Sandy Hill Third Grader and His Class Teach the World About Love and Laundry

miii3995At elementary schools all around the country there are kids earning points and rewards for trying to improve their behavior or work on particular skills. The rewards are usually specific to the student’s interests such as additional technology time, reading with a friend, eating lunch with their teacher, etc. but these average rewards were not enough for one Sandy Hill third grader. Kamden VanMaanen wanted more. Kamden has a unique interest in laundry detergent and one of his teachers, Olivia Kool, found a way to capitalize on that passion and make life a little easier at home too.

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Mrs. Kool, Kamden & his rewards

“Kamden started off by earning ipad time which did not seem to be a big enough incentive for him. As his classroom teacher Mrs. Ryan and I got to know Kamden better, we quickly learned about his love for Gain laundry detergent. Students with autism often have high interest areas and Gain detergent is something that Kamden is passionate about and talks about on a daily basis. He has even gotten many teachers and students to switch to using Gain for their laundry. He can tell you everything you would ever need to know about laundry detergent and the different scents. When I noticed that the ipad time was not really an incentive for him, I started thinking about what could we do differently to help him have good days at school. One day, I asked him if he had a good day would he like to earn some Gain laundry detergent. His face lit up when I asked him this. The first couple of days I went out and img_3509-1bought laundry detergent and he was highly motivated to earn that reward. Mrs. Ryan and I definitely noticed a difference with Kamden when he was earning the laundry detergent.”

Kamden’s mom, Amanda, decided to continue the reward at home and was also buying Gain for Kamden, which was adding up for both mom and teacher! This fall Mrs. Kool got an idea: “I wrote a letter to Meijer and Procter & Gamble. In the letter, I told them that I was a special education teacher who had a 3rd grade student who was obsessed with Gain laundry detergent. I told them how he tells everyone that Gain is the best detergent because it “has a wonderful scent and makes you open the world of fragrance.” Mrs. Kool told the companies in her letter that Kamden earns ipad time to watch Gain commercials on YouTube and asked if they’d be willing to send detergent samples as his rewards.

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Kamden dressed as a washing machine for Halloween!

“About a month later I got an email from Michael Kadzban the Buyer for Laundry and Cleaning Supplies for Meijer. He told me that he and Todd Vishnauski from Procter and Gamble secured some Gain supplies for Kamden along with some other things for him. They personally wanted to come meet Kamden and drop off the goodies they got for him. Michael and Todd were amazing! They brought tons of Gain samples for Kamden as well as Gain t-shirts, notepads, water bottles, and an official certificate from the Gain team.”

img_3503Michael and Todd “were amazed at how well the students in Kamden’s class embraced Kamden’s passion for Gain detergent and how happy the students were to see the excitement in Kamden’s face when they came to their class.  Todd from P&G said it best when he told the class that the makers of Gain have a term for people who love their product. These people are called Gainiacs. That is what Kamden is, a true Gainiac.”

img_3507Amanda VanMaanen, Kamden’s mom is grateful for the support of the teachers and staff at Sandy Hill for their love and care for their family. “Kamden was thrilled to have Todd and Michael visit him in the classroom. He couldn’t stop grinning and talking about it constantly for a long time. He told every person he knew about it. I think it was wonderful to get his class involved. They were all so excited for Kamden and it made his love of detergents a little more relatable.  I think Kamden felt so proud and excited to spend a little part of the day sharing his favorite topic with everyone. The staff has been so supportive of his fixation, even sending pics of their detergent purchases.  Mrs. Kool went above and beyond to send out the request and to set this up for him! It certainly helped with our budget for supplying laundry detergent incentives for Kamden too. We are so proud to be a part of a school that truly cares for and supports our son!”

Kamden loves his teachers and friends and he really likes science. He says he loves all the subjects in school except math, which many of us can relate to. He thinks that Mrs. Kool is a good teacher because “she’s really nice and she does nice things for me like asking the guys [from P & G and Meijer] to come to school.  She’s a good listener and she likes laundry detergent too. She has a cool down corner that I really like.”

img_3493Sandy Hill principal, Jon Mroz, knows that Kamden’s story has already impacted the students in Kamden’s class and the entire school. “This story is important to share because Kamden is an amazing young guy, with a one-of-a-kind personality.  With the help and support of the Sandy Hill teachers, we have seen a tremendous amount of growth with Kamden in many areas over the years.  Kamden’s story has allowed other students an opportunity to understand that everyone has differences, and that we can accept those differences with an open mind and open heart.”  

Thank you Mrs Kool, Mrs Ryan, Mr Mroz and the many other teachers, staff members, and students that have gotten to know Kamden and supported him. Your love and encouragement of Kamden has made a huge difference for this amazing student and his family!

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Stand By You: Pink Out 2017

miii3935The High School gym was, once again, a sea of pink on Friday night as the Jenison community showed their support for those fighting the battle of breast cancer.

This year, there were eight honorees: Jill Barnes, Jane Carlson, Carolyn DeJong, Dianne Duch, Michelle Gradisher, Shirley Kerkstra, Joni Otto, and Stephanie Tuttle [not necessarily pictured in this order].

miii3411For Michelle [3rd from right], she was overwhelmed by being an honoree but once she arrived to the “pinked out” gym that night and started getting to know some of the other honorees, those fears were gone. Michelle was diagnosed through a mammogram that she desperately wanted to avoid that particular day but chose to go through with it. The office was calling her to return to the hospital before she even got home that day. On March 31 of last year she underwent a double mastectomy which she describes as a “no brainer” based on the test results and family history of breast cancer. She is incredibly thankful for her amazing support team and encourages women not to avoid those important mammogram appointments!

miii3660Joni Otto [1st on the left] was a Jenison teacher for 22 years and is thankful for the science and availability of genetic testing, which she believes is a gift we all need to take advantage of. Joni discovered she had breast cancer and opted for the lumpectomy. Meanwhile, she had genetic testing done which revealed she was at a high risk for breast cancer, so she chose to go a step further and have a bilateral mastectomy to prevent any further occurrences which seemed likely in light of the test results. It wasn’t an easy decision for Joni but she felt that it was the right thing to do to protect herself and her family. She is hoping that her former students will dig deep into their pockets to donate to the Pink Out cause on her behalf!

miii3685Stephanie and Shirley [3rd and 4th from the left respectively] are daughter and mother honorees and Stephanie also says that genetic testing is an essential and lifesaving aspect to her story as well. Her mom Shirley is a breast cancer survivor [and three time honoree!] and Stephanie didn’t want her family to go through another season of cancer. She believes her mom feels guilty for passing on the gene but she also sees genetic testing as a gift, especially when it revealed the BRCA gene which can lead to breast and ovarian cancers. She also urges readers to consider genetic testing if you have a family history of breast cancer as the preventative measures “are much better than going through treatment.”

[If you’d like to explore genetic testing, you can do so locally at Spectrum Health. Please note – this is not an endorsement, merely a local resource.]

miii3680Three of our honorees discovered their cancer through self exams and took a moment in their introductions to make sure and encourage women in the audience to remember to do this. Everyone stressed the importance of regular mammograms and the Spectrum Health mobile mammography unit was in the parking lot, available for tours!

miii3770Finally, High School Principal, Dr. Brandon Graham, introduced Cindi Sigmon as a special honoree. Cindi has been battling Multiple Myleloma since January 2016. “She has undergone numerous rounds of chemotherapy and received a stem cell transplant this summer” and “for the past 21 years, she has shown love to the students, staff, community members and parents that have traversed the halls of Jenison High School.” Cindi was escorted to the floor by her husband and received a standing ovation for her courage, service, and strength.

All of our Pink Out Honorees are extra-special reminders to our community of the value of perseverance and we thank them for being willing to come forward and share their stories. May you and your support teams know how important you are to all of us!

Thank you to all of the Pink Out volunteers, financial supporters, and participants who came out last Friday to make this another great year! It’s a powerful message we send each year to those who are struggling as well as those have suffered a loss. Together, we will Stand By You. We are Jenison!

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High School Students Join County Collaboration on Suicide Prevention!

c23ixoyxcaaovueOn January 23, Jenison High School Social Worker, Kris Faber, Superintendent, Tom TenBrink, Assistant Principal Rhonda Raab, Counselor Jenny Riha and seven Jenison High students joined other students from Ottawa County to talk about the realities of suicide and how to help prevent it.

The event (called the Ottawa County Suicide Prevention Summit) was on at Zeeland East High Sshool and it was a coordinated effort with OAISD with twelve districts in attendance.  The group spent the day collaborating with local districts to learn what efforts are being utilized to address mental health needs and suicide prevention.

c23rcdlvqaen73uThe Mental Health foundation of West Michigan was a co-sponsor for the day promoting the positive benefits of the Be Nice! program throughout West Michigan.  Ms. Faber adds, “We were also able to hear speaker Rick Chyme share his personal story and challenge everyone to “plant seeds” of kindness and love toward others as you never know how one might positively impact others.”  The team also had time as a JHS group to plan how we might impact our school specifically and work to diminish the stigma of mental health and seeking support.

In a 2013 Youth Assessment Survey of students in Ottawa County in grades 8, 10 and 12, that had seriously contemplated suicide, there was an alarmingly high rate of 16.7%.  “Many adolescents are experiencing increased incidents and greater severity of mental health needs [especially anxiety and depression].  The stigma attached to seeking treatment can, at times, exacerbate the issues. ” Thankfully, JHS is working towards providing help any way they can.

Students are hopeful to continue the conversation in district and develop some tangible ways to provide support for existing mental health needs, as well as prevention of suicide.  We are hopeful to create a culture of kindness toward others as well as a place where seeking support is seen as a strength.  Sharing existing resources with students was one way we are hoping to be helpful to our students immediately.

Students! If you, or someone you know, has thought about or talked about committing suicide, there are people who care about you and are willing to help! You can visit Ms Faber or talk to any of your teachers, administrators, staff, or counselors. You can also call the Ottawa County Crisis Helpline: 866-512-4357.

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[Photos courtesy of Kris Faber and @benicemi]

The Grand Rapids Griffins are Serenaded by the Bobcat Choir!

miii2587The Bobcat Choir from Bauerwood cannot simply be contained by the borders of Jenison! Last week they traveled to VanAndel Arena to serenade the Grand Rapids Griffins, their opponents, the Iowa Wild and the hometown crowd with the National Anthem. They were supported by 300 Bauerwood family members who came to cheer on the choir and the Griffs!

miii2555Bauerwood music director, Diane Schrems, says that fifteen years ago the Bobcat Choir started signing the National Anthem at the Whitecaps games and then reached out to the Griffins as well. “Most recently Grand Valley contacted me to see if I would bring the Bobcat Choir to a Grand Valley Women’s basketball game.  It’s wonderful to get out into the community and perform for everyone.”

miii2559Rehearsals for the big performance have been taking place weekly after school on Thursday’s and the choir has watched post-game tape and agree they did a great job. Of course, they also got to stay for the game and had a wonderful time cheering with their family and friends.

“The kids gain a sense of school pride when we go out into the community and represent Bauerwood and Jenison Public Schools.  It’s important to share your talents with others in a meaningful way like singing our country’s national anthem.  Being a member of  Bobcat Choir builds strong character and commitment in our kids.  When we sing together we build a bond through the music that sounds and feels great.”

Even though the Griffs couldn’t pull of a win that night (they lost 1-2), the Bobcat Choir certainly won for their talent, courage and showmanship! Jenison is proud of you! Go Wildcats!

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Georgetown Township Gets Schooled by Pinewood 6th Graders!

img_3621Back in September, we told you about an amazing project being spearheaded by Lori Barr and her 6th grade Pinewood students to restore swimming to Maplewood Lake.  Well, we are happy to say that this year’s class has continued the tradition of trying to solve the real-world problems in their own neighborhood!

img_3598-1Last month, all of Pinewood’s 6th graders presented their research and solutions to the Georgetown Township board and not only were their township reps blown away by what they heard, they have asked for copies of their presentations for further review. Dan Carlton, Township Superintendent, told the students they have “raised the bar so high I can’t even reach my arm high enough to show you how high it is!” The township is setting goals this month and they wanted to read over the resources and recommendations in order to pursue them.

The township had been previously unaware of the mosquito issue at Woodcrest Park [where Maplewood Lake is located] but students’ surveys found that spectators couldn’t even tolerate a soccer game due to the quantity of mosquitoes.  Students presented ideas for fountains, aerators and bat boxes. Fountains would keep most of the mosquitoes off the water, aerators would reduce mosquito populations because they move and clean the water and of course, our native bat friends could sleep all day in their cozy bat boxes and feast on mosquitoes all night.

captureStudents also presented ideas for a “natural playground” with the help of Natural Playgrounds in Canada. Students said in their presentation, “We want a natural playground because, you would feel like you are in the woods. The experience just feels like you are literally experiencing nature. The wood feels nice and smooth on your hands. Unlike metal and plastic.” They also presented ideas for native flowers for aesthetics and native plants for preventing runoff. 

capture2Because of a snow day in December, students had to problem solve another real-world problem: being behind on a project. Mrs Barr asked them to think about what their parents might do if they are behind at work. One student reported that sometimes, her mom has to work through her lunch which seemed to be the best solution to this hardworking crew. They worked through their lunches, they gave up extra class time where they would typically have freedom to chose their own activity – they chose to work hard to make their presentations the best they could be because they knew the township really wanted to hear what they had to say.

img_3631Seeing these amazing accomplishments has been a joy for their teachers. Mrs Barr has been teaching for 33 years and says that the past five years have been the best. “Mrs Brown encourages us to try new things and I’ve never seen anything like it. It takes courage as teachers to try new things, but you can be creative, let the kids have the power chord and let it be a student led classroom.”

Check out the clip below of a handful of students on the Maranda show that aired this week! On the way back to school one student shared with Mrs Barr, “I really feel like we’re a family. This is a year of family.”

6th Graders at Pinewood: You ARE a family and you make us all so proud! We are cheering you on and cannot wait to swim at Maplewood Lake and play at Woodcrest Park because you made it safe and fun once again!

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Readers are Leaders!

MIII0041Don’t be surprised if you start to see stickers all over the Jenison community soon declaring, “JPS Reads” and you’ll probably want to join in on the fun!

Curriculum Director, Kristy Rogalla, Media Specialist, Jan Staley, Bauerwood Principal, Crystal Morse and Literacy Coach, Janet Schultz are partnering to capitalize on the excitement and popularity of the James and Giant Peach initiative. With this next phase, all Jenison citizens will be challenged to set their own specific reading goal and when it is reached, they receive their own cling-on letting everyone know they did it!

MIII9995According to Ms Schultz, “It will be great to drive through our district and notice all the paws displayed in the front of homes.  Our community will shine with the importance of READING!” Of course, you can also brag about your reading skills by putting your sticker on your car and give a little wave to others who’ve done the same!

But if you think this is just for our students, think again! “This is not just a school based reading program, but a way to get everyone in the community excited and involved in reading. We have talked to business leaders and also our senior citizen community members to join in the fun of showcasing our love of reading here in Jenison. Our students and community members will even have the opportunity to share favorite authors, favorite books, or even share reading photos on Twitter at #JPSReads.”

Parents – you play a critical role in your child’s interest in reading! “Together…We are Jenison!! We believe that the love of reading often starts inside of the family and as a school district we are here to grow, build upon, support, and encourage that love of reading!  Together with our families and community we are committed to continuing to foster a love of reading and learning in ALL our children.”
“Not all readers are leaders, but…All Leaders are Readers.”  – Harry Truman

This phase of JPSReads runs from January 16 – February 27 and will kick off all this week.

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Pinewood Moms Serve Up Healthy Snacks!

img_8641Pinewood moms, Tanya Hawley and Emily Larsen, have set out to expand the snack horizons of our young students! After working with their child’s classroom teacher last year they sought and received a grant, along with enthusiastic permission from Pinewood principal, Rachael Postle-Brown, and are now serving healthy snacks once a month to the entire school!

Each month there is a featured vegetable that may not be very familiar to students but Tanya and Emily see serving these snacks as a way to help kids see that vegetables can taste good and be fun to try! In October they introduced pink and purple radishes and November’s snack was spaghetti squash served with marinara sauce.

img_8634Taking on a project of these size has not been easy but both Tanya and Emily bring valuable experience and passion to the program. Emily is a registered dietitian and Tanya say, “Emily has been able to add a ton of nutritional facts and information to our program. My focus is on connecting MI farms to families, and connecting kids to real food and farms, and where the food comes from. Emily’s focus on nutritional impact.  Together we make a good team, and we are passionate about helping our community make healthier snack and food decisions in their everyday lives.”

Tanya says that she notices that when some students are willing to try something new, their friends will try it too. Their goal is for kids to be exposed to new foods, broadening their horizons and helping them learn about healthy options. This is also an opportunity for kids to learn about local farms and where our food comes from. Parents are encouraged to participate at home and a handout is provided each month for the “healthy snack” lesson to continue. Kids are also asked to participate in a brief quiz that allows Tanya and Emily to track students interest in the food prior to trying it as well as afterwards. Tanya says that she is pleasantly surprised by the number of kids who are willing to try a new food (parent: take note!).

Teachers have been welcoming of the addition to their school day once a month and these moms hope that parents are taking advantage of the interest as well. Kids who insisted they didn’t want to try “something green” ended up liking kale chips and even last month’s radishes!

Thank you to these moms and the local farms helping supply the new foods! We hope the Pinewood students will continue to try new things and teach us all about what they’re learning!

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History Comes Alive for 8th Graders!

img_4675If you’ve ever tuned out your parents or an older adult when they started to say, “When I was your age…” you’re not alone and you’re probably in the good company of many of our eighth grade students.

This year, Jenison Junior High Language Arts teachers wanted to not only allow students the opportunity to embrace their curriculum unit on historical fiction but to do it by getting to know some older adults in our community who have their own history to tell.

img_4646English teacher, Jane Brown, wanted students to learn new ways to value history and personal experiences. “We are always looking for ways to make our curriculum real to our students. In eighth grade, we study historical fiction and – unfortunately – sometimes just that genre alone turns people off even though it can be fascinating. We wanted to help our students to see that the things that happened before their lifetimes matter.”

As part of the event held earlier this month, senior citizens were invited to participate by being interviewed in person by our junior high students. The students are also charged with writing historical fiction of their own and the real-life experiences they heard about will add depth to their writing.

img_4685“Students asked a variety of questions. The goal was for them was to find out what life was like in the past and also to hear the interesting stories that people had to share. The students were very excited to share what they had learned from the people they interviewed. They are looking forward to writing historical fiction short stories set in the time periods that they learned about.
Kids loved learning what people wore to the beach in the 1930s [suits and ties], how they talked on the telephone in the 1960s [party lines], and about the beginnings of Jenison Public Schools.”

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55 older adults between the ages of 50 – 90 participated in the event and were eager to share their experiences with the students. They also reported being impressed by their questions!

“We really liked that this event allowed students to learn about history in a non-traditional way from a first-hand perspective, while at the same time, practicing communication skills. The students came away from their hour disappointed that they didn’t have more time with the people they interviewed. Bridging the generations is such a wonderful experience for everyone involved!

Thank you to our community partners for being willing to participate in our students’ education! Your voices are invaluable to us!

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Bank Tellers by Day, School Volunteers by Holiday!

miii0180Earlier this month, the staff at Rosewood was treated to a team of twelve volunteers from Chemical Bank who used their bank holiday to serve their community.

miii0191According to Matthew Kroon, Customer Service Rep at the Byron Center branch and point person for the Jenison project, “The twelve employees came from various locations in the area, and from many different areas of the bank such as retail, Mortgage Sales Manager, Collections, Wealth Management, and Commercial Lending.  Many are based in Byron Center, Cascade, Holland, and Hudsonville.” Seven out of the twelve have children at Rosewood, Sandy Hill, Bursley and Pinewood.

“We did many things such as repairing blocks in the courtyard that were damaged, stuffed folders for Mrs. Ambs, helped count money for the 5th grade pizza kit fundraiser, and even formed a “Sani-Squad” that sanitized entire classrooms while the kids were at recess, or on their special.  We had a helper in the STEM classroom, a helper in each of the English speaking Kindergarten classrooms, and we helped pick up trash and sticks on the playground.  We even had a short time to play with kids out on the playground, as well.”

miii0212As you can imagine, the volunteers were very well received. “The staff LOVED it!  Not only were they treated to Post Family Farms Donuts and On the Border Fajitas, but they had help when they asked, and MANY appreciated having a clean, sanitized classroom with all the germs and illness going around. ”

Thank you, Chemical Bank, for choosing Jenison and Rosewood to give of your extra time and energy. Our schools and teachers are better with our volunteers!  “Chemical Bank is all about giving back.  We are determined to promote a “Chemical Reaction” through Strengthening our CHEMunity.”

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Pinewood 6th Graders Work to Solve Real-World Problem on Maplewood Lake

img_1942E. coli is not anyone’s favorite topic. In fact, it’s probably not discussed openly in polite company. Certainly, if you had an E. coli problem you wouldn’t want anyone to know. And that’s exactly what the students in Lori Barr’s 6th grade class last year decided to change.

In 2009 Georgetown Township closed Maplewood Lake to swimming due to E. coli concerns and removed the sandy beach, installing instead, a splash pad for Jenison families to enjoy the park and still get relief from summer heat.

img_1968Last year, Mrs Barr wanted to be proactive about project-based learning and design thinking for her students. How can they be prepared for the needs of the real-world workplace like leadership, idea creation and problem solving? She approached the township and asked if there was a problem they would like explored or even solved? When Supervisor, Dale Mohr told her that he wished people could swim in Maplewood Lake again, she took the issue to her students and they accepted the challenge!

With the help of local non-profits such as Groundswell and LGROW [The Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds], as well as Creek Connections at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania the students set out to perform water tests to determine how run-off effects our drinking water. Students tested for the presence of nitrogen, phosphorous and seven other paramaters and eventually, for E. coli.

LGROW asked Mrs Barr, “Are you sure you want to do E. coli?” and she responded, “I know I want to do E. coli” to which they told her, “Okay, no teacher has ever asked to do something this big.”

img_2275The organization had the students begin their project by designing door hangers that educated the community on the dangers and immediate implications for run-off and “how to dispose of things properly on your land and what choices to make with your  gardening and your lawn to avoid the phosphorous and nitrogen build up and what would cause the water quality to be compromised for the wildlife and organisms living there.”

Meanwhile, students spent five weeks collecting data from three different sites around Maplewood Lake for the E. coli tests and Georgetown Township offered to analyze their findings. They were feeling fairly confident with what they had found until a major water event occurred [such as a heavy rain] and the E. coli numbers went up significantly. They needed to figure out why.

img_2278However, the school year was drawing to a close and the baton would need to be passed to this year’s 6th grade class to continue the project. Mrs Barr needed new testing kits and, again, with the help of Creek Connections, she wrote up a quote and posted their project on DonorsChoose.org in the hopes of raising the money for their continued research. Mrs Barr came to find out that Tom’s of Maine has an arrangement with Donors Choose to match the donations of any funded project that will go toward a green classroom project that qualifies, which ours did. Thankfully, the project was fully funded but the story wasn’t over yet…

This past June, Mrs Barr was notified that the project was also selected to be part of the Top Ten by judges [including Kevin Jonas for your Jonas Brothers Fans!] and be in the running for prizes ranging from $25,000 to $2,000. But they need your help!

If you’ve been inspired by the work our 6th graders [and we certainly hope you have been!] you can support them in the Tom’s of Maine Green Your School competition for a chance to win $25,000! All you have to do is click on the link below and vote every day until Oct 31. Just click:  Tom’s of Maine competition and scroll for “No Swimming Allowed…Whaaat?!” and click on VOTE. Please share with friends and family.

Thank you to Mrs Barr for being a passionate teacher who challenges her students to think beyond the textbook and classroom! Thank you to our partners who made this project possible! And of course, thank you to the 6th grade students past and present who will continue to work for the good of Jenison and Maplewood Lake! Don’t ever give up! We are Jenison!

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