All State Band Selections

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Pictured left to right: Nik Zazula; Keevin O’Neill, high school principal; and Nathaniel Chiu.

Nikolas Zazula, Jr. on the left and Nathaniel Chiu on the right were honored by the Vicksburg school board for their accomplishments in music at the board’s recent meeting. High school principal Keevin O’Neill, in the middle, proudly presented their accomplishments, saying they have earned an incredible honor.

As a drummer, Zazula has been selected for the all-state jazz band which includes 20 students from high school jazz bands throughout the state. He is the only drummer selected. He was honored in 2015 when the Western Jazz Quartet played a concert at the performing arts center (PAC) in September by participating with the group and playing a solo.

Chiu, who plays trombone, was chosen for his second year in the all-state orchestra. Out of 95 students, Nathaniel ranked third in the state with his proficiency.

Skip Knowles, school board president, told the two how proud he is of their accomplishments. “Music is a big part of the school experience in Vicksburg.” Ken Zazula, Nikolas’ father, thanked the board for his children’s experience in the Vicksburg school system. “We have been here for five years while employed by Stryker. We chose Vicksburg for its combination of academics and extra-curricular activities. It’s been a great experience for our family.”

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Nik Zazula plays drums when the Western Jazz Quartet performed at the PAC in Vicksburg.

New Facade Envisioned for Vicksburg High School

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Superintendent Charlie Glaes displays the Tower Pinkster drawings of the changes to the high school building facades, at the January school board meeting.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School’s building will receive a facelift, Asst. Supt. Steve Goss told the school board at its January meeting. It will have bigger exterior windows to let more light into the classrooms and achieve energy efficiencies and better ventilation. The new windows will be tinted with internal shades like those installed in a hallway at Tobey Elementary last year.

“The finishes are cracking and bubbling on the exterior,” Goss said. “We are dealing with materials that are failing. The stucco needs to be replaced and the entry ways will be remodeled. We will have a buzzer interlock system installed for safety precautions,” he told the board.

“We don’t intend to make major structural changes to the buildings such as secured foyers, moving building offices as some people would like, because we don’t believe those investments do anything to stop a highly determined intruder. But to us, electronic access controls, including video phones at key entrances, seem like a cost-effective way to improve day to day building security,” Goss explained.

The exterior renovations will make for a much better look and lots more light in the classrooms, he pointed out. “It’s a 30-year solution and more maintenance free.” The last big remodeling for energy savings took place in the middle 80s and has run its lifetime he said.

The work will be done over the summer as part of the next bond issue from a millage that was passed in 2014. Other maintenance work will include re-roofing on the middle school, mechanical controls at Indian Lake elementary and at the high school this summer. The middle school will have four upgraded bathrooms; two bathrooms at Indian Lake will be made more accessible.

High School Report Card

Keevin O’Neill, high school principal, told the board of the many successes his students have had over the past school year. He was especially proud of the way students have given back to the community through taking part in the Michigan blood drive, filling all of the available slots. The food drive conducted by the students reaped over 4,000 items for South County Community Services.

“There is so much talent in this building; for instance the DECCA business club qualified for the state contests, the Chamber Singers participated in a concert with the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra at Christmas time. The color guard with the marching band now numbers 30 members and won several awards during the fall series of competitions. Our machine tool lab is fully computerized with CNC machines donated by Stryker and Eimo, because of our partnership with these businesses.

Curriculum Report

Gail VanDaff, curriculum director, and Melissa Wilson, school psychologist, presented a report on ensuring that all students can learn at every level. “We are developing standards for each student and monitoring to know when they have mastered them. It is our job to respond if they don’t get it and re-teach the subject matter before they move forward. We are developing a multi-tiered system of supports which helps us decide eligibility for special education. We want to know what each student is expected to learn and how we will know if and when they have learned it.”

McGuire’s Mesopotamia

Anna Christiansen displays her Tower of Babylon in the Vicksburg Middle School.

Each year, the Vicksburg middle school students in Shawn McGuire’s social studies class delve into the mysteries of ancient Mesopotamia. It doesn’t always sink in by just reading the text, so the students are asked if they want to research a particular structure and then recreate the building in some form. It’s a task that many parents have watched as their children wrestle with construction, trying to stay out of the way, says McGuire.

This year more than a dozen creations are being displayed in the middle school library. Students can vote for the best construction. Anna Christiansen thinks she has a winner in her depiction of the hanging gardens of Babylon. It depicts King Nebuchadnezzar’s gift to his queen who was homesick for the lush, mountainous environment in her homeland of Persia, the modern day Iran.

Christiansen carefully constructed her ideal of what they must have been like. She even has a working fountain with a pump inside to circulate the water.

Cats in the Cradle at VHS


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Dr. Noreen (Noni) Heikes holds Midnight, one of the cats her students have adopted.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School’s Agriculture Building had a mouse problem.

The school’s veterinary science instructor, Dr. Noreen Heikes had a solution. “We thought about having our rescue contact, Sarah Gerstner with Animal’s Best Friend Fund, find us a cat to foster. That way, we could avoid the issue of caring for the cat over the summer; he could go back to the rescue if not adopted.”

Last fall, Heikes and her teaching colleague, Michelle Guthrie, accepted a litter of three half-grown cats. They had been caught by Van Buren County Animal Control, but were considered unadoptable as they were not used to humans and likely were too old to become truly tame.

It turned out that it wasn’t too late to calm the cats down with tender loving care from students at Vicksburg High School.

“The students’ behavior problems also seemed to be mitigated, through the care and petting they took with the cat(s). We soon had more cats to foster, and will soon have placed twenty cats in their forever homes.”

Students in her class were taught how to handle the cats safely, care for them and maintain strict hygiene. They started getting them out and holding them all the time, Heikes reported. Other students at the high school began to come to hold and pet the cats.

Now they are highly adoptable. They have had donations for food and litter, and now have a special animal cage for the cats that allows them to climb, play, and tolerate each other.

“It’s hard to tell if the kids were saving the cats or the cats saving the kids,” she said.

At Christmas break, all the cats went home with students who had parental consent. Several were adopted and didn’t come back.

“We still have the mouse problem,” Heikes admitted.

Veterinary Science Teacher Earns State Award

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Left to right: Alley Munro, Nolan Underwood, Vicksburg; Molly Mora, Jayci Suseland, Schoolcraft; and Jessi Buell, Vicksburg.

By Sue Moore

“The students are on fire,” said Dr. Noreen (Noni) Heikes, the veterinarian in charge of Vicksburg’s veterinary science class. “They come out with good skills to succeed in any job. They learn to think, not just memorize.”

“We work the kids to death. Some of them tell me that college is way easier,” she said. In fact, she has been teaching this class for six years and has her first set of students, three all total, enrolled in Michigan State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

For all of this and more, Heikes and her students in a few days are to be given an Excellence in Practice award by the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Training. This is largely because of the way the class has been revamped over the past several years. She teaches what she calls a blended class in vet science. The 20 students come from all over Kalamazoo County for two hours of hands-on instruction in the classroom on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday they are given online background assignments which they can complete any time prior to class.

This allows her to teach in greater depth, she said. The students can review as much as they need to and the slower learners can take their time to “get it”. “We are practicing for real-life scenarios,” said one student, Alley Munro. “I love animals and want to fix them.” She knows she wants to continue in the vet medicine path. On the other hand, another student, Molly Mora, said it has helped her recognize she doesn’t want to be a veterinarian.

“It’s all Dr. Carol Lohman’s fault,” Heikes claimed. “A local vet, she urged me to take over an existing vet science class six years ago. It was much more focused solely on small animal practice. We need large animal vets, and so I take my students to farms with cattle, sheep and horses. They learn vaccines, castrating, ear tags, yearly health regimen. Most had never touched anything bigger than a cocker spaniel. They learn that they are capable of doing real stuff, not just filling in worksheets.”

The class is offered through the Education for Employment (EFE) program out of the Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency, (KRESA). When Heikes took it over, it was held in a small side room at the office of a veterinarian on Sprinkle Road. There was no room for a lab, few microscopes, and sometimes scant supplies. “We found a space that was used for storage in the ag building in Vicksburg, cleaned it out and with KRESA’s blessing, the space was remodeled specifically for our needs. Now we have a much more functional space, a shared wet lab, and funding for the resources we need to be excellent and innovative.”

There has been a huge Future Farmers of America (FFA) resurgence in Vicksburg. The group has gone from a few members to 70 or 80 who come from Heikes’ class and Michelle Guthrie’s agricultural classes. They compete in FFA district and regional leadership conferences. “With the huge number of agricultural jobs available in Michigan, and the resources of Michigan State University easily within reach, preparing students for these opportunities is vitally important!”

Some of the students also compete in the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) where they are judged on knowledge and skills proficiency. Last month, 10 of their students qualified to attend the state contests out of 11 in the region who qualified.

“My students challenge each other. They have to work hard and do good preparation each day. It lets them raise the bar for one another, way up,” Heikes said, with pride.