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!


High School Students Accept the Student Leadership Challenge

miii0113This fall, 40 Jenison High School students were invited to join a group of their peers known as the Student Leadership Challenge. Based on the book by Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes, students are encouraged to examine their own leadership actions and aspirations. They were nominated by the students who make up the Principal Advisory Board and the group meets once a month before the school day even begins – at 7am!

captureHigh School Principal, Dr Brandon Graham, sees the group as a way to develop leaders at the school and give a voice to those demonstrating leadership skills.  “We’re reading through the book, identifying ways they can improve their own personal leadership skills and the ultimate goal is to develop kids as leaders and bring that leadership into the school.”  As students are examining themselves, Dr Graham wants them to ask themselves about their every day choices and decisions. “Everything matters. How do you hold yourself to a higher standard?”

Throughout the year, the group would like to have members of the community who are successful in their positions visit the group and share what it takes to get there. By hearing from outside voices, Dr Graham hopes to inspire students to develop goals and find ways to work towards them, even now. “We look forward to continuing to elevate the leadership skills found in the kids at Jenison.”

Principal Advisory Board member and 12th grader, Ayesha Kothari, believes there is value in meeting and encouraging students to consider their role as a leader. From her personal experience of feeling anxious speaking in front of groups and now, finding it easier to manage, she wanted to be able to help others find ways to grow. “I think it’s important to foster leadership talents in kids that may not find a way to access it otherwise.” When the students were selected by the Advisory Board, Ayesha says “we saw ourselves  in those students and we wanted to reach out to them and access those leadership qualities.” They are studying the book by focusing on each of the five segments of the book and doing short, visual presentations on each portion and leading activities based on the reading.

miii0062Although 40 students were invited in October, Dr Graham says there is room for more. If you’re a high school student with interest in joining the Student Leadership Challenge, please talk to Dr Graham or any member of the Principal Advisory Board [Jafet Cruz, Alex Bennink, Ayesha Kothari, Tristan Milarch, Tabitha Hill].

Congratulations to the students rising to the Student Leadership Challenge! We believe and in all of your leadership skills and think it’s incredibly valuable that you continue to find ways to share them with us and your fellow students!




Emma Scott is 2016 Future Leader in the Making!

IMG_5113Earlier this month Jenison 8th grader, Emma Scott, was honored at GlenEagle Golf Club as the winner of the 2016 Future Leader in the Making Award! This is the first year for the award which was offered and presented by the Grandville-Jenison Chamber of Commerce.

Junior High Principal, Brett Cataldo [pictured below], attended the event but was also Emma’s nominator. “Emma is a positive, smart, compassionate young lady.  Emma is a leader by example in all of her classes.  She is a positive peer for students in her classes.  Emma sets an example of being a team player, respectful and exhibits the Cat Character Traits from JJHS – Caring, Integrity, Citizenship, and Self Discipline.”

Emma has taken full advantage of the opportunities at Jenison Junior High by participating in Choir, Orchestra, and advanced classes such as Challenge American History, and Advanced Math.  “She works extremely hard academically and brings the thinking in her classes to a higher level.  In addition is a talented singer and had a lead role last winter in our Junior High musical Once Upon A Mattress.  Emma also participated in softball.”IMG_4435

The idea for the award was prompted a few years ago after the community experienced the flooding and the eight year old son of a Chamber member took a leadership role with a weekend of cleanup. When the Chamber decided to move forward with the idea the age range of 13 – 17 year olds was established and the criteria for nomination were “for activities or significant contributions that resulted in the improvement and quality of life for the residents and or businesses of the Grandville/Jenison/GTWP Communities.”

Sandy LeBlanc, Executive Director of the Grandville-Jenison Chamber of Commerce had the difficult task of deciding between the eight candidates but says that Emma stood out because she “is a very well rounded student who excels not only academically but also in the arts, sports, and shares her talents singing to the elderly.  She sets the bar high for fellow students and is definitely a “Future Leader in the Making”.”

Emma, ‘congratulations’ from the entire JPS family! We are so proud of your hard work, talents and spirit of giving back. You exemplify what it means to be a Jenison Wildcat!

Junior High Students Get Future Career Help

MIII0187Earlier this month, 100 of our Jenison eighth graders were randomly selected to attend the MI Career Quest event held at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. Organized and hosted by West Michigan Works! and the Construction Workforce Development Alliance it was developed in response to employers’ need for future talent. Students were the targeted audience before opening the doors to perspective employees for more of a job fair atmosphere.

MIII0044With the goal of experiencing many careers in one day and having the opportunity to ask questions students loved the event. Junior High Principal, Brett Cataldo, accompanied the students and said, “Students asked many great questions of the professionals working at the event.  Some questions were about the training/schooling, hours worked each day/week, if they like their job, and where the business was located. Students were very responsive and really did a nice job exploring the jobs and asking quality questions.”


With almost 100 employers on site it was an excellent chance for students to consider a wider worldview to the ubiquitous question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The event was organized into four areas: construction, manufacturing, instructional technology and medical. “Interest was really high in the medical area with our students.”  Participants were able to take part inMIII0028 various activities with the businesses present including hands-on demonstrations, team competitions and engaging in one-on-one conversations with professionals, which incuded engineers, registered nurses, architects, electricians and HVAC technicians.

“Students are never too young to explore and gain exposure on the possible future careers.  An event like this is very motivating to students and makes all the work they are doing at school relevant.”

Whether it was seeing the inner-workings of a robotic arm or racing with a fire hose, this is a fantastic way for our students to begin exploring their interests, passions, talents and interests.

We can’t wait to see where your education and experiences take you in life!MIII0156







High School Girls Champion STEM for Elementary Students!


Peyton Benac with a Pinewood STEM student!

In the fall of 2014 Chemistry teacher Alice Putti had good reason to be impressed. She had been approached by two of her former students, sophomores at the time, who wanted to start a club for high school girls to visit Jenison Elementary schools and do STEM lessons. [STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics]

Peyton Benac and Alex Stockholm wanted to take their interest and passion in STEM education to younger girls but they knew they’d need faculty support and financial assistance to do it. But their goal to inspire and encourage students who like the STEM subjects motivated them to move forward and thanks to a grant from the Jenison Education Foundation they were able to launch their group!

They began meeting with other interested high school girls to discuss possible lessons and experiments and getting their hands dirty as they made prototypes. “We tried to get activities from all the STEM fields like math puzzles and an engineering challenge.” says Peyton.  The group visited each elementary school once this fall and 4 – 6 high school students lead the groups of younger students which has varied from 10 – 30 girls!  When one young student was asked her favorite part of STEM she quickly replied “math” but after doing an experiment with conductive play-doh she said, “I like science too.”

Peyton has been involved with Junior High and High School Science Olympiad and she would like to pursue a career in science education. Speaking of her experience on the Science Olympiad team, “I remember being a seventh grade girl and wishing there were role models. The problem isn’t that girls are less interested or less talented but they try it once and it’s weird, none of their friends are there, it’s uncomfortable, there’s no role models. So we wanted to create a program that would open that door for them and make it seem a little less scary.”

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Sandy Hill Girls in STEM!

In preparation for their presentations the team watched “a lot of TED Talks from women who have succeeded in STEM fields talking about what they went through when they were younger. We read parts of “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg talking about finding success in male dominated fields  and I think that gave us the background to want to do this with the elementary girls. We thought that we could provide that role model and tell them that we passionately love STEM and we think you should too…”  Ultimately, the group would love to see more female students stick it out in Science Olympiad, Robotics , AP Computer Science, AP Calculus or AP Stats.

Mrs Putti says that “from the beginning I was incredibly impressed when they came to me with this idea, to have the vision and goals they had and I thought, not only do I want to be supportive of you because you’re my students, but your goals are incredibly mature goals.”  In Jenison High School there are “more women taking life science classes such as Earth science and biology rather than physics or chemistry. There are less women in math and computer science than there are in sciences.”  With the new focus on STEM education teachers are hopeful that these numbers will change.  “I think the fact that they are being introduced to it early that is important. When we talk to girls at our STEM club meetings there are a lot of them that are excited about STEM but I would guess that at that level  those kids would have been excited about those subjects anyway. Our goal is to keep them excited.”

Peyton wants to encourage parents and other adults invested in girls’ lives to be thoughtful in how they are encouraged. “I think that everyone should be conscious of the passion that these young girls have for STEM and especially if they have young daughters to see that as kind of the best thing.”

If you’d like to encourage an elementary girl to attend the next STEM meeting please check out this flyer for the details and where to sign up!

Or if you’d like to find out how you can contribute to continuing the work of the Girls STEM Club in Jenison next year please contact Alice Putti: for information on their forthcoming Go Fund Me account!

Thank you to Alex, Peyton and Mrs Putti for being the role models our young girls need! We are so grateful that you pursued your goals and are investing in our future STEM leaders!


Pinewood Girls try to crack the code with a little encouragement from their high school mentor!


Rosewood Girls in STEM hard at work!


Pinewood girls conquer the engineering challenge!

Junior High Football Player Breaks Through Glass Ceiling

158WVHL112Eighth grader, Megan Strick, doesn’t really know what the big deal is.

She started playing football with her older brother and his friends when she was very little and fell in love with it. This passion led her to join the flag football team in first grade where she was dedicated for the next two years.

She loved it so much that she and her best friend, Macy, joined the third grade tackle football team through Cub Football and continued with that team through sixth grade.  Megan says her parents are “very supportive and they just love the sport and watching me.”

158WVHL099With the 2015 season wrapped up, Megan capped off her second year on the Jenison Junior High Football team as the first and only girl to play on the team but she’s humble about her place in Jenison football history: “It’s really fun and it’s nice to get to know all the guys.”

When Megan joined the Junior High team it was no surprise to the coaches. “They knew about me because I’ve been playing for so long and they were really happy and excited.”

MIII2007Megan plays Middle Linebacker, which, for those non-football fans, the goal of the linebacker is to provide either extra run protection or extra pass protection based on the particular defensive play being executed. It’s not an easy position and she is in every defensive play.  When the team is winning she gets to step in as Running Back and “score some touchdowns.”  If you think her teammates treat her any differently because of her gender, think again. “The guys treat me just like any other teammate, they treat me like a sister and I don’t have any hard times with them.”

When matched with other teams Megan doesn’t worry. “Some of the kids on the other teams want to hit me really hard but when they go through the game they know that I’m there to play and win.”

Megan does her best to be a well-rounded, star student. “I think that school is really important and I’m motivated by my coaches and teammates.  I like to play because I like to hit hard.”  Megan loves to play other sports as well including softball, basketball and volleyball.

According to one of Megan’s coaches, Karl Redmer, Megan’s role on the team has been integral.  “Megan has been an asset to our team and program. She models hard work for others, has a great attitude, is a team player, and executes every component of the game exactly how she is coached to do so….her contributions and commitment can not be measured.”

MIII2040In case there are other young women at Jenison considering their own career in traditionally male dominated sports, Coach Redmer says, “Any female that is thinking about joining a male dominated sport will have great success like Megan if they are willing to model the same characteristics that she has for the last few years.”

“I think most girls should join — girls can do anything they want to, boys aren’t bigger and better than girls, girls can do anything if they put their heart into it.”

Thanks to Megan, the phrase, “you play like a girl” has taken on a whole new meaning.

Way to go Megan!  We’re proud to call you a Wildcat!



Jenison Junior High Elects Student Officers


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The candidates stood nervously in the lobby of Jenison Junior High the morning of September 26.  After weeks of campaigning it was finally time to read their carefully prepared speeches over the loud speaker, hoping to sway their potential constituents with one final impassioned plea.

Faculty advisers, Kevin Fales and Mallory DeFouw were kept busy wrangling the nervous energy and doling out plenty of encouraging high fives.  When Mrs. Breen welcomed the school to the start of the day the student body was given some reminders for voting and one by one the students stepped to the microphone.  Each of the speeches were unique, mixing in rhymes and snazzy catch phrases, along with specific promises and plans for the year and letting their fellow students know of their qualifications for the job.

147 copyThe student body chose one representative from either the 7th or 8th grade classes for the officer positions:  President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.  Additionally, there are 16 — 18 Class Representatives elected to allow as many students as possible to be involved.  “We have a lot of great kids running for Student Congress this year; it’s going to be a very tough competition”.  — Mrs. Heather Breen, JJHS Vice Principal

8th Grader, Abby Smith, ran for Secretary because of her love of writing and she feels that her experience as a class representative last year will make her the best fit for the job. “I give everything I can to make the school a better place.”  Abby started her campaigning back in June and passed out bracelets, water bottles and even “Abby Smith” stickers on Starburst candies.

Treasurer candidate 8th grader, Mady Tease, was hoping her promise to fill the now-empty vending machines with healthy snacks, flavored water and Gatorade would sway some votes her way.  She would also like to see a Junior High Cat Pack take shape to support their many sports teams.  Another hot topic on Mady’s agenda is developing a new fundraiser to replace Donut sales that were a weekly fundraising mainstay until the new Smart Snacks in Schools initiative was passed this summer.

John Maday, 8th grader, another candidate for Secretary brings a year of experience as a Class Representative and he’s good at writing acknowledging that Language Arts is his best subject.

Owen Maurice, 8th grade Presidential candidate is already on his way to success with a firm handshake and strong eye contact!  He believes he’ll make the best President because he has great leadership qualities.  He wasn’t on the Student Council last year but his older sister was and he thought it looked fun so he decided to give it a try.

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Once elected, the Student Congress will be in charge of organizing two school-wide assemblies and planning fundraisers  to replace the ever-popular Donut sales.  One of the ideas that is being discussed early on is that students could buy a sticker which allows them to wear a hat or their pj’s for the day.  And the long-standing tradition of buying carnations on Valentine’s Day will be the responsibility of the Student Congress who are in charge of operating the sales tables, collecting money and organizing the distribution.  However, their biggest job for the year is organizing the “Your Change Can Change Hunger” campaign which takes place in mid-November. Last year Jenison Junior High was the leading school in the district and under the direction of Mrs. DeFouw, they “plan to maintain that”.

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Mrs. Defouw added, “No matter who gets elected it’s going to be a fun group that gets things done and I can see some of the ideas being put in place with this group of kids.”

Election Results:

President: Kelsey Bobeldyk
Vice President: Gabriel Herdegen
Secretary: John Maday
Treasurer: Mady Tease

Sydney Sigler, Yei-Rin Han, Danika Austin, Zach Avery, Scout Moran, Ethan Casarez, Elizabeth Tower, Owen Maurice, Nicholas Slagter, Alex Prus, Natalie Sytsma, Hannah Blake,
Isabelle Boonyasith, Emma Scout, Abby Smith, Megan TerHaar, Olivia Davis, Teddy Williams

2014 -- 2015 Jenison Jr High Elected Officers and Class Representatives!  Congratulations!

2014 — 2015 Jenison Jr High Elected Officers and Class Representatives! Congratulations!

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A congratulatory hug!

The hallways were covered with creative campaign posters!

The hallways were covered with creative campaign posters!

A student casts her all-important vote!

A student casts her all-important vote!

 Congratulations to all the students who ran and we’re excited to see what the elected group has for us this year!

Jenison Grads Contribute to MSU Rosebowl Win!

MSU Rosebowl

Josh Hoogendoorn [JHS ’12] and Luke Klawiter [JHS ’11] have lots of reasons to be smiling! Both are current students at Michigan State University, each following different academic paths but both found themselves coming alongside this year’s Championship football team at the Rose Bowl!

Josh is an accounting major and is acting as student-manager working with the defensive coaching staff, a role he plans to continue in next year.  Luke is an Athletic Training major [an offset of Kinesiology] who “got the lucky hand” by landing a role with the football team this year as part of his regular team training rotation.

Luke & Josh traveled with the team during their entire 13 – 1 season [8 – 0 in the Big Ten] including the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.  Luke said that while it was definitely a lot of work, he most enjoyed the behind the scenes nature of his job.  He was able to arrive at the Rose Bowl Stadium early and was awed by the empty 90,000 seats that would soon be filled with cheering MSU and Stanford fans.  One of the most important aspects of training the football team for the game in Pasadena, CA was hydration.  After being with the team for five months and building relationships with the players, Luke and his fellow student trainers had built the necessary rapport required when the athletes needed to be told to drink more water, especially when they themselves didn’t even realize.

Preparation for the game that was played in 70 degree temperatures was key for this Mid West team used to playing in much colder temps.  At the MSU practice field they pumped the temperature up to 110 degrees to get the players acclimated to the heat and need for extra water.

For Luke, being part of the Championship Team was “awesome” and his favorite team rotation so far.  However, he is quick to give credit for his success at MSU to the education he received at Jenison.  “I sing Jenison’s praises for how they prepared me every chance I get and I’m remembering things I learned in high school in upper level classes.”  He feels far ahead of his classmates and “wouldn’t trade the education I received for anything.”

“Josh and Luke were both exemplary students at Jenison High School!  They are dedicated and extremely hard working young men.  We are proud of them and excited to watch them achieve continued success.”
Dr. Brandon Graham, Jenison High School Principal

The entire district is proud of both of you!  Go Wildcats! Go Spartans!

JHS Senior Emily Garland a Record Quadruple DECA Qualifier!

Today, to help celebrate Ms. Garland’s achievements, we will be featuring Emily “in her own words.” It is worth noting that no other Jenison High School Student has ever achieved this level of success in DECA!

Dr. Clark had this to say, ” I am so proud that a student who has worked so hard, understood what it takes to compete at a district, state, and international level, and put in the time and effort needed to do all that work.  She is almost irreplaceable as one of the students I know that when handed any project, large or small, will get it done.  Beyond that she is the ideal student – intellectually curious, motivated, always positive, strong ethics, and a willingness to help wherever needed without complaining.”

We congratulate Emily’s diligence in pursuing excellence.

Emily Garland, DECA, Jenison High School, Jenison Public School

DECA allows you to meet people with the same passions as you from all over the country and, if you qualify for Internationals, from all over the world! I am a very shy person, but through DECA I have learned to get past being shy, to not let opportunities pass me by, and to become a leader.

DECA is a club to help develop the future business leaders of the world. One way it does this is through the competitions it has, such as the role plays where you are given an issue and you have ten minutes to plan out a solution to this.

The first event I worked for was the Stock Market Game. This was an investing simulation from September to December that was a part of my marketing class. We did research into stocks and made investments based on this. I had the 23rd best return out of over 2000 people which qualified me to compete in this event in the International Career Development Conference (ICDC).

The second competition I worked on was the School Based Enterprise in November up until January. I worked with two other people to write a 60 page paper on our new coffee shop, The Green Bean. When this got gold certification (which is the highest it could receive), I had another opportunity to compete at ICDC. I chose not to compete in this and instead give my spot to someone else who had not qualified.

Another event was THRIVE Academy which functioned in conjunction with DECA week. I helped my team mates in some of the daily events such as painting the rock, asking trivia at lunch, and working a DECA question table. In the end they chose that I would get one of the spots.

The last event I qualified in was Principles of Finance. In March I was a state champion in this role play competition along with four other people out of 70 people total. This was the final competition that I qualified for. Quadruple Qualifying means that I qualified in four separate events to go to the International Career Development Conference in Anaheim California. This means that I got to pick which event I’d want to compete in; I chose to go with the Stock Market Game.

I’d like to thank Dr. Clark for helping me so much in every project I’ve done. She allowed me to work on these projects during her classes and was always there for questions that I had. Dr. Clark has helped me become a leader and be the best I can be. This is my first year in DECA but it is because of Dr. Clark that I’ve done what I’ve done. I never thought I would be an officer and I never thought I would get the opportunity to go to California, but her support helped me to achieve so much more than I thought I ever could.

This fall I will be starting my first semester of college at Aquinas. I plan on studying business and work towards starting a collegiate DECA. I’m sad that high school DECA will be done, but I believe that the experiences it has given me will help me to excel in college and in my future career.

Jenison’s 6th Grade ACT Students Say “Goodbye”

It was a warm spring day when Jenison’s sixth grade ACT students filed into Karen Weaver’s classroom for the final time. The mood was thankful. Innocent.

Next year they’ll find themselves moving from room to room in a much larger school, but deep down they’ll always be knit together. They’ll always be family. That’s because this handful of students has been learning and growing together since they began their third grade year.

This past year was a special one for ACT and for the community they touched. Working together, the classes began a Kindness Project. They brainstormed ways to show compassion to individuals who needed an extra smile or a helping hand, and then they encouraged the recipient to “pass it on.”

What began with collecting phone books for Habitat for Humanity slowly expanded to include gathering canned goods, preparing meals for elderly neighbors, and planting money in geocaching locations, to name a few. With students directing 90% of the projects, Mrs. Weaver guided and reminded them that “…kindness is the right thing to do!”

Students involved in the ACT program have shown gifts in the areas of academic studies, leadership, creativity, and motivation. Once admitted, they spend one morning or one afternoon a week with Mrs. Weaver in a small setting which focuses heavily on mathematics, logical thinking, creative problem solving, and project-based learning. They also compete in the Continental National Math Competition regularly, and this year’s 4th grade was recognized as having the highest score in the midwest!

But more than the accomplishments or projects,  the one resounding message shared by these kids was that they’ll miss this place of safety and inclusion. One student shared, “It’s very comfortable to be in here — it’s always fun to learn something new.”

Another admitted, “I can be myself. I don’t have to worry about fitting in. People accept me here.”

After years of operating like pseudo brothers and sisters, these kids now feel the sting that comes with change.  And what they’ll miss most is the teacher who helped the pieces fit together a little bit tighter; who sat close by while they wrestled through a challenge or brainstormed a different solution to an old problem.

They’ll miss the teacher who delivered an extra slice of sunshine every week to kids who couldn’t wait to bask in the light.

“I can’t remember school without ACT. It’s going to be really sad to leave. You just feel warm and happy being in here … and so much is because of Mrs. Weaver.”