Schoolcraft Elementary School construction update

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Construction on the new Schoolcraft Elementary School is progressing on budget and on schedule, pleasing the planning committee and Superintendent Rick Frens. On April 13, this reporter met with Frens, donned a hard hat, and took a tour to see progress at the new facility.

The tour began with the main offices at the front of the building. This space includes offices, conference areas, and teacher and staff work rooms. The security concerns of parents and community were considered with the design of the front entry and placement of the administrative offices. A buzzer system will let visitors through the first entrance, which allows staff a second screen of an individual. Once allowed through a second door and into the school, visitors enter a spacious entry where individuals will decide whether to continue forward on the main floor or climb the stairs to the second level.

The building is filled with windows and natural light.

Grade-level pods and wings extend from the main hallways. The classrooms are large, and pairs of classrooms are joined by a shared office space.

Common space for collaboration between classes or grade-level projects is strategically placed in hallway alcoves with colorful acoustic tiles to absorb sound. The media center is designed for easy access and also includes many windows.

This day, the wooden gym floor was being installed below a colorful Golden Eagle sign hanging high on the walls. And the building’s cafeteria is another large, carefully planned space. Electricians were installing lighting in the upper hallways, and other contractors were at work in a mechanical room.

New classroom furniture, carefully selected and ordered, allows for various configurations and groupings in classrooms.

After careful budgeting and strategic planning, it is satisfying for all involved to see the project proceeding as planned, and it is a point of pride for administration as the new school will be finished and open when school begins next year.

Frens looks forward to welcoming students, staff and the community to the building this fall. “I just can’t wait!”

Hopscotch and math functions: Learning by moving

Back left Leeland Peery, front Tanner Arnold, special education teacher Aaron Berry, math teacher Sarah Low and Alex Boynton.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

What do you see when you combine a beautiful April day, prior math learning, and engaged students? At Schoolcraft High School, students and staff created and participated in “Hopscotch Functions.”

Schoolcraft high school math teacher Sarah Low was nearing the end of a unit on mathematical functions. She had covered the basics of functions and created an activity she calls “Hopscotch Functions,” to identify functions using different representations, including symbols, graphs, equations, and tables.

Functions are important mathematical concepts, usually involving a constant, an independent variable, and a dependent variable. An everyday example involves putting gas in a car and estimating how far a person can travel: the constant is the car’s miles per gallon, the independent variable is the number of gallons added to the gas tank, and the dependent variable is how far the car will travel with those gallons.

Low explains, “Students were divided into groups where they practiced and created functions and non-functions in the classroom before we went outside. Once outside, they drew visual representations in hopscotch squares with chalk.”

The game: determine which squares represent functions and jump only on those squares.

Students eventually rotated to the different hopscotch games created by classmates.

Research shows that some students learn best through movement, and, of course, Low’s timing was perfect—it was a beautiful 75-degree day.

Reflecting, Low says, “I thought it went well overall. They asked a lot of good questions while they rotated, and they seemed more confident in identifying functions after the activity.”

From the smiles of staff and students and the active learning happening, this lesson was a success on all levels!

Celebration of the Arts makes long-awaited return

Remi Jones points out her drawing to her father, Kyle, and siblings Bailey and Lennon, during Vicksburg Community Schools “Celebration of the Arts” April 20 at Vicksburg High School.

By Jef Rietsma

For the first time since 2019, Vicksburg Community Schools showcased its full arsenal of fine arts during an evening-long open house last month.

The April 20 event at Vicksburg High School featured a buffet of everything related to the district’s cultural offerings.

The 2023 “Celebration of the Arts” provided music, dance, singing and visual arts.

Dusty Morris, chairman of the district’s fine arts, said Celebration of the Arts started in 2011 and was staged every other year through 2019. He said the concept originated rather spontaneously: Director of bands Ben Rosier raised the idea during a department meeting more than a decade ago.

“There’s a lot going on here at Vicksburg and Ben asked aloud what could we do to show the public all the things we have to offer,” Morris said. “Vicksburg is a Class B school and for a district that’s not huge, it’s pretty impressive how many different programs we have here.”

Morris said for at least the 17 years he’s been with the district it has shown time and again its unwavering support of the fine arts.

The April event featured talent from all grades in many areas. For example, artwork from the district’s five buildings was on display in the high school. Meanwhile, a portion of the event featured fourth- and fifth-grade choir members and musicians in the district’s string program, which also features fourth and fifth grades.

It also included the middle school band, both high school jazz bands, a number of high school concert bands, and several different choirs from Vicksburg’s elementary, middle and high schools.

Morris said the evening was structured so that events were staggered for maximum viewership. For example, a dance recital started at 5:30. Half an hour later, a student film festival was presented. A district-wide art show was available to view between 5:30 and 7, and the evening concluded with bands and choirs starting at 7 p.m. in the school gymnasium.

Morris said Celebration of the Arts also provides parents the chance to see components of the fine arts they might not otherwise take the time to witness.

“So, the parents of a fourth grader probably won’t attend a high school band concert, for example, and vice-versa,” he said. “If they come here tonight, they’ll have the opportunity to witness something they might not otherwise see.”

Patty Heintzelman, choir teacher at Tobey and Indian Lake elementaries, said she was excited to welcome back Celebration of the Arts. The program’s choral finale, Beethoven’s triumphant “Ode To Joy,” was intentionally chosen as a celebration to mark the return of such a beloved and popular community event.

She said planning a performance of such magnitude required fine arts teachers to work together with the intent of a seamless transition when elementary, middle school and high school students combined for the closing piece.

Kyle Jones, father of Sunset Lake kindergartener Remi Jones, said his daughter was thrilled to learn her artwork – a picture of her dog, Boomer – was chosen to be featured in the art showcase.

The Celebration “is the first for us so it’s been really nice coming into the high school and seeing all that there is to see,” he said. “Remi has been talking about this ever since I got a message from school that her picture was chosen and, I have to say, I think it’s real important that kids learn from a young age how important the fine arts are.”

Megan Oswalt, Sunset Lake art teacher, said she chose between 40 to 50 pieces of artwork from BK through fifth grade to feature during the program. Oswalt conceded it was difficult to limit the number of pieces to fewer than 50.

Meanwhile, dance studio instructors Dawn Simpson and RJ Robertson-Degraaf said they were happy that students were able to share what they’ve learned through various dance programs this year.

“What thrills me the most is the opportunity this provided to keep culture and the arts front and center,” Simpson said, noting the district’s dance program includes tap, jazz, hip-hop, gymnastics and ballet. “Tonight, we showcased hula and Tahitian dances, and a few hip-hop numbers.”