Welcome to the 2017 – 2018 School Year!

It’s been a glorious Michigan summer, hasn’t it? We hope each of you had a chance to take some time to do something you loved whether it was a big trip in the car or with the camper, or “summer” just meant you didn’t have to pack lunches every day and sleep an extra ten minutes!

School began for our students two days ago but our teachers and staff have been hard at work for the past week or more getting prepared both physically and mentally for a great year.

Teachers and administrators spent three days last week in professional development beginning with a renewed connection in their respective buildings. Time was spent reflecting on summer breaks, hearing personal news, reviewing school policies, and discussions about policies that will be reviewed further this year. Elementary teachers were also given the opportunity to learn from veteran Grandville teacher, Stacey Byl, on Whole Brain Teaching. Stacey introduced this active learning technique of teaching to Jenison in February so her second visit centered around additional tips, a review of the brain functions, the value of Whole Brain Teaching, and lots of ideas for teachers to try on their own. [If your child knows what “mirrors up” means and responds to “Class?” with a prompt, “Yes?”, their teacher is using Whole Brain Teaching!]

Teachers also focused on legal updates, literacy, and had opportunities to meet at both the grade and building levels for brainstorming and implementation of all they were learning.

Elementary teachers also had the chance to hear from Dr. Stephanie Grant from Development Enhancements in Holland. Dr. Grant is a clinical psychologist specializing in childhood trauma. Teachers learned a great deal about the ways that trauma affects a child’s developing brain and how that might translate to behaviors or difficulty learning in school.

For the final session, Tom asked teachers to take a deep breath and told them he wanted to help them begin the year with helping teachers learn how to take care of themselves. “You have a stressful, physically demanding job and I want to encourage you to take care of yourself and each other.” School Board President, Bill Waalkes, reminded teachers that “We hire you to do the job and we’re here to support you.”

To this end, teachers heard from Jen Rapanos, former School Social Worker, and current owner of Well Bean Yoga and Mindfulness. Jen led the teachers in various mindful practices such as mindful eating, diaphragmatic breathing, and simple yoga. Mindfulness is being taught in many Jenison classrooms as a means to help students become more aware of their surroundings, feelings, bodies, and minds. Many of our students have already been practicing mindfulness in their classrooms, but what is it? Mindfulness creates a moment between a situation and our reaction to it. Jen shared this quote from Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

We hope that our entire staff was able to take a deep breath as school began this week and that they continue to find ways to care for themselves throughout the year, making them even more incredible teachers for our kids! With the theme of “In the Pursuit of Excellence” in mind, we know that teachers will set the bar high and students will rise to it! Congratulations on the beginning of another great year at Jenison! Go Cats!

Teachers Begin Year by Celebrating Success!

Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year at Jenison Public Schools!
We hope you enjoyed our summer series on student writing and if you’re new to the blog, we hope you’ll subscribe and check in with us every Thursday to celebrate the great things happening in our schools!


To kick off the year, all JPS teachers participated in three days of professional development centered around the yearlong theme of “Celebrating our Successes”. As parents can appreciate, teachers are so busy during the school year that they often miss out on learning from and celebrating with each other.  According to Curriculum Director, Kristy Rogalla, “With the busy school schedule, meeting kids needs at every level, preparing lessons and meeting the many requirements from the State, we do not always take [or have] the time to slow down and celebrate the amazing happenings and successes at JPS!” Professional development throughout the year will provide opportunities for celebration in an effort to be “more mindful [and] purposeful about celebrating individual and team successes in our buildings”.

img_4255During the year, professional development will continue with Classroom Learning Labs which aim to provide a more consistent and collaborative curriculum. During this first training, elementary teachers attended literacy sessions led by our own experienced, talented and amazing staff!  “All elementary teachers were asked to select three of eighteen sessions to attend to learn or solidify what they know about reading, writing, math workshop, student assessment, literacy instruction, how students learn, and differentiation of instruction.”

Twenty eight JPS staff members across the district from Transitional Kindergarten through Junior High, led the sessions teachers attended.  “The sessions were powerful and dynamic with staff from different buildings and different grade levels sharing and learning from each other!  We ended our day with grade level team time to reflect on the learning and set instructional goals for the year to best impact our students.”

img_4249Additionally, teachers took time to create Literacy Belief Statements which were based on research about the best practices in literacy education and the statements will be posted in a visible location in each elementary building. “Each month we will focus on one of these belief statements and how it fits with literacy instruction.  Teachers are participating in a self-select book study centered around these statements where conversations and collaboration will take place every month.  Leading the discussion and learning is Janet Schultz, our new district Literacy Coach.  Janet has been teaching for fourteen years at Jenison Public Schools and will be supporting the instructional collaboration and literacy learning!”

Teachers are looking forward to seeing more of this type of professional development at Jenison and are excited to start the year: “It was noted by one staff member that “it was one of the most encouraging and motivating three days”!”

Collaborative Learning for Jenison Teachers is a Win!

This year, an exciting new professional development initiative has been introduced to Jenison teachers:  Learning Labs!

(l,r) Kristy Rogalla and coaches Michelle U’ren, Janet Schultz, Eileen Maday, and Lisa Douglass

According to Kristy Rogalla, Curriculum Director at JPS, a Learning Lab is “An opportunity to share effective teaching strategies and learn from our ‘quietly amazing’ colleagues in a non-evaluative, authentic setting.”  The district has trained four classroom teachers as coaches whose “goal is to train department chairs [junior high and high school] and team leaders [elementary] to become learning lab facilitators. We provide resources and support to staff members participating in the process”, adds coach Michelle U’Ren.

While Learning Labs are new to JPS, they are not specific to Jenison. Districts throughout Ottawa and Kent County are using learning labs as a professional development opportunity for teachers to grow and collaborate.  Jenison has worked with other districts around West Michigan to develop this model of professional development which encourages teachers to collaborate in authentic and meaningful ways.

As teachers and coaches work together in this setting, there are four steps to the collaborative process.  

  • Step 1 asks teachers to think about the following questions:
    • What are the learning targets of the lesson?  What do you want students to know and be able to do? How does this lesson support your school improvement goals?  What other teaching and learning prepared students for this lesson?  What instructional strategies will you use in your lesson today?  What activities will you use to engage students?
  • Step 2 is the Pre-Brief stage for discussing the purpose of the lesson.
  • Step 3 is a classroom visit by the coach during the lesson.
  • And Step 4 is the Debrief.

A TK, or Transitional Kindergarten, classroom is pictured above. Coach Janet Schultz hosted TK, K, and specials teachers, with learning around morning meetings.

“Last year, a team of writing teachers worked together over the course of the school year to create a  stronger continuum of writing instruction across grade-levels. Learning Labs were used in our new teacher training process and to build a better understanding of how to effectively use innovative technology in classrooms. As teachers implement Common Core Math, learning labs have been used to model best instructional practices.”

Ms U’Ren and her fellow coaches add that the benefits to teachers working collaboratively in this way are many:

  • It provides the recognition that teachers within our organization are our best resource
  • Learning Labs encourage a culture of collaboration
  • They create an effective continuum of curriculum and instruction throughout grade-levels
  • Best Practices are extended [instructional strategies, technology use, assessment preparation, etc.] within a course, between grade-levels, and across buildings
  • They allow for choice in professional development
  • Learning Labs provide the opportunity to reflect on and discuss the process of teaching and learning

Coach Lisa Douglass hosted teachers across the district with math and science backgrounds. This picture is showing how she uses learning targets and student monitored progress.

Coach Janet Schultz believes in the value of learning together and adds, “Teacher collaboration is important because it allows teachers to have thoughtful and meaningful dialogue about their chosen profession, stay engaged with new learning concepts, and get excited about their own learning and that of their students.

The dialogue, the authentic setting, and the thoughtful process involved in Learning Labs makes it a one of kind collaborative professional development opportunity for teachers in our district. Learning and sharing great strategies within a lesson and classroom environment provides opportunities to teachers that we can’t get from other professional development training.”

We are looking forward to the many ways that Learning Labs will continue to grow, challenge and encourage our teachers, which, in turn benefits our students. Thank you to all of the coaches and teachers for seeing the value in collaboration!

Teachers Are Moved by the Challenges of Poverty

Jenison Families and Staff:  Welcome to the 2014 – 2015 school year!  We truly hope you had an enjoyable summer and trust that you have returned to school with excitement for what the year will bring!  Please visit this blog each Thursday for news you can celebrate at Jenison Public Schools!

Last week, High School and Junior High teachers took a break from setting up their classrooms and preparing their first lessons to do some real-life learning of their own.  Through the guidance and expertise of Access of West Michigan, teachers and administrators checked their own identities at the door and took on roles within families struggling with poverty.  Access provided the identities, family roles, monthly expenses required, monthly income and a few [extra] challenges along the way to help make the most of this two hour simulation.

Jenison High School teachers learn their new identities and discuss their plan for the month.

Jenison High School teachers learn their new identities and discuss their plan for the month.


During the simulation, each family [which could consist of 1 – 4+ people including seniors raising children, widow[ers], single parent homes and blended families] had the same goals for their month in poverty:
* Keep the shelter secure                     * Buy required amount of food each week
* Keep their utilities on                        * Make loan payments
* Pay for clothing & misc expenses      * Respond appropriately to unexpected situations that arise
* Care for their family members

Based on their circumstances, and in order to meet the above goals, the groups were asked to visit area resources just as a family in poverty in West Michigan might do:  the Food Pantry, Employment Office, health clinic, pawn shop, grocery store, Department of Human Services [DHS], utilities office, Quick Cash store and, one of the most important stops, the transportation office for bus passes.  The exercise simulated one month in poverty and each week lasted 15 minutes.

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Brenda Dalecke, Poverty Education Coordinator at Access, says there are 50.1 million people in poverty nationwide which includes 16.9 million children and Access provides food pantry resources as well as emergency assistance through the connections and partnerships of over 200 area churches to those in West Michigan for which this life is their reality.

Access provides this training to a variety of groups including corporations and political groups as well.  But for our Jenison teachers it meant much more than professional development.  Judy Williams, Junior High Counselor shared this about her experience:

“As educators, we all know how to “do” school exceptionally well.  Whether as parents, professional educators or students, we understand what is necessary for success in school..  The Poverty Simulation provided an eye opening and perspective changing experience for our staff.  We gained an appreciation for how stressful, time consuming and emotionally draining it can be to live with limited resources.  Our time was spent  seeking reliable transportation, attempting to put food on the table and maybe paying our bills.

We were shocked to realize that we had spent no quality time with our children, whether it be reading to our preschoolers or supervising teens.

This experience deeply affected our staff. We now understand why working a second or third part time job may take precedence over attending a school function or signing a planner. As a result, our teachers are ready to meet the new school year with renewed passion to build compassionate relationships with our parents and students as we all seek to provide a world class education for every student.”

Materials needed for the month.

Materials needed for the month.

Abram Brosseit, High School Social Studies teacher, added:

“Prior to the simulation I had an intellectual grasp on some of the issues that under resourced families deal with on a daily basis.  However, the simulation itself moved me beyond general ideas towards a more intricate understanding of these issues.  The poverty simulation helped me recognize that the numerous challenges faced by under resourced families amount to complexities that can be paralyzing.  A paralysis that can be at once mental, emotional, physical, and financial.

Each week in the simulation felt like a game of chess in which one wrong move was a guaranteed check mate.  It caused me to become impatient waiting in long lines and frustrated by the devastating cost of small mistakes. The challenges my group faced in the simulation were such that there was no single solution that would have made our situation entirely better.  However, some recognition on the part of others about the reality of our circumstances could have gone along way.  As a teacher I realize that I alone will not be able to single-handedly change everything in the life of an under resourced student.

Yet, the simulation helped me understand that I can play a major part by helping that student find the courage to work towards a more promising future and knowing that it is attainable. As a teacher I must continue to create a classroom culture where the dignity of each individual validated on a daily basis.  As a member of my community I need to further my commitment to help others in ways that I can. While my contributions may seem small on their own, when combined with the efforts of others, they really do add up.”

Thank you, Access of West Michigan for bringing this difficult reality into perspective for our teams.  We know it will make a difference as we work alongside each student and family this school year.

“[The] poverty simulation was one of the most significant professional development opportunities that I have had a chance to experience.”
– Mr. Brosseit

A stop at DHS with the caseworker.

A stop at DHS with the caseworker.

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A two-person family discusses their situation.

Teachers Take Time to Learn

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Professional Development is an important part of any job but especially for our teachers and administrators.  Last Tuesday, February 18 Jenison teachers and administrators were given the opportunity to be the students and learn new and exciting teaching methods. 

Discovery Education came to the district to teach two seminars for our Elementary teachers:

Literacy and Common Core in a Digital World Discovery which is heavy with focus on English Language Arts and
Teaching and Assessing Math in a Common Core Digital World which has a focus in Math.
Curriculum Director, Kristy Rogalla explains what each of these Academies meant to teachers attending:
“We were fortunate to be selected to host the Academic Academies in Michigan this spring. We have been incorporating the anchor standards of the common core this school year. Specifically, we have been working on increasing the depth of knowledge of tasks and questions asked of students, student engagement, informational literacy, using learning targets to guide instruction and turning these into student friendly “I can” statements so students understand the purpose and outcomes of lessons and more.  When we had the opportunity to enhance the learning of our staff with the highly skilled Discovery trainers, it was an opportunity we could not pass up.  The trainers are also skilled in teaching staff how to use technology as a tool increase student engagement and outcomes.”
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Also attending the training were about 160 educators from other parts of the state including the Upper Peninsula.  “Discovery provides high quality training’s and fortunately these most recent ones were free. The trainers traveled from a few places around the country.”
Teachers were grateful for the training and are already making plans to implement what they were taught into their lessons.
“The Discovery Education Math Academy (Teaching and Assessing Common Core Math in a Digital World) was a wonderful professional development experience.  Not only were we able to gain a better sense of how the new standards require students to demonstrate a variety of skills — from students’ fact fluency to their ability to solve rigorous, real-world problems — the workshop also highlighted many digital tools and resources that teachers will be able to integrate into their classrooms right away.  We have such wonderful technology here at Jenison, and I am excited to use some of the tools to enhance my instruction.”  — Julie Clark, 4th Grade Teacher, Sandy Hill Elementary
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Principals also attending the Academies [as well as an additional day of Discovery Training on Wednesday] and Rachael Postle-Brown, Pinewood Principal, echoes Julie’s gratitude and excitement:
“What I hope teachers took away from the Professional Development was a deeper understanding of the Common Core State Standards and some tools to help integrate them into their classroom.  The Discovery presenters did a really nice job of showing digital tools that will help our instructors use technology to engage our students in meaningful problem solving and application.”
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The High School staff had their own day of Professional Development focusing on adolescent brain development and the brain functioning and connections. The goal of the High School in-service was to kick off the curriculum initiative for the second semester which is focused on creating innovative multidisciplinary projects.  “We know that learning is more powerful when students see connections across content areas.  Integrated studies provide opportunities for students to think critically and creatively, to apply their learning to real-world situations, to use literacy strategies with new technologies, and to develop interpersonal skills that will be essential to their success in a rapidly changing world.” — Eileen Maday, Curriculum Specialist at Jenison High School
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“We began our day with a presentation from Donna St. John of Kendall College and the Brain Institute.  Our goal was to gain a better understanding of how brain function impacts learning.  The presentation included a dissection activity in which we studied the anatomy of the brain and the latest research on how to engage students to harness the power of the brain as we teach.  It was fascinating!  Empowered with this information, our staff is now working on developing multidisciplinary projects which connect content areas in new and exciting ways.”

Thank you, teachers, for continuing to dedicate yourselves to lifelong learning for our students!

JPS Teachers Invest in Technology

With an “app” for just about anything, Jenison teachers are learning that the best “app” for this upcoming school year is spending the day intensively training for a new year with new technology.

To do that, we welcomed Mr. Andy Losik, Apple Distinguished Educator and 2009 Michigan Tech-Educator of the Year, to kick off our professional development yesterday. His keynote challenged teachers to consider the many varied ways that technology can hook, engage, and keep kids focused on exploring and learning. With the early morning charge still echoing in the hallways, teachers left with purpose and embarked on the next frontier: a full day of pull-out seminars with literally dozens of topics from which to choose.

Learning opportunities during the pull-outs were staffed almost exclusively by Jenison teachers instructing their colleagues. They included: Creating Presentations on Your iPad, Student Presentations with Pizzazz, Creating Student ePubs, Blogging Made Simple, I Love My Document Camera, Screencasting Tools to Benefit Students, and many more!

All of this work comes on the heels of the district expanding its technological reach with the purchase of several hundred iPads for teachers and staff. Funds from the recently passed Bond Issue made the expansion possible, and teachers are thrilled to incorporate powerful tools into their teaching.

“We recognize that for most of our students, technology like smart phones and iPads are part of everyday life. Now, instead of separating kids from their devices when they walk through the doors, we’re empowering teachers to embrace technology and use it to their advantage,” said Dr. Brandon Graham, principal of Jenison High School.

We salute our amazing teachers for modeling what it looks like to be lifelong, eager learners. The students of Jenison Public Schools will be richly rewarded by your hard work and willingness to learn!

Professional Development for Secondary Teachers

If you ask me, there’s no better way to kick off the New Year than to spend time growing and learning with colleagues as a professional community. That’s why this past Monday, January 2nd, was such a special treat. Jenison junior and senior high teachers had the privilege of listening to Mr. Kevin Honeycutt, a nationally respected keynote speaker and educator who challenged us to consider the digital worlds in which many of our children live—and the digital skills demanded by the  job markets into which they will be entering as adults.

With a moving personal history, compelling stories of his own childhood and time in the classroom, Mr. Honeycutt pushed us to consider new strategies and loftier ideals. He probed with questions that had us thinking twice:

  • Children, teens, and young adults are playing on a “digital playground.” Are there enough “playground supervisors” to make it not only a safe experience—but a beneficial one?
  • How many of us adults would feel lost without our laptops, cell phones, or digital organizers? Is it appropriate to ask kids, then, to leave their “digital appendages” at home when coming to school? Is there a way to leverage the most powerful computing equipment that our world has ever known—and use it for amazing learning opportunities?

After this exciting and thought-provoking presentation, teachers had the afternoon to learn from their district community about topics such as Google documents, flip cameras and their uses in the classroom, blogging, “bell ringers” (ideas for engaging students in the minutes before/after the bell rings), the electronic library, and understanding the iPad.

We are blessed to not only have had a rich day of learning, but that so many of our educators were willing to participate in the teaching and presenting. It reminds me that our staff is giving and supportive, seeking to partner with their fellow educators in any way they can so that kids will benefit.

Because at the end of the day, that’s why we do it.

We do it for the kids.


Check back tomorrow for more wonderful photos of our PD Day!