all the orchestra groups these last few weeks, the Phantom of the Opera selections by the JHS Chamber Orchestra was a personal highlight. A piece I have long loved, and they sounded absolutely like a professional ensemble!

These concert programs are one of the things I’ve missed the most through this pandemic. It felt so great to be back in our amazing facility. Our directors and their students are back and they sounded better than ever! I can’t say enough how grateful I am for all the efforts from our music leadership team, the perseverance of the students and the support of their families as we waded through challenging protocols.

A thrilling personal accomplishment occurred on another stage entirely for JJHS 8th grader, Yewon Choi. Yewon plays with our High School Sinfonia orchestra at JHS. Yewon recently competed against other students and won 1st place as the classical orchestra winner of the Skip Gates Concert Competition for the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony Classical Orchestra. She gave a beautiful performance of the Bach A Minor Violin Concerto at DeVos Hall, accompanied by the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony.

I have also enjoyed seeing the orchestra directors being creative with their 4th grade recruiting concerts as the year winds down. I believe that music is an integral part of the quality, well-rounded education we offer at Jenison Public Schools. I can’t wait to hear the next class of musicians take the stage!

The community will have one more opportunity to see the Jenison High School musicians showcase their talent at commencement for the Class of 2021 on Thursday, May 27. You can also watch the Commencement program live online through the WCET facebook page

Traveling 6th Grade Camp

Missed milestone events have made a difficult year even more challenging. Elementary students look forward to being the oldest kids in the building for many years and all the exciting things that come along with it. For many, the 6th grade camp experience is the highlight of their elementary careers. Not only does camp offer some out-of-the -box fun, students also get a chance to learn new things and strengthen healthy relationships. Spending time outside and away from screens and other personal distractions is a wonderful remedy for the stress and malaise some have been feeling this year.

The current challenges of hosting safe in-person activities made 6th grade camp impossible last year. This year we’re happy that it just had to look a little different than we’re used to. Grace Adventures CAMP2U program is a high energy, traveling day camp that operates a fun day for students in a locally-based wide open space, in our case it was a loaned parking lot.

I am so thankful for this creative solution that allowed our students to have a great day with each other and their teachers. Encouraging each other and sharing positive interactions, they were able to grow and try new things through outdoor laser tag, archery, 9-square, gaga ball, obstacles and team building activities, as well as a climbing tower. These smiles tell me they’re thankful too!

Senior Survivor 2021

Season 3 of the Jenison High School Senior Survivor competition recently wrapped up with immense fun, excitement and a huge gift for the community!

Based on the concept of the hit television show with the same name, students are chosen to participate in challenges and sleep overnight at school for four nights while they compete. This year, the group consisted of twelve seniors trying to become the last standing ‘survivor’ in an effort to raise money for Hand2Hand Ministries.

By mobilizing schools, churches, businesses and individuals to provide a backpack of nutritious food over the weekend, H2H is able to serve over 8,000 students in 36 school districts in West Michigan, including ours. It’s a privilege and an honor to partner with H2H. Our students love knowing they are donating and working hard to raise funds that will stay right here in our community, benefiting many of our own students.

The Senior Survivor contestants kicked off the competition with a car wash at the high school, then built tents in the media center and auditorium and officially moved in for their overnight stay. They continued to participate in challenges throughout the week; some strategized and formed alliances with each other. Each challenge awarded the winners with points and more money to put toward Hand2Hand in their name. Challenges included a crazy water balloon fight, capture the flag, a live ‘Among Us’ game, blindfolded maze and a color run. The final contest was a head-to-head fire-building competition between the final 3 survivors.

The 2021 Senior Survivor roster included: Connor Vachon, Brandon Sams, Caleb VanElst, Emily Ruf, Anna Bisonet, Connor Flynn, Amber English, Alex Wood, Kenzie Chapman, Rylee Webb, Natalie Siler, and Ella Uganski. If you know them, ask them about this fun experience!

All the Senior Survivors spent time campaigning for donations to be made in their name, and each partnered with Jenison Elementary School buildings to involve them as well. While the students were participating in the overnight portion of the game, they didn’t get a break from their ‘day job’. They were still attending school and all their regular after school extra curricular activities. It’s a very busy week for the students and they are very supported by tired teacher chaperones, student council committee and local businesses that keep them fed!

The end goal for each Senior Survivor is to raise the most money to help them stay in the competition. And in the end, Amber English was named the 2021 Ultimate Senior Survivor! Her friends at Bauerwood Elementary were instrumental in helping her secure the win. Our seniors knocked it out of the park this year despite all the obstacles they’ve had to overcome! I am extremely proud of them and their teachers!

If you’d like to check out more of the fun in action, tune into the Jenison Senior Survivor YouTube Channel.

Combining the efforts of all the Senior Survivors and their elementary friends, we’re proud to donate an incredible nearly $30,000 to Hand2Hand Ministries.

Thank you so much to our local business friends for keeping our Survivors fed during their event!

Introducing Cat Tracks Outdoor Based Preschool

Nature is a gift that surrounds all of us daily and we have the power to embrace and be caretakers of that gift. We are very excited to introduce The Jenison Outdoor Preschool program through the Great Start Readiness Program. The GSRP is a state funded preschool program for qualifying four-year-old children. The curriculum is implemented in addition to supplemental activities, allowing students to learn to preserve, integrate and engage in the beauty of nature.

The purpose of this program is to impact and engage future leaders to make lifetime environmental decisions. Research regarding outdoor education has displayed greater student focus, cognitive function, test scores, social skills, wonder and creativity. The outdoor preschool program is eligible for four-year-old students on or before December 1. Class meets Monday through Thursday, full days 8:15 AM to 3:15 PM.

“Cat Tracks” Nurturing Through Nature – Outdoor preschool is coming 2021-2022!

Students will spend 80% of their day outside; learning the same literacy math, and social emotional goals as indoor classes. A brand new cabin will be available for any time spent inside. This program implements all natural play elements to support learning and playing. Outdoor gear will be provided, including no plastic toys.

The outdoor program will be available September 2021. This program is designed to provide students with an active and combined learning experience. Students will be interacting with the surrounding environment and utilizing all five senses. The classroom will be a combination of movement, discovery and hands-on manipulation.

Our program will be staffed with the same highly certified Jenison Public School teachers. Our designated educators will have a masters in early childhood with a focus and outdoor education. They will be leading our students with 10+ years of experience.

The addition of this program is very exciting and I encourage families to investigate this amazing preschool opportunity. You may contact the Jenison Early Childhood Center at 616-777-6534 or email Trisha Bassler,

Superintendent Candidate Interviews Begin Tonight

Recently, the Jenison Public Schools Board of Education met with Mr. David Killips, Superintendent Search Consultant with the Michigan Leadership Institute, to determine the candidates to be interviewed to fill the Superintendent vacancy due to my pending retirement effective July 1, 2021. I am highlighting the individuals that have been selected and the dates and times for the initial interviews. 

Fifteen educators applied for the position. Most of the applicants were from Michigan, but applications were also submitted from Arizona, Colorado, Illinois and Pennsylvania. The Board reviewed the applications and has invited four educators to be interviewed. The process continues to be facilitated by the Michigan Leadership Institute.

The interviews will be held this week, April 12 and 14. Two interviews will be held each evening, with one scheduled at 6:30 pm and one at 8:00 pm. These are incredibly important interviews for the future of Jenison Public Schools so our school board members will be meeting in person with each candidate. Due to state mandated COVID-19 protocols and concerns for the health and well-being of our community members, the Board of Education has determined that the general public should witness these interviews through a live virtual platform. Accommodations will be made for virtual live stream accessible through our district website.

The interview schedule is as follows:

Monday, April 12 at 6:30 pm:  Wayne Roedel, Superintendent, Fowlerville Community Schools

Monday, April 12 at 8:00 pm:  Dr. Brandon Graham, Principal, Jenison High School 

Wednesday, April 14 at 6:30 pm:  Todd Tulgestke, Assistant Superintendent, West Ottawa Public Schools

Wednesday, April 14 at 8:00 pm:  Al Cumings, Superintendent, Tri-County Area Schools 

An opportunity will be provided for you to submit follow up questions for the Board of Education to consider for the second round of interviews. All scheduled Board of Education meeting dates & times can be found on our JPS website under the district link.

The following information is provided for you to access these interviews through the ZOOM platform beginning at 6:30 p.m. TONIGHT, Monday, April 12th and Wednesday, April 14th.

Meeting ID: 880 6352 1693                Passcode: T3Nkg5

Thank you for your continued support, understanding, and cooperation as we strive to provide the best educational experience for all of our students in spite of the daily COVID-19 challenges we face. 

Spring Break 2021

As this season brings extended daylight and rising temperatures, I sincerely hope you and your loved ones are able to enjoy a safe, fun, and relaxing Spring Break!

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support, patience, and understanding. Together, we have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic to keep your children safe, while learning in a face-to-face environment since August. We will also continue to strive every day to provide extra-curricular activities for all of our students within the protocols given to us.

Thank you for choosing Jenison Public Schools to partner with you in the education of your children. We are committed to providing our students with a world class educational experience even in the face of a world-wide pandemic. From all the teachers, administration, and staff at Jenison Public Schools, we wish you a time of refreshment and relaxation during this well deserved break! Stay safe, and we’ll see you back in class on April 12.

Let’s join the Pinewood staff as they lead the way into Spring Break 2021!

Live Theatre…Here We Go Again!

It’s a big week as the Jenison High School Thespians proudly return to the stage to present this year’s spring musical; Mamma Mia! Last year brought much frustration and disappointment at the start of the COVID pandemic; so the students are appreciating every minute of the hard work and being rejuvenated by the sheer energy of this show.

Our new Theatre director, Ashlee DeGraaf kicked off the school year with virtual performances of the annual Festival of Plays. As we approached the spring musical season, the cast and crew were eager to get back on stage. They have tirelessly navigated ongoing challenges and changes including quarantined cast members at times. The Jenison Thespians are always a bright spot in the final months of the busy school year and I’m ecstatic that we are able to allow, not only the students to perform, but the community to safely join the fun. Tickets are still available for this weekend; we promise – you will not be disappointed!

Mamma Mia! brings so much laughter, joy, and dynamic dance numbers combined with an unforgettable line up of hit songs. Get your tickets today and let yourself be taken away to a Greek island paradise and bask in the glow of the Mediterranean sea and sun.

Tickets are still available!

To get your tickets, visit at or call (616) 667-3602

*Safety protocols include limited socially distanced seating and face coverings required*

Performance Dates:

Thursday, March 25 at 7:00pm

Friday, March 26 at 7:00pm (SOLD OUT)

Saturday, March 27 at 1:00pm

Saturday, March 27 at 7:00pm

Ticket prices: $12 Adult, $8 Students (under age 18) and Senior Citizens

Once again, we are amazed by the hard work and dedication of the Jenison Thespians and can’t wait to see your latest production! You can get your tickets for this weekend here!

Directed by Ashlee DeGraaf
Choreography by Hailey MacKay
Musical Directors: Zachary Forsleff and Dan Scott
Photography: Stacey Clack Photography

The beautiful colors of El Puente

The El Puente building received a wonderful gift in the last few months of winter. A beautiful, vibrant mural by Dominican native, Erick Picardo was recently unveiled.

Not only will it be a brilliant experience for all visitors of El Puente to enjoy for years to come, it has an educational component. During the creation of the mural, principal Lloyd Gingerich, captured a time-lapse video of the mural being completed and also produced a video of Picardo speaking about the mural in Spanish as a teaching tool for the Spanish immersion students.

El Puente families were also given the opportunity to contribute their individual art, communicating how they feel about the El Puente community. An 8×10 canvas from multiple families will soon be incorporated into Picardo’s work to complete the project.

Proud of his rich Carribbean heritage, Picardo intentionally incorporates culture and bright colors into his work; conveying energy and joy. He also lovingly calls Grand Rapids ‘home’ and is about to celebrate 20 years living in the United States. You might recognize his work from other murals around Grand Rapids. For more information about Erick Picardo, check out this magazine story and television news story.

Watch Erick Picardo create the El Puente mural masterpiece right before your eyes!

The finished product is stunning! Thank you to Erick Picardo for sharing his talent and to the El Puente Parents Club for sponsoring this beautiful gift to the school.