Star Students: Taya Jenison, Hannah Paddock, + Christine Duch

Christine Duch, Taya Jenison, Hannah Paddock

Jenison Junior High Vice Principal couldn’t select just one star student this year. There were too many to choose from so she skirted the “rules” and nominated three: Taya Jenison, Hannah Paddock, and Christine Duch.

They are all eighth graders this year and are involved in so many activities it’s hard to image they also go to class, but of course they do!

All three of these hard-working ladies are involved in student congress, be nice, choir, they give the morning announcements every day, and all served as ambassadors for the Chinese Winter Exchange Program. Additionally, Hannah pays volleyball and participates in 4H. Christine plays basketball, softball, and is planning on joining 4H.  Taya also plays softball and basketball, plays the tuba in the band, participates in 4H, and is in theatre [most recently she played Skipper the Penguin in Madagascar!].

While they each have different connections to each other outside of school [Taya & Hannah attend the same church, Taya & Christine played basketball together], the three of them became friends last year in seventh grade.

Hannah admits to being “very, very unsure” about going into Junior High two years ago. But, with encouragement from her parents and teachers, and a helpful orientation process she felt more comfortable. Christine adds that junior high “isn’t as bad as you think it will be. You get to choose your electives which gives you more responsibility.” All three are excited about next year and heading across to the High School. “There’s more classes you can take like business and working in The Green Bean which sounds really fun”, says Taya. Christine is looking forward to the opportunities at the high school, and being prepared for college.  Taya hopes her future after high school includes a degree in Agriculture from MSU so she can own her own farm one day. She would also like to exercise her love of being social by working as a receptionist, she says, giving a nod to the amazing people who manage the Junior High office. Hannah sees a future as an athletic trainer and Christine hopes to be a teacher or coach. “I like kids and I feel like I have the personality to be a teacher who can handle the kids who need extra help.”

Mrs Breen nominated the girls because of their leadership qualities but how do the girls perceive leadership? Christine says that a leader is someone who “takes someone else under their wing and takes the lead when no one else wants to.” Taya adds that being a leader means you “be yourself and stand up for others.” Echoing that idea, Hannah says that she sees leadership as “doing what is right and standing up for what is right.” These ideas are clearly informed by their participation in the anti-bullying program, be nice. Hannah says that being part of be nice means that she seeks out someone who might be alone [especially at lunch] and invite them to join her, and Taya says that be nice is about kids helping others.

They all know their teachers have worked hard to prepare them for high school and beyond. Taya would like to acknowledge that Mr McCarty is an amazing teacher. He teaches social studies and she admits this is not her “strong suit” but Mr McCarty makes it fun and interesting. Hannah would like Mr Ohman to know that he makes math easier and clear, even though she “absolutely dislikes math”. Christine adds that Ms Gerber also makes math fun even though it’s the last hour of the day!

During their time with the Chinese Winter Exchange Program, all three girls helped individual students visiting from China for two weeks. They were together during the entire school day, introducing them to their friends and trying to get to know them. They were able to learn about the differences in Chinese and American schools, the impact of China’s One Child Law, and what it’s like to live with heavy pollution in China’s major cities. They all learned about Chinese culture and different ways to communicate when there was no common language.

It’s clear that these students are leading the way as they head into their freshman year! They are looking toward their futures, learning to value differences in others, and working hard to take advantage of all JPS has to offer.

Congratulations Taya, Christine, and Hannah! You are definitely all superstars with bright futures! Your hard work and commitment to learning all you can is inspiring! We’re proud to call you Wildcats!

Star Student: Amaya Rodriguez

When Sandy Hill principal, Sara Melton, was asked to nominate a Star Student it didn’t take her long to select Amaya Rodriguez!

Amaya is a 6th grader who is heavily involved in school life. She serves as a safety, helping to keep our youngest elementary students safe and taken care of, she was selected for the honors choir and works with a younger student with special needs.

She reports that her favorite subject is math because, “I’m really good at it.” She is also a talented artist who loves to draw people she sees in her mind and Amaya is also beginning to practice photography with her phone which she uses to take pictures of landscapes and then draws illustrations from the pictures.

Amaya would like to give a shout out to Mrs Messinger, her 4th grade teacher, because she remembers that Mrs Messinger requested to have Amaya in her class after seeing her play soccer at recess with the boys. “I’m not really a “girly-girl”; I don’t like to wear dresses but I love to play soccer and football.”

Amaya lives with her mom, younger brother, grandma, grandpa, and their dog Shiketa. She takes her inspiration for being a star from her mom, and she has learned to “be really strong”, “be a leader” and “know my boundaries”. [Maybe Amaya could help us adults with these!] She knows that being a leader isn’t easy but important. “A leader helps other people do their best. They look for the best people to work with and be friends with.”

She is looking forward to next year and braving the halls of Jenison Junior High – she’s actually been looking forward to this since the third grade! “In third grade, school became my second home and getting to junior high meant I was closer to my future.”

Amaya plans to pursue a future in music, going to college and majoring in piano performance and vocalization. She wants to encourage other students that “it doesn’t matter if you think you can or you can’t. The best think you can do is try your best.”

It is easy to understand why Amaya was selected to represent Sandy Hill and all JPS elementary students this year. Adds Mrs Melton, “Amaya is a unique individual who has a huge heart.  She is inquisitive, sincere, and a hard worker.  She brings great energy and encouragement with her.  We appreciate Amaya and know that she has a bright future!”

Congratulations, Amaya! Your kind spirit and confidence are an inspiration to all of us and we can’t wait to see where they take you! We’re proud to call you a Jenison Wildcat!

 

Star Student Spotlight: Peyton Benac!

If you’re a regular reader of the Jenison Blog, you have already met our high school star student, Peyton Benac. Last winter, she impressed us with her story of starting the Girls in STEM Club for elementary students, and now she is principal, Dr. Brandon Graham’s choice to round out our special series of awesome Jenison students!

Peyton’s list of accomplishments in a long one but her humility, gentle spirit, and desire to enrich and encourage younger girls is nothing short of inspiring!

Last year, Peyton shared with us that she felt motivated to begin the Girls in STEM Club because of her own experiences on the junior high Science Olympiad team. During her time on the team she heard inappropriate comments from fellow 7th, 8th and 9th grade students about the presence of girls on the team. Peyton was keenly aware of the lack of female leadership in the group and was seeing its impact. “If we had another woman in the room –  a high school girl or a female teacher – this would be such a different environment. I noticed that a lot of junior high girls were quitting Science Olympiad, and I was getting pretty frustrated by it even as a junior high student”.

Two years ago, as a sophomore, Peyton began serving as a Science Olympiad coach. “I started coaching sophomore year and I tried to “fill the space” and be that person that wasn’t there when I was a junior high student.” It was at this same time that she approached Mrs. Putti about starting the Girls in STEM Club for elementary students.

This winter Peyton won a National Merit Scholar award which is based on the PSAT which she took during the fall of her junior year. Based on scores, they choose 16,000 students nationwide. These 16,000 students are asked to write an essay, submit their transcript, and a letter of recommendation and the organization chooses 14,000 finalists. With this prestigious award comes varying amounts of scholarships from schools around the country. Financial awards range from a one-time $2500 gift to full ride scholarships depending on the school.

Peyton applied to fourteen schools to “see what happens”. Her schools of choice include Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Boston University, and Harvey Mudd College [a small, prestigous STEM college in Southern CA]. She adds, “I kind of want to go out of state if I can. There’s so much to see.”

Peyton plans to pursue degrees in astronomy and physics. When she is done, she’d like to explore the passion she discovered while working with the elementary students in the STEM program. “I think I want to work more on the outreach side. Teaching college kids is obviously rewarding with high-level material and research – that’s all fun, but there’s nothing that really rivals a seven-year old who’s excited about building the fastest sled or the strongest boat. That’s so unique and important and I think there’s really a need for that encouragement for boys and girls, but especially for girls at those young ages.”

Payton’s aspirations go beyond encouragement. “I would like to teach at the university level and do research but hopefully, from whatever university I’m teaching at, be able to be in charge of whatever they do with younger kids: summer camps, after school programs, inviting kids to campus.”

Peyton sees her role with younger students as one of influence, which she values and appreciates in her own life. “Years ago I liked education, but I didn’t see it on a personal level.” She listened to science podcasts and saw herself in that role or on TV, but once she began working one-on-one and in groups she saw the impact she could have with students in person. “It’s fun to be on TV but way more fun to physically be in the room and there’s a bigger impact to be there.”

Mrs. Putti, Alice’s high school physics teacher, as well as Mr Kunzi and Mrs Sager have been “very instrumental in fostering my love of the STEM subjects. When you think about what it means for girls to not be afraid of that interest, I think it’s so much the personal relationships, having someone TV who is a woman and in STEM is one thing, but having someone who is going to remember your name, and work with you and remember your project, and show you how to do a problem is a totally different thing. The number of people you reach in a career like this is much less but the impact you have on each person is much more.”

So where did Peyton decide to take her talents? She’s headed to Cambridge and the mighty Crimson of Harvard University!

Congratulations on all of your accomplishments, Peyton! We are so proud of you and know you will continue to make us proud as you head East and continue to conquer the STEM world! We love being able to call you a Wildcat!

 

Star Student Spotlight: Izzy Krzewski!

When asked who Junior High Vice Principal, Heather Breen, would recommend as a Star Student, she did not hesitate! “8th grader, Isabelle (Izzy) Krzewski is a sweetheart of a student who is very involved in theater, dance, orchestra and choir.  She works incredibly hard and has great grades.”

Izzy comes from a musical family where her four older siblings are happy to indulge her habit of singing around the house. She has participated in Jenison theatre the last two years and performed as Princess Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress and this year, she wowed the crowd with her especially mean portrayal of Aunt Spiker in James and Giant Peach. Izzy insists that her role has Aunt Spiker caused her to have to “dig deep” because she usually plays the fun, silly roles and Aunt Spiker was the exact opposite. Izzy herself is sweet, kind and humble so finding her “inner Aunt Spiker” was a fun challenge.

As other theatre students have affirmed, the program at Jenison is a place all kinds of kids call “home” and Izzy is no different. She loves theatre because “the kids, the environment, and all the people — theatre people are the best people to be around because you can just laugh and joke with them. If you’re stressed from homework, theatre and dance just help you forget about it and be part of the art.”

Izzy also participates in the Junior High Dance Team which performs at the boys basketball games as well as various local competitions. If her dedication to theatre wasn’t enough to exhaust you, Izzy’s dance schedule directly corresponds  to the preparation for the musical each year and she insists it’s not a “stressful kind of hard work”.

In class she describes herself as “quiet and shy” but these are not the qualities she possesses on stage. “I just like becoming a different person on stage and making the audience smile and laugh”. Izzy says that her math teacher, Mr. Ohman is the teacher that inspires her to learn and the class she enjoys the most. “Mr Ohman teaches us math, but also teaches us about life. His stories are really inspirational. Usually in first hour I’m tired but he keeps me engaged with all of his stories.”

Because two kinds of art performances aren’t enough for Izzy, she also participates in the junior high choir and orchestra where she has played the viola for three years. “In orchestra I’m playing the notes and in choir, I’m singing the notes which is really cool and it helps me learn more.”

Her favorite music to sing is show tunes and she loves Newsies and Hamilton. She has seen movies of Broadway shows but has yet to see one in person but very much looks forward to it.

Izzy is looking forward to auditioning for theatre and being part of the High School choir and orchestra and says, “It is difficult balancing it all during the theatre and dance season. You’re up late, but it’s totally worth it.”

She encourages everyone to find what they love and lean in to it. “You have to find a passion in yourself, something that makes your heart beat faster and then that’s really where you make your mark.”

Thank you, Izzy! Your hard work, bravery on stage, dedication to your passion is an inspiration to all of us! We’re proud to call you a Wildcat!

Star Student Spotlight: Cordiela Sorrelle!

Pinewood fourth grader, Cordelia Sorrelle, is a girl of many talents, combined with a sweet, humble, and kind heart. Cordelia was nominated for this mini-series on Star Students by her principal, Rachael Postle-Brown, who says that Cordelia “always does an amazing job and is so humble”.

Aside from her regular schoolwork in fourth grade, Cordelia is involved in the chess club, robotics club, ACT, the after school reading program, and loves STEM.

She joined the chess club at the beginning of the school year without ever having played a game before. She “thought it looked interesting” because, “I like to think of strategies and tactics”. She enjoys playing board games but she especially loves those that involve strategy. Cordelia says she’s a good chess player but she hasn’t beat her dad just yet, but knows she will one day. [Look out, dad!]

Cordelia is also a member of ACT which is a weekly educational program for third through sixth graders who qualify. “In ACT we solve problems. Right now, we’re learning about things to build a mini-golf course. First, we learned about pentominoes. [Readers: if you need a quick math lesson, check out the Wikipedia link telling you what a pentomino is. Go ahead, we’ll never tell.]  Then, we made a tabletop mini-golf course to see where the ball will go”.

Cordelia is in ACT with other qualifying fourth graders from two other JPS elementary schools. She is proud to be in ACT and decided to apply because of what she believed about herself and her abilities.  “ACT is for people who are academically talented so I thought, why don’t I take the test because I think I’m smart.” She says that ACT is a safe place to be and feels like her fellow students support each other. “I like that other people there are smart too so people don’t judge me about it.”

But Cordelia’s love for learning doesn’t stop there! She is also a member of the after school reading club where, Monday – Thursday, she finds a comfy seat in the library and reads a book of her choice for 45 minutes with other book lovers. Her favorite book right now is Land of Stories, a series about twins who go into fairy tales. Cordelia has loved reading, “since I was born” and is not only a fast reader, but always has a book in her hand.

Cordelia also decided to join the robotics club this year and says that she liked building robots. Her 4 person, all girl elementary team [which included her older sister] competed in robotics events made a forklift but after they found that other teams were copying it, chose to destroy it and build a new one. Cordelia was the youngest member of the team and when asked how she feels about people who think robotics, chess, and STEM are better suited to boys she says emphatically “I say, girls can do anything that boys can do.” When asked how it make her feel when people say those things, she gives us all a lesson in self-confidence: “I don’t really care about what they say.”

Adding to her already impressive resume, this spring Cordelia will take her talents to the softball field for the first time. Her friends are doing it so, “I thought it would be cool if I did it too.” She didn’t want to be unprepared so she took a softball clinic “to see what it was like”.  At home, she tries her best to take care of her three dogs but they don’t make it easy for her. “When I get home, it’s like they haven’t seen me in a thousand years and they jump all over me.”

Cordelia, I think it’s safe to say, we’d be excited to see you too! You are the true definition of a star student and we cannot wait to see where your gifts, talents, and kind heart take you!  We’re proud to call you a Wildcat!

Clubs at Jenison Schools: High School Swing Dance Club

This April we will be spotlighting three unique clubs offered for students at Jenison! We hope you will join us each week this month to be surprised and inspired by the talents and interests of our kids.

MIII6773Jenison High School freshman, Noah Meekhof not only loves to dance but he has found himself teaching fellow students, as well as strangers, how to look good on a dance floor.  This interest in helping others become better dancers led Noah to start Jenison High School’s Swing Dance Club! “It really started when I began teaching some of my friends in theater, and even some strangers I’d meet, [dance] moves. They loved it so I got the idea to start the club.”

MIII6827The club began this year around mid-winter and meets each Friday in the choir room for an hour. His goal is to have taught the group enough dances to get to the point where they can show up and “just start dancing!” Noah has been enjoying the fun of swing dancing in downtown Grand Rapids for about a year after being introduced to it at his church’s family camp. “I just happened to naturally love it.”

In order to make sure everyone is in step upon arriving Noah teaches the newest members of the club and other experienced dancers help out as well. Of course, there is always a little time to have fun with other music and types of dancing.

The swing dance club had a lot of cross-over with members of the theatre community at JHS and Noah says that “the overall response from other students is very positive and the idea of a club was extremely well received.” He hopes that students continue their interest in swing despite some of the pop culture dance trends he sees. “Swing is a really fun and active dance style that is very easy to learn and non-formal. Also, over the last decade or two party dancing has died. Nowadays anything can pass as a dance no matter how ridiculous or over sexualized.  Swing offers a much classier alternative to today’s poor excuse for “dancing.””

Thanks, Noah, for bringing swing and style back and we hope the swing dance club continues to thrive! We’ll see you on the dance floor!MIII6785

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Clubs at Jenison Schools: Junior High Chess Club

This April we will be spotlighting three unique clubs offered for students at Jenison! We hope you will join us each week this month to be surprised and inspired by the talents and interests of our kids.

MIII5597Last year, seventh grader Jonah Graham decided his school needed a Chess Club so he and his fellow chess fans approached math teacher, Nate Ohman, about the possibility. Mr Ohman admits that his passion for math has always included an interest in the strategy of the game and he has been playing since he was a child. It was a natural fit!

The club meets every week during the second and third quarters and there are approximately 30 students involved. “Most of the time is spent playing chess. We incorporate a “chess ladder” to rank the students by ability level and we try to make the matches fun and competitive for both players by matching up players who have similar skills.  We have also done a club tournament as well as a “chess board rotation” game.”

Jonah Graham says that the game of chess “has a challenge for every level of skill and it really helps to improve your game when you can play against people at or above your skill level.”

MIII5602Anyone who knows the game of Chess [or has been intimidated by it] can tell you that it’s not just fun and games “Chess club provides a safe place for students to build friendships and share a common experience around a game that builds thinking and strategy skills. I believe that it enhances problem solving skills and increases the ability to think beyond the here and now.  Chess requires planning ahead and anticipating various scenarios that could occur.  These are definitely life skills. Chess club can be a wholesome part of a student’s junior high experience.”

MIII5562“Even though chess is an old game there has been a lot of interest. It’s a good opportunity to make new friends with people you didn’t realize you had something in common with” says Jonah.

Mr Ohman agrees, “It is a great place for students to meet new friends and enjoy time with old ones.  It is a fun way to sharpen problem solving skills and enhance thinking.”

Way to go Chess Club! What a cool way to challenge yourselves and improve your strategic skills. It’s your move!

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Clubs at Jenison Schools: Pinewood Broadcasting Club

This April we will be spotlighting three unique clubs offered for students at Jenison! We hope you will join us each week this month to be surprised and inspired by the talents and interests of our kids.

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Jon Scholma, STEM teacher at Pinewood and Bursley Elementary Schools has been teaching for nine years and this is his first with JPS. While taking a “Digital Video and the Classroom” grad school class he was challenged to rethink his teaching techniques and ever since that time he has been pleasantly surprised by his students’ enthusiasm.

This excitement led Jon and his fellow teachers, Lori Barr and Michelle U’Ren to start a Broadcasting Club for 5th and 6th graders at Pinewood. Each week for twelve weeks, thirteen students have been meeting for an hour to create and produce a video from start to finish.

MIII0776“They are learning the whole process and we aren’t skipping any steps.  The first few weeks all we did was brainstorm ideas and meet with each other to figure out who had the same ideas and passions as us.  The students are learning that it’s not just lights, camera, action.  It’s shifting through ideas, figuring out the details such as props, characters, location, it’s writing a script, storyboarding, practicing, and then after filming it’s editing and producing.”

It is the teachers’ hope that the students will be able to leave the club knowing how toMIII0783 produce videos on their own. “Videos that they can use for school projects, skills that they can use when they enter into their careers, or projects for their own entertainment.”

With the omnipresence of digital video the skills these students learn in the Broadcasting Club could prove to be very beneficial for students in the future.  “It also provides them with a skill that they can use in middle school and high school to complete projects in a unique way.”

And while it may seem early for some students to be thinking about careers, it is never too early to cultivate interests and passions and let students test their capabilities. “It is good to provide these students with a window for them to look through and see what’s out there.  Most students don’t realize all the different opportunities they have.  If they find something they are truly passionate about it can transform their learning experience.  It gives them a goal, something to work towards, even if they end up choosing another direction.”

Thank you teachers for seeing the potential in our students and challenging them in unique ways! We can’t wait to see where these students take their talents!

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