Jenison Celebrates Autism!

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

Incredible ECC teacher, Tricia Maday + a student

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

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

Parapro Extraordinaire, Diana Zeitunian with a student

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

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

Stupendous 6th Grader, Monae William

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

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

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

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

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

Brilliant Bursley teacher, Kate Walker + a her student

Super Social Worker Salena Corner with a parent

Sensational Sara Hayes + a student

Magnificent Music Teacher Les Rowsey + a student

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

Let’s Read!

Did you read the Boxcar Children books as a child? They were first published in 1942 and written by Gertrude Chandler Warner about four orphaned children who create a home for themselves on an abandoned train car. Eventually, they are united with the kind [& wealthy!] grandfather who moves their beloved boxcar to his backyard so the children can use it as a playhouse. Gertrude Chandler Warner passed away in 1979 but her stories live on in a great new adventure series, starting with Journey on a Runaway Train!

Beginning February 19, you are invited to join the entire JPS family in reading this wonderful story together as a family. Your child will bring home an order form in their Friday Folder tomorrow and you can order the book for just $1! If your family reads two to three chapters each week, the story will be finished by the end of JPS Reads on March 16. Elementary Media Specialist, Jan Staley, knows how important it is to create a love of reading by practicing it as a family. “Reading together as a family, creates a strong foundation for literacy in your child’s life.” Also, by reading the same book as a community, “we help to create a shared reading experience for all of our elementary school families.”

If you, like Gertrude Chandler Warner, are intrigued by the idea of living on train car, then you will love the adventures the Alden children find themselves in this story! The children have been recruited by a secret society where they are tasked with returning ancient artifacts and treasures to their rightful locations, taking them all over the world! After finding an ancient painted turtle, they board a train to return it to New Mexico where it originated. To complicate things, however, they must deal with people who would rather the painted turtle is not returned home! Find out what happens with your entire family this month!

One difference in this reading initiative is that you won’t hear a lot about the book in your child’s classroom. “For this project, we are hoping that the value of literacy and reading out loud as a family will be carried into homes.” So parents, put on your “teacher hats” for a few minutes each night this month and join in the fun of reading together!

This story is incredibly accessible for kids of all ages. Most second and third graders will be able to read it on their own, but the story is fun for everyone. The littles will love following along with the adventures of the main characters and even your older kids will love the nostalgia of being read aloud to. It’s also a great opportunity around the dinner table to have a family book discussion about what everyone thinks might happen and highs and lows of the story so far. Your family can tailor the adventure to work for you!

We hope you will join JPS and The Boxcar Children as they take off on their latest mystery and your family finds its own adventure in reading together!

Look for the order form tomorrow and start reading on the 19th!

 

Preschool Class Explores the Amazing Outdoors!

Jenison Preschool teacher, Jodi Huyser, wanted an outdoor classroom experience for her kids. She saw them in other districts, knew there was amazing academic potential, and was sure Jenison could have one too! With the help of a grant written by Early Childhood Center Principal, Lee Westervelt, the students had the outdoor gear they needed from Oakiwear [snow suits, mittens, and rain boots] and they were ready to see what they could learn outside!

The students have already explored the property around Pinewood [where this preschool class meets] to look for animal tracks and evidence of their foraging. “Our most recent lesson teaches the children how to look for signs of animals in our environment.  We look for tracks and also make our own tracks!  The kids love exploring and investigating!  They love being out in the fresh air!” Most recently, the class broadened its research field to Hager Park, and along with the support of parents, the students are learning to examine and ask questions about what it around them every day. “Several parents help out each time so that we can break off into smaller groups.  In addition to tracking animal footprints, we looked for signs of where animals eat, burrow, and go to the bathroom.  We also made our own footprints, compared sizes, and made letters and numbers utilizing our own footprints. ”

To prepare for their lesson outside, the class read the book, “Footprints in the Snow“.  Using the story as a guide, “we had a group discussion about how we can see animal’s footprints more clearly when there is fresh snow.  Students brainstormed the different animals that may leave footprints for us to find.  We even did a comparison to life size animal prints with our own hand prints [tracing our hands over top of paw prints from animals on paper].  In addition, we utilized technology to search different pictures of paw prints.  From here, we took our printed animal track charts outdoors with us to look for any that may be similar.

For the most part, we saw squirrel, rabbit, human, and dog prints.  Interesting enough, we thought we may see some bird tracks, but we did not.  Children also looked for signs of animal scat, which they found kind of humorous!  We talked about how animal tracks can be found by food sources such as berries, bark, and water. More recently, students prepared bird seed feeders that are 100% biodegradable to bring to Hager Park this week on our hike.  We will continue to search for more tracks on this hike as well.”

Ms Huyser believes that students love to get outdoors to learn.  “I think, too often, families do not have enough time to get their children outside because of busy schedules.  So much more learning can be done outside; even lessons that are generally taught in an indoor setting can be altered to teach outside in many cases.  Students get fresh air and their bodies need it!”

Students have enjoyed the change of scenery and seeing what can be learned in their everyday environments! “They love to put on their special “green suits” and head out on our outdoor adventures.  In addition, parent volunteers have had great adventures with us and have had positive things to say about it.  In our most recent adventure, the children were so excited to find different animal tracks and follow them.  They took great pride in placing their bird feeders on the trees for the birds too!”

Of course, Ms Huyser always has a lesson planned when the class goes outdoors, but she stays flexible in case her little researchers take note of something else. “They may notice some letters in the shapes of the branches in the trees.  We may practice counting pine cones on a tree.  In the fall, we investigated how the leaves traveled with the stream’s current [some slower spots and some faster].  Students tipped over logs to look for bugs, worms, and salamanders.  We collect samples to bring back to our classroom as well.  At one point we even heard a tree fall over at Hager Park while it was raining, so we went to investigate it.  The children love to play in the rain and they have the right gear to wear thanks to our grant money.”

“The most rewarding part of teaching this program is seeing how excited the students get when they are exploring outside!” Ms Huyser hopes that families will take the simple opportunities to use the world around them as classrooms as well. “I would love to see more families have the opportunity to take the time to plan a hike with their children.  It prompts great conversations and discussions, promotes healthy habits with exercise, and creates lifelong memories.  There is so much value in getting outside to explore nature and breathe in the fresh air.  You can find so many teachable moments in the outdoors!”

Thank you, Ms Huyser, for thinking outside the traditional classroom and getting out littlest students outside! Hands-on experience is invaluable for all students and we know these adventures will stay with them for years to come!

Celebrating New Teachers in the New Year!

This September, JPS welcomed 36 new teachers to our team, district-wide! And while it’s hard to imagine that the year is nearly half over already, these teachers have been giving their students and the district their all! These 36 teachers are all along the spectrum from brand new teachers to seasoned professionals bringing their talents to JPS.

We’ll spotlight a few of them here but we encourage you to make sure to take a minute when school opens up next week to tell these new JPS teachers they are doing a great job!

Jeanna Watson is teaching 7th grade language arts at the Junior High after completing her education at Arizona State University and GVSU. While she is thrilled to be a Wildcat she also admits to being a Packers fan! When she’s not teaching, she loves reading, spending time with her husband and volunteering. “It has been such a blast to be a part of the Jenison community this year. Getting to know all the students and staff so well has made this job an incredible experience already. I am most looking forward to continuing to get to know everybody for the second half of the year and continuing to grow as a teacher to better serve my students.”

Dina Mitchell teaches Transitional Kindergarten at the ECC. She graduated from Hope College and Central Michigan University and taught for 28 years with Holt Public Schools. She has taught Kindergarten, 1st grade, Transitional Kindergarten and as a reading interventionist. Ms Mitchell stays very busy keeping up with her 4 children – three of whom are currently enrolled at Hope and the 4th just graduated! She also love visiting the beach, watching crime shows, and reading. She loves being part of the Jenison family: “The best part of teaching in Jenison has been the relationship piece.   It is very apparent to me that the time, resources and energy that the district puts into building and maintaining strong relationships with colleagues, parents, students and the community is what makes Jenison so successful. They truly are like a family!!!  I feel blessed to be a part of it.”

Zach Mosher is teaching 3rd grade at Sandy Hill Elementary after receiving his degree from Central Michigan University. Although this is Mr Mosher’s first year as a classroom teacher, he worked previously as a reading interventionist in Wyoming Public Schools. When he’s not teaching, Mr Mosher enjoys fishing and hunting. He says that the best part of teaching in Jenison has been “the awesome and supporting staff that I have so heavily had to lean on and the family atmosphere.”

We wish all of our teachers and staff a very, happy new year! Thank you for all you do each day for our students and families! We hope everyone enjoys the last few days of winter break and we’ll see you back in school on January 8!

Groundbreaking Celebration for New School!

Last Monday evening, not even the gray skies couldn’t keep spirits down as the Board of Education and Superintendent, Tom TenBrink, broke ground on the new school, scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.

The Early Childhood Center [ECC] and Spanish Immersion program currently housed at Rosewood and Bursley Elementary Schools, will both be housed in the new building located near the corner of Baldwin and 28th Ave.

The new school – Jenison’s first new school since 1970! – will be a two-story, LEED certified building with 36 classrooms. It will also include modern security features as well as, assisted listening systems in each classroom, two playgrounds and two full-size ball fields.

Becky Steele, Rosewood and Bursley STEM teacher was on hand to capture student Samantha Eriks tell those in attendance what the new school means to hear and future Spanish Immersion students. Becky says, “Samantha has been a Bursley Spanish Immersion student since kindergarten, and is headed off to the Junior High in the fall.  Her fluency [as well as her poise, confidence, positivity, kind and helpful heart…the list goes on and on] certainly speaks volumes about the quality of the language immersion education that students get in JPS.”

This is a very exciting season for JPS and we can’t wait to monitor the progress and celebrate when our students and staff are filling the halls!

Rosewood Principal, Lloyd Gingerich, along with SI teachers!

ECC Principal, Lee Westerveldt, joined by two ECC students

Preschool Class Joins Forces with Autism Classroom!

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In a classroom at the ECC something very exciting is happening. It’s not just the amazing opportunities to learn through art and play but also the chance for students in the Great Start Readiness Preschool and those on the Autism spectrum to learn together.

Classroom teacher, Tricia Maday explains, “The ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorders] preschool classroom is very unique because it services children on the autism spectrum as well as children included in the Great Start Readiness Preschool.  The intention behind our program is to provide support to all children while using age typically developing peers to help with social and behavioral modeling.

thumb_MIII0821_1024 copy“There have been great successes witnessed already this year in just the few short months we have been in school which is exciting to see and helps build confidence in all children. As an example:

We had one student join our program recently. He had never attended any schooling and has very limited communication skills. At the beginning, he had a difficult time attending to activities and participating in lessons. Through peer modeling and implementing accommodations he is able to follow routines, transitions and attend to activities. He is now demonstrating personal care and daily living skills that we weren’t seeing initially. Another great accomplishment we have been thrilled with is his increased daily communication and demonstration of appropriate expression of emotions. These things might seem very basic but for young children it can be difficult to know the appropriate times to express these feelings and knowing how to communicate them. Every little accomplishment is a huge celebration every day.”

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Of course, creating a learning environment for fourteen four-year olds can be exciting as well as challenging: “Our students are very eager to learn and help each other, but just like any four year old child they certainly keep us on our toes. It’s important for the teacher to take time to facilitate appropriate play with peers, provide strategies for problem solving and create an environment that encourages imaginative play.”

Ms Maday is encouraged by the witnessing the growth and accomplishments that each child is achieving already this year.  “It’s amazing to witness a group of diverse children working together to accomplish their own individualized goals and become their best selves.”

“Children with autism are just like any other child. They have obstacles to overcome and things that may be difficult for them. They all have something to teach and we learn from one another. This experience has been beneficial to everyone involved. Children learn about the unique needs of others as well as their similarities. This exposure helps shape the child into a well-rounded person who is ready for the world outside of the classroom.”

Thank you Ms Maday and the ECC for providing challenging and supportive learning environments for all of our young students!

And on this Thanksgiving Day we are especially thankful for all of the wonderful teachers, staff and administration that make up Jenison Public Schools! Thank you for all you do for our community and students each day!

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Jenison’s ECC Wraps Educational Excellence in Hugs and Smiles

Imagine:

After a harried morning of looking for shoes, fighting traffic and dodging flood zones, you turn the corner on Connie Street to drop your child off at Jenison’s Early Childhood Center. Walking through secure doors, you pass an impressive aquarium whose bright colors are matched only by charming displays of artwork dotting the halls.

Making your way past the infant rooms, you locate your child’s preschool classroom and scoop her up for a last kiss before she skips into class. Stopping at the coffee kiosk for a free cup of flavored Joe on the way out, you nod to the chef who’s returning to the kitchen with an armful of veggies from the school’s garden.

You realize that your bologna sandwich will pale in comparison to the lunch your four-year old will be eating, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the preschool rooms in Jenison's Early Childhood Center

One of the preschool rooms in Jenison’s Early Childhood Center

The scenario above is not part of a movie or a facility reserved for an elite crowd of Hollywood starlets. It is a snapshot of life at the ECC for every parent and every child who walk through the doors (*bologna sandwich optional). With room for little ones starting at 3 months and up to 5 year old pre-kindergarteners, this school is buzzing with laughter and finding innovative ways to make learning fun.

Mr. Westervelt at the coffee kiosk.

Mr. Westervelt at the coffee kiosk.

Principal Lee Westervelt beams like a proud parent as he weaves through the hallways. He knows this school is special, and notes that parents drive from as far away as Allegan County and Grand Haven to grab a coveted registration slot.

At the moment there is a waiting list for preschool at the ECC, despite incorporating the use of several portables and rooms at other Jenison Elementary Schools. Currently, 450 children are in the building every day, with another 300 in satellite locations.

We’ve been fortunate that there is a lot of stability here. We’ve proven that we hire people who have graduate-level preparedness and who stay. We really don’t experience a lot of turnover, which is great for the kids. I hire the best people out there,” said Mr. Westervelt.

iPads, technology in schools, Early Childhood Center, Jenison Public Schools

Ms. Keriann Poquette

One such teacher is Ms. Keriann Poquette who uses the latest technology to foster growth in reading. Two days a week, students use iPads to read with a reading buddy from Mrs. Ryan’s class at Bursley Elementary School.

Using Facetime, ECC kids sit and listen to an older student read to them while the iPad sends images from the book. This partnership allows older students on the other side of Jenison to practice reading and gives younger students additionally examples of fluency.

In mid-April the 5 year olds at the ECC will begin to read back to their reading buddies, practicing their newly forged skills in a tangible way.

Students view pages to their reading buddy's book via Facetime on the iPad.

Students view pages to their reading buddy’s book via Facetime on the iPad.

Aside from the gifted staff of teachers, the ECC boasts an amazing army of volunteers who come in every day to run the morning coffee kiosk, work with students, and organize the “Motor Moms” group. Motor Moms focus their attention on developing fine and gross motor skills by employing techniques used in Brain Gym and Bal-A-Vis-X. Examples of those activities include: obstacle courses, balance beams, crawling, rolling, galloping-to-marching, catching and throwing.

Motor Moms work with students each day.

Motor Moms work with students each day.

Chef Wade Borysiak preps black beans for the next day's lunch menu.

Chef Wade Borysiak preps black beans for the next day’s lunch menu.

All that galloping works up an appetite in the kids, and they’re fortunate to have GRCC Culinary Institute graduate and former Head Chef at GR’s One Trick PonyWade Borysiak, prepping fresh vegetables and healthy meals each day for the entire facility.

Aside from the community garden on the ECC grounds which provides food each spring and summer, Chef Borysiak shops locally at least every-other day for the freshest foods. On the menu that day: whole grain brown rice with mirepoix and slow roasted pork shoulder.

Mr. Westervelt is passionate about the connection between healthy eating and healthy, well-fed, attentive kids who are ready to learn. His dream is to expand the kitchen, hire a sous chef, virtually eliminate sugar and processed food from the school, and begin to partner with local farms for a larger variety of garden-fresh options.

But more than anything, Mr. Westervelt and his staff are excited about kids. They take good care of each other. They pursue excellence. They focus on what’s important.

“The great thing about my job is knowing that for many kids, being here is the best part of their day. And I love being a part of that.”