Category Archives: Schools

Tradition Ended with Last Senior Girls Tea at LLA

By Sue Moore

For 90 years the Vicksburg Ladies Library Auxiliary has invited the girls from the high school senior class to a tea at the library. Sadly, the tea will not go on for another 90. Officers of the association have decided it might not be as relevant anymore.

“There are so many events going on at this time of the year in seniors lives,” Sue Opalewski said. “We’ve had trouble scheduling the tea the last few years, plus it takes the young women out of school just when they most need to be present to finish up graduation requirements. There were 55 out of the 80 senior girls in attendance.”

The speaker for the day, Kenzie Pridgion, ended the tradition with words of wisdom culled from her own experiences growing up in Schoolcraft and becoming an aviator. “The race is long and in the end it’s only with yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to wear sunglasses!”

After graduating from Schoolcraft High School in 1999, Pridgion headed to Western Michigan University where she said she majored in “socialization” her first two years while still wanting to be an aviator. After she got serious about her major and graduated, she became a flight instructor, then took a job with a regional airline, Com Air, based at JFK airport in New York. “Commuting was hard but the flight benefits outweighed it as I got to travel the world,” she said. Then she was furloughed and had to cast about for the next job. She decided upon the military. The competition was highly competitive and challenging in the Michigan Air National Guard where she flew a C-47.

She now is flying for Stryker Corporation, one of its 10 pilots and its first female pilot. She is still training students on the MQ9 remotely-piloted aircraft in Battle Creek for the Air National Guard, which Stryker supports, she said.

“Don’t expect things to be handed to you. College doesn’t define you, it shapes you personally. You don’t always have to be the best, but you have to give your best,” she cautioned the audience. “Attitude and desire will carry you a long way.”

Laura Chang’s Big Year

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Laura Chang stands in front of a poster created for her visit to the United Arab Emirates.

By Sue Moore

A week’s trip to Dubai to consult with this city-state’s teachers is just one of the many activities that Laura Chang, Michigan’s Teacher of the Year from Vicksburg for 2018-2019, has experienced.

Dubai educators identified a need to do things differently in teaching science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) subjects in this global world, Chang said. They invited educators from the Teacher of the Year program throughout the states to come for a week and work with them on best practices. “I was happy to be one of the several teachers invited to attend. They are such extraordinary people who have the same concerns as educators as we do. It was very humbling,” Chang said.

That was just one of the many experiences she has had this school year that have broadened her horizons in the teaching profession. “I’ve learned so much. It’s like I’ve been wearing shoes that are too small and now they fit. I’m ready to run.”

She has been highly involved with reaching out to legislators in Michigan to discuss standardized testing requirements and their impact on students. “I’ve told a lot of teaching anecdotes to help them focus on the impact of their legislation when it comes to teaching the whole child and the laws they promulgate. Real stories from the classroom can make a big difference.”

“Meeting with the State Board of Education each month allows me a chance to share stories of Vicksburg’s successes which can serve to spotlight the inequities we face in education throughout the state. Kids don’t always have the same opportunities as they do here, so I volunteered to work on a state-level committee that studies equity in education,” she said.

“I have to use the voice I have as one size does not fit all,” Chang said. She has visited classrooms in other areas of the state where she will go in and read, teach a lesson and chat with students. “I learn as much from them as they might from me.”

Her team of Teachers of the Year met in San Francisco last summer for a week of sharing ideas with all 57 honored teachers, including those from the U.S. protectorates. “It was sponsored by Google and allowed our peer group to learn from one another. These teachers are solution seekers who value education above all others. We even designed a doodle for Google that will appear on their web site in May.”

She will attend a “space” camp in Alabama for a week in July where the participants pretend to be an astronaut for a week. The group will be honored during the college football championship playoff game in January 2020.

In May she will meet with a group of the Teachers of the Year in Washington D.C. with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to emphasize the importance of education.

“I wish that all of my colleagues could have this opportunity,” she said. “Teachers can learn so much from each other. “I have new best friends from all over the country. These are incredible people whose voices are powerful.”

New Band Trailer on View at Vicksburg High School

By Sue Moore

When the “Big Red Machine” semi-trailer rolls into a band competition, its going to be impressive, said Craig Rolfe, one of the Band Booster members who helped secure funds to purchase the trailer.

It’s meant to haul all of the band equipment in one big load rather than the three smaller trailers that accompanied the marching band at competitions. There will be room enough for instrument and uniform storage throughout the marching season for the band. The trailer represents the first band program north of Kentucky to purchase this state-of-the-art piece of equipment. Clubhouse Trailers, an Oklahoma company, put this together for the band. The trailer will be on display wherever the band travels and is practicing. The Band Boosters are working on possibilities for hauling the trailer.

The total cost is $100,000 minus a few pennies, with half of it paid thus far and the rest to be raised throughout the school year. A spring raffle is being held as a fundraiser with the top prizes $2,500, $1,000 and $500 in cash. Raffle tickets are available from any band parent, the high school office or Rolfe’s office at 328 W. Prairie Street in Vicksburg. The drawing will take place at the band’s spring concert on Tuesday, May 28.

The trailer makes a huge statement about the success of the band program in Vicksburg, Rolfe said. “It shows the community support of the band which boasts nearly 200 members each year. We need lots of folks to help raise the money to complete the purchase.”

Sunset Lake Air Quality Talk at School Board Meeting

Sunset school 1By Travis Smola

Sunset Lake Elementary school’s air quality was again questioned during citizens’ time at Vicksburg’s April school board meeting.

Stephanie Willoughby told trustees her daughter started getting sick in class in October 2017, beginning after she switched classes to a different side of the building.

Willoughby’s daughter was taken to a doctor and prescribed medication that helped with some sinus issues, but it didn’t end the problem completely. “She was still coming home with headaches,” Willoughby told the board.

Willoughby said a discussion in a community Facebook group on the issue generated 133 comments. Many of the commenters reported similar headaches with their own children. Willoughby said her daughter doesn’t have the headaches when she’s not in school or during spring or summer breaks. Willoughby and a friend started a petition to have old carpeting in the building removed and for more testing to be done in the building. She also felt the testing already done wasn’t adequate.

Last month Vicksburg officials worked with Ann Arbor-based Nova Environmental to perform inspections and two rounds of testing for mold, air quality and volatile organic compounds in one of the classrooms in the building. Nova made recommendations for improvements to the air quality, but the initial testing concluded there was nothing dangerous present in the classroom in question.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss told Willoughby the district is willing to bring in a second firm for another testing opinion. However, he said he also feels Nova is a reputable company. “The firm that we have is incredibly skilled and probably one of the best ones available,” Goss said. “Again, it’s not a fly-by-night operation. We try to be transparent and will continue to do that.” Goss noted he has two children of his own in the building, so he understands the concerns.

Board President Skip Knowles echoed that sentiment and said they are taking the issue seriously. “I’ve got a granddaughter in the building too,” Knowles said.

Trustee David Schriemer felt some of the evidence was anecdotal at this point because there are so many different causes of headaches. He noted one of his sons suffered from headaches while attending Sunset, but not at home. He further explained that the issue was mental as the child was trying too hard to be perfect. “In his case it wasn’t a contaminant, it was the stress of trying to be good,” Schriemer said. “When you have something with so many potential causes, that’s when you need public health people to sort it out.”

Trustee Rudy Callen said the ideal situation would be to have the testing reveal an actual issue that could be immediately addressed. But he also asked how long the district should keep testing if no issue is found.

Goss did announce they also have a meeting planned with the chief medical officer from the Kalamazoo County Health Department and the Department of Environmental Health on the matter. There are also plans to form an environmental safety committee to look further at the issue. Superintendent Keevin O’Neill thanked Willoughby for coming and invited her and another parent in attendance to be a part of the committee. “We’re 100 percent committed to solving this,” O’Neill said.

Schoolcraft Board OKs Athletic Trainer Fee for Students

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Schoolcraft athletic trainers (in the foreground) attend to a seriously injured player during a 2017 football game in Schoolcraft.

By Travis Smola

Trustees for the Schoolcraft school board approved a $50-per-family trainer fee with an amendment to look annually at finances for the full-time trainer.

The board previously sent the issue over to the Finance Committee to look at funding options for participating in a cost-sharing program with Bronson Hospital that would allow the district to hire current athletic trainer Jordan Love in a full-time capacity.

Treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook said the committee came back with a recommendation to set a fee for this year at no more than $50 per family, but also to re-assess the issue next year. Board President Jennifer Gottschalk estimates they might get half of the $25,000 needed from the fee. The rest will come from the general fund.

The board briefly discussed other ways of funding for the issue after Secretary Ryan Ledlow expressed concerns about asking parents for more money ahead of a looming potential bond project. Trustee Rachel Phelps agreed. However, Finance Director Rita Broekema said it would be difficult because it would require a lot of negotiating to alter the contract with Bronson.

The board also discussed educating parents on why the trainer is necessary. Previously, a trainer was provided free of charge to school districts as part of a program with Bronson and Western. But changes to educational requirements for trainers means that program will end in the next couple of years. The district would like to keep the current trainer in a full-time capacity now.

Superintendent Rusty Stitt suggested also educating parents on the trainer’s expanded role in the district as a full-time employee. The board ultimately decided to approve the fee. But it also added an amendment to look at the issue every year so potential changes could be made to the way the trainer is paid in the future.

Gottschalk also provided a brief update on the facilities study at the meeting. The facilities committee will be looking at data from the latest EPIC-MRA survey held in early April and will be bringing a recommendation on whether the district should pursue a bond issue in November at the May meeting.

The board also honored Tina Darling as the Soaring Eagle of the month award winner at the meeting. “She’s one of those individuals who sees a problem and does not rest until she sees a solution,” Stitt said. The problem was the addition of a crosswalk to the east and south of the elementary and middle school. Many drivers were failing to stop at the new crosswalk, presenting a danger to students.

Darling stepped up to volunteer her time as a crossing guard at the location and quickly developed a good relationship with the students who used it. “Even on the coldest, nastiest, dog days of winter, Tina was out there protecting our kids and building relationships,” Stitt said.

In closing the meeting, the board also thanked high school principal Ric Seager, who will soon be leaving to take on a new job as Superintendent at Watervliet Public Schools. “I just want to say thanks again, Ric, for all that you’ve done for us,” Gottschalk said. “We’re so excited for you to start your new opportunity, that’s awesome! We are definitely going to miss you.”

Vicksburg Honors Top 12 Seniors

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg school board and principal Adam Brush honored the class of 2019’s top seniors at the school board’s April meeting.

“The top 12 GPA was all above 4.1,” Brush said. “This class of the top 12 took over a hundred AP courses, which to me, is like mind-boggling.”

The students:

Nicholas Armitage scored a 1350 on his SAT and took nine AP courses, played trumpet for seven years and was NHS treasurer. He plans to attend Kettering University in Flint where he will study electrical engineering and computer science.

Jacob Cleaver scored 1440 on the SAT and took 13 AP classes. He spent four years in the Big Red Machine. He was also an Excellence in Education Scholarship winner and chose Ben Rosier as his significant educator for his passion for teaching music to students. Cleaver plans to attend the University of Michigan next year.

Rachel Dick took 10 AP courses, was involved in model United Nations, theater and National Honor Society. She also works at the Vicksburg library and plans to attend Michigan Tech to study science and engineering. She plans to minor in Spanish.

Maia Fleck is a four-year student of KAMSC and was the winner of outstanding research project. Fleck wasn’t present at the meeting because she was at a tennis meet. She also participated in de-tasseling for four straight summers.

Madeline Geiger took 11 AP courses. She was involved in Student Senate and Aim Higher, a volunteer youth group at the high school. She was captain of the girls’ basketball team. She enjoys walking and running. Geiger also helped referee and coach youth basketball. She will attend WMU.

Salutatorian Casey Hall took 12 AP courses. He was a Presidential Award winner for WMU. He also ran track, played tennis and football. He was an Excellence in Education Scholarship winner and chose Rachel King as his significant educator because of the time she spent helping him figure out what he wanted to do with his future.

Kyle Kelly took 10 AP courses and was a four-year scholar athlete. Kelly was involved in National Honor Society, DECA an Ski Club. He also served as captain of the lacrosse and cross-country team. He also worked with the lacrosse youth program and helped with Alzheimer’s patients. He plans to attend Iowa State or Purdue.

Mia Mulhearn took 12 AP courses and was a four-year scholar athlete. She served as NHS President and was involved in marching band and drum major. She also earned eight varsity letters and was the YWCA Women of Achievement Award Winner for Vicksburg. Mulhearn plans to attend Ohio State next year.

Valedictorian Madeline Ritter earned many college credits via KVCC courses. She also volunteered at the animal rescue at Tobey Elementary, where she enjoys walking the dogs. She was also an Excellence in Education Scholarship winner and chose Virginia Ruimveld as her significant educator for pushing her academically. Ritter said she plans to attend WMU.

Vic Simmons: scored a 1400 on the SAT and took nine AP courses. Simmons served as National Art Honor Society president and helped with the mural in the library. Simmons also enjoys pet-sitting and plans to attend the James Madison Residential College for political science at Michigan State University next year.

Alexis Taylor is a member of National Honor Society and served as junior class president and senior class vice president. She also participated in many volunteer opportunities with Sunset Elementary students and planned prom last year. Taylor plans to attend KVCC for a year before moving to Florida to study veterinary science at the University of Central Florida.

Tyler Vallier took 12 AP courses and plays on the varsity baseball team. He also volunteered at Sunset Lake Elementary. Vallier was an Excellence in Education scholarship winner and chose Kristina Porter as his significant educator for the time she spent helping him plan his future. He plans to attend the University of Michigan next year.

The board also recognized Leah Pierce as the DAR Good Citizen Award winner. Pierce took seven AP courses and served on band leadership for four years. She also volunteered at the middle school and in library summer reading programs. Pierce plans to attend Grand Valley State University to pursue pre-veterinary studies before continuing her education at Michigan State.

Paxton Green: Cancer Survivor

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Rod Green, Paxton Green, and Amy Green after a tennis event.

By Maycie Barker, Kaitlyn Clark, Dylan Outman, and Ella Stull,
Schoolcraft Sixth Graders

Cancer is a serious disease in which abnormal cells uncontrollably divide and destroy tissue in certain parts of the body. Paxton Green had this twice, and this is her story.

When she was just two years old, she had stage 2 rhabdomyosarcoma, and when she was 11, she had osteosarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcoma was in the soft tissue in her left tricep, and the osteosarcoma was in her right arm’s humerus, the upper arm bone.

Both times she had cancer, she was shocked and concerned. “When I found out I had cancer again after eight and a half years of being cancer free, I was shocked to say the least. It didn’t sink in right away until I was in the hospital undergoing my first treatment.” Paxton said. She just couldn’t believe it.

Along with cancer, there were many challenges that came with it. Her mom played basketball, and Paxton wanted to follow in her footsteps. But Paxton could not, for she was told she couldn’t participate in any contact sports after two intense surgeries. The first surgery involved an elbow replacement, and the second surgery involved replacing her humerus with a titanium rod.

Through all the negativity, there were also a lot of positives. Although she never thought she would, she fell in love with tennis. She played it from 7th grade through her senior year. Everything tried to bring her down, but she would just keep coming up. “In everything you do, whether it’s big or small, try to find a sliver of positivity. If you choose to approach things with hopefulness, you will find happiness.” says Paxton. Staying positive was a necessity in Paxton’s life.

Her supporters – friends, doctors, teachers and family – were shocked by her reappearing tumors. But her main supporters were definitely her parents. Both times when she was diagnosed with cancer, Paxton’s parents, Rod and Amy Green, were “in a state of shock”.

“We – her dad, Rod, and myself– were absolutely shocked when we found out that Paxton had cancer when she was just two years old,” her mom said.

We were really scared as we didn’t know anything about pediatric cancer, and we didn’t know she could survive.” Later on, when she was 11, her mom said, “This time she had another aggressive cancer, osteosarcoma. This was a bone cancer that was tough to beat.” As you can see, they had strong reactions.

At first, her proponents were scared just as much as Paxton was, but later on, they developed a sense of encouragement. “Trust in God that everything will be okay.” advised Paxton’s friend, Zoey Dubuisson, to Paxton. Motivation from Paxton’s friends and family helped her to stay motivated herself.

Paxton Green survived cancer twice, both at a very young age. Currently, she is attending Concordia University, where she’s studying to become a certified child life specialist. Through all the struggles, hardships, and challenges, she always chose optimism. She had many obstacles in her way, but that didn’t stop her from doing the things she loved most. “Negativity is easy to resort to. There is always light around the corner, even if that corner is a couple miles away.” To this day, Paxton is a strong believer in positivity, and in the end, many people will look up to her brave character.