Category Archives: Schools

Hearty Hustle is Going Virtual this Year

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The Hearty Hustle as it existed before quarantine.

By Sue Moore

Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 virus shutdown, the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation (VCSF) will be converting its 33rd Annual Hearty Hustle into a free virtual race.

“In these unprecedented times, the VCSF feels the best cure for fear and unknown is the hope that comes with being in a great community that values good health,” said Lucas Hillard, chair of the Foundation. “The race continuing in a virtual fashion will allow our Vicksburg Community Schools families, as well as the many participants that join the race each year, a chance to connect with others in a powerful way.”

Hillard noted that the goal is to create an event for many runners, students and families that historically look forward to the Hearty Hustle every year, while adhering to the CDC recommendation for social distancing. VCSF encourages participants to run or walk as an individual or get an entire household moving. Contestants can choose their own starting line. This could be a treadmill, the neighborhood, a track, wherever folks are comfortable. Then participants can upload and share their results, photos and other useful tools to make the race a success for everyone.

Always the “Second Saturday in May”, the Hearty Hustle has been synonymous with May and Mother’s Day for 33 years. It was started by Danna Downing and Bronson Hospital to encourage running for the health of it. The race has become a family affair over the years by including all ages with prizes for several different age-related categories.

The virtual event will run from May 9th to May 16 and is free for everyone. To receive information on how to run a virtual race or register, send an email to Beth O’Roark at boroark@vicksburgschools.org.

Still Studying While in Quarantine

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Savannah McDonald, Schoolcraft senior, plans to attend Albion College in the fall.

By Rob Peterson

Not everyone got out of their homework when the COVID-19 quarantine closed schools this year.

Savannah McDonald, a student who is dual-enrolled at Schoolcraft High School and KVCC, must continue her schoolwork if she is to earn credit for her college-level courses. “I am taking two classes at KVCC,” she said. “I just turned in my final for one of the classes, but the other still has a project due.”

Savannah participates in Schoolcraft’s program which is unique in that it allows students to attend college-level classes on site, a feature that increases their participation rate. “Almost 40 percent of our students are dual enrolling, which may be the highest in the county,” said Schoolcraft counselor Larry Ledlow.

Due to COVID-19, Schoolcraft has extended its offer to pay for classes at KVCC for the summer semester, which Savannah is strongly considering. The savings of having these college credits could be significant; she is headed to Albion College in the fall. “We are working with the counselors at Albion to make sure her credits will transfer,” said her mother, Shannon McDonald. “We don’t get the additional financial aid that Albion just announced because she has already been admitted.”

Studying is not the only productive activity keeping Savannah busy during quarantine. She made the Albion tennis team, so exercising is a priority. “I’m missing the tennis season right now, so I run with my dog every day to stay in shape,” she said.

This time has been bittersweet for Savannah and her mother; quarantine has given them a shared experience, but they are missing the senior year milestones of prom, graduation, and her final high school tennis season. “It’s hard watching Savannah’s sadness over missing her friends,” says Shannon. “The silver lining is the extra time we have together before she goes off to college.”

Newfound Appreciation for Teachers

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William Delaney, Schoolcraft first grader, plays outside at his home.

By Rob Peterson

Schoolcraft parent Myra Delaney wants teachers and support staff to know how much they are appreciated. “They are the foundation of our community,” she said.

Delaney, a stay-at-home parent who formerly worked in the criminal justice system, admits that she may not have been cut out to be a teacher. “My first-grader is testing boundaries, and a teacher knows how to find that break-through moment” when you can turn a challenging interaction into a teaching opportunity. “You don’t always know if a kid this age is acting out because he’s confused or because you’re his parent.”

“My son is a very active and social kid, and he really misses his teacher,” she said. Fortunately, they live on a hobby farm just outside of town, so they can keep busy with their horses, goats, and riding a four-wheeler on their property.

While virtual learning is a “huge adjustment,” she is developing a good routine as teachers begin posting more rigorous activities on See Saw, the online learning app that Schoolcraft is using. “My son needs constant encouragement,” she said. Despite the steep learning curve, she wants to help her son keep up with his work.

“I just hope the teachers don’t have to undo all the homeschooling that I’m doing,” joked Delaney.

Schoolcraft Schools Working to Adopt Distance Learning

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Jennifer Stull, Schoolcraft kindergarten teacher, prepares for distance teaching.

By Travis Smola

After the coronavirus pandemic caused an early end to the school year, many districts are now looking for solutions to make sure children don’t fall behind. In Schoolcraft, that includes turning bus drivers and other non-teaching staff into mentors.

Schoolcraft Superintendent Rusty Stitt ran through a draft of an instructional plan with the Board of Education during its April meeting. That meeting was held online via Zoom due to the Governor’s stay-at-home orders. The plan covers how the district will continue instruction at a time when students and teachers cannot interact face-to-face.

“We have in a short amount of time, done some amazing things and we have put some good programming in place for our kiddos,” Stitt said. “Our staff have been nothing but supportive throughout this process. This is a plan that is certainly collaborative.”

Stitt said under the Governor’s executive order, they are now required to do some distance learning with their students. That leads to the challenge of how exactly to go about it. Stitt said there has already been a distribution of printed materials for students to work on, but e-learning is still going to play a huge role.

There are many web programs in place to help; students are already familiar with some. Elementary students will be using a remote learning program called Seesaw to interact with teachers and complete assignments.

Older students will be using Google Classroom in a greater capacity. The district will also look to start putting teachers in direct contact with students via phone, email or Zoom. In some cases, they may be doing group learning sessions completely online.

Student services are also being maintained in this time. Stitt said staff members have been working hard to provide social and emotional support to the students who need it at every grade level.

“We also have a full-time social worker that’s just doing a phenomenal job,” Stitt said.

They are taking a unique approach by involving the drivers and other non-teaching staff. Many have now received additional training to serve as coaches and mentors to students. Each will be assigned up to four students to help in online school lessons. Stitt says these are students who need extra encouragement or coaching. The benefit is twofold: The district can keep paying employees who can’t do their usual tasks when the school is closed, and the teachers get a little extra help making sure students are keeping up with their lessons.

“We have over 50 coaches that will be working with our kiddos,” Stitt said.

Stitt said they’ve also had over 20 volunteers helping serve breakfast and lunch to over 160 children every day for seven days a week. Board Treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook brought up concerns about reaching all students and making sure none get left behind. Stitt said they are doing weekly checks to gauge where each student is at in the process.

If a student is falling behind or isn’t completing assignments, teachers and staff will try to adapt a different approach to reach and help those students. Stitt said they also may offer summer learning programs to help students catch up.

“We will follow Governor Whitmer’s executive order and again, do our best in teaching through technology and other means,” Stitt said. “Our teachers are still a lead role with communicating with the parents and the students alike.”

The board unanimously voted a show of support of the plans. After that, high school principal Matthew Dailey and elementary school principal Matt Webster both spoke up with praise for the teachers and their handling of the COVID-19 situation.

“Credit to our teachers because from the moment that this hit back in March, they’ve done nothing but ask how we can put together a good plan to make sure kids and families are supported,” Webster said. “If you see a teacher or get an email from one, shoot them one back and say ‘thanks for what you’re doing’ because they’ve done nothing but work hard the whole time. They’ve been fantastic.”

Kindergarten Success in Quarantine

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These Schoolcraft kindergarten students are pictured on the Zoom screen, ready for their morning lessons from their teacher, Jennifer Stull.

By Rob Peterson

Jennifer Stull, who teaches kindergarten in Schoolcraft, was surprised to learn how much her students can accomplish virtually.

“The kids all have iPads they took home and we use tech in the classroom, so they are already familiar with using the technology,” she said. “We are using the SeeSaw remote learning app, which is fabulous.”

The trouble is that teaching is about the whole child, she said, not just working on projects via an iPad. That is where a creative teacher comes in. “We need to be sure that we’re incorporating art, movement, and virtual social activities wherever possible” at this age.

As an example, her last assignment was based on a book she read via video to her students, called Carla Sandwich. “The book is about a girl who makes sandwiches out of creative combinations. They wrote to me what their silly sandwich would be and drew a picture of it. Then they could record themselves reading a sentence about their sandwich.”

Engaging the parents is essential as well, which is why she posts an overview the night before so they can help their kids schedule their learning time.

How will next year be different? “I’ll appreciate the kids even more,” she said, sharing that she misses them every day, so much that it hurts. “I hope to have a picnic with this year’s kids before next year begins.”

Educator Promotes Family and Routine in Time of Crisis

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Darcy Bolles’ son, Carter, holds the caterpillars in the cups that came from the Schoolcraft co-op nursery school in this picture.

By Betsy Connelly

One Schoolcraft preschool director has made it her goal to maintain an interactive and hands-on learning environment for her students from her home during the statewide shelter-in-place order. Darcy Bolles’ key to successfully achieving this goal while taking care of her own sheltered-in-place family can be summed up in one word: routine.

Bolles, preschool teacher and director of Schoolcraft Community Co-Op Preschool, has organized daily Zoom video chat sessions with her preschool students. “The kids love it. They miss being at school but they love sharing their houses with their friends, showing everyone their rooms and their toys. It makes me smile seeing their little faces smiling every day.”

Her purpose is having fun and maintaining normalcy with the preschoolers. “They don’t understand what’s going on, they don’t bring it up, so we don’t talk about it. I want to keep things as normal as possible in a time that is very difficult for a lot of
people.”

The biggest challenge involved with adjusting from in-school classes to online classes has been the loss of touch. Bolles has countered this loss by assigning the students hands-on activities they can do with items already in their homes such as riding bikes, reading to stuffed animals and drawing with sidewalk chalk. The classroom caterpillars have come home with her so she can teach the children via Zoom about caterpillars’ metamorphoses into butterflies.

Bolles is making efforts to help the parents of her preschoolers as well. She and the preschool board have decided not to charge parents for tuition for the month of April since classes only meet online for half an hour each day. Still, she finds that these 30-minute Zoom sessions provide parents with a much-needed break each day.

The Zoom sessions are only part of her daily routine. Each morning she helps her older son, Carter, age nine, with his school work. Then at 11 a.m., she video chats with her preschoolers, followed by lunch. After lunch, she works with her younger son Owen, a special-needs six year old, with his physical and occupational therapy.

Bolles hopes we, as a society, can emerge at the end of this pandemic with a new understanding of the importance of family. Owen, who has a low immune system due to his special needs, was hospitalized last year and Darcy spent many nights staying there with him while Carter and her husband were home. This year, the whole family is home together, enjoying each other’s company.

Her greatest discovery has been how resilient people are. She hopes people will continue to be as patient and understanding as they have been. “The going has gotten tough and we’ve worked together. We check on each other and we appreciate what we have a little more. We need to realize that life is special and fragile. We need to take advantage of and enjoy what we’ve been given, and that’s family.”

School Construction Project in Experienced Hands

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Jill Van Dyken Hunt at a Schoolcraft school board meeting.

By Sue Moore

“I’ve sat quietly for the last three years on the Schoolcraft School board, having agreed to run three years ago to help with a potential building project,” said Jill Van Dyken Hunt. “Now I believe I can put my skill set to good use as we move forward to the design and build phase of the recently approved buildings for Schoolcraft.”

She has a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Eastern Michigan University and worked for a Kalamazoo architect for 18 years before accepting an offer from Stryker in 2010 to oversee a new building project.

She will chair the steering committee that will oversee the school system’s new 7th and 8th grade gym and classroom and then do a deep dive into design and build for the new elementary building.

Hunt is being humble about her qualifications. Accepting that 2010 offer placed her a team charged with bringing the company’s 485,000 square-foot. building at 1941 Stryker Way on Portage Road to fruition.

Her title is senior project manager on the facilities team for the Stryker Instruments Division. There were four people on the building team that now houses engineers and other staff from the division. The project took 10 years from start to occupancy.

Fortunately, Hunt doesn’t expect construction of the new school buildings will take that long. Nevertheless, there are a lot of unknowns because of the coronavirus outbreak.

At Stryker her team could meet together easily. They listened to what the staff told them they needed in their office space, did surveys of managers and engineers, then produced a building that they really love to work in now, Hunt said.

She and the school’s team of board President Jennifer Gottschalk, Trustee Wade Rutkowski, Superintendent Rusty Stitt, the three building principals and community member Kory Bienz will meet via Zoom to iron out details in the next few weeks.

“We have already started the process with the gym addition, getting the stakeholders involved in the early design,” Hunt said. “We’ll get down in the weeds with them to learn all we can, then come back to them with some options and narrow those down to two or three possibilities. We have to keep the amount of bond money in mind while making decisions. Right now, there are a lot of unknowns but we want to get out in front of this early. Once we go out to bid, the market could be quiet or really busy, we just don’t know.”

Meanwhile, Hunt is working for Stryker at home from her kitchen table. She is homeschooling her two children, Jamison, 9, in third grade and Sienna, 11, who is in fifth grade.