Do you know how to follow the Group Plan?

Chances are, your JPS students are probably familiar with language like “the group plan” and “keeping your body in the group”. These phrases and concepts are part of a learning tool called “Social Thinking” and they help instruct our kiddos on expected and unexpected behaviors in various settings. For example, when your family visit a restaurant, it is unexpected to stand on your chair and ask for a milk refill but expected to say “thank you” to the server when they deliver your meal!

Language like “keeping your body in the group” helps teachers point out when a student has left a group situation and it is expected to stay with your peers [i.e. walking too quickly or too slowly down the hall with a small group]. Social Thinking also teaches students to keep their “brains in the group” by reminding them to stay focused on the topic being discussed and how it helps the people around you feel comfortable when they know you are listening.

Teacher Consultant, Kristen Gray, shares the ins and outs of this valuable teaching tool: “Social Thinking is not one curriculum, but rather defines a methodology that is taught using a variety of materials based on the age and characteristics of the students being taught.  Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech language pathologist, created the concept of social thinking in the mid-1990s, then opened the Social Thinking company which produces the majority of the curricula we use.  We began teaching it in Jenison approximately 8 years ago.  It was initially introduced in the categorical programs for students on the Autism Spectrum, and grew from there.”

Ms Gray, School Social Worker, Aimee Jackson, and Behavior Specialist, Yvette Smith, have worked to develop comprehensive curriculum plans for a variety of age levels in Jenison. This month, Social Thinking was also begun for Sandy Hill’s youngest students with a lesson on Whole Body Listening.

Social Thinking is generating positive changes for students. “In my opinion, the biggest change I have observed with Social Thinking is a shift in mindset when students recognize their ability to at least partially control the social environment and other’s responses to them.  This, in turn, can influence the way a student feels about him or herself.

For example, if a student struggles to work in a group, the student might feel as though the other kids do not like him/her and choose to not include him/her in a group.  Using social behavior mapping, one of the tools in social thinking, we can break down both the unexpected and expected behaviors associated with working in a group.  We then help the students to develop visual maps of how these behaviors might make others feel, what outcomes might occur because of how others are feeling, and finally how the student might feel about himself/herself based on the responses he/she is receiving.  The student can use this information to change behaviors, thereby changing outcomes and potentially changing feelings.  I have observed many students experience a “light bulb moment” when they suddenly connect their behaviors to the outcomes experienced.”

If social skills have always come naturally to you, you may not notice that having these skills is woven into every aspect of life. “A person’s social thinking ability has a considerable affect on his or her relationships and success in school and at work. It affects the person’s social skills, perspective taking, self-awareness, self-regulation, critical thinking, social problem solving, play skills, reading comprehension, written expression, ability to learn and work in a group, organizational skills, etc.. Nearly all job growth since 1980 has been in occupations that are relatively social-skill intensive, while jobs that require high levels of analytical and mathematical reasoning, but low levels of social interaction, and jobs that are comparatively easy to automate, have fared comparatively poorly.  The research indicated that workers with greater social skills are more likely to work in social skill-intensive and less-routine occupations and to earn a relatively higher wage return in these occupations.”

Using the analogy of an iceberg, Social Thinking is a tool that “teaches below the surface” and our social responses are what is visible but what is below the surface [social attention, interpretation, problem-solving] are what drives those responses. “Truly, it is empowering for students once they realize that they have the ability to change how others think and feel about them by changing their behavior.”

We love the thoughtful work of our support staff members who strive to equip students with as many tools as they need for success! And thank you to our teachers for incorporating something new into your already busy days!

[*Photos courtesy of http://www.socialthinking.com]

Seats and Stories for Elementary Classrooms!

If you’ve visited a Jenison elementary classroom this fall you may have noticed a few exciting changes! Classroom libraries were given a boost this summer with 100 new books each! Also, students are all sitting on new chairs at fun tables as a way to provide flexible seating and classroom creativity.

According to Janet Schultz, Literacy and Learning Lab Coach, “Last year we focused on literacy development to lead our district in taking on the challenge of creating a community of readers in our schools and homes because in Jenison we believe that Readers are Leaders. As our committees and teams worked on literacy we realized we needed to make a commitment to building classroom libraries. Recent research emphasizes the importance of the classroom library, particularly in children’s literacy development.” 

The teachers were given a proposed list of books for each grade level to look over and each classroom received 100 books. While most teachers already have great classroom libraries, they reported needing an increase in nonfiction titles. Therefore, each classroom received 1/3 nonfiction to match social studies standards, 1/3 nonfiction to match science standards, and 1/3 favorite fiction selections. This is the first installment of a three-year commitment.

Sami DuVal, Bursley Kindergarten Teacher, was thrilled to receive new classroom books because she knows they are central to the learning experience. “The classroom library is the heart of our rooms. The additional books have given us more ways to accommodate each students needs and has helped me use a more balanced literacy approach. It is important that our libraries are filled with high interest, diverse books and the additional books we received have helped me accomplish that! Every child deserves the opportunity to be surrounded with quality fiction and nonfiction literature! I am so thankful to work in a district that is committed to making that a reality for all children in our community! “

In addition to the wonderful new books, all elementary teachers were given the chance to select their choice of new tables and chairs for their classroom. Last spring, samples of each option were in the buildings and “we were able to check them out. Besides the many different table options, we were also given the option to have wheels on our tables. With the furniture purchase, we were also were given a choice between chair pockets, book bins, or a cubbie system. I chose to get book bins. The additional books and the book bins have been such a great addition to my classroom. During reading workshop all of my students have their own book bins and many books to read. The new furniture has allowed my students more flexibility. I have regular chairs and wobble stools in my classroom. The new tables can be arranged in many ways to fit my student and classroom needs.”

The new furniture also adds a sense of consistency across each school. “The classroom environment is such a pivotal part to a child’s education. The new furniture has not only been functional, but it has also provided a uniform, welcoming look to every classroom. It has given teachers the tools to accommodate all of our students’ learning needs. The large tables are perfect for accommodating group work. Group work is such an important part of Kindergarten as this is when my student learn to work with others, communicate appropriately, and share. It has been great to have a space large enough for this work to take place.”

The district is committed to the classroom environment and is pleased to provide the essential elements to support our teachers and students.

Ms. Schultz reminds families that reading is an essential aspect to learning – in and out of the classroom. “Our belief in Jenison is that children need time to read independently ever day and we are working hard in our schools to give students uninterrupted time EVERY DAY to just get lost in a good book that they have chosen for themselves. We are so excited to continue to build our classroom libraries to spark children’s interest and enthusiasm about reading. We want our classroom libraries to capture our children’s attention, captivate their imaginations, and make them want to return to their books over and over again!”

THANK YOU to all of our elementary teachers for their creativity and dedication to their students! We are building up lifelong learners thanks to your hard work!

Bursley Students Harness the Power of Teamwork [& Rain]!

At the end of last school year, our Bursley students were working hard to learn the meaning of art activism, the science of watersheds, and the value of an education that works across subjects and grade levels!

It began when Amanda Contreras, 2nd grade Spanish Immersion teacher, applied for and received a grant from Groundswell, an organization that promotes outdoor classrooms and learning, and provides professional development for teachers. She wanted her students to have the opportunity to learn science and vocabulary curriculum outdoors in a hands-on and discovery based format. The big idea behind the project was for students to learn about watersheds: what they are, why they are important, where our local watersheds are, and how pollution and people impact them (specifically point and non-point source pollution).

While Ms Contreras was excited about the curriculum and the grant what the grant from Groundswell would mean for her class, she knew it would be even better if she joined forced with Emily Derusha, Bursley Art teacher. They have worked together on bringing lessons to life for Ms Contreras’s class, so they began brainstorming on what this new project could look like.

It was soon decided that Ms Derusha would preface the outdoor lesson with a lesson of her own on art activism, culminating in the designing of their ow rain barrel. “Students learned how artists bring attention to problems and solutions through artwork, and then designed a rain barrel to bring attention to the problem of water pollution, use, etc. to our Bursley community.”

And as if that collaboration wasn’t enough, Ms Contreras teamed with Kelli Darcia (4th grade Spanish Immersion) and they created “Stream Buddies” so the 4th grade students teamed with 2nd grade to complete their water testing. Ms Derusha also added a 4th grade lesson on Activist Art and they created their own rain barrel designs.

To make sure that the Bursley community knew about their amazing work, the students presented their water testing findings at Science Night last year and at a showcase of Groundswell grant winners, a short video was presented at Celebration Cinema in May! Finally, in an effort to bring awareness to water issues discovered in the project and engage the Bursley community in a solution, the rain barrel was displayed and raffled off at last year’s field day!

Not only do we applaud the hard-working students involved in this project but we salute the teachers for working together in such incredible ways to make learning come alive for kids. We’re so proud of you!

Summer Series: Student Art Sample [6th Grade]

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Over the course of our summer we will feature various artists and art pieces from each Jenison elementary school as well as the Junior High and High School. Each piece was carefully chosen by our art teachers and we hope you will enjoy the talents and hard work of our students while you also enjoy a beautiful and relaxing summer!

“Complementary Color Wheel Graffiti Name”
By Mady Popma
Bursley Elementary

We began this unit with the background and history of the art form of graffiti. During the first step in this process Mady had to choose a graffiti font, and sketch her name in the middle of the paper. Next, we studied color mixing. Using tempera paint in primary colors [red, yellow and blue], students were able to create secondary colors [green, orange and violet], and tertiary colors [red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet]. The next challenge for Mady was to divide her Graffiti Name into 12 sections. She mixed paint and filled in each of the background sections of the color wheel with paint she mixed. After completing the background, Mady created a second color wheel within her name, this time using complementary colors, or those across from one another on the color wheel. Finally, Mady had to outline everything very carefully with black paint.

Mady did an outstanding job on this project. It was very challenging, and Mady showed not only excellent craftsmanship, but perseverance as well.

Mady and her artwork were selected by her Bursley Elementary art teacher, Ginger Brown.

Summer Series: Student Art Sample [3rd Grade]

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This summer we will feature a writing sample from a student in each grade as we all enjoy a beautiful summer in West Michigan! Please join us each week to read these fantastic teacher-submitted examples of excellent writing!

“Friends and Rainbows”
by Evelyn Fortney 
Bursley Elementary

Art with a Big Idea! Community Collage

In art class students are not only learning how to use materials and techniques, but also how to communicate “Big Ideas”— those that are personal, important, and a part of every person’s life. For this project students discussed and brainstormed all the various communities they belong to, and focused on one that is particularly important in their life. This community became the catalyst for a collage.

Evelyn was inspired by a memory of playing with her friends. Describing this memory, she said, “I still remember it! In first grade we went outside and there was a rainbow. No one else was by the tire swing. We each got a lot of pushes because no one else was waiting.” Evelyn began by making the various pieces needed for her collage “Friends and Rainbows”. Evelyn put a lot of thought into the details of the various parts. From ruffles on dresses, to a tire swing and textured grass, I was impressed with her attention to detail and seeing the way she made her ideas come to life through paper.

It was the next step of the project that highlighted Evelyn’s creative thinking and excellent problem solving skills. When it was time to assemble the the pieces into a collage, Evelyn had a vision of developing her collage into a 3-Dimensional version. I believe that for Evelyn, these kinds of challenges and problems to solve launch her into her best-artist self; the problems to solve invigorate and excite her creative brain! It is a delight to watch her work. Soon, Evelyn had constructed a wonderful scene of her and her friends playing on the playground. You can feel the movement of the girl in the tire swing as her arms sway to the side. There is a sense of whimsy with the clothing, rainbow, and metallic grass— simultaneously sophisticated and yet perfect for an elementary artist. And if you take the time to really look, you’ll notice so many unexpected and delightful details. Flowers and “Mint Gum” in the purse, a wallet in one of the girl’s hands. The more you look at this artwork, the more you will appreciate the scene that Evelyn has created. Evelyn has infused this artwork with the joy of childhood!

Evelyn and her artwork was selected by her elementary art teacher, Emily Derusha.

#JPSReads!

1448499790-4841895-james_giant_peach_ticketsWhen Junior High theatre director, Holly Florian, chose James and the Giant Peach for this year’s winter performance fifth grade teachers, Michelle U’Ren knew that she wanted to read the classic story aloud to her class. She knew it would help them appreciate the show even more to be familiar with the story.

But it didn’t stay specific to Ms U’Ren’s class! It didn’t take long before a district-wide project was born! Other teachers were interested in reading the story to their classes as well and and soon, Holly, Michelle, and Jan Staley, media specialist, were organizing the first ever district-wide read aloud, which came to be known as JPS Reads!

All of the teachers are encouraged by the response so far. “The feedback from teachers, students, and parents has been really positive.  Perhaps the most exciting part is hearing the connections being made at home!  There are many stories of families discussing James and the Giant Peach during dinner and younger kids begging older siblings to tell them what happens next in the story.

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Story brainstorming in Mary Veldink’s 3rd grade Pinewood classroom

When Ms Florian was considering scripts for the junior high performance she was excited about the visual and production challenges posed by James and the Giant Peach. “[It] stood out to me right away as being a fantastic option – the story is so wonderful, and the stage version has many featured roles, which gives lots of students a chance to show off their performing skills. It will also be a technical challenge! Figuring out how to create a giant peach that rolls off the cliffs of Dover and into the Atlantic ocean is going to be a creative challenge for the entire production team.”

Not all teachers had a copy of the book but thanks to a grant from the Jenison Public Education Foundation, those teachers were provided a copy. Even our Spanish Immersion classrooms are reading the story in Spanish! In order to empower teachers, weekly emails are sent to participants offering suggestions for activities and ways to connect with other teachers in the project.  Each individual teacher can choose which activities they would like to implement within their own classroom. Lori Barr, Pinewood 6th grade teacher, is engaging students’ writing skills by having them write blog posts with their thoughts and questions. Check out their Letters to Ms Florian here

If you have ever wondered if reading at home matters, it does! “Statistics have shown that a powerful predictor of reading success is having a parent who personally reads aloud to their child 5–7 days a week. Our community read aloud, JPS Reads, will hopefully ignite the joy of reading and the community bond it builds within the classroom family…the hope is that this will then be talked about and become part of our individual family habits also.”

Congratulations to all the teachers, students and families who participated in the first JPS Read Aloud! We can’t wait for the play this January!

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*Photo courtesy of goldstar.com

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!

Summer Series: Student Writing Samples [5th grade]

LogoThis summer we will feature a writing sample from a student in each grade as we all enjoy a beautiful summer in West Michigan! Please join us each week to read these fantastic teacher-submitted examples of excellent writing!

Educational Rise or Fall?
By: Samantha Eriks
[Samantha accepted the challenge in her Spanish Immersion Class to submit a fully translated essay. For the English version, scroll down, or, if you’re as smart as a 5th grader, check out her writing in Spanish!]

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¿Educación, subiendo o bajando?

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

¿Alguna vez has pensado en los leyes de educación? La mayoría de estos leyes no tiene el aporte de los maestros, quienes son las personas que están afectados lo más. Algunas veces, los leyes no están creados en la mejor manera. Los legisladores educativos están aquí para mejorar escuelas pero ¿esto es que está realmente pasando?

¿Alguna vez has pensado en cuánto tiempo tu maestra trabaja para hacer lecciones, enseñar y hacer cosas extras para tu clase? La paga que reciben debe ser elevado. Hoy de partir de ser maestro recibe $40.255 (salario de Jenison de 2010 encontrado por Googling) pero esto puede cambiar depende en la escuela, el tamaño de clase y cuantos años el maestro ha trabajado. Si los creadores de los leyes educativos estuvieron maestros primeros, entenderán todo el trabajo que el maestro hace y que deben recibir más dinero por su trabajo. Tristemente, porque maestros no están pagados correctamente para su trabajo menos personas ven a querer enseñar.

Hay otro ley educacional creado sobre la lectura de tercer grado que sería mejor con la ayuda de maestros. Aquí es una explicación de Jonathan Oostiing’s desde mlive: “La propuesta de lectura de tercer grado, que complementa un empuje literario de Gov. Rick Snyder, prohibía escuelas para promover a niños a cuarto grado si están un grado detrás en lectura. Sería excepciones, y niños que tenían dificultades en la lectura podían tomar otras clases en otros sujetos” (Oostiing).

Piensa en estas leyes y qué efecto van a crear. Por uno, imagina estos niños que tienen un tiempo difícil en la lectura, y cómo este cambio afectaría a ellos socialmente, sería muy difícil estar un grado mas atrás solo porque no podías leer. Esto también va a afectar estrés de intervención. Esto va a causar más presión en grados más bajos para asegurar que todos están en el nivel correcto. Si los creadores de estos leyes fueran maestros, o si tuvieran la ayuda de maestros, tal vez entenderían que están creando con esta ley. No estoy diciendo que este problema no debe estar abordado, pero definitivamente no debe estar abordado en esta manera.

Otra cosa para pensar sobre es que muchos políticos que especializan en la educación no han sido maestros. Si este grupo de personas tenía experiencia de ser maestro sabrían qué escuelas necesitan y que no. Sería muy bueno tener personas que entienden que pasa en un salón de clase, como cuánto esfuerzo maestros ponen o la cantidad de énfasis en resultados de prueba. También sabrían qué leyes deben ser mayor prioridad y que tienen sentido estar pasados. También sabrían que leyes no necesitaremos en escuelas.

Creadores de leyes educativas deben recibir aporte de maestros o deben ser maestros primero. Las leyes de educación no están pensados al mejor posibilidad que podían hacer. También, maestros deben recibir una paga mejor. Escuela es una parte muy importante en una vida de un niño y todos deben recibir la mejor educación que pueden. ¿Qué está pasando con la educación? ¿Está mejorando o las leyes que están creados no realmente están creados a la mejor posibilidad?

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire” – William Butler Yeats

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela

Samantha Eriks is a rising 6th grader at Bursley Elementary where she is in the Spanish Immersion program. Some of her interests are playing piano, learning new things, reading, playing basketball, singing, writing, and anything to do with technology!  She looks forward to learning new things and spending time with her friends in 6th grade. Her writing sample was chosen by her 5th grade teacher, Rebecca Chicklon, as part of a lesson in persuasive writing.

Educational Rise or Fall?
By: Samantha Eriks

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Have you ever thought about what educational laws are like? Most laws never even have the input of teachers, who are the people that seem to get affected the most. Sometimes the laws are not created in the best way possible because there is not the input of teachers being incorporated. Educational lawmakers are here to help make schools better, but are they?

Have you ever realized how hard your teacher works to make lesson plans, teach, and do extra stuff for your class? Well the pay they get should be raised. Todays starting teacher makes $40,255 (Jenison salaries from 2010 found from Googling) but this can also change depending on what type of school it is, class sizes, and how long the teacher has been teaching. If the law creators were teachers, they would understand all the work teachers put in and that teachers deserve a better pay. Also, this will sadly mean that less people will want to become teachers because of the starting pay.

There is another educational law created about third grade reading that could have been better with teacher input. Here is Jonathan Oosting’s explanation from mlive: “The third-grade reading proposal, which complements a literacy push by Gov. Rick Snyder, would prohibit schools from promoting students to fourth grade if they are at least a full grade-level behind in reading. There would be exemptions, however, and struggling readers could take some fourth grade classes in other subject areas.” Think about this law and all the effects it would create. For one, imagine the kids who struggle in reading, and how being in third grade would also affect them socially, it would be very hard to be held back a grade just because you could not read. This will also affect third grade intervention stress. Causing more pressure in lower grades to make sure everyone is reading at the right level. If the creators of these laws were teachers, or had teacher input, they might actually realize what they are creating with this law. I am not saying that this issue should not be addressed, but it definitely should not be addressed in this way.

Another thing to think about is that most politicians who specialize in education have not been teachers. If this group of people had experience as teachers they would know what schools need and what is not needed. It would be very nice to have people who understand what happens in a classroom, like how much effort teachers put in or the amount of emphasis on test data. They also would know which laws should be at a higher priority and make sense to get passed, and which ones are not needed. Educational lawmakers should get the input of teachers or be teachers first. Educational laws are not always thought through to the full extent they could be. Also, teachers deserve a better pay. School is a very important part of kids’ lives, so everyone should be given the best education possible. What is happening with education? Is it becoming better, or are the laws that are being created not being fully thought through?

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire” – William Butler Yeats

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

High School Girls Champion STEM for Elementary Students!

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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:  aputti@jpsonline.org 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!

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

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Rosewood Girls in STEM hard at work!

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Pinewood girls conquer the engineering challenge!

TREK Club Builds More Than Muscles at Bursley

When Bursley 3rd -5th grade boys gather together after school twice a week for TREK, their focus is not merely to work on flexibility or speed — they’re working to develop their individuality and strengths, both mental and physical.

TREK, which is short for Total Trek Quest, is organized by coaches who are dedicated to helping boys understand the benefits of healthy living and the risks of substance abuse. One of the coaches’ main goal is to develop strong social and relational skills, and for boys to exit the program feeling valued for who they are.

TREK, Bursley Elementary School

For nine weeks, TREK uses high energy, structured practices to instill these values into a group of 10-15 young men. With a shared goal of running a 5K, students learn to trust one another, work together, encourage their team mates and soar to new heights. To reach those goals, Principal Garcia says that TREK kids spend their 90 minute practices…

  • eating a healthy snack (donations appreciated)
  • working together on at least one learning activity
  • playing games
  • completing strength and stretching exercises
  • building stamina through running
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In this series of photos, students work to build a pyramid without moving cups with their hands. Instead, they had to work together to stack the cups with rubber bands and paper clips!

TREK, Bursley Elementary School

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With volunteer coaches stepping in to make a difference in the lives of students, Principal Garcia said,

“As a principal (and mom) I appreciate that the program helps kids set their eyes on a large goal and shows them that long term commitment, practice and dedication will help them reach their goal.  The physical challenge and sense of team is great for developing strength of character.  For kids who participate in multiple seasons, it helps them to see the long term benefits.  For example, all of our elementary school 4th, 5th and 6th graders complete a timed mile run in the fall and spring of each year for their physical education class.  The kids that are in the TREK program (who have been running after school) are amazed at how much time they can cut off their time.  A few have even cut their time by 50% because of this program.”

TREK, Bursley Elementary School

Last spring, WOTV and Miranda did a spotlight on this program from a county-wide standpoint. While not focused on Jenison in particular, this video clip does an outstanding job of calling special attention to the unique nature of TREK.