Language Arts and Life Skills

Jenison Junior High students are combining key components of Language Arts studies with a journalism focus to sharpen powerful life skills. The 8th grade students invited community members to help them hone their listening, speaking and writing proficiency.

Packed with students and friendly interviewees, the JJHS media center was abuzz with conversation. Students were prepared to practice natural speaking and active listening but it also required them to do some quick thinking on their feet. Taking quick, succinct notes was also a challenge.


Dawn Dykstra shares her perspectives on Jenison as a former student, a current parent, and a current teacher.

Mr. Dustin Morley, 8th grade Language Arts teacher, is excited for this new kind of learning experience, citing that this is pushing kids into an area they may not be overly comfortable with, but gives them valuable practice for these crucial skills. Students rotated stations in the media center conducting multiple interviews. After the class hour concluded, the students worked to complete the project with a feature story about one of their special guests.

I was honored to be among the group sharing my experiences through natural conversation. The students asked some really great questions, taking the discussion in interesting directions. I’m glad our teachers are always looking for creative ways to provide authentic learning experiences. And I’m very encouraged to see the next generation embracing face to face interaction and learning to be active listeners, critical thinkers and contributing citizens of the future.


Matt Kroon graduated from JHS in 2000; he shares about how the area has changed, including the addition of Rivertown Mall.


Jamie Scholten discusses how the cost of things such as gas has changed drastically. 


Doug Smith, a retired JJHS social studies teacher, uses sports props to engage students and talk about his experiences. 


Kara VandenBerg shares about her work with dogs, including Bernie the golden retriever. 



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.”


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!





JJHS Language Arts Teachers Alana Kooi & Deb VanDuinen Rise to the Top!

Photo of Deb and Alana

(L to R) Language Arts teachers Alana Kooi and Deb VanDuinen

For the past several years, Jenison Junior High Language Arts teachers Alana Kooi and Deb VanDuinen have been focused on a single goal: improving Language Arts instruction for their students and empowering other educators across the state and nation to do the same.

Together they have studied research related to how students learn to read and write, have poured over methodologies, and have applied new instructional techniques in their classrooms. Not afraid to ask hard questions, they have challenged traditional perspectives in favor of approaches that have been proven with data.

Because of their determination to excel, Mrs. Kooi and Mrs. VanDuinen have emerged as leaders in their field, recently receiving certification as consultants with the National Writing Project. They have additionally been awarded a grant in “Leadership and Learning” from the NEA and have completed work with the Lake Michigan Writing Project. 

Working as a team, this duo has presented at numerous conferences and conducted countless workshops to train their colleagues and help them develop a “deeper understanding of how students develop as learners…and use research-driven best practices in the classroom.”

Aside from working locally with West Michigan districts as the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Mrs. Kooi and Mrs. VanDuinen have also presented at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference (MCTE).

“We’ve been privileged to work closely with teachers in several districts in the area over extended time — it’s exciting to build these relationships and see their enthusiasm about teaching writing!” they said.

Both women say the most important part of their work is the personal growth they’ve experienced along the way. Being well-read and aware of current developments in research gives them the tools needed to individualize their instruction and offer “specific moves” for their students to use in their writing. This also lays the foundation for stronger writers who are able to work more independently in a workshop-style classroom format.

This summer the team will be serving as facilitators for the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA)During the conference, Mrs. Kooi and Mrs. VanDuinen will be part of a team tasked with the enormous undertaking of aligning all of Michigan’s K-12 classrooms with the Common Core standards. They hope to achieve this with a student-centered approach to reading and writing.

“We thoroughly enjoy this work! It has changed how we see teaching and learning, and provided opportunities to work with other professionals on the cutting edge of education.”

Please join us in applauding Mrs. Van Duinen and Mrs. Kooi for modeling life-long learning and for their commitment to excellence in the classroom!