Monthly Archives: May 2014

Vicksburg Environmental Science Club

Students planting a gingko tree on the grounds of Vicksburg High School are from left to right: Jacob Green, Chase Hill, Alex Harsha, Theresa Hawkins, assisted by Lisa Harbour, middle school science teacher and Liz Ratashak, high school science teacher. Students partially in the background are unidentified.

A new gingko tree will be planted on the Vicksburg High School (VHS) campus, this year, thanks to the school’s Environmental Science Club.

“When we asked, ‘What do you want to do for Earth Day?’ students replied, ‘Plant a tree,’” said Liz Ratashak, advisor for the VHS club. Prudential Nursery, a strong supporter of the community and schools, donated the gingko tree for the club to plant.

This is just one of the projects completed by the club since its inception in 2009, headed by science teachers, Lisa Harbour and LIz Ratashak, who have been inspiring and encouraging students to think, wonder and enjoy through the club.

The club originally started with the drive to recycle paper and has blossomed from there to include more environmental issues. Over the years, students have studied freshwater systems, invasive species, local ecosystems, and science in general.

Select Vicksburg Middle School (VMS) and Vicksburg High School (VHS) students have focused their attention on the environment, working in conjunction with Michigan State University (MSU) and Kellogg Biological Station (KBS).

Students are invited into the club by the advisors based on their interests and enthusiasm for natural sciences.

“We really encourage students to openly love science and discuss topics in science that intrigue them,” said Ratashak. “Our love for science really feeds our desire to encourage others to pursue their passions in science.”

Harbour and Ratashak have brought in field scientists from KBS to speak to the group every year. Several graduate students in science have been advisors to the club, bringing with them their knowledge of basic science research while also being role-models for student scientists.

The Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation (VCSF) has been instrumental in the club’s ability to expand their horizons. Over the past few years, club members have applied for, and received, several Curiosity Grants.

Trips to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Meijer Gardens, Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary, and, most recently, a canoe trip on the Kalamazoo River, have been funded by VCSF to expand the students’ horizons.

Phelps Awarded a Bardeen Grant from VCSF

Kurt Phelps in the weight room at Vicksburg High School.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School’s strength and conditioning coach, Kurt Phelps, is using his $1,000 Bardeen Grant from the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, to take a week’s internship at the U.S. Naval Academy this summer.

Phelps will work with the Academy’s strength and conditioning coaches to learn how they teach and train students. He will observe new ways of doing things in the world of exercise and conditioning. The techniques of using muscles and how they work and get stronger are tops on his list to keep up on as they constantly evolve, he says.

Last summer, Phelps took his family to visit the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. They toured the training facilities and marveled at the kind and welcoming reception they received from the staff. That led to an inquiry about this summer and the possible internship.

He was invited back to train and work on new techniques, but he would need funding to stay there and make the trip, this time by himself, thus the Bardeen grant application.

Phelps has taught strength and conditioning in Vicksburg since 2002, when he was hired as the football coach. He is a graduate of Taylor University with a master’s degree from Western Michigan University in exercise science.

Bardeen Requests 2014
Grant Writer Item Requests Bardeen Requests Award
Cara Brink Nutrition Conference                        1,468.00 1,000.00
Steve Fryling Video Camera for WAY Program                            800.00          800.00
Wendy Gebben ipad, cover, shield and insurance                        1,056.00          600.00
Patty Heintzelman Orff Training                        1,500.00          600.00
Katie Kay Scientific iPad Probes                        2,856.00 2,856.00
Pat Moreno PLC Conference                        1,255.00          649.00
Kurt Phelps US Naval Academy Internship                        1,000.00 1,000.00
Katie Smith Android Tablets (2)                        2,694.00          900.00
Allison Taylor/Terri Negri Tech Conference                        1,146.00 1,146.00
Leslie Trayers iPads (3), covers, shields, insurance                        1,215.00 1,800.00
Krista Wilson Audio Books                            890.00          500.00
Melissa Wilson/Marta Northam iPad (1) cover, shield, insurance                        1,000.00          600.00
April Zapata Early Intervention Reading                            506.00          506.00
Kathy Forsythe PLC Conference                            649.00          649.00
Total Requests 18,035.00 13,606.00

14 Vicksburg Teachers Receive Bardeen Grants

By Kim Klein

bardeen 002
Max Bardeen at his desk during the 1950s at Simpson Lee Paper Company in Vicksburg.

Fourteen Vicksburg teachers are recipients of Bardeen Grants this year. The purpose of the grant is to fund individual research and personal/professional development activities that will result in new teaching and learning practices. The grant can also be used to purchase materials necessary for implementation of creative and innovative teaching and learning practices outside of the scope of normal curriculum materials, supplies or equipment supplied by the district. Grant awards are generally limited to $1,000 for each project request, although exceptions are considered based upon the project proposal and funding availability.

Pat Wilson-O’Leary, retired VCS Instructional Specialist, trustee and chairperson for the Bardeen Committee, says, “The teachers who take the time to write the grants are motivated to try new things or try current practices differently. The grants supply what a present day, normal school budget cannot supply. To reach the maximum benefit, all Bardeen Grant recipients have to transfer their knowledge and skills not only to their students, but to their colleagues. Teaching and learning are now community affairs. Without interdependent thinking and interdependently learning, schools cannot grow with the times.”

The Bardeen Teacher Incentive Grant was created in 1986 as a partnership between the Vicksburg Foundation, providing the money, and the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation VCSF, to distribute the money.

At that time, the Vicksburg Foundation made grant funding available in the amount of $7,500 each year. Since then, the amount has been increased to $10,000 per year. The VCSF also has an endowment established with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation that generated an extra $3,100 for this year’s grant program. That’s an additional $13,000 for the 2014 program.

The grants acknowledge the contributions of Maxwell Bardeen, the longtime general manager of Vicksburg’s Lee Paper Company, one of the founders of the Vicksburg Foundation and the Western Michigan University Paper Science & Engineering Department.

He was a champion of the Vicksburg Community Schools and Vicksburg teachers. In 1994, when Bardeen passed away, both the VCSF and the Vicksburg Foundation voted to expand their support of the Teacher Incentive Grant Program. Acknowledging Maxwell and his family as founders of the program, the group changed the grants’ name to the Bardeen Teacher Incentive Grant Program.

“Teachers today are challenged to teach concepts and skills as well as provide unbelievable amounts of information in creative, interesting and challenging ways”, says Wilson-O’Leary. “They must model technological skills and teach students to do the same. Great teachers cannot teach the same ways they did five or ten years ago. They must continually grow and change as the world changes. We are fortunate to have such teachers in Vicksburg.”

Thanks to the Vicksburg Foundation and the VCSF, some dreams do come true for Vicksburg’s teachers.

VHS Band Earns Honors at Festival of Disney Competition


The Vicksburg High School Band earned several honors at the Festival of Disney competition in Orlando, Florida, during spring break, where they competed with 30 other bands from across the country.

The Big Red Machine received superior ratings and took the overall highest award for their “parade band” and their “field show” performance of this year’s show “JOY!”

The band’s drum majors took the “Best Drum Majors” caption award. Symphonic band received an overall superior rating, and Concert band, Top Dawg Jazz, and Early Dawg Jazz took an overall excellent award.

“Vicksburg Bands performed to the best of their abilities. As directors, Ben Rosier and I could not be more proud of their accomplishments,” said Ravenna Myers, assistant band director.

Marching down Hollywood Boulevard seemed to be the highlight for the Big Red Machine, she said.

“Of all the marching experiences we’ve shared, the students said they enjoyed this one so much they didn’t want it to ever end,” said Myers.

Photos by Jammi Fuller.

Staff Reports Highlight Schoolcraft School Board Meeting

Members of the School Board from left to right listen to the presentations: Darby Fetzer, Jeanette Marshall, Matt Devoe, Mike Rochholz, Kathy Mastenbrook, and Skip Fox. On the far right, Dave Krum and Supt. Rusty Stitt, but not pictured.

By Sue Moore

Walther Farms Donates $50,000 to Schoolcraft Schools

Jason Walther and his cousin, Brian Walther, hold up their promise check to Schoolcraft Schools which designates the $50,000 that Walther Farms has donated. It will help fund the HumaneX partnership the school system has entered into. Receiving the check are Superintendent Dr. Rusty Stitt on the left and School Board President Mike Rochholz on the right.

“This money will be used to help coach and grow our staff as we continue to strive in moving from good to great,” Dr. Stitt said while thanking the two men. The money is to be parceled out over the next five years he told the board.

Schoolcraft Drama Club Set for Scotland Trip

Drama Club students and teacher Chris Sargeant present their request to the School Board.

Schoolcraft’s Drama Club will take its version of Pippen to the Fringe Festival in Scotland the summer of 2015 to perform in the largest performing arts festival of its kind in the world. The Drama Club needed approval for the trip from the Board of Education. “For a school of this size, it’s a great honor to be selected,” said Chris Sargeant, the high school drama coach.

“The cost is $6,400 per student and I expect the kids and I will do the work to raise the money by writing grants and putting on fundraisers,” he said.

Student performers in grades 9-12 are eligible to go on the trip which will include two days in London and then on to the largest performing arts festival in the world in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“Cast members will even take their costumes in their own suitcases and be accompanied by family and friends,” Sargeant said.

Reproductive Health Program Set for Fourth, Fifth Grade Students

Ashley Choker addresses the School Board.

“The rise in use of social media with our adolescents has resulted in students learning information quicker than ever before. The update to our Health unit follows the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) expectations and is more relevant to our current fourth and fifth grade students,” reported Elementary Principal Amie McCaw.

She and science teacher, Kellie Mein, felt the school needed to make changes to ensure students have the relevant information for MDE grade level standards in the area of health. They asked Ashley Choker, a certified sex educator, to help them create a new program for fourth and fifth grade students to be taught together. In the past, the students watched a video they said.

Choker will do the teaching this year and then the regular staff will take over, McCaw said. A parent meeting is set for May 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the Elementary School library to explain the program. Parents may opt their children out of the program.

Middle School Improvement Plan Explained

Middle School Principal Chris Ebsch.

Alignment with the Common Core curriculum has been the year-long job of teachers at the Middle School, according to Principal Chris Ebsch in his presentation to the school board in April. He noted the progress made with planning and implementation during the school year. He provided an inside look at the way the staff is working through the goals set by the school district for 2013/14.

Plans to teach College Readiness Standards will be data-driven using online assessment and reporting tools, he said. Where students are falling down in math, the staff will reteach by pulling students out of class for special help, with a similar intervention in reading planned for next year as well. The Middle School staff has been working hard to increase parent engagement throughout the year, Ebsch said.

High School Focus on College Readiness

High School Principal Kristin Flynn.

Good size jumps in college success were reported by High School Principal Kristin Flynn for Schoolcraft graduates.  The National Student Clearinghouse report that she presented, showed 81 percent of Schoolcraft students were enrolled in either two or four year colleges.  For the class of 2008, the majority of those starting college were able to finish their education in five years.  The class of 2009 statistics show that 34 percent have graduated in four years.  The trend is showing that most students are taking five years to complete their college education. “We continue to focus on college readiness. We are excited about this trend due to our intentional school improvement efforts toward these outcomes,” Flynn said.

Three Grants Awarded to Schoolcraft Teachers

Elementary School Principal Amie McCaw.

Two teachers received $550 for professional development from The Flippen Group for Teen Leadership, a course that will be offered at the middle school next year and at the high school in the years to follow.  Principal Amie McCaw will receive $1,500 for the district MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) team.  This will include a trainer coming to Schoolcraft Schools for a whole day on August 6 to lead the staff in professional development. Mike Rochholz, board president, congratulated the staff on applying for grants and ultimately being successful in receiving them.

Varsity Girls Tennis Starts with Big Victories

Alabina Zaganior, Vicksburg exchange student from Montenegro plays first singles for Vicksburg.

By Mari Smith

The Vicksburg Varsity Girls Tennis team started the season with two wins in Wolverine Conference matches. Vicksburg first took on Paw Paw, where the Bulldogs had a clean sweep 8-0.

The next day, the Bulldogs came up against Dowagiac where they conquered the Chieftans 7-1, with the only loss from the number one doubles players Kia Hall and Megan Foster due to default because of illness.

In the Greater Kalamazoo Tournament on April 19 and 21 with fourteen area teams, Alex Oswalt finished second runner up for #2 singles and Megan Wolf second runner up for #4 singles. The doubles team of Cantu and Kaufman landed a fourth place finish.

On their home court, the Bulldogs gained another Conference win against Plainwell, racking up a 7-1 victory over the Trojans.   Traveling to Otsego, the Bulldogs blanked their conference-rival Bulldogs 8-0, with only two of the matches going into a third set.

Back on the road at Marshall for a non-conference match up, Vicksburg had another win 5-3. Number one singles Alabina Zaganjor won 6-3, 6-3 and number two singles Oswalt won 6-1, 6-4. Marie Ludemann and Wolf took losses, as did number one doubles Hall and Foster.

Number two doubles Julie Cantu and Calista Kaufman took their victory 6-2, 6-1; Claire Mutch and Katie Reed 6-2, 6-4, and Rachel Blough and Karissa Wilson rounded out the victories for the Bulldogs 6-1, 6-0.

The team is coached by Coach Warner Offord, Jr. and new assistant coach Ryan Farquhar. Playing number one singles is sophomore Alabina Zaganjor, number two singles senior Alex Oswalt, number three singles senior Marie Ludemann, and number four singles sophomore Megan Wolf.

On the doubles team rosters are seniors Kia Hall and Megan Foster number one, senior Julia Cantu and sophomore Calista Kaufman number two, sophomores Claire Mutch and Katie Reed number three, and senior Rachel Blough and junior Karissa Wilson number four.

Two of the singles positions are held by foreign exchange students. Zaganjor is a foreign exchange student from Montenegro and Ludemann is from Germany.   The team is relatively young with the loss of 75 percent of its members to graduation last year, and only two returning varsity team members.

Lady Bulldogs Varsity Softball Begins Season with Mixed Bag

Vicksburg softball infielders go through drills.

By Mari Smith

Wins and losses have marked the beginning of the season for the Lady Bulldogs varsity softball team.

The Bulldogs started their season with a conference game against the Chieftains of Dowagiac in a double header on April 16. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs fell to Dowagiac 4-7 and 3-5, with Amber Beal and Kayla Davenport, respectively, taking the losses on the mound.

Grabbing their first win wasn’t far off. On April 18, they clinched a double header against Comstock. They beat the Colts 3-2 with Davenport on the mound, who also had two hits in the game. With Beal pitching, the Bulldogs took the victory again 6-2.   Beal also contributed two hits, as did Morgan VanDeWoestyne.

The Otsego Invitational on April 19 started off with a loss but finished with two crushing wins. The lady Bulldogs lost to Northview in a close 10-8 game. But against Allegan, Vicksburg handed the Tigers a huge 19-4 loss.   Shaidan Knapp, Olivia Holmes and Rachel Peterman each had three hits, and the win was credited to pitcher Peterman.

The Bulldogs didn’t stop there but delivered a 15-5 loss to Holland with Beal on the mound. Knapp, Davenport, Savannah Johnson, VanDeWoestyne, and Jenna Fort each earned two hits.

On their home field, Vicksburg met conference opponent Edwardsburg . The Eddies overpowered the Bulldogs in a double header where Vicksburg took the loss in the first game after only five innings at 13-1. Fort hit a solo home run in the fourth inning to account for the only run of the game. In the second match-up, Knapp started off with a homerun in the first inning. Unfortunately, that would be the only run scored in that game for Vicksburg where they were hit with another big 14-1 casualty.

A double header with conference team Paw Paw, would end in a split between the Bulldogs and the Redskins.   Both games were very close, with Vicksburg taking one 5-4. Fort had three hits in that game, with Davenport earning two RBIs, and Beal as the winning pitcher.

The 5-6 Bulldog loss tallied up two hits by Holmes and two RBIs by Fort and Jones, and Davenport took the loss on the mound.   Caledonia handed Vicksburg an 8-0 shut-out with the only hits for the Bulldogs by Fort and Peterman, and Beal taking the loss for that game.

The Bulldogs came back to victory lane at the Gull Lake Invitational on April 26. The Bulldogs took a close one over Grant 12-10 with Davenport on the mound. Knapp was the shining star with three hits and five RBIs. Jessica Kelley and Grace Stock also had three hits and two RBIS, with Davenport and Fort adding two hits each, and Davenport as the winning pitcher.   At the Invitational, the Bulldogs also handed Wyoming Lee a huge 11-1 loss where Davenport took top honors with four hits and a whopping six RBIs. Knapp also racked up three hits and one RBI, Stock two hits and 2 RBIs, and Holmes had two hits. Beal added another victory to her record as well.

The team is coached by Paul Gephart with Ed Knapp as assistant coach.

Team members for the 2014 season are seniors Jenna Fort, Lexi Francisco, Savannah Johnson, Kristen Jones, Jessica Kelley and Rachel Peterman; juniors Amber Beal and Kayla Davenport; sophomore Olivia Holmes, and freshmen Shaidan Knapp, Grace Stock and Morgan VanDeWoestyne.

Former Vicksburg Pastor to Speak at Grace Community Church

By John Fulton

Dr. Thomas E. Trask, chairman of the Global Prayer Initiative of Convoy of Hope, former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God and former pastor of Brightmoor Tabernacle in Detroit will be guest speaker at Grace Community Church, Assembly of God, 403 South Kalamazoo St. on Sunday, May 25, at 10:30 a.m.

Ordained in 1958, Dr. Trask was one of the first pastors of Vicksburg Assembly of God, now known as Grace Community Church, A/G Fellowship.

He has served in a variety of capacities since 1956 when he began his ministry in Minnesota. A graduate of North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, Dr. Trask has spent over 50 years in ministry.

His ministry has always had a strong emphasis on prayer, discipleship, and reaching out of the four walls of the church to the community and the world. As a pastor, he, along with his congregations, has been responsible for planting seven new churches.

Dr. Trask was elected chief executive officer of the Assemblies of God at the 45th General Council in August, 1993. As superintendent of the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world, he was a member of the denomination’s Board of Administration and the Executive Presbytery. Prior to his election, he served the church as its general treasurer.

Over the years Dr. Trask has served on many national boards of the evangelical community and he remains chairman of the board for AGFS. As Chairman of the Global Prayer Initiative of Convoy of Hope, Trask challenges church leaders and congregations around the world to pray for the poor and suffering.

His recent books are “God is Listening” and a “21 Day Prayer Guide.”

O’Brien Updates Vicksburg Village Council

State Representative Margaret O’Brien talks to the Vicksburg Village Council.

By Sue Moore

State Representative Margaret O’Brien gave a legislative update to the Vicksburg Village council during its April meeting. She drew attention to one big issue at the state level – revenue sharing – that will affect the village budget. She cited competing proposals currently winding their way through the committee process. Her favorite proposal would be the governor’s recommendation on revenue sharing that would put $274,915 into village coffers. The appropriations committee chairperson’s legislation would actually cost the village $100,000, she said.

She said these proposals pit neighbor against neighbor and she didn’t like the taste of that.

Bill Adams, president of the village, thanked O’Brien for her help with the Department of Treasury meetings last year. When the Village was called on the carpet for its deficit spending, she helped every step of the way.

“She helped streamline the process when the problem was discovered,” he said. Rep. O’Brien complimented the village officials on not sweeping the debt under the rug.

“You are a model for any community,” she said. “You didn’t point fingers and were immediately looking for a solution, unlike some of the state’s larger cities.”

In addition to hearing from O’Brien, the council also discussed several other items. First, South Central Michigan Construction Code Inspections (SCMCCI) will now issue permits and do blight inspections in the Village.

Chris Hamilton, administrative manager of the company, said they don’t police the community but they will issue tickets, based upon the complaint received as it relates to the general ordinance for code enforcement. Her company replaces Michigan Township Services (MTS) which has held the Village’s contract for a number of years. Ken Schippers, interim village manager, recommended the change. SCMCCI will collect the fees for permits, just as MTS did.

Chris Newman, council member, said this will take the onus off the police department for enforcement of the blight ordinances. He felt Hamilton’s company would be more competitive and more proactive with the village customers for obtaining building permits which can be picked up at the Village office or obtained online.

In other business:

*Schippers also reported on trees that would be cut in the village on Park Street and Michigan Avenue in the near future. The limbs are always falling down and causing problems, he said.

*A decision to move the fire siren from the Village Hall to the fire department was approved at a cost of $2,750. The fire department will now be responsible for setting off the siren off when they think it is required, Schippers said.

*Schippers requested a new chipper at a cost of $23,950, saying the old 1990 vintage chipper was mighty tired. The money was set aside in last year’s budget but the chipper was never purchased.

*Well number five, which supplies the village with drinking water, has deteriorated to the point where it is pumping at a third of its capacity. The Council approved $30,000 to clean each section of the well and get it back up and running. He cited the need to get this job done now and not wait until summer when the demand for water would greatly increase.

DDA Strategic Planning Participants Eager to Move to the Implementation Stage

Strategic planning committee for the DDA.

By Sue Moore

Kathy Hoyle, interim director of the Vicksburg Downtown Development Authority (DDA), presented the four parts of the group’s plan to the Vicksburg Village Council at its May meeting. The four parts are:

1. Downtown improvements

2. Business growth plan

3. Marketing plan

4. Infrastructure plan

The downtown improvement part of the plan has a goal to maintain current buildings, remedy blighted properties, and to enhance greenscapes and green community activities.

The business growth goal is to create a growth plan to eliminate vacancies, develop a unique business mix, design business support programs, and identify space for future development.

The marketing goal is to develop an external marketing/communications plan to promote downtown business collaboration, branding, and awareness of downtown Vicksburg as a place to work, live and play.

Finally, the long-term goal is to develop an infrastructure plan including improvements to accommodate mobility, connectivity and handicap accessibility.

Through a series of strategic planning sessions with interested citizens, the DDA set goals and assigned tasks.

Hoyle has been careful to be inclusive every step of the way, she said.

Kathy Hoyle, interim director of the Vicksburg Downtown Development Authority.

“It has to be a team that owns the plan and wants it to become reality, “she said. “In my experience, it will not happen if people don’t have input and then responsibility to carry the plan forward.”

The ideas that participants in March’s visioning session particularly liked were the small town atmosphere, the historic theme, the outdoor amenities, and the shopping, dining, entertainment and lodging that can be built in the future, she said.

At the end of June, the new fiscal year for the Village begins and Hoyle looks forward to begin implementation of the strategic plan with her biggest task being to find the money to implement the plans.

“There are many grants available at the state and local level that we are looking to apply for,” she said. “They include façade improvements, trail construction, tax incentives for businesses to locate downtown, and green space opportunities.”

Now, the DDA needs to focus on the specifics of the plan and the priorities, she told the Council.

Hoyle is enthusiastic about her work in Vicksburg.

“This is a place of forward thinking, where people want to make changes that can actually happen,” she said. “We are building a strong foundation for the DDA. The downtown is a place where people want to shop, walk, and spend time with their families. It’s a nice environment to work in.”