Junior High Goes Boo! For Halloween

MIII1548 copyThe rain may have been falling outside on Halloween this year but that was no obstacle for Jenison Junior High Student Congress and their Halloween festivities!
Student Congress faculty advisers Kevin Fales and Mallory DeFouw oversee the leadership of the students as they plan and execute a fun event for the entire school.  “The kids involved with Student Congress are in charge of planning games that get lots of kids involved. Our members pick up the materials needed for the assembly and during the assembly they are in charge of running each event. They make sure each event goes smoothly and we have some students help explain the events with the microphone while others demonstrate how the game works.” says Mr Fales.

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“As advisers we help guide the kids to what games have worked in the past. We help the kids realize what materials are needed to run each event. During the assembly we guide the kids so it runs smoothly.”

 There are a lot of activities throughout the day including the opportunity for students to express themselves with their favorite costumes!  Mr Fales adds,  “We encourage our kids to dress up and have lots of fun celebrating such a fun day. During both lunches the teachers judge costumes. The categories range from cutest to scariest. The last two hours of the day our JJHS Student Congress lead the assembly. We plan out fun games that get the maximum number of students involved. We play music and get the gym rocking!”
To encourages some healthy competition, costumes are judged by the staff members each lunch. “We ask all staff to come down half way through their lunches grab a ballot, walk around to all the categories and pick the favorites. It’s a lot of fun to see all the creativity today, we usually get some awesome group costumes, really scary ones, and other great winners! I tally up the ballots and we announce the winners during the assembly by calling them down to the center of the gym. Each winner gets a large bag of candy….we had a lot of candy brought in this year from our student congress members so they got a pretty stuffed bag this year!”
MIII1551 copy“It’s a long stretch of serious hard work when starting school until this assembly. This allows kids to take small break from tough academic work and have some fun. Kids pair up and plan costumes together, get excited in the halls when they see a peers excellent creativity on costumes, and cheer each other on during the games played. We usually have students cheering for kids they never knew walked these halls and might make a few new friends today because they found a common interest, etc. The student congress members get to see their hard work and planning pay off while everyone is having a good time participating in the games they planned and gathered supplies for. Over the years we have found that this is a nice bridge from parading the halls in elementary school, to still wanting to be kids and have fun on Halloween at school. Kids are well behaved, yet excited for this opportunity to compete in a friendly competition all while being dressed up! Teachers love dressing up too! We usually talk over lunch about what we will dress as, and it’s a good time for everyone!” – Mrs DeFouw
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Thanks for another great Halloween, Student Congress!

Pinewood Offers Terrific After-School Options for Students

It may have been the bananas and apples that got them going after school, but it was certainly the encouragement they received from Principal Rachael Postle-Brown that kept them moving forward. That’s because these students are staying after school with a goal: to increase reading fluency and mathematical know-how. And they’re doing it with the help of dedicated volunteers from  Grand Valley State University, parents, and their principal.

Jenison Public Schools, Pinewood Elementary, After School Support

Pinewood Elementary School’s math and reading support groups offer the additional academic practice some students need to hone skills and solidify new concepts. They explore strategies covered in class but approach them in new ways to increase their staying power. Using dice to conceptualize mixed numbers and working with number cubes to reinforce the significance of numerators and denominators were just two of the activities planned for this session.

Jenison Public Schools, Pinewood Elementary, After-School support

Principal Rachael Postel-Brown works with math students after-school.

While students whose learning styles are more tactical and hands-on appreciate the a more creative take on math, Mrs. Postel-Brown says it’s not just the techniques employed that help make the math stick — it’s the fact that parents are involved in supporting the process.

“Our parents are fantastic and so encouraging! We do our best to keep the lines of communication open and work together.”

The other component of the academic after-school program is focused on reading fluency. Mark Boersma, a Master’s Student at GVSU, uses the Read Naturally curriculum to help strengthen comprehension and reinforce the use of expression in reading.

“I’ve noticed a definite change,” Mr. Boersma says. Right now we’re working on writing summary responses and are focusing on punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. We’re monitoring their progress, and by using a lot of repetition and reading interesting stories, we’re making advances.” 

Mr. Boersma works with a student on reading fluency.

Mr. Boersma works with a student on reading fluency.

Over in the Pinewood gym, Dee Perry is providing care and individualized attention to kids in the before- and after-school program.  Affectionately called “Mrs. D” by her students, this beloved woman spends her energies not on academics (although they do read many books!), but on  childcare.

With hours of care from 6:45- 9 in the morning and again from 3:45 – 6 after school, Mrs. Perry has spent the last decade loving kids by providing them with a quiet reading space, help with homework, a snack to munch on, and playtime right at Pinewood Elementary. Currently there are forty-two students registered and thirty-eight actively attending. “Mrs. D” says she can’t wait to be with her group each and every day; they have truly become “her kids.”

“I just love interacting with and working with the kids! They make me laugh. I love seeing them grow and advance as people. It’s a great job!”

Jenison Public Schools, Pinewood Elementary, After-School supportWe applaud the dedicated time and effort that these adults invest in the lives of our students! They are indeed helping to shape our future!

JHS Homecoming Pride Rally in Pictures

There was more than the wind howling last week Friday! Jenison High School’s gymnasium was alive with raucous laughter and excited cheering as students prepared for the 2012 Homecoming festivities.

This “Pride Rally”, organized by student congress advisors Julie Roby, Tracy Mossburger and Chuck Russell, along with Principal Brandon Graham, is part of a bigger focus on fostering school pride through participation in school events. Each grade level is awarded “Pride Points” when they dress up for Spirit Week, for example, and those points are recorded and tallied throughout the year. At the end of each school year, the class with the most points is invited to take part in a picnic celebration complete with carnival games.

“Creating an environment of pride in our school and in belonging to something bigger than any one individual has been a culture-changing element at Jenison High School. Kids take responsibility for things they’re proud of, and it shows in the hallways, in our classrooms, and on the playing fields, ” Principal Brandon Graham said.

This year’s rally began with a wonderful band performance before Homecoming Court introductions were made. Students were escorted by meaningful teachers in their lives while a short biography was read about each of them. Performances by the high school dance and cheer teams followed.

The festivities culminated in the opportunity for students to win pride points for their class in a “Mystery Food” competition. Students chosen to represent each grade were asked to make their way through stations where a brown paper bag awaited them. Inside the bag were several food items for them to blindly draw out. Whatever item was selected had to be eaten, and the class who completed all four stations first, won!

It’s amazing what school pride will compel students to eat! Seen here: hot peppers!

Yum! Cold ravioli!

Interspersed throughout the afternoon were trivia questions and ovations for new students. But after the contests ended and the students sat down, the sentiment that remained on display was a fervor for Jenison, for a community of friends, and for the school these students love.

On display was pure Wildcat pride.

What Homecoming festivities were you able to attend? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!

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.”

JPS DECA Students Top in the Nation!

(L to R) Ethan Gechoff, Nikole Birdsall, Taylor Achterhoff

When Ethan, Nikole, and Taylor first clicked open the Deloitte Virtual Team Challenge this winter, they never thought their work would bring them acclaim as one of the premier teams in the nation! With well over 400 high school teams competing, their third place finish lands them at the top of the class!

As part of Dr. Clark’s business class, students teamed up and dove into Deloitte’s challenge to enter an online “virtual” city that was recently affected by an oil spill. As leaders of a fictitious non-profit agency, each team was charged to raise money to clean up their city, research the backgrounds of agencies that could be hired to do the work of controlling the ecological disaster, and investigate and identify a charity insider who was secretly siphoning money from the group.

Teams were judged on total overall money “raised” for the charity group. That means that their research into clean-up agencies, for instance, was paramount. Did they secure workers at the best price possible? Did they stop the insider from stealing from the charity?…and after how much money was taken? These things, and more, contributed to the end dollar figure that determined the contest winners.

After three weeks of work together, this team of seniors rang in $212,053!! 

Nikole speculated on their work, “What I think we perhaps did better than other teams was to do our research well. We used the provided tools like an online dictionary and we interviewed correctly so we hired workers at the right price.”

Dr. Brenda Clark explains the intricacies of the DECA challenge.

Dr. Clark estimated that teams contributed 10-12 hours of work to complete the challenge, which, incidentally, is the first of its kind ever attempted by Jenison business students.

“I loved that this project forced students to consider environmental and ethical factors such as finding the right people to hire and making wise decisions about terminating employment. There are endless ways in which ethics play into business, and the Deloitte challenge encompassed many of them,” Dr. Clark explained.

For their third place finish, Deloitte donated $500 to our local United Way chapter, as well as giving each of the three team members $50. Dr. Clark received $50 for classroom supplies and the high school was given $50 for technology, all courtesy of Deloitte!

(photo courtesy of Dr. Brandon Graham)

Adding to the excitement in the high school business department is the amazing work of seniors Nikole Birdsall and Levi Adrianson on the National Financial Literacy Challenge. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Treasury with the hopes of increasing financial literacy in high schoolers nationwide, this test was taken by all JHS business students and 80,000 students nationwide!

Levi Adrianson and Nikole Birdsall

For the first time in JPS history, both Nikole and Levi scored 100% on this test! Furthermore, their scores have placed them  in the running for one (each) of twenty-five scholarships given to college-bound students.

Our sincere congratulations to the terrific work of Dr. Clark and her business students! We are proud of your exceptional accomplishments!

Jenison Junior High Works to Curb Invasive Species

Jenison Junior High Students give back to the community.

What began at Michigan State University as the research and prevention of another invasive species, has sprawled into an opportunity for students to become environmental stewards and active community members.

Last week, over seventy-five students and a handful of teachers led by Mrs. Graham made their way to Hager Park and spent the after-school hours scouring the brush and wooded trails for Garlic Mustard: an invasive weed threatening to overtake native Michigan plants and flowers.

First brought to “the New World” by Europeans to season their food, Garlic Mustard is edible, but it also monopolizes the resources other plants need to grow and flourish. It additionally releases a toxin into the soil that is harmful to other nearby species. Michigan’s lovely Trillium is one example of a flower suffering at the hands of this unwelcome forest neighbor.

A Jenison student removes an armful of Garlic Mustard.

Jenison Schools were first made aware of the opportunity to help control this species when Melanie Manion, an Ottawa County Parks staffer, contacted Mrs. White at our high school and suggested Hager Park as a place to make a difference. The benefits of proximity and community were not lost; Mrs. White’s ecology class conducted field work as part of an invasive species project this past fall.

Eager to offer junior high students the opportunity to apply their biology lessons to real-life environmental situations, Mrs. Graham collaborated with Mrs. White to form what is now a 3-year partnership between Ottawa County Parks and JPS. 

“We’ve committed to limit invasives as much as possible,” Mrs. Graham explained.  A difficult task, to be sure, considering that each plant holds an estimated 3,000 seeds!

[Students L to R]: Brianna Weaver, Kayleigh Weaver, Hannah Veltman, Carol Ayers

Students are able to walk to Hager after school, bags in tow and hands ready to pull by the root. One students shared that she “…used to go to Hager Park a lot and didn’t want to see it overrun.” Others, including Hannah and Carol in the above photo, used the afternoon to take pictures for the Photography Club and hone their skills in a wooded setting with shadows and light.

Regardless of why they came, everyone pitched in and the group left with 23 huge bags filled with the plant! 

That means that Hager Park is inching closer to the natural state we love and want to preserve.

It means that our students are applying classwork to the work they do with their hands; it means they’re making our planet their laboratory.

And that, friends, is science at its best.

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Thank you to all the teachers involved in making this partnership a success, and to Mrs. Hunt, of the JJHS Photography Club, for the photos. Additionally, kudos to the group from Pinewood Elementary who successfully pulled one bag of Garlic Mustard from the park!

Lexi Kapla & Kimmie Hammink Haul plants from the Hager trail.

Soup’s On!

Last week Thursday evening Jenison Junior High did more than serve soup to hungry parents and students; they took a few small steps to help change lives for the folks at God’s Kitchen.

Since 2004 the Junior High has used the Student Showcase & Soup Supper to raise over $7,500 to benefit the Grand Rapids’-based charity that provides hot meals to the Heartside District every day. In addition to the financial support, a can drive offered extra blessings to those relying on help to “fill their soup bowl.”

Mr. Greenwood, art and ceramics teacher, uses his ceramics class to sculpt bowls during each of his 9-weeks classes. This year he was able to collect 220 bowls that were purchased by JJHS diners, but with the great turnout, the handmade bowls sold out half-way through the event!

Gabbi Vachon, Mr. Cataldo, and Ally Douglass (L to R) serve soup together.

Students in Mrs. Williams Teen Leadership class graciously acted as “cooks in the kitchen” by serving the food.  The Teen Leadership class promotes servant leadership both in and out of class, teaching kids what it means to lead, how to do so, and how servant leadership can help society. This class is also responsible for the annual “Legacy Project” which aims to leave a mark on the junior high by doing something that will make school easier for the next incoming class.

Ally Douglass

I spent some time speaking with Ally Douglass, one of the members of the Teen Leadership class who was all smiles. She noted that, “Putting others before yourself for the good of others is what we spend a lot of time learning about. It’s a lot easier to understand others once you understand servant leadership because you consider the problem on its own before getting yourself involved.”

In addition to the supper, students had the opportunity to showcase their best work in every subject area throughout the building. Science Olympiad, the Photography Club, history classes, and several others had displays out for visiting parents and community members to see.

Mrs. Mervenne’s Cooking 101 class was eager to show off their culinary creations and share their delicious cookies and cakes.

The students in Cooking 101 not only learn how to make spaghetti, all varieties of eggs, breakfast foods, and fajitas, they also spend time discussing the proper way to set a table, take inventory of the kitchen, and properly clean up and sanitize a cooking space.

Students Shelby Nyboer, Camryn Bowman, and Allie Stob (pictured above L to R) are on a cooking team together and have loved the experience of working as a group and learning how to make good food together. Their work reminds us all that with a little teamwork and the willingness to create something sweet, great things can emerge!

Kudos to the junior high for their efforts to relieve local hunger and make a difference in the world outside their door. We are proud of you!

“Stay Classy, Jenison!”

This summer a handful of students and teachers came up with an idea they believed had the power to revolutionize Jenison High School. It wasn’t complicated, it didn’t cost anything, and it didn’t come from a motivational speaker. Instead, it challenged students to be respectful of the school, of one’s self, and to always put their best foot forward.

The challenge was to “Stay Classy, Jenison!” Who knew two words would become the language of a high school? The “brand” of its students?

Jenison High School student congress members with 2012 staff advisors.

This year’s student congress, comprised of 47 students representing all four grades, have spearheaded several school-wide events such as Homecoming, Powder Puff, Monster Mash Dance, Your Change Can Change Hunger, and NHS Christmas Giving to name a few. Spring will bring Earth Day Activities and Graduation, and student congress will be there from start to finish.

The common thread through it all? Elevating the ordinary so that it is extraordinarily classy. It’s the new norm; the new expectation.

Connecting students around this “brand” has been made easy with the school’s “Stay Classy” bulletin board. It received a fresh coat of paint this summer and is now the hub for all school student council-led activities. Need a sign-up sheet? Check the Stay Classy Board. Want to see the new T-shirts? Check the board!

Advisor Tracy Mossburger recently shared that several students have approached her, thanking her for this central meeting point. What’s more, the work that Mrs. Mossburger and fellow advisors Mrs. Roby and Mr. Russell do to recognize students makes them the heart of the movement.

Mr. Russell, Mrs. Roby, Mrs. Mossburger

For example, did you know that at each dance all three advisors spend the evening canvassing the dance floor snapping pictures of as many kids as possible?  The goal: make each kid famous by catching them having fun and then posting their photo on the Stay Classy board. After a week or so, students are invited to grab their photos for a fun souvenir.

Kids aren’t the only ones talking about this new kind of school pride—parents and community members are noticing, too.  Parents are seeing that small steps toward excellence yield considerable gain. They’re seeing that reshaping attitudes at school, from hallways to homework, means greater care and affection is shown everywhere.

We’re so fortunate to not only have a group of students committed to excellence, but a trio of advisors who inspire and motivate kids to strive for their best each day.

Thank you, student congress, for keeping us classy!

Student Technology Forums

How many of you reading this would struggle through the day if you left the house without your cell phone? Or if your laptop was broken?

Would you feel like part of you was missing?

We’re finding that our students can often times relate! They have been raised in a digital age where many have been given cell phones well before a driver’s license, and educators are realizing that we must begin to meet them where they’re at. To listen; to strive for mutual understanding.

So this winter we reached out to both Jenison High School and Jenison Junior High students for their input. A select group of kids has been interacting with district leaders, teachers, and myself around the issue of technology and how to best allocate our bond dollars in that arena.

I like how Dave Tchozewski, JPS Director of Information Technology explained our goal: “We want to give students a voice with how we proceed with implementing technology in the district. We want to ask the questions, ‘How do you live in your world–and how can the school meet you where you live?'”

Mr. Tchozewski and I stressed to the students that many factors go into making decisions of this magnitude, such as gathering staff input and considering the guidance offered by our technology advisor, consultant Bret Emerson of Commtech Design.

We noted that our efforts in spending the bond money are two-fold. Our goals are:

  • to improve infrastructure to accommodate the numerous devices being brought to school with permission from a teacher and for educational reasons (Netbooks & laptops from home, smart phones, iPads, etc.)
  • to update current technologies to make learning easier and more seamless for students.

Years ago we asked students to “power down” when they got to school. The message we sent, inadvertently, was that from 8 am – 3 pm, they had to change the way they interacted with the world; change the way they gathered information and formed opinions about current events.

What we’re realizing in this forum process is that boundaries still exist and boundaries are still necessary.

However, we’re realizing more than ever that part of our job is to prepare kids to succeed in a world full of digital devices. 

Our job is to help them develop intelligent filters for what they read and see.

Our job is to get them ready to take the next steps as lifelong learners.

And right now, that means we are learning from them.

Question for the Community: How have you seen the demand for technology skills increase in your own workplace?