Home Ec Gets a Makeover!

You may recall sitting in Home Ec class years ago learning the difference between and tablespoon and a teaspoon but our Jenison High School students are learning so much more!

Lifeskills teacher and Career Technical Education [CTE] Director, Kelly Kirkland, offers a variety of electives for students looking to expand their knowledge of every day tasks, responsibilities, and skills. In order to decide what she teaches, Ms Kirkland has learned to listen to students and take note of what interests them.  “When I first started at Jenison, I followed a curriculum and as time goes on I see what the needs of the students and community are and switch things up. Also as I have a HS student myself, and I see things that I want my kid to know as he prepares to leave home. A few years back our Family and Consumer Science department recognized an increased interest in Interior Design so we incorporated some units in this to help kids with house designs, color trends and coordinating colors with accessories to give a seamless appearance within our Teen Living course.”

Ms Kirkland tries to focus on meaningful skills that students will use either at home or when they leave the nest. Sometimes there are bumps in the road learning new things but students always “seam” to see the benefits.  “When the students start sewing it is new to many of the students so it can be very frustrating for them but as soon as they get the hang of it they love it and it is a skill they can use the rest of their lives. When it comes to cooking, some students have no skill and some have been cooking since a young age. We start very basic and work our way to more advance skills. However, the cooking we do is focused on simple foods that students can make after leaving home. We also learn about importance of nutrition. Many former students say they think twice about the foods they choose to eat and impacts them to make healthier choices.”

Learning basic sewing skills!

If you think there is a small population wanting to learn to manage life on their own, think again! Ms Kirkland’s classes are typically full, hosting 30 – 33 students a class. Some of these students end up finding a talent or passion that’s new to them, but has meaning for their futures. “Years ago, a student made their own prom dress and many students have gone into the culinary and bakery programs at the OAISD and GRCC . Also, parents find it helpful that they can rely on their child to participate around the house by starting dinners and fixing their own clothing [buttons, hems, rips]”

Ms Kirkland is proud of the things students are learning in her classes and what it means for their futures. “These are skills that many working parents cannot teach at home and that students will need to use throughout their lifetime. I teach life skills that students help them ease their way into college and adulthood. These skills will be carried with them the rest of their lives.”

Learning to tie a tie with our athletic directors!

Thank you, Ms Kirkland, for teaching our students these important life skills! We can’t wait to see where these new chefs, bakers, checkbook balancers, and tailors show up down the road!

Student-made chicken pot pies!

Food safety flyer created in Foods & Nutrition Class


Volunteers Keep Elementary Libraries Humming!

Diane Avink, Carolyn DeJong, Jan Staley, Becky Hilbelink

Elementary Media Specialist, Jan Staley, has many amazing superpowers: she can recommend the perfect book for any age, lesson, or situation, she can bring a smile to a student’s face by knowing what they’ll love, and she knows every story in the library inside and out. But there’s one thing she can’t do: she can’t run all five elementary libraries on her own, especially on a part-time schedule. But every superhero knows you need a sidekick, and Jan has 65! Every elementary school in Jenison has dedicated library volunteers who work every week to make sure our students have access to our amazing books!

Bauerwood volunteers, Carolyn DeJong, Diane Avink, and Becky Hilbelink have been volunteering in the libraries for between nine and thirteen years! They all got their start when a note went home asking for parents to volunteer in classrooms and they eventually made their way to the library – and haven’t left.

Becky worked as a special education teacher and took a step back when she had children so she knows the importance of school libraries. She also volunteered in her daughter’s classroom and found herself at home in the library. When she first started, her son [now in fifth grade] was in Kindergarten and he when he wasn’t serving as the library mascot of sorts, he was sleeping the back room. [It takes a lot of energy to be a mascot!] Becky is a dedicated Bauerwood volunteer outside of the library as well. She serves as the volunteer coordinator, organizes Watchdog Dads, runs the recycling program Teracycle, and she still volunteers for the classroom teachers.

Longtime Bauerwood volunteers Nell & Joe Abramajtys

The love of the work is what keeps these volunteers coming back year after year. Diane says, “It’s fun to watch the kids grow up.” And Becky adds that her passion for making sure kids experience an actual book in their hand [as opposed to a tablet or other technology] and has been known to dash over to her house – next door to Bauerwood – and grab a book from her personal library if the school doesn’t have it and a student is requesting it. Carolyn says that she loves getting Kindergarten students excited about reading in the hopes that their passion carries on over the years. And all the volunteers know books to recommend if someone comes to them and doesn’t love reading- yet.

Oftentimes, students will ask the volunteers for recommendations. Becky loves to suggest Harriot the Spy, Mr Popper’s Penguins, and Boxcar Children. Diane loves the Little House on the Prairie books. They love to ask the students when they return the books, “tell me what you thought” and see the excitement in their eyes at having discovered something new – especially the classics.

The library volunteers across the district stay very busy with a variety of tasks. As new books arrive, certain volunteers like Diane are in charge of cataloging them in the computer, checking books in and out, shelving, inventory, occasionally reading to classes, managing library cards, running overdue reports, organizing incentive programs like JPS Reads, and helping every student feel comfortable in the library.

Carolyn feels it’s especially important to help students cultivate a love of books and she takes the time to notice which students might need a little extra encouragement in this area. Becky agrees, saying that the library is a safe place for kids to come and explore. “Kids love coming to the library and it’s a wonderful connection to the community. A love of reading can start with the kids and draw parents in.”

Ms Staley knows that the personality of the library volunteers help shape the experience for children. For example, Sandy Hill parent volunteer Amanda VanMaanen begins each week with a whiteboard drawing straight from a page of a great book. Volunteers spark interest in books for students and make sure they know there is always a story to meet their passions. “Our volunteers love kids and love books. Kids have graduated and come back saying that they loved reading because of their experiences in their JPS libraries.”

Thank you Ms Staley, for dedicating your life to books, reading, and the wonderful ways reading enriches our lives! Thank you to all of the 65 JPS library volunteers who make a class trip to library something to look forward to! You are keeping our students interested and engaged in reading, changing their lives forever!

Sandy Hill Students Work to Ease Hunger in Jenison!

Ten years ago this October, Cheri Honderd realized that some kids in Jenison didn’t have enough food to eat, especially on the weekends.

Drawing on her experience as a Kids Hope Director, Cheri knew that through school and community partnerships, something could be changed. Cheri and her friends at a local church decided to take action and – starting right here at Sandy Hill – nineteen students were given a bag of food for the weekends, privately placed in their backpacks during the school day and Hand2Hand Ministries was born.

“The nation was going through a recession and it was impacting her community. For the first time in decades the city of Jenison, along with neighboring communities, was facing a hunger crisis. Many former middle-income families were not able to feed their own children. The number of free or reduced lunch participants in one school district went from 5 to 30 percent in one year.” When Cheri learned that children in her local schools were hungry, it brought back painful memories of her own childhood when her parents struggled for employment.

Deanne Messinger, Cailey Mulder, Cheri Honderd, Jenny van Biljon, Myra Baine, Samantha Inman

Those nineteen students at Sandy Hill paved the way for the nearly 4,900 students in 8 counties and 145 schools across West Michigan to be fed all weekend and better prepared for their school week!

This fall the students at Sandy Hill gave back to Hand2Hand by raising money through their annual Change 2 Change Hunger campaign [which takes places across the district]. The money raised through this initiative at Sandy Hill was enough to purchase 500 lunches that were packed by Kindergartners and their 4th grade buddies.

Kindergarten teacher, Myra Baine says, “It’s neat to see the program come full circle like this. There is local, childhood hunger in Jenison and we are trying to meet that need.”

Packing lunches is not the end of this project! Mrs Baine secured an additional $250 grant from the Ottawa Area ISD to round out their project-based learning project. “As a class we will collaborate four more times [4th and K] to engage in lessons to help solve a real world problem.  During these lessons students will work in small groups to  create a plan and model/present to an authentic audience.” Their audience will consist of representatives from United Bank and Chapel Pointe Church who will hear the students’ proposal to use their parking lots as part of the potential solution to the next phase! [Keep an eye out for more details on this soon!]

The students have been eager to learn how they can help and participate in problem-solving and learning lifelong relational skills. “The reaction to this problem-based learning from our students is enthusiasm, excitement and desire to do their best by working together with a cross age learning environment. In my Kindergarten class, the ability to work together is a big emphasis this year.  Working with others who may or may not agree with you to get a concrete solution is something we work on, on a daily basis.  We work on it in our social groups during recess and free choice time and we also work on it during our academic times in reading and math groups.”

“The opportunity to have these experiences in a classroom setting is so valuable as they go out in the real world and become life long learners.  To have students start a fire in themselves to know they have power. I believe giving them experiences early and knowing that even at the young age of five and six they can make a difference and help someone else is amazing.”

You can even check out the story on Wood TV!

Thank you to our wonderful teachers for not only organizing such a powerful experience for our students, but involving them in solution-focused learning! They will see their worlds a little differently now and know they can be part of the solution! Thank you, Hand2Hand, for bringing real change to our community and empowering our learners!



Rats! Birds! Gophers! … What’s in an Owl Pellet, Alex?

You may not spend much time thinking about what owls eat, but for the past month 4th grade ACT students have been doing just that. To kick off the unit students spent the majority of their time building their background knowledge about barn owls, their physical and behavioral characteristics, and, in particular, their unique digestive tracts. [Did you know that owls are not the only birds that throw up pellets, but because the digestive juices of an owl’s stomach aren’t as acidic, owl pellets are unique in containing the bones of their previous meal along with fur, feathers, or insect parts? Yum!]

Students further prepared for their dissection by thinking of themselves as archaeologists, hypothesizing about what they might find. ACT teacher, Julie Clark shares the details: “Before dissecting the pellets, students learned all about barn owls, about trophic levels, and the spot the barn owls take in the food chain [the apex predator]. We study their unique digestive tracts to prepare for the dissection noting that owls cannot digest fur and bones, so these are regurgitated in the form of a pellet. Later in the unit, we reassembled the bones in an artistic picture, creatively writing about the barn owl’s last 24 hours.”

When our ACT students received their pellets, they made observations about the size and physical attributes as well as hypotheses about what type of animal bones they may find. Students identify the various bones they find to prepare for their artistic rendering of the owl’s prey. [BTW, Owl pellet dissection isn’t just for school anymore! Thanks to pellet.com, you can purchase your own and try this at home! What a perfect [and affordable!] way to keep the kids engaged over the summer!]

Thankfully, this won’t be the students last encounter with the fascinating owl pellet. “The owl pellet dissection is revisited, in a way, when the students get to 5th grade.  At 5th grade, the kids study sharks in a unit called Surfing with Sharks.  At the end of the unit, they dissect Spiny Dogfish Sharks.  This year, the shark dissections were AMAZING [this isn’t a typical dissection that students encounter until the high school/college level — for example, we hosted a Grand Valley Professor during one of our shark dissections as he dissects sharks with his vertebrate anatomy class].”

“After spending time reviewing how owl pellets are formed, we were able to analyze our pellets by determining their masses, creating a scientific drawing, and noting other observations. The students made predictions of how many bones they expected to find, and we even analyzed our data by finding the mean, median, mode, and range of the owl pellet masses. After this important work, the students set their sights on extracting all of the bones from their pellets. This was very exciting and the students were pleasantly surprised to see that many of their pellets
contained more than one skull [the highest number of skulls found in one pellet was 7!].”

You might think that inspecting the regurgitated dinners of barn owls was enough, but not for our ACT 4th graders! The unit culminated in a field trip to the Outdoor Discovery Center and their Dewitt Birds of Prey Center. “It was AMAZING. First, we hiked out to the Birds of Prey exhibit, noting all the adaptations that plants and animals make during the winter months. Then, students had time to view the birds at the center [all of which were injured in some way and cannot survive on their own in the wild]. They saw hawks, owls, two bald eagles, and a peregrine falcon. The staff then took us into the classroom onsite where they showed us a horned owl, peregrine falcon, and a red-tailed hawk up close. The students and parents were thrilled to learn so much about these amazing animals.”

Ms Clark knows that these types of experiences make a lasting impact on students. “I have been so proud of the work of these great fourth graders.  They learned a lot in just six class sessions.  The students’ response to the project has been great.  When students first give me “the look” when I announce that we will be dissecting “owl puke” I remind them of two of our Core Values in ACT: Stay Open and Take the Risk.  Inquirers want to know.  We learn with enthusiasm and always seek to try new things!”

“I am proud that Jenison Public Schools understands the value and importance of ACT.  Where other districts may have had to cut or scale back their programming for academically talented students, JPS has continued to invest in providing unique and thought-provoking learning opportunities for these children.  When challenging academically talented students, it is essential that students are presented with opportunities to not only learn about subjects that they wouldn’t necessarily see for a few years, but to also afford them chances to explore, create, problem solve, and above all, try new things.”  Parents can learn all about ACT here.

Thank you, Ms. Clark, for keeping our students engaged and curious! Our district is better because of the ways you’re preparing students for new experiences, problem-solving, and thinking creatively!

Pink Out 2018!

There may have been a snow day last Friday, but it didn’t stop the Jenison family from coming out to paint the High School gym pink!

Celebrating the tenth anniversary, the Pink Out committee chose to expand their focus to include honoring Jenison community members dealing with other types of cancer, while acknowledging that their roots remain in the fight against breast cancer. In the ten years since Pink Out began, they have raised over $100,000, recognized over 100 warriors and sold 15,000 Pink Out t-shirts.

Karen Koekkoek knows what it’s like to fight against breast cancer but she never expected it to happen again after finding her first lump at the age of nineteen. Now in her early 60’s, she was vigilant with her mammograms, self-checks, and doctor’s appointments. But despite her best efforts, she was diagnosed in August of 2016 and the type of cancer she had was called, “aggressive and invasive”. She received chemo for five months, radiation five days a week for six weeks and has experienced the first part of a double mastectomy. Karen’s daughter, Sherrie VanManen, says it’s a “huge honor” to be recognized by the Pink Out team and to be taken under their wing with support. Karen adds, “Faith over fear quickly became my motto. February of 2018, 125 appointments later, I am a survivor, cancer free!” We celebrate with you, Karen!

2010 Jenison graduate, Marcy VanderMeer was a senior when Pink Out first began. She was only 22 when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in April 2015. “It feels overwhelming to be an honoree. I am thankful to the committee for all the ways they supported me and my family.” In the first six weeks after hearing the news, Marcy says she was in shock but there was already so much happening in the Jenison community. There was a spaghetti dinner and chili cook-off fundraiser and even a neighborhood elementary buddy raising money for Marcy’s treatment. “Although fear was present in my life and I lost many friends along my three year journey, being part of this community has made all the difference in my ability to keep moving forward.”

Unfortunately, children in our community are not immune to cancer’s reach. Sam Lewinski is a four year old at the ECC and Shawn VanPutten is a 2014 Jenison graduate, both of whom are in remission. Shawn says, “Jenison Pink Out has offered support to me and my family during our journey: cards to let me know they were thinking of me, texts to my mom to let her know she was not alone and to provide words of encouragement. They also provided financial assistance for my ever-mounting medical bills, so thank you for supporting the power of pink because the warriors need to know that no one fights alone.”

Sam’s mom spoke on his behalf while Sam stood proudly on the podium. Through tears, she described their journey with Wilms Tumor, a kidney cancer and thanked the community for surrounding them through this struggle. “Just nine months ago, Sam finished his final chemo and was told there is no evidence of disease. During his treatment, he had several surgeries, radiation, and chemo. During that time, this community proved itself time and time again. We moved from Ohio ten years ago and I can truly say that this battle could not have been fought three hours from family without this community and the Pink Out community that showed up even we didn’t know them. We can now call Jenison our home and our family.”

Finally, warrior Jody Heyboer shared her journey with stage three colorectal cancer. Less than a year ago, Jody learned the news of her diagnosis and she quickly heard from the Pink Out team and “for the past ten months ,their support has been nothing short of amazing. When you don’t have cancer or are not directly affected by it, it’s hard to understand. Pink Out understands. Please know, the money you donate to this organization goes to help people in the community affected by cancer and I cannot being to express my gratitude for all those connected to Pink Out.” Jody learned in January that her tests revealed no evidence of disease, however, her fight against cancer isn’t over just yet. As of two days prior to Pink Out she learned cancer had returned and the Pink Out committee presented her with a check towards her medical expenses and reminded her that she is not alone.

Each year, this event serves as a celebration of those who warrior on and takes time to pause for those that we remember. We are grateful to all of those who braved the snow, but especially to those who brave the fight against cancer!

2018 Distinguished Honorees:

Dave Huyser           Sam Lewinski          Jody Heyboer          Marcy VanderMeer          Karen Koekkoek         Shawn VanPutten

Warriors: Karen Koekkoek, Marcy VanderMeer, Jody Heyboer, Sam Lewinski, Shawn VanPutten, Dave Huyser

You are all warriors and Jenison is proud to fight alongside each and every one of you! You are not alone! Thank you, Jenison community for your ongoing support of Pink Out – your partnership is vital to sustaining our warriors!



Let’s Read!

Did you read the Boxcar Children books as a child? They were first published in 1942 and written by Gertrude Chandler Warner about four orphaned children who create a home for themselves on an abandoned train car. Eventually, they are united with the kind [& wealthy!] grandfather who moves their beloved boxcar to his backyard so the children can use it as a playhouse. Gertrude Chandler Warner passed away in 1979 but her stories live on in a great new adventure series, starting with Journey on a Runaway Train!

Beginning February 19, you are invited to join the entire JPS family in reading this wonderful story together as a family. Your child will bring home an order form in their Friday Folder tomorrow and you can order the book for just $1! If your family reads two to three chapters each week, the story will be finished by the end of JPS Reads on March 16. Elementary Media Specialist, Jan Staley, knows how important it is to create a love of reading by practicing it as a family. “Reading together as a family, creates a strong foundation for literacy in your child’s life.” Also, by reading the same book as a community, “we help to create a shared reading experience for all of our elementary school families.”

If you, like Gertrude Chandler Warner, are intrigued by the idea of living on train car, then you will love the adventures the Alden children find themselves in this story! The children have been recruited by a secret society where they are tasked with returning ancient artifacts and treasures to their rightful locations, taking them all over the world! After finding an ancient painted turtle, they board a train to return it to New Mexico where it originated. To complicate things, however, they must deal with people who would rather the painted turtle is not returned home! Find out what happens with your entire family this month!

One difference in this reading initiative is that you won’t hear a lot about the book in your child’s classroom. “For this project, we are hoping that the value of literacy and reading out loud as a family will be carried into homes.” So parents, put on your “teacher hats” for a few minutes each night this month and join in the fun of reading together!

This story is incredibly accessible for kids of all ages. Most second and third graders will be able to read it on their own, but the story is fun for everyone. The littles will love following along with the adventures of the main characters and even your older kids will love the nostalgia of being read aloud to. It’s also a great opportunity around the dinner table to have a family book discussion about what everyone thinks might happen and highs and lows of the story so far. Your family can tailor the adventure to work for you!

We hope you will join JPS and The Boxcar Children as they take off on their latest mystery and your family finds its own adventure in reading together!

Look for the order form tomorrow and start reading on the 19th!


Bee I-M-P-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!

Champion Emily Price and Runner-Up Owen Ballor

Last week, 33 Jenison Junior High students participated in the school wide spelling bee!

Students who took to the stage at the Jenison Center for the Arts, were the winners of their in-class spelling bees in each of the Language Arts classes. Teacher, Deb VanDuinen says, “We encourage all our students to participate and we try to keep it a fun, non-threatening atmosphere. We recognize that students do feel some anxiety, so we talk about that and the fact that it’s a “national competition” and we’re proud of them for being a part of it.”

But the anxiety and spelling does stop in Jenison! “The winner and the runner-up are invited to the next competition at the regional level in February. There are other levels—Greater Grand Rapids and State, with the national competition that most people are familiar with in Washington DC at the end of the year.”

Words are chosen by the Scripps National Spelling Bee organization and students prepare by participating in word studies and vocabulary lessons in class. They also have access to study websites and printed lists to study on their own.

Standing in front of your peers and teachers can be nerve-wracking and elimination is inevitable for most. However, Ms VanDuinen sees the support and encouragement offered by Jenison students as an important factor for participation. “Students generally take elimination quite well—I’d say they are resilient and encourage each other.  In fact, if you walk the halls on the day of the spelling bee, whether it’s the classroom level or school wide competition, you will overhear students talking about the words and sometime laughing together at their mistakes. We do take the competition seriously, but everyone knows that spelling—especially in the English language, can be challenging! We work hard to make sure all students feel encouraged and comfortable, even when they make mistakes.”

In a modern world where we all rely on the benefits of spellcheck, Ms VanDuinen knows that valuing the spelling bee continues to be an essential aspect to education. “[The spelling bee] allows an opportunity for some students to shine when they might not otherwise get a chance, it demonstrates the fact that we value academics as much as any other competition and it celebrates language.” The longstanding tradition of the Scripps Spelling Bee is also an important part of this event; “something that can easily get lost in the technology of today’s society.”

Congratulations to all of our participants and especially Champion Emily Price and Runner-Up Owen Ballor! We think you are F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C!

PS If you think you have what it takes to compete on the national level, you can take the test here! Good luck!

Junior High Theatre Gets Wild in Madagascar!

What happens when a lion, a zebra, a giraffe, a hippo, and a handful of penguins dance their way onto the Jenison stage this weekend? Adventure, of course! [With a side of silliness.]

Based on the animated motion picture, Madagascar – A Musical Adventure JR. follows all your favorite animal friends as they escape from their home in New York’s Central Park Zoo and find themselves on an unexpected journey to Madagascar.

Muscial Director, Holly Florian says she is excited to bring this family-friendly story to Jenison audiences. When she was looking for this year’s musical, she was looking for a story that would incorporate a large cast and feature less separation between the leads and the ensemble. “It tells the students and audiences that everyone is important.”

And while the story is filled with music and fun, Ms Florian says the real story is the fact that the entire show is student-led. The stage managers are junior high students with high school students serving as coaches [a high school freshman “calls” the show with junior high students as her assistants]. The lighting crew and sound board are run by students with a faculty adviser present as a back up, but the students are responsible for what you see happening during the show. The set design and building is also done by students and Ms Florian says they usually have the best ideas for solving tricky problems with set design.

Last night parents of cast and crew members were invited to dress rehearsal and Ms Florian lets them know that, if they return for a show over the weekend, they won’t believe the amount of changes they’ll see between the different performances. Students are always looking for ways to improve, she says. “Students see the journey they’ve been on, how far they’ve come, and they see how they make each other better over time.”

Ms Florian says that she is intentional about giving students more opportunities to take ownership of the production.  In one instance, students were split up into small groups and one student was given responsibility to coach the others based on the directors ideas and critiques. They all came back having done exactly what she asked and was looking for. “They are capable, why not give them these opportunities? An important part of JPS Theatre is that kids are given the chance to take on leadership roles.”

And just like their counterparts in the High School, junior high thespians report that being part of the theatre community is a safe place to find belonging, make mistakes, learn together, and encourage one another. “Students always feel uncomfortable in the beginning so we only do team building exercises the first week. It creates an atmosphere of support, students feel safe, and relationships are built.”

We hope you will take time this weekend to witness their hard work on stage! If you’d like to see the show, you can get your tickets here!

Thank you, Ms Florian, for your dedication and leadership! Our students are stronger and more confident because of your belief in them and their abilities! Thank you, Jr High Musical cast and crew! We are inspired and encouraged by your willingness to be challenged and, because of that, shine on stage! Break a leg!

Preschool Class Explores the Amazing Outdoors!

Jenison Preschool teacher, Jodi Huyser, wanted an outdoor classroom experience for her kids. She saw them in other districts, knew there was amazing academic potential, and was sure Jenison could have one too! With the help of a grant written by Early Childhood Center Principal, Lee Westervelt, the students had the outdoor gear they needed from Oakiwear [snow suits, mittens, and rain boots] and they were ready to see what they could learn outside!

The students have already explored the property around Pinewood [where this preschool class meets] to look for animal tracks and evidence of their foraging. “Our most recent lesson teaches the children how to look for signs of animals in our environment.  We look for tracks and also make our own tracks!  The kids love exploring and investigating!  They love being out in the fresh air!” Most recently, the class broadened its research field to Hager Park, and along with the support of parents, the students are learning to examine and ask questions about what it around them every day. “Several parents help out each time so that we can break off into smaller groups.  In addition to tracking animal footprints, we looked for signs of where animals eat, burrow, and go to the bathroom.  We also made our own footprints, compared sizes, and made letters and numbers utilizing our own footprints. ”

To prepare for their lesson outside, the class read the book, “Footprints in the Snow“.  Using the story as a guide, “we had a group discussion about how we can see animal’s footprints more clearly when there is fresh snow.  Students brainstormed the different animals that may leave footprints for us to find.  We even did a comparison to life size animal prints with our own hand prints [tracing our hands over top of paw prints from animals on paper].  In addition, we utilized technology to search different pictures of paw prints.  From here, we took our printed animal track charts outdoors with us to look for any that may be similar.

For the most part, we saw squirrel, rabbit, human, and dog prints.  Interesting enough, we thought we may see some bird tracks, but we did not.  Children also looked for signs of animal scat, which they found kind of humorous!  We talked about how animal tracks can be found by food sources such as berries, bark, and water. More recently, students prepared bird seed feeders that are 100% biodegradable to bring to Hager Park this week on our hike.  We will continue to search for more tracks on this hike as well.”

Ms Huyser believes that students love to get outdoors to learn.  “I think, too often, families do not have enough time to get their children outside because of busy schedules.  So much more learning can be done outside; even lessons that are generally taught in an indoor setting can be altered to teach outside in many cases.  Students get fresh air and their bodies need it!”

Students have enjoyed the change of scenery and seeing what can be learned in their everyday environments! “They love to put on their special “green suits” and head out on our outdoor adventures.  In addition, parent volunteers have had great adventures with us and have had positive things to say about it.  In our most recent adventure, the children were so excited to find different animal tracks and follow them.  They took great pride in placing their bird feeders on the trees for the birds too!”

Of course, Ms Huyser always has a lesson planned when the class goes outdoors, but she stays flexible in case her little researchers take note of something else. “They may notice some letters in the shapes of the branches in the trees.  We may practice counting pine cones on a tree.  In the fall, we investigated how the leaves traveled with the stream’s current [some slower spots and some faster].  Students tipped over logs to look for bugs, worms, and salamanders.  We collect samples to bring back to our classroom as well.  At one point we even heard a tree fall over at Hager Park while it was raining, so we went to investigate it.  The children love to play in the rain and they have the right gear to wear thanks to our grant money.”

“The most rewarding part of teaching this program is seeing how excited the students get when they are exploring outside!” Ms Huyser hopes that families will take the simple opportunities to use the world around them as classrooms as well. “I would love to see more families have the opportunity to take the time to plan a hike with their children.  It prompts great conversations and discussions, promotes healthy habits with exercise, and creates lifelong memories.  There is so much value in getting outside to explore nature and breathe in the fresh air.  You can find so many teachable moments in the outdoors!”

Thank you, Ms Huyser, for thinking outside the traditional classroom and getting out littlest students outside! Hands-on experience is invaluable for all students and we know these adventures will stay with them for years to come!

Once Again, Bus Driver Goes Above + Beyond!

For some of us, it can be difficult to imagine what others need and how they live each day without the basics we don’t give a second thought to. For JPS bus driver, Kristin Bredeweg, hearing about the needs of kids and families in the West Michigan area each day on the radio was all she needed to get her bus kids involved.

“I wanted to do something for my bus kiddos to show and teach them that there is fun in giving and not just getting.  It’s so important to me to not only be a responsible bus driver, but to also teach life lessons to these kids. I’ve been the only driver some of these kids have ever had, so there are sweet relationships built not only with my kids, but with their families!”

Ms Bredeweg knows that her bus kids have all they need, so when she mentioned the need that some students have with basic, personal clothing items such as socks and underwear, the kids were on board! “When we started talking about doing this donation drive my bus kids could not wrap their minds around kids that NEEDED socks and underwear.  Their faces said it all to me … they absolutely wanted to help!”

Ms Bredeweg sent a letter home to parents letting them know about the radio donation drive and asking them to consider purchasing a pair of socks or underwear to be given to a child in need. “My heart was overwhelmed with the support given from parents! They were I think just as excited as the kids! Like I said, the relationships built with these families and myself are deep and very special … I knew they would come through!”
And “come through” they did. “We ended up donating 31 packages of socks and 30 packages of underwear in just one week! And I’m not talking single pairs, but packages of multiple pairs of socks and underwear! I am sooooooo proud of my bus kids!”
But that’s not all Ms Bredeweg has done this winter with and for her bus kids! At the beginning of winter break, she took her kids on a bus field trip around Cedar Lake to see the Christmas lights, including one house with a ten-minute light show! Ms Bredeweg sweetened the trip with a custard donation from Culver’s and then a quick stop at her home [which was also decorated beautifully!] to get pictures.

While parents and community members have much to be thankful for in such a caring and special bus driver, they are certainly part of the Mutual Admiration Society. Ms Bredeweg tells us how thankful she is that families joined in to be part of something so meaningful and important. “I know the hearts of my bus families and I saw the look of joy on these kids faces when another bag of goodies was brought on the bus.  It’s simple acts of kindness and opportunities to learn life lessons that make lasting impacts on these kids!  It’s important for kids to know it’s not just the “big people” in the world that can make a difference, its all ages – if just given the chance and opportunity!!  I love my Bauerwood bus kids of Panda Bus #12-17 and their families! I have been the one truly blessed; my heart is so full of joy!”

Thank you, Ms Bredeweg and Panda Bus #12-17! You should be very proud of not only your donations but also for the ways you exemplify the value of giving. We hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and winter break – welcome back!