Jenison Celebrates Autism!

According to the latest information released from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 59 children has Autism in the United States [April 26, 2018].

Incredible ECC teacher, Tricia Maday + a student

Here at JPS, we do all we can to learn the unique needs of our kiddos on the Autism Spectrum and support them to have productive, challenging, and fun days at school just like every other kid! One of the ways that kids and families are supported is through the Autism Family Network which exists to serve the districts in the more eastern portion of Ottawa County.

Kristen Gray, JPS Teacher Consultant for students on the Autism Spectrum, says, “Autism Family Network was created when Jennifer Breen, who had previously been a board member of Autism Support of West Shore, observed that families from eastern Ottawa County participated in meetings and special events less frequently than those families who resided in western Ottawa County.  While events have been organized to be easily accessible to families in Jenison, Coopersville, Hudsonville, and Allendale, AFN welcomes all who would like to attend.  The majority of families involved are from Jenison, Coopersville, and Hudsonville, however we also have members from other districts in Ottawa County and a number of districts in Kent County. ”

Parapro Extraordinaire, Diana Zeitunian with a student

In an effort to support and engage the families they serve, Autism Family Network hosts a wide variety of opportunities such as bi-monthly parent seminars on a variety of topics*.  “There are also monthly family fun events, which allow families to try activities, most often free of charge, without the concern of a meltdown or spending money should a child not want to participate.”

Finally, to support parents who often rely on each other for advice, a listening ear, an understanding nod, or any form of support, monthly parent gatherings are scheduled at places like Panera, where parents can gather to talk.  “During the summer and school breaks, the locations of the parent gatherings may change in an effort to accommodate parents who may struggle with child care.”

Stupendous 6th Grader, Monae William

Parents who would like to join the mailing list should visit  Joining the email list does not commit a family, but does ensure updates will be received regarding future events.

One of the ways that the Autism Family Network supports families is through an annual event called, “Celebrate Autism”. While the specifics of this even change each year, the purpose remains the same. “This event is an opportunity for families to celebrate Autism and what it means to the AFN family as a whole. One of the highlights of the event is the distribution of the Essential Piece Awards. These awards are given to individuals nominated by families involved in AFN. Each year, families have the opportunity to nominate one person who has made a difference for their child. During the event, nominees are recognized and given a personalized plaque thanking them for contributing to the Autism community.”

This year, six JPS employees, 1 current student, and 1 JPS retiree were selected as award winners!

Monae William – 6th grader at Bursley
Kate Walker – Teacher in ASD program at Bursley
Sara Hayes – Teacher in ASD program at Bursley
Tricia Maday – Teacher in ASD program at the ECC
Jenny vanBiljon – 4th grade teacher at Sandy Hill
Diana Zeitunian – Paraprofessional at the Junior High
Salena Corner – Social worker at Rosewood, Bursley, and Bauerwood
Les Rowsey – Retired vocal music teacher from the high school – now teaching individual music lessons

Thank you to these amazing JPS team members! Our students on the Autism Spectrum are more successful because of you, but our district and our JPS family is better too! If you see one of these  incredible people around school, be sure to tell them “way to go” and, of course, “thank you”!

Brilliant Bursley teacher, Kate Walker + a her student

Super Social Worker Salena Corner with a parent

Sensational Sara Hayes + a student

Magnificent Music Teacher Les Rowsey + a student

* Currently, these seminars take place at Jenison Junior High, in the media center, on Thursday evenings.

Something Special to be Thankful For!

[L to R] Katie Bremer, Mary Pollock, Betsy Norton, Sara Melton, Dan Searle

Did you know that something as small as a Tootsie Roll can earn $2500 for our schools? Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Jenison Knights of Columbus, the JPS Cognitively Impaired Categorical Program at Sandy Hill took home their generous donation from this year’s Tootsie Roll drive!

At this month’s Board of Education meeting, teachers Katie Bremer and Betsy Norton, along with Sandy Hill Principal Sara Melton and Special Ed Director, Mary Pollock accepted the donation on behalf of this important program.

According to Dan Searle, The Knights of Columbus in Jenison (Council #7487) is made up of 240 Catholic men “dedicated to the good works of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. With our #1 priority being charity”. Each year the members vote on the organization that will receive the donations from their annual Tootsie Roll Drive that takes place the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after Easter. With volunteer families stationed outside local businesses, they happily pass out Tootsie Rolls in exchange for any donation.  Mr Searle adds, “Every cent we collect from the Tootsie Roll Drive stays in the community. The more we collect, the more that is donated back. Through other programs, our Council alone collects and donates approximately $40,000 each year back to the community.”

The donation will be used to support and advance programs within the categorical program at Sandy Hill. In the past, the monies have been used to purchase i-pads and supporting apps, assist with peer-to-peer groups and many other activities.

Ms Pollock knows the value of these donations to the amazing work being done by teachers and staff. “We have an amazing staff in JPS. Teachers, both general ed and special ed, and support staff are constantly meeting and planning to make sure all students have opportunities to be a part of the school community. This donation will help support the goal of meaningful inclusion. The Knights of Columbus organization has been incredibly supportive of our efforts and they contribute via their Tootsie Roll Drive every year. It is greatly appreciated!”

JPS offers Special Ed categorical programs for the variety of needs presented by our students (Cognitively Impaired, Emotionally Impaired, Autism Spectrum Disorder). Ms Pollock adds, “We appreciate the community partnerships because it helps to foster understanding in the community of how our programs and services are provided. We are very intentional about making making sure all our students spend as much time as possible with typically developing peers. Teachers Katie Bremer and Betsy Norton have done a wonderful job with their peer-to-peer program at Sandy Hill. Students with disabilities are accepted and benefit from the relationships with their peers and the typical peers gain from helping others and learning to understand differences.

The Knights of Columbus are certainly important community partners and the admiration between organizations is mutual. “Our kids attend these schools. We love our schools and know we are blessed to have such great and caring educators”, says Mr Searle.

On the day we take an extra moment to appreciate what we have, please add the Knights of Columbus and JPS teachers and support staff to the list! Giving all of our students the best education possible is certainly a team effort! Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at JPS!

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.


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.


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!


Junior High Resource Room Teachers Make a Winning Team!

MIII4086It was The Beatles who first reminded us that “we get by with a little help from our friends” and it’s as true today as it was when they first sang it.

If you’re a student at Jenison Junior High who needs some extra help with your classes, you have the best of two worlds.  Resource Room teachers like Mallory DeFouw, Aaron Boermsa, Dawn Dykstra, Rachel Chapman team up with General Education classroom teachers to team teach and then take those lessons back to their own rooms for a little extra help.

Mallory DeFouw explains how the system works for her: “My morning is spent team teaching in sections that I then teach the Resource Room classes later. So I’m able to see and perform and do those things within those team taught classrooms and then I can decide how the lesson needs to be scaffolded for my students.” Resource Room teachers have smaller class sizes [also called Parallel Classrooms] with only 10-14 students and 1 teacher. This allows for a slower pace and more individual attention when it’s needed. Mrs DeFouw says that this is important because they are “able to target more students needs in the least restrictive environment”.

MIII4093Aaron Boersma adds, “The instruction is split pretty evenly in the co-taught setting.  There are different models of co-teaching, but the model that I have been able to find most effective is when the general education and special education share the instruction.  I have been fortunate to teach with wonderful general education teachers who allow me to come into their classroom and share the responsibilities.  I truly believe and have seen both the special education and general education students benefit from being in a co-taught class academically and socially.”

With two teachers in the room they are able to more quickly address difficulties a student may be having and individual attention can be given when needed which is not always possible with only one teacher on hand.  In some classrooms students are broken down into smaller groups which diffuses distractions and students with learning disabilities are able to learn by watching their peers work their way through difficulties. “Many times students can learn from their peers modeling how to productively struggle” says science teacher, Candace Molenkamp adding, “Learning how to work with peers of all ability levels is an advantage for everyone involved. Seeing tasks from a different perspective is eye opening for students and many times I see teaching happening among the students.”

MIII4085Of course, success comes in many forms and the team teaching model allows our teachers to see the benefits even after the students have moved on. “Relationships are a huge part of my teaching.  I’d say the most rewarding part of teaching students with learning disabilities is when they get to high school and come back to see you and thank you for the impact you had on them.  Whether it was reading a test, editing a paper, helping them apply a new strategy, or teaching them how to advocate for themselves it is those moments that make teaching well worth it!” says Mr Boersma.

He adds, “Special education programs have changed and evolved throughout the years.  Students need to be given opportunities to be successful and challenged and through the co-taught setting special education students get just that.”

What a great way to model the effectiveness of working as a team but this is also a fantastic example of how Jenison teachers do all they can to reach every student!



Celebrating JHS Special Ed Students at our Annual Telethon

More than twenty years ago, Jenison High School student Steven Munster drew inspiration from watching the Jerry Lewis Telethon on television and became convinced of one thing: that Jenison should have its own telethon to celebrate the talents and abilities of special education students.

Jenison High School, Jenison Special Education

Now, two decades later, Mrs. Schantz, Mr. Russell, and Mrs. Grooters keep Steven’s dream alive each May when they organize this annual celebration. With guidance and input from these teachers, students are given the freedom to choose their own performances (teachers work to ensure a good variety of music and appropriate content). Classes are then given about one hour a week to work on their routines, gradually increasing practice time as the show date nears.

Jenison Special Education, Jenison Public Schools, Jenison High School

After weeks of determined preparation, JHS special education students perform their telethon for the larger student body. Those in the crowd learn to appreciate the unique talents and skill sets of others they may not know or understand.

“Our students have so much to offer…a genuine sense of care and concern for others, a desire to help, a strong work ethic (some of our students have to work very hard to complete tasks that most of us take for granted) and a sense of respect.  We would love to have our students recognized/celebrated for who they are and all their accomplishments,” said the teachers.

With the roar of the crowd and the beaming faces of her students still fresh in her mind, teacher Alison Schantz reflects on the experience:

“It is really fun to see the students ‘come out of their shell’ during telethon.  Sometimes our students who are often very quiet are the ones who steal the show and surprise us the most with how much they enjoy the spotlight. It doesn’t seem to matter how much we practice…performance day is always quite something!”
Jenison Special Education, Jenison Public Schools, Jenison High School

Jenison Special Education, Jenison Public Schools, Jenison High School

In a month famous for packed calendars, spring sports, and graduation ceremonies, these teachers make a point to go the extra mile for their group of learners. They set aside time for each detail and consider every nuance of a great performance. But more than anything, they set out to keep their students in the spotlight, knowing that the spotlight can sometimes be difficult for special education kids to capture.

But with loving dedication, these teachers make it happen with the support of their colleagues, the encouragement of parents, and the enthusiasm of their classes.

“There are several things that come to mind for us…the support of general education peers, other teachers and parents is amazing!  Our students gain confidence and much deserved recognition for the courage they display on stage.  Watching the parents faces as they see their student performing on stage is priceless.”
Jenison Special Education, Jenison Public Schools, Jenison High School
Please join the Jenison community in applauding these students and their outstanding showmanship!

Welcome to the Family!

This summer has witnessed a flurry of excitement surrounding the addition of several new faces to the JPS staff. Necessary in large part to fill the newly state-mandated all-day kindergarten classes as well as provide for new Spanish requirements, these teachers are ready to dive in with high expectations and goals fixed on student success. Several special education teachers and our new Jenison High School athletic director, Todd Kolster, round out the group pictured below on Orientation Day.

While we won’t spend time here going in depth with all nineteen of them, we’d like to introduce you to a handful of these extraordinary individuals who will begin shaping lives in our classrooms over the weeks and months to come.

[ Pictured from left to right above: Blake Smolen, Jenna Wiley, Dennis Kaboos, Tara Eparvier, Katelyn Kielezewski, Brittany Douglas, Rachel Eriks, Tami Scholma, Shanna Richey, Lindsay Smith, Ashlee Stansbury, Becky Chicklon, Angela Trace, Todd Kolster, Alison Bydalek, Brandon Bosch, April Windemuller, Travis Sands, Kendra Krestan. ]

1. Lindsey Smith is a graduate from Grand Valley State University with a Major in Psychology-Special Education and a Minor in Elementary Education; she also holds an endorsement in teaching students with emotional impairments. Lindsey will be teaching 1st grade at Pinewood this fall and is “very excited to meet my students and get to know their personalities and start building relationships.”

A little known fact about Lindsey is that she grew up on a dairy farm and loves anything related to Holstein cows! She and her husband will be celebrating their one year anniversary this month and have a cat named Neko. Be sure to stop in and welcome Lindsey next time you’re at Pinewood!

2. Blake Smolen is another Grand Valley Laker-turned-Wildcat! Blake has a degree in Special Education and is endorsed to teach both emotionally and cognitively impaired students. He also provides some flexibility in that he is additionally certified to instruct grades K-5. Blake comes to us from Grand Rapids Catholic Central where he spent 2011-2012 as their resource room teacher. This background makes him a great fit as the Intervention specialist at our Early Childhood Center.

Mr. Smolen is “looking forward to getting into the classroom and making a difference in my students’ academic lives!” Though he is too humble to trumpet his accomplishments on the field, a little known fact about Blake is that he played football at GVSU (and did so with excellence!). Please say hello to him if you find yourself at the ECC this fall!

3. Alison Bydalek is a GVSU graduate who spent 6 years teaching in both a cognitively impaired classroom and 3rd grade classroom in Kenowa Hills Public Schools.  She has a Masters Degree in Learning Disabilities and returns to the classroom after spending several years at home raising her four children.

Alison is” looking forward to establishing relationships with students and staff…and embraces this opportunity for making a positive impact as well as fostering a love for learning with the students I will work with.”  Mrs. Bydalek has been married for 14 years enjoys swimming, skiing, traveling and many outdoor activities with her family.  She is proud to be both a parent and teacher in our district. A warm welcome to you, Alison!

4. Shanna Richey earned her BA from Bethel College and comes to us from Shelby County Schools where she taught 3rd grade and 4th grade. She is most looking forward to “meeting my students and getting to know the people in the Jenison community” when she joins us as a 1st grade teacher at Pinewood Elementary.

A little known fact about Shanna is that she was the National Champion in college golf! (feel free to contact her for your next scramble!) She and her husband Troy will celebrate their first wedding anniversary this October. Please introduce yourself to Shanna and welcome her to Pinewood.

5. Angela Tracy is a proud graduate of Hope College and Western Michigan University and is re-joining our family after having worked at JPS from 1995-2001, and then briefly leaving to serve as a Minister of Children and Families at Fellowship Reformed Church from 2008-2012. Angela joins us as another Intervention Specialist at Bauerwood Elementary.

Angela shares, “I can’t wait to get back in the schools and start teaching and collaborating with faculty, staff, children and parents to help every child reach his and her fullest potential!  I am extremely grateful to be part of a district and building that is committed to each other and their community.”
A little known fact about Mrs. Tracy is that she lived in Germany for a year with her family when she was 10. She currently lives in Holland with her husband and three children, ages 6, 9 and 10. We’re so glad to welcome you back, Angela!

Yvette Smith and Hunter Change Lives at Pinewood

Mrs. Smith with Hunter

It isn’t often that you enter school to the steady rhythm of a wagging tail, but at Pinewood Elementary it happens every day for the students in Mrs. Smith’s classroom.

Therapy dog “Hunter” is beloved by all, but is held in especially high regard by the special education students that have the opportunity work with him and experience the love that only dogs can give.

Mrs. Smith explained that “kids with severe emotional needs on the verge of crisis are de-escalated when they get a wet muzzle on the face or have  tears licked from their cheeks.” For some, it seems, Hunter is a veritable hug on four legs with a heart bigger than they can imagine.

For one 4th grader, taking Hunter out for recess provides the security he needs to feel comfortable in a large group of his peers. The support that Hunter lends allows this student to adapt socially in ways he couldn’t alone. Having a dog near him has  made going outdoors more fun and less scary. A victory!

Mrs. Smith said this is not unusual — that students who typically don’t enjoy time outside flourish when Hunter’s black, silky coat stands close by. He offers reassurance without words. Petting him allows kids to relax; to take a deep breath.

Hunter has proven so helpful, in fact, that students in Mrs. Smith’s classroom actually earn the right to sit by him while reading or earn the right to take him outside. For many students, that’s a powerful incentive to stay on track while in class. Time with Hunter has become a strong motivator to be respectful and behave appropriately.

Hunter was trained by West Michigan Therapy Dogs and has been used at Pinewood for a year. According to Mrs. Smith, not many other area school use animals as therapy, but she has found the benefits to be undeniable.

“I’ve had a student who so successfully managed his behavior with the help of Hunter that the parents of that student went out and got their own dog to have at home!”

Thank you, Mrs. Smith, for thinking outside the box and approaching the needs of our special education students with creativity and compassion. They are lucky to have you…and Hunter!