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.

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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.

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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!

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Say “Hi” to New Teachers!

This year we welcomed 23 new staff members to the Jenison family! Here you can meet some of them and feel free to say “hi” in person when you cross paths!

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Anna Flood  |  Burlsey, 6th Grade

“I grew up in the area and have always heard amazing things about Jenison. As a new teacher to the district, I have noticed the strong community and support that surrounds education. I am excited to grow with my group of 6th grade students, and watch them use their abilities to be successful.”

 

mcelweeAlexa McElwee  |  Bursley Interventionist
“I have grown up in this community.  Living in Hudsonville, attending GVSU and now working in Jenison, I have seen this community from so many sides.  From being a child, to a student, and now as a educator.  This community stands behind you and support you in every way.  When I graduated the one thing I knew I wanted in the school I worked for was a huge community involvement.  When I accepted my position in Jenison, I knew I was going more than a community, I was joining a family.  Jenison is such an amazing school district who wants the best for the students and their families.

On the first day of school I was feeling like most students do when they walk in the door, nervous, anxious and excited.  I definitely had first day jitters.  I was nervous for joining a new team and for meeting new students who have never seen me before.  By the end of they day I was getting high fives and lots of hugs from all the Kindergartners as they walked by my room to head to the bus.  To see their faces light up each morning when they see me in the hall or working with them makes me so excited to see the relationships that are being formed.  This is going to be a great year.”

vandebergJosh VandeBerg  |  Sandy Hill, 4th Grade

“My family and I are very excited to return to the area!  My wife Amanda and I are from the area, but moved to Florida 9 years ago. We have 4 children Ben (10), Abigail (9), Hannah (6), and Levi (3).  All of our extended family lives in the area and my children are thrilled to live by their cousins.

I am a big believer of living in the community that I teach in.  Jenison is an amazing place to live and raise a family.  The schools are top-notch and we can’t imagine a better place to be. I am so excited for this school year because everyone that I work with truly cares about each other.  The district leaders, the team at Sandy Hill, and everyone I meet throughout the district is amazing. Jenison has a lot to offer its students.  I am currently involved in the robotic’s program and we have a blast using what we’ve learned in the classroom to solve a problem.

willieMaura Willie  |  Elementary Music

“I was drawn to JPS because of their excellence in music. I love how the district and community supports the arts in their schools. So far, I’m most excited for the year because of all of the collaboration I’ve seen. Everyone I’ve come into contact with has been eager to help each other and work together. ”

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Jenny Huizenga  |  High School Math
“I was drawn to JPS because my children attend JPS and I love the schools and the community.  I am excited to be teaching in the community where I live.  The staff and students are amazing at Jenison and I am looking forward to getting to know everyone and get involved. “

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Bridget Ehlich  |  Bursley Elementary, 6th Grade Spanish Immersion

“I was drawn to JPS by the reputation it has in the Greater Grand Rapids area as forward educators. I am excited about the year because I have already felt welcomed by the community and can tell that this is a good place to be as an educator.”

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Dustin Morley  |  Junior High ELA
“I first heard about Jenison Public Schools while I attended Grand Valley State University ten years ago and heard nothing but good things about the district and community ever since. After moving from the Detroit area to West Michigan I was very excited when a long-term substitute position opened at Jenison Junior High. The building and district felt like home for me from the first interview for that position.  After being a long-term substitute for a year and a half, I couldn’t be happier to now be a full time teacher at Jenison Junior High School. I’m particularly looking forward to getting more involved with the school and community this year.”

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Rachel Nichols  |  ECC Special Education

“I was looking for a district that wanted to everything possible to benefit their students. I talked to some friends and they all were so pleased with Jenison and what they are doing.  So far it has been great everyone has been so friendly and welcoming it has been an amazing start to 2016/2017 school year and I am excited to continue!!!”
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Anna Siegel  |  Pinewood + Sandy Hill Special Education

“What drew me to JPS is the success of the district and the sense of community. I am in two different elementary buildings throughout the day this year, and so I am excited to interact with many different staff and students this year!”
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Kristen Dantonio  |  Pinewood, 5th Grade

“I was drawn to Jenison because I was told that it was a district that cared about people. It is a district that puts relationships first and I knew that I wanted to be part of that. I am most excited to get to know my students and coworkers at Pinewood. It has been a great year so far and I am excited to see how those relationships will grow.”

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Christina Salinas  |  Rosewood, 6th Grade Spanish Immersion

“The wonderful Jenison community and Spanish Immersion program drew me to JPS.  This year I am excited to see students continue to grow in their literacy skills in Spanish and English.  I am also excited to work with the supportive teachers and staff at Rosewood Elementary. I have learned so much from them already. Their dedication and passion for teaching is contagious!”

We’re so thankful for all of our teachers and all that they do for our students and families! Thank you to the new teachers for bringing your talents and passion to Jenison!

Pinewood 6th Graders Work to Solve Real-World Problem on Maplewood Lake

img_1942E. coli is not anyone’s favorite topic. In fact, it’s probably not discussed openly in polite company. Certainly, if you had an E. coli problem you wouldn’t want anyone to know. And that’s exactly what the students in Lori Barr’s 6th grade class last year decided to change.

In 2009 Georgetown Township closed Maplewood Lake to swimming due to E. coli concerns and removed the sandy beach, installing instead, a splash pad for Jenison families to enjoy the park and still get relief from summer heat.

img_1968Last year, Mrs Barr wanted to be proactive about project-based learning and design thinking for her students. How can they be prepared for the needs of the real-world workplace like leadership, idea creation and problem solving? She approached the township and asked if there was a problem they would like explored or even solved? When Supervisor, Dale Mohr told her that he wished people could swim in Maplewood Lake again, she took the issue to her students and they accepted the challenge!

With the help of local non-profits such as Groundswell and LGROW [The Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds], as well as Creek Connections at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania the students set out to perform water tests to determine how run-off effects our drinking water. Students tested for the presence of nitrogen, phosphorous and seven other paramaters and eventually, for E. coli.

LGROW asked Mrs Barr, “Are you sure you want to do E. coli?” and she responded, “I know I want to do E. coli” to which they told her, “Okay, no teacher has ever asked to do something this big.”

img_2275The organization had the students begin their project by designing door hangers that educated the community on the dangers and immediate implications for run-off and “how to dispose of things properly on your land and what choices to make with your  gardening and your lawn to avoid the phosphorous and nitrogen build up and what would cause the water quality to be compromised for the wildlife and organisms living there.”

Meanwhile, students spent five weeks collecting data from three different sites around Maplewood Lake for the E. coli tests and Georgetown Township offered to analyze their findings. They were feeling fairly confident with what they had found until a major water event occurred [such as a heavy rain] and the E. coli numbers went up significantly. They needed to figure out why.

img_2278However, the school year was drawing to a close and the baton would need to be passed to this year’s 6th grade class to continue the project. Mrs Barr needed new testing kits and, again, with the help of Creek Connections, she wrote up a quote and posted their project on DonorsChoose.org in the hopes of raising the money for their continued research. Mrs Barr came to find out that Tom’s of Maine has an arrangement with Donors Choose to match the donations of any funded project that will go toward a green classroom project that qualifies, which ours did. Thankfully, the project was fully funded but the story wasn’t over yet…

This past June, Mrs Barr was notified that the project was also selected to be part of the Top Ten by judges [including Kevin Jonas for your Jonas Brothers Fans!] and be in the running for prizes ranging from $25,000 to $2,000. But they need your help!

If you’ve been inspired by the work our 6th graders [and we certainly hope you have been!] you can support them in the Tom’s of Maine Green Your School competition for a chance to win $25,000! All you have to do is click on the link below and vote every day until Oct 31. Just click:  Tom’s of Maine competition and scroll for “No Swimming Allowed…Whaaat?!” and click on VOTE. Please share with friends and family.

Thank you to Mrs Barr for being a passionate teacher who challenges her students to think beyond the textbook and classroom! Thank you to our partners who made this project possible! And of course, thank you to the 6th grade students past and present who will continue to work for the good of Jenison and Maplewood Lake! Don’t ever give up! We are Jenison!

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New Teacher Highlights at Jenison High School

We welcomed many new teachers to the district this year and this week we’d like to introduce you to two new teachers at JHS!

Kyle Stumpf | Social Studies

293072_486577028021586_1074417696_nKyle grew up on the East side of the state and is in his sixth year of education after graduating from GVSU.  Previously, he taught US History in Houston, Texas but he was drawn back to West Michigan by several of his friends who student taught in Jenison and stressed how welcoming and passionate the teachers are. “One thing that many of the new teachers, including myself, have noticed and discussed is how family oriented and friendly the environment is in the district.”

IMG_8046 (1)He didn’t always know he wanted to be a teacher. “I was a strong  history student growing up and had a wide variety of Social Studies teachers [good and bad] along the way.  When I went to Grand Valley for my freshman orientation and switched my major from International Business, I knew I wanted to be involved in education since I loved working with children.  I’ve always had a passion for Social Studies and one of my old Social Studies teachers used to say “Follow your passion” on a daily basis so I figured, why not?  I have been very happy with that switch ever since freshman orientation!” This year, Kyle is teaching American Government and US History.

“One thing I would like parents to know about my classroom and teaching style is that it’s student centered.  I want each and every student to be successful in my classroom.  The lessons and ideas gained from the Social Studies discipline are with you for the rest of your life.  I want students to be life long learners of the Social Studies disciplines and I hope that by the variety of activities that we do in my class, those values can be instilled in them.”

Drawing on his vast history as an accomplished high school and collegiate-level swimmer he joins the Jenison coaching staff as the head coach for the Girls Swim Team and co-head coach of the Boys Swim Team.  When Kyle isn’t in the classroom or the pool he enjoys spending time with his wife, Caitlin, and their dog, Molly. He also competes in half marathons and triathlons.

Tony Hoffman  |  Math

IMG_3116Tony originally hails from the “thumb” of Michigan and graduated from Michigan State [fitting for today, Go Spartans!]. He has been teaching in Greenville for the past eleven years but a member of the Jenison community for five. “JPS attracted me as a professional because I’ve heard nothing but good things about [the district] since I moved.  I had even heard they use the University of Chicago Mathematics Program and I had been using that for several years in my previous district.  All signs pointed to a nice transition.”

Always being interested in math, his career was a natural choice. “I was a strong math student growing up, but I realized quite a bit later that I was good at it, but I didn’t fully understand what I was doing.  The world of math grew tremendously as I started to make bigger connections between what I was doing and previous things that I had done.  Once those connections become apparent, math becomes a much more beautiful thing!”

If you’re in Mr Hoffman’s classes, students can be prepared to work hard and be challenged to problem solve on their own. “My teaching style is one of getting students to realize what they are doing.  Not strictly showing them what to do.  I don’t like to shut of the many paths of problem solving by showing only a single way to do something. I believe in giving them options because there really is confidence in having several different approaches to solving the same problem.  Students will certainly earn their grade in my class.  What they put in, they will get out!”

Tony is an “avid golfer” and loves spending time with his wife and two daughters.

Thank you to all of our new teachers for bringing your passion for students and education to Jenison! Happy New Year from our families to yours!

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.
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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
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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!

ACT Teacher Julie Clark on The Today Show!

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Julie Clark brings Wildcat Pride to New York’s Rockefeller Center!

It all began when Pinewood Principal, Rachael Postle-Brown nominated Julie Clark and the ACT program for The Today’s Show’s “Cool School” feature.  Ms. Postle-Brown knew she was an ideal candidate for a story because “Julie is very creative when it comes to her lesson planning. She is always looking for new and exciting ways to get the students engaged.  Julie also is very focused on teaching content standards and challenging the students. This combination ensures her lessons are covering necessary content while keeping students excited and connected to the experiences.”

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Julie Clark introducing a new lesson in her classroom.

The ACT program, or ACademically Talented, is housed at Pinewood Elementary and Ms. Clark works with just over 200 Jenison students in third through sixth grades.  “The program gives a chance for our students to challenge themselves and push beyond the traditional classroom limits.  It is an opportunity for them to bond with students from other buildings and build a community based on loving learning and academic excellence.  We provide an array of supports and interventions for students who are struggling and we want to be sure we are offering the same supports to students who are excelling. Our job as educators is to meet every student where they are at and to help them grow and go further. ACT let us do that for our gifted learners.” – Ms Postle-Brown

Mrs. Clark’s visit to NBC’s The Today Show featured her and current ACT third grader, Morri McCluggage, as well!  They featured her lesson on using carnival games to to teach probability and had constructed Morri’s game to be played on the show.  In the classroom, students played “various games [such as dice games, board games, card games, etc.] in which we explored data collection, measures of central tendency, theoretical and experimental probabilities of the games, the likelihood of winning, fractions, and percents. The students were asked to show what they learned by developing their own carnival games and rules.”

As part of this culminating activity, we invited parents and other classrooms to play our games. The ACT students put on their “teacher hats” by asking players to make predictions about the likelihood of winning their games, teaching the mathematics involved, and explaining whether or not their game was “fair.” In the end, the students were able to showcase their learning through a hands-on, team, or self-led project.”

When Morri was asked to join her beloved teacher on the show her response she couldn’t believe it.  “When Mom asked me in my head I said,”WAAAAAAAAA, this is just a dream. I will wake up now.” Then I pinched myself on the face hard.Neutral FaceSmiling face with open mouth Turns out it was real. It felt awesome.Thumbs up signSmiling face with smiling eyes”  [Emoji’s her own.]

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Proud ACT Students!

Morri was joined by her dad in NYC and Mrs Clark by her husband.  They didn’t get a lot of time to sight see but did have the opportunity to experience the behind-the scenes action of TV!  “[Last Wednesday morning we] headed over to the “green room” for hair and make-up. Imagine our delight when Tom Brokaw and John Cena sat right between us! To top that off, Lionel Richie was warming up in a room behind our chairs. Carson Daly, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford also passed by and gave us a big thumbs ups! As we were waiting to go on-air, we were excited to have the opportunity to see Wrangler [the Today Show’s service dog]. Of course, we wanted to get a picture with him [let me tell you, puppy kisses before going “on-air” are fantastic!].

Once we got on set, Natalie Morales greeted us as we prepared for our segment. Our three minutes on-air flew by! Afterwards, we had an opportunity to chat briefly with Natalie, John, and Willie Geist. It was clear that the hosts, producers, and crew members were excited about our segment and really interested in featuring our nation’s “Cool Schools” in such a positive light.”

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Julie Clark + Morri McCluggage in NYC with their Today Show Probability Plinko souvenirs!

Mrs Clark is a JPS graduate and has been working in the district for nine years.  She is challenged by her students and loves to design learning experiences that are hands-on and challenging. “Fun is a passion of mine. As an educator, it is important to me to open the minds of my students to an array of learning possibilities while helping them to grow academically, socially, and emotionally. Above all, I want my students to know how special they are as unique individuals.”  She also acknowledges that working with this group is not without it’s [good] challenges.  “My students are able to manipulate ideas and draw generalizations. I appreciate when they are excited to teach me and share their personal problem solving strategies — it certainly keeps me on my toes!”

MIII8299 copyMorri is certainly thankful for Mrs. Clark’s hard work:  “ACT is a challenging, but it is fun! Mrs. Clark is the best teacher ever!!Pencil”  Mrs. Postle-Brown agrees, “Julie builds great relationships with her students and there families.  Students and parents love her for her welcoming and kind nature.”

“Unfortunately in today’s media a positive story on education is not always easy to find.  I really appreciate the Today Show and NBC doing a series that shows all of the amazing things that happen in public education across the country.  Julie was the perfect representative for all of the great things that happen at Pinewood and throughout Jenison.  Julie is one of many awesome teachers we have and when I walk into classrooms throughout my building every day I am impressed with passion and enthusiasm every Jenison teacher has for their students.” – Ms. Postle-Brown

Of course, you can see Mrs. Clark and Morri rock national TV by clicking here.

Congratulations to Julie, Morri and all of the ACT students who were represented!  We are so proud of you and thrilled you got to show the whole country how awesome things are happening every day at JPS!

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New Teacher Spotlight!

Introducing four more new teachers with Jenison Public Schools this year!

Keli Dykstra

Before bringing her skills and passions for Spanish Immersion education to Bursley Elementary, Kelli Dykstra was living and teaching in Costa Rica.  She was keeping busy teaching English immersion in a private, bi-lingual school in this Spanish speaking country.  Hoping to continue her career in language immersion and also return to a more permanent job in the States she came home to West Michigan.  She has loved to see the growth of her students both academically and socially and “Their bilingual abilities have blown me away.  I am very encouraged by their hard work everyday.”  Ms Dykstra adds, “I am adamant about the value of encouragement and pushing the kids to be the best that they can be. ”

Mary Lynn Randall

Mary Lynn Randall comes to the Early Childhood Center after four years of teaching in the Ludington school district.  Now, she spends her days with our Pre-K [or transitional Kindergartners]!  Her husband was commuting to work from Ludington to Grand Rapids and after they had their daughter they knew it was time to make a change.  She had heard good things about Jenison from her sister, Ashley Hankamp, who teaches art at  Bauerwood and Pinewood and she knew it would be a good fit.  Mary Lynn is encouraged by her students “eager minds and energetic spirits” and thoroughly enjoys being part of the Jenison family.  When Mary Lynn isn’t wrangling the energetic spirits of her Pre-K students, she is true to her farm-girl roots and enjoys spending time with her family in the outdoors hunting, fishing and scoping out good auctions.

Myca

Myca Belknap grew up traveling with her missionary family and never felt the need to “put down roots”, that is, until she found herself at Rosewood as the new 4th grade Spanish Immersion teacher!  Now she says, “I can already see that this is going to be easy because our little school already feels like family!”  Myca and her husband Dave, have four children and enjoy a very musical and artistic family with all of them displaying talents in these areas, “We love to “jam” in our studio/basement with our friends and their kids in the colder months, and enjoy our music acoustic style in our backyard during the summer and early fall.”  She has taught Spanish Immersion in South Haven and Forest Hills before coming to Jenison and says, “The family atmosphere, quality staff, good relations between educators and administrators, and high parent involvement are only a few of the qualities that to me spell “EXCELLENT SCHOOL, EXCELLENT DISTRICT”.   The more I explored, the more attractive JPS became.  I can truly say that I have “landed my dream job”!”

Myca wants parents and the community to know, “I am committed to my students’ development and feel so privileged to be trusted with the children in this community.  I take my responsibilities both with joy and care because [as a parent myself] I understand the hopes, dreams, and expectations that we have are born out of a deep love and desire for our children to prosper and be as successful and be as happy as humanly possible.  To this end, we all strive.  We make sacrifices.  We make the “hard decisions”.    We go the extra mile.  After that, we must trust their future [and ours] to the children we have loved and trained.  My trust is with hope, because I see a bright future in the students that I teach!”

Tyler Moran

Tyler Moran joins the Junior High staff after graduating from GVSU and teaching in various districts around West Michigan.  Now he teaches our 7th and 8th grade students with Cognitive Impairments and Learning Disabilities in the areas of Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Study Skills. He was attracted to JPS after volunteering a couple of years ago in Lisa Douglass’ classroom “and I realized what a great staff and student body they have here.  After the first interview, I knew it was meant to be.  I went home and told my wife that I need this job and that I can’t see myself working anywhere else!  I am truly blessed to have been even considered for this job!”  Tyler’s family is growing!  In addition to his stepson, Gavin, with his wife, Melissa, they welcomed a baby girl into the fold last month! He has enjoyed celebrating his students academic gains this year and is encouraged by their desire to learn — even in Middle School!  “I am ecstatic to be apart of the JPS family and I can’t wait to see what my future holds here at JPS.”

We are so thankful to add these teachers and their passion for educating to the Jenison family! 

Michelle U’Ren Honored with the Excellence in Education Award!

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Michelle U’Ren, 5th grade teacher at Pinewood, was recently honored with the Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery!  The Excellence in Education awards were recently established to recognize outstanding public school educators across the state during the school year.

Mrs. U’Ren has been a teacher for 13 years, the last 10 teaching fifth grade with the Jenison Public Schools.  She says, “I love seeing smiles on kids’ faces, seeing their eyes light up with excitement, hearing shouts of excitement when they are successful.  I go above and beyond to ensure my students have the very best experiences possible.”

MIII1907 copyWinners of the weekly award receive a plaque, a $500 cash prize and a $500 grant to their classroom, school or school district.  One of the weekly winners will be selected as the Educator of the Year and will receive a $10,000 cash prize.  The nominees are evaluated on the following criteria:  Excellence, Dedication, Leadership, Inspiration and Effectiveness.  Michelle was highlighted on Fox 17 on February 17 and honored at the February School Board Meeting as well.

Mary Muller, Rosewood Intervention Specialist, saw all of this and more in Michelle and nominated her for the award.  Mary says that Michelle is, “one of those truly exceptional teachers who makes us all a little better for having just known her. Michelle U’Ren is someone who changes lives and inspires students and teachers to do great things. We’ve all had that one teacher who helped shape our lives and helped us believe that we could be something more. For many people that teacher is Michelle U’Ren.”

Michlle's husband, Ryan, Michelle and Tom Izzo

Michelle’s husband, Ryan, Michelle and Tom Izzo

The Excellence in Education awards program is a team effort between the Lottery, Fox 17 and Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo.  Izzo met recently with Michelle [and the other nine award winners] at the Breslin Center and presented her with the award.  All of the nominees also received a special, behind-the-scenes tour of the Breslin Center.

Mrs. U’Ren said that the opportunities to help students succeed attracted her to a career in education.  “I love the idea that I can play a role in shaping a student’s academic, personal and social life.  Knowing I can make a difference is empowering.”

One of the main ways that Michelle is empowering her students is through staying current with teaching techniques and the use of technology in the classroom.  Her students have their own blogs, use Twitter and many other websites and online tools.  “We use Skype, blogs, and social media in the classroom to connect globally, we use brain gym and movement breaks throughout the day to keep our minds active. Our classroom has several flexible seating options including balance balls, T stools and wobble chairs.  These enhance engagement by allowing movement, sensory input and energy burning!”

MIII1935 copyRachael Postle-Brown, Pinewood Principal, says that there are two aspects of Michelle’s teaching that make her unique:  “She does an amazing job of bringing the content to life for the kids, really working to make the experiences authentic for them and she works really hard to make the teachers around her better.  She’s always open to sharing techniques and collaborating with them and doesn’t hesitate if someone is asking questions or needs help.  So the amazing things that are happening in her room start happening in other rooms.

To keep the curriculum engaging for her students, Michelle has been “using a new social studies and writing curriculum written by Oakland County that incorporates the Michigan and Common Core State Standards. I’ve been incorporating document based questioning into units.  This  is where students are presented with a historical question and presented with several primary and secondary resources. Students use the documents to form an opinion about the question and then debate and defend their answers citing evidence. It is very higher level thinking! In math,  I incorporate manipulatives and hands on activities so students understand the process of math rather than strict memorization. There is also much research that says the best way to become a better reader is through reading, reading, reading. So my students are participating in a 40 book challenge this school year!

“[Michelle] is not loud or outspoken, but leads through quiet confidence.  The activities that she does with her class are new and innovative, but also demonstrate a high level of expectations and knowledge of the curriculum.  She really pushes students to their highest potential. She takes troubled students under her wing providing them with tough love,” says Mary Muller

“The relationships that I make are my favorite part about being an educator.  It’s wonderful to be able to create lasting relationships with students, collaborative relationships with parents, and partnerships with my colleagues,” she said, adding that her students motivate her to do her best every day in the classroom.

Congratulations Michelle!  We are so proud of you and thankful for your dedication to our students!  We love having you in the JPS family!

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New Teacher Spotlight

Introducing three more new teachers with Jenison Public Schools this year!

Beth

Before joining the second grade Spanish Immersion class at Rosewood, Beth Zuwerink was teaching in Rockford Public Schools.  She had taken some time off to raise her son and missed Spanish Immersion so she decided to return to the classroom this year.  “I am looking forward to helping my students grow as students and as individuals. As I watch my son grow and develop, I’m even more reminded of how special and unique each child is.  I feel blessed to be able to get to know each of my students and to help them realize their full potential.  And, of course, I am also looking forward to all those goose-bump moments that come as I watch my students’ Spanish language skills progress!”  Beth is ‘hugely passionate” about immersion education and Rosewood students are lucky to have her on their team!

Olivia Mwakanandi

Olivia Mwakanadi is a new Intervention Specialist at Bauerwood Elementary.  “My students have already made great gains, and it’s so encouraging to see that my teaching is helping them (as an intervention specialist). It’s encouraging to be present for the “lightbulb” moments in my kids.”  Olivia is working on her Masters Degree in Learning Disabilities at Grand Valley and was most recently subbing at Bursley Elementary which she enjoyed immensely.  Her first introduction to Jenison was during her student teaching in 2012 and I really loved the team atmosphere I sensed, and how caring the teachers and staff were, not only for each other but for the kids.” When I subbed for 6 weeks at Bursley, the feeling of togetherness and team atmosphere continued, and I just loved how welcoming everyone was and how comfortable I felt after only 6 weeks. I am thankful to work in such a wonderful district, and that I am so excited for the opportunity to teach here!”

Sami Duval

Samantha [or Sami] Duval is a new Fourth Grade teacher at Bursley Elementary.  Like Olivia, Sami spent her student teaching and a period of long term subbing in Jenison at Rosewood and Bursley.  “The first time I walked into the building I knew Jenison was a great place to be as I was surrounded by such a kind and welcoming staff.”  Sami also took some time coaching the JV Cheerleading team and as the assistant coach for the Varsity team.  So far this school year she is already inspired by her students:  “[They] are so kind and giving. They took Kid President’s Socktober challenge and they collected 680 pairs of socks to give to the homeless. Watching the joy in their faces as they counted socks everyday was such an amazing experience.”  When Sami isn’t teaching she is spending time with her husband, their dog, Rosco, and drinking Biggby coffee.

Thank you to all of our teachers for sharing their passion and talent with our community!

Junior High Teacher Named Science Teacher of the Year!

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The entire district and especially Jenison Junior High is so proud to announce that Holly McGoran has been named by the Michigan Science Teachers Association as the 2015 Middle School Science Teacher of the Year!

Ms McGoran was selected after being nominated by Jenison Curriculum Director, Kristi Rogalla, and Junior High Principal, Brett Cataldo, “for using or modeling best practices, inspiring students, demonstrating innovative teaching strategies, being an excellent role model for students and other teachers, demonstrating leadership, and exhibiting a passion for science and for teaching.”   – MSTA

After the nomination was made Holly had to submit her resume and teaching philosophy, which she did somewhat reluctantly as is her humble nature.

8th grade students with their "earthquake proof" structures they made from straws, paper clips, string and masking tape in Ms McGoran's class.

8th grade students with their “earthquake proof” structures they made from straws, paper clips, string and masking tape in Ms McGoran’s class.

“When they did the surprise announcement it was nothing I had ever anticipated because there’s a lot of hard working teachers that do what’s right for kids.  It’s an honor to be part of this prestigious group of people.  They are all people who are so dedicated to kids first and then science and I think that’s what’s really cool about it.  The award wasn’t just focused on science content and curriculum it was focused on how you relate to the kids, how you work with your colleagues first and then science is the avenue to do so.  Knowing that all of those people are so wonderful with kids to begin with and then we work through science is really cool.”  — Holly McGoran

“I would put Holly up against any teacher in the nation because of the way she builds relationships with kids and she works tirelessly to have the best lessons out there.  She works with our highest achieving students and students that need that extra help along with her.  To watch her teach for an hour just gives you goosebumps.  She makes science fun and even our reluctant learners are motivated and having so much fun learning that they don’t even realize they’re learning.”  — Brett Cataldo

Mr Cataldo stresses that one of the reasons Holly is an exceptional teacher is her ability to connect with students, allowing them to explore a subject and by sharing the classroom with them which creates a safe environment for learning.  Holly has devoted her entire 16 year teaching career to Jenison Public Schools which she counts as a privilege.  “There’s so much support from administration and my colleagues and it’s such a great opportunity.  I feel so blessed to be able to learn alongside my students and my colleagues each and every day because that’s my inspiration.”

“The staff, the administration, the students, the parents, everybody really embraces education and all aspects of education.  It’s not just grades and report cards.  It’s before and after school, relationship building — everybody in the community really embraces that so it allows you to be able to innovate wildly. Without knowing that everybody around you is supporting education you could never innovate wildly.

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“It’s so fun to have them acting and thinking like scientists, that’s what really motivates me.”  

Superintendent Tom TenBrink agrees:  “Holly McGoran is a highly effective and exceptional science teacher. She is a master teacher who is skilled at getting her students engaged in the everyday learning that occurs in her classroom. Mrs. McGoran understands the importance of building meaningful and positive relationships with her students in order for them to be successful learners in her classroom. She is passionate about her subject matter and brings an enormous amount of energy to her classroom every single day. We are very excited for Mrs. McGoran that she was chosen as the State of Michigan’s Middle School Teacher of the year for 2015 by her peers. She definitely exemplifies the very best that the teaching profession has to offer.” — Tom TenBrink

Holly will be honored and officially awarded at a special ceremony at the 2015 MSTA Conference held at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on Friday, February 27, 2015.  “We are proud to include Holly in the prestigious list of MSTA award winners.”

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Please join us in congratulating Holly for this incredible honor!