Bee I-M-P-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!

Champion Emily Price and Runner-Up Owen Ballor

Last week, 33 Jenison Junior High students participated in the school wide spelling bee!

Students who took to the stage at the Jenison Center for the Arts, were the winners of their in-class spelling bees in each of the Language Arts classes. Teacher, Deb VanDuinen says, “We encourage all our students to participate and we try to keep it a fun, non-threatening atmosphere. We recognize that students do feel some anxiety, so we talk about that and the fact that it’s a “national competition” and we’re proud of them for being a part of it.”

But the anxiety and spelling does stop in Jenison! “The winner and the runner-up are invited to the next competition at the regional level in February. There are other levels—Greater Grand Rapids and State, with the national competition that most people are familiar with in Washington DC at the end of the year.”

Words are chosen by the Scripps National Spelling Bee organization and students prepare by participating in word studies and vocabulary lessons in class. They also have access to study websites and printed lists to study on their own.

Standing in front of your peers and teachers can be nerve-wracking and elimination is inevitable for most. However, Ms VanDuinen sees the support and encouragement offered by Jenison students as an important factor for participation. “Students generally take elimination quite well—I’d say they are resilient and encourage each other.  In fact, if you walk the halls on the day of the spelling bee, whether it’s the classroom level or school wide competition, you will overhear students talking about the words and sometime laughing together at their mistakes. We do take the competition seriously, but everyone knows that spelling—especially in the English language, can be challenging! We work hard to make sure all students feel encouraged and comfortable, even when they make mistakes.”

In a modern world where we all rely on the benefits of spellcheck, Ms VanDuinen knows that valuing the spelling bee continues to be an essential aspect to education. “[The spelling bee] allows an opportunity for some students to shine when they might not otherwise get a chance, it demonstrates the fact that we value academics as much as any other competition and it celebrates language.” The longstanding tradition of the Scripps Spelling Bee is also an important part of this event; “something that can easily get lost in the technology of today’s society.”

Congratulations to all of our participants and especially Champion Emily Price and Runner-Up Owen Ballor! We think you are F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C!

PS If you think you have what it takes to compete on the national level, you can take the test here! Good luck!

Junior High Theatre Gets Wild in Madagascar!

What happens when a lion, a zebra, a giraffe, a hippo, and a handful of penguins dance their way onto the Jenison stage this weekend? Adventure, of course! [With a side of silliness.]

Based on the animated motion picture, Madagascar – A Musical Adventure JR. follows all your favorite animal friends as they escape from their home in New York’s Central Park Zoo and find themselves on an unexpected journey to Madagascar.

Muscial Director, Holly Florian says she is excited to bring this family-friendly story to Jenison audiences. When she was looking for this year’s musical, she was looking for a story that would incorporate a large cast and feature less separation between the leads and the ensemble. “It tells the students and audiences that everyone is important.”

And while the story is filled with music and fun, Ms Florian says the real story is the fact that the entire show is student-led. The stage managers are junior high students with high school students serving as coaches [a high school freshman “calls” the show with junior high students as her assistants]. The lighting crew and sound board are run by students with a faculty adviser present as a back up, but the students are responsible for what you see happening during the show. The set design and building is also done by students and Ms Florian says they usually have the best ideas for solving tricky problems with set design.

Last night parents of cast and crew members were invited to dress rehearsal and Ms Florian lets them know that, if they return for a show over the weekend, they won’t believe the amount of changes they’ll see between the different performances. Students are always looking for ways to improve, she says. “Students see the journey they’ve been on, how far they’ve come, and they see how they make each other better over time.”

Ms Florian says that she is intentional about giving students more opportunities to take ownership of the production.  In one instance, students were split up into small groups and one student was given responsibility to coach the others based on the directors ideas and critiques. They all came back having done exactly what she asked and was looking for. “They are capable, why not give them these opportunities? An important part of JPS Theatre is that kids are given the chance to take on leadership roles.”

And just like their counterparts in the High School, junior high thespians report that being part of the theatre community is a safe place to find belonging, make mistakes, learn together, and encourage one another. “Students always feel uncomfortable in the beginning so we only do team building exercises the first week. It creates an atmosphere of support, students feel safe, and relationships are built.”

We hope you will take time this weekend to witness their hard work on stage! If you’d like to see the show, you can get your tickets here!

Thank you, Ms Florian, for your dedication and leadership! Our students are stronger and more confident because of your belief in them and their abilities! Thank you, Jr High Musical cast and crew! We are inspired and encouraged by your willingness to be challenged and, because of that, shine on stage! Break a leg!

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!

Choir Concert Wows Packed House

This past Tuesday night, the Jenison Center for the Arts was packed with friends and family members ready to be amazed by the vocal stylings of the Junior High Choir and the Elementary Honors Choir.

The Junior High Choir performed some great arrangements of familiar Christmas songs and some non-Christmas songs as well. Director, Steven Waters, says, “We always start the concert with all the choirs performing two songs from the Home Alone movies: Somewhere in my Memory [featuring our Elementary Honors Choir] and Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.”

Each of the individual Choirs then present their own two-song set and finally, the choirs came together again to close the concert with Silent Night/Night of Silence. Again, this features the Elementary Honors Choir and also features three soloists from the Bel Canto Choir [8th grade girls] and Male Chorus. The 7th and 8th grade girl choirs performs from out in the audience with the Elementary Honors Choir. “This concert features a unique audience experience in that they get to participate in the concert through the sing along songs and they get to “be” in the performance of the final song as the entire auditorium becomes the performance space.”

The Junior High Choirs are composed of students in separate grades, and divided by gender. The classes meet each day as part of the regular school day which helps them be particularly well prepared for this performance. They are also a wonderful group to work with and Mr Waters is proud of the characteristics they display as part of this team. “They are all very joyful in their music making on a daily basis! When each of the choir hours begin the energy is amazing and so fun. Our choir students are very affirming and encouraging to their choral staff [directors and accompanists] too. They are a wonderful group of students to work with and get to know on a regular basis.”

Mr Waters knows that choral education has many benefits beyond the performance stage. Students learn to develop their ability to work collaboratively and learn to take responsibility for the success of the entire group. “They have to develop the skill to hear whether a note is in tune or not and how to make that note fit into a multi-part chord. Music/choral/instrumental students learn that whatever they do from a musical AND behavioral standpoint has a consequence for everyone in their musical team. No person is an island in a music group, you are directly responsible for the success or failure of the group based on your personal work ethic.”

Choir students also have the opportunity to learn how to sing in a variety of languages: “Spanish, German, French, Swahili, Italian, Latin, the list is endless. When they learn how to pronounce and sing different languages, it definitely gives them an advantage when they go to learn to speak a given language.

They also develop aural skills and physical stamina. “Choir develops the “ear” for singing AND for playing instruments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen professionals who give master classes insisting that their instrumental students be able to sing whatever they want to play. I teach low brass instruments as a private instructor and my students know that they will be singing almost every lesson to some degree. They play better in tune and more accurately. And students with breathing challenges like asthma find that by taking choir, they develop more strength in their breathing muscles and more breath capacity when they learn to breathe as a vocalist. The choral students who participate in the sports programs frequently report improved performance after they learn how to breathe in this way too.”

Mr Waters adds that the musical community at Jenison is a safe place for students to find their place and have that sense of community benefit their entire learning experience. “Music does so much for the individual growth of each student. It also contributes to a feeling of community for many students who don’t always feel like they belong in their daily school day anywhere else. Students perform better in their other disciplines when they have an emotional investment in their school life and also if they have something in which they excel. Music education is a place where many students find their niche in school. When students find success in their music classes, then the teachers of the other disciplines can build on that to get the kids to improve in other areas. Music participation also contributes to the overall climate in the school. Music students are trained to behave in a supportive manner when they go to an event in an auditorium [like a concert] and this helps to build that feeling of community when you gather everyone together for assemblies and other events. ”

Thank you, Mr Waters and the entire Musical Department at JPS! Our students are becoming better learners and community members with you on their team! And thank you to our choirs for your hard work and dedication to learning and performing this valuable skill! We’re proud of you!

Summer Series: Student Art Sample [8th 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!

“Skin Deep”
by: Gabby Bennetts
 8th Grade, Jenison Junior High

We looked at portrait drawings as inspiration for this piece, and the students learned how to draw faces in proportion.  I challenged Gabby with exploring her imagination for a background to include with her self-portrait.  They used colored pencils to finish the piece.  I have been impressed with the progression in Gabby’s artistic skills over the last two years, and she works very hard on her projects.

Gabby and her artwork were selected by her Junior High art teacher, Nate Greenwood.

Summer Series: Student Art Sample [7th 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!

“Fantasy Vs. Reality”
By: Jolie DenBesten
7th Grade, Jenison Junior High 

We studied Ugly Jugs for this project.  This a tradition of ceramic vessels found in Southern United States dating back to the early 1800’s.  Students had to create two completely different faces–one for each side of the vase.  Jolie has done an outstanding job in our ceramic class this year.  She really focuses on the quality of her building and the details.

Jolie and her artwork were nominated by her Junior High art teacher, Nate Greenwood.

8th Graders Go East!

For the past ten years, each June, 8th grade history teacher, Kevin Fales, boards a charter bus with Jenison 8th graders to venture to the east coast to bring history to life, but to teach students so much more!

During his second year of teaching, Mr Fales was invited to join East Kentwood Middle School on their own East Coast Trip to get a feel for the experience and consider running a similar trip for Jenison. Now the trip averages 125 students each year and, along with twelve to fifteen school employees serving as chaperones, the trip is a mainstay for the 8th grade class.

This year, the 130 students will board the bus on Thursday, June 15 and head for their first stop: Niagara Falls. For most of the students, this will be their first experience outside of Michigan, let alone, outside of the country! The stop in Niagara Falls not only breaks up a long day of driving, but it allows students to begin to have their eyes opened to the wide world outside of West Michigan.

Day two finds the group in Boston visiting Fenway Park, Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, and take a ride on the infamous Duck Tour where they will ride the “duck truck” into the Charles River. Of course, the group will also visit historic sites throughout the city, along the Freedom Trail.

From Boston, the students will travel to New York City and play the role of tourists and visit Central Park, Times Square, and Rockefeller Plaza. The next day they will visit the 9/11 Memorial, ride a double-decker bus around the city to learn history and fun facts and wrap up their time in the city with a boat ride on “The Beast” which will take them past the Statue of Liberty.

After their two-day whirlwind of NYC, the group will journey to Philadelphia to visit Constitution CenterIndependence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both signed. “We’re standing in the room where George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were all in.” They will also visit Thomas Jefferson’s apartment where he wrote the Declaration of Independence. To end their time in Philly, they will channel their inner-Rocky by running the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On the way home, the group will stop at Gettysburg and receive a guided tour of the field and experience the Cyclorama, a painting created in the late 1880s which measures 377 feet in circumstance and 42 feet high** and immerses the viewer in the battle itself.

The final stop on the way home is Hershey Park to enjoy the amusement park and celebrate the end of their trip.

Mr Fales says that there are multiple goals for the students: it’s an opportunity to leave home, to build relationships with fellow students, and to connect what they’ve learned in class to real-life history. “As they are getting ready to go to the high school, it’s time to learn for themselves, the trip provides a chance for self-discovery, learning to advocate for themselves and grow up a little bit.”

Thank you, Mr Fales and chaperones, for planning this trip each year and giving your time and energy for ensure our students have the best possible learning experience! Students, soak up every aspect of this experience and feel the wind beneath your newly spread wings!

*Photo courtesy of RMA Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation
**Courtesy of the Gettysburg Foundation

Star Student Spotlight: Izzy Krzewski!

When asked who Junior High Vice Principal, Heather Breen, would recommend as a Star Student, she did not hesitate! “8th grader, Isabelle (Izzy) Krzewski is a sweetheart of a student who is very involved in theater, dance, orchestra and choir.  She works incredibly hard and has great grades.”

Izzy comes from a musical family where her four older siblings are happy to indulge her habit of singing around the house. She has participated in Jenison theatre the last two years and performed as Princess Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress and this year, she wowed the crowd with her especially mean portrayal of Aunt Spiker in James and Giant Peach. Izzy insists that her role has Aunt Spiker caused her to have to “dig deep” because she usually plays the fun, silly roles and Aunt Spiker was the exact opposite. Izzy herself is sweet, kind and humble so finding her “inner Aunt Spiker” was a fun challenge.

As other theatre students have affirmed, the program at Jenison is a place all kinds of kids call “home” and Izzy is no different. She loves theatre because “the kids, the environment, and all the people — theatre people are the best people to be around because you can just laugh and joke with them. If you’re stressed from homework, theatre and dance just help you forget about it and be part of the art.”

Izzy also participates in the Junior High Dance Team which performs at the boys basketball games as well as various local competitions. If her dedication to theatre wasn’t enough to exhaust you, Izzy’s dance schedule directly corresponds  to the preparation for the musical each year and she insists it’s not a “stressful kind of hard work”.

In class she describes herself as “quiet and shy” but these are not the qualities she possesses on stage. “I just like becoming a different person on stage and making the audience smile and laugh”. Izzy says that her math teacher, Mr. Ohman is the teacher that inspires her to learn and the class she enjoys the most. “Mr Ohman teaches us math, but also teaches us about life. His stories are really inspirational. Usually in first hour I’m tired but he keeps me engaged with all of his stories.”

Because two kinds of art performances aren’t enough for Izzy, she also participates in the junior high choir and orchestra where she has played the viola for three years. “In orchestra I’m playing the notes and in choir, I’m singing the notes which is really cool and it helps me learn more.”

Her favorite music to sing is show tunes and she loves Newsies and Hamilton. She has seen movies of Broadway shows but has yet to see one in person but very much looks forward to it.

Izzy is looking forward to auditioning for theatre and being part of the High School choir and orchestra and says, “It is difficult balancing it all during the theatre and dance season. You’re up late, but it’s totally worth it.”

She encourages everyone to find what they love and lean in to it. “You have to find a passion in yourself, something that makes your heart beat faster and then that’s really where you make your mark.”

Thank you, Izzy! Your hard work, bravery on stage, dedication to your passion is an inspiration to all of us! We’re proud to call you a Wildcat!

#JPSReads Comes Alive on Stage!

miii2248As a partnership to #JPSReads, the Junior High theatre department presents, James and the Giant Peach starting today and running through Sunday afternoon. We hope that families all over the district participated in the Read Aloud, JPSReads, earlier this school year and read the classic Roald Dahl story but if it’s new to you, don’t worry, it’s a heartwarming tale of an underdog you’ll love.

James is orphaned early in life and goes to live with his aunt who treats him as a servant, rather than a young boy. He soon meets a mysterious old man who offers him a magic bag of crocodile tongues that will make his life better. When James accidentally spills the tongues all over the ground, he is surprised to see an enormous peach grow on the sidewalk! The giant peach becomes a magical place of fantasy and friendship for James and, of course, you’ll need to read the book or buy a ticket this weekend to hear the rest!

miii2237When Director, Holly Florian, was anticipating this years musical, she considered the amazing batch of talent her students bring to the table. While the audience is aware that the actors on stage are junior high students, what they may not realize is that by the end of the weekend, the entire show is student-run. They are in charge of the lights, sound, stage management, direction, and set changes. They are assisted by a couple of high school students in their tasks but they act mainly in the role of mentor to these ambitious junior highers!

The cast auditioned back in mid-October and at the end of that month they began their rehearsals. Near showtime, they are rehearsing from 5-9pm every weeknight! Prior to the holiday break they have memorized all of their lines but Ms Florian encourages them from this point on to really let the characters become their own; to have fun with the lines and the story. She sees their potential and wants them to have the opportunitiy to shine as a result of their hard work and dedication.

miii2102Just like our high school students say year after year, Ms Florian believes that her students love being in the theatre program because it provides a sense of belonging and community. Students are able to meet new people and make friends with other students they may have never met otherwise. Because of this, she is especially pleased with the journey that James makes in this story. As the director, she is able to see the journey of students, their progress and self-confidence throughout the rehearsal season. By the end “it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come and that’s what this story is all about: self-confidence.”

If you’d like to see these talented students live, in action, you can purchase your tickets here. It’s a great opportunity to bring the book to life and remind your kids of the importance of and meaning found in reading and stories!

Break a leg, Junior High students! We know you will be incredible, not only this weekend, but always!

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History Comes Alive for 8th Graders!

img_4675If you’ve ever tuned out your parents or an older adult when they started to say, “When I was your age…” you’re not alone and you’re probably in the good company of many of our eighth grade students.

This year, Jenison Junior High Language Arts teachers wanted to not only allow students the opportunity to embrace their curriculum unit on historical fiction but to do it by getting to know some older adults in our community who have their own history to tell.

img_4646English teacher, Jane Brown, wanted students to learn new ways to value history and personal experiences. “We are always looking for ways to make our curriculum real to our students. In eighth grade, we study historical fiction and – unfortunately – sometimes just that genre alone turns people off even though it can be fascinating. We wanted to help our students to see that the things that happened before their lifetimes matter.”

As part of the event held earlier this month, senior citizens were invited to participate by being interviewed in person by our junior high students. The students are also charged with writing historical fiction of their own and the real-life experiences they heard about will add depth to their writing.

img_4685“Students asked a variety of questions. The goal was for them was to find out what life was like in the past and also to hear the interesting stories that people had to share. The students were very excited to share what they had learned from the people they interviewed. They are looking forward to writing historical fiction short stories set in the time periods that they learned about.
Kids loved learning what people wore to the beach in the 1930s [suits and ties], how they talked on the telephone in the 1960s [party lines], and about the beginnings of Jenison Public Schools.”

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55 older adults between the ages of 50 – 90 participated in the event and were eager to share their experiences with the students. They also reported being impressed by their questions!

“We really liked that this event allowed students to learn about history in a non-traditional way from a first-hand perspective, while at the same time, practicing communication skills. The students came away from their hour disappointed that they didn’t have more time with the people they interviewed. Bridging the generations is such a wonderful experience for everyone involved!

Thank you to our community partners for being willing to participate in our students’ education! Your voices are invaluable to us!

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