Category Archives: Schools

Matt Wagner Returns Home While on Tour with Diavolo

By Sue Moore

The scene in the Schoolcraft Middle School library was one of adulation as all the school’s 5th graders crowded around their hero, Matt Wagner. He talked about his experiences as a gymnast with the Diavolo dance troupe which performed at Miller Auditorium on Feb. 27 and 28. The students attended the daytime performance on the 28th as part of Kalamazoo County’s Education for the Arts program.

Wagner grew up on Barton Lake, attended school at Howardsville Christian school and was a neighbor of Kelli Mein, one of the fifth-grade teachers in Schoolcraft. She had invited Wagner to come and talk to the students while in Kalamazoo for the performances. He was gracious enough to oblige, she said.

The students’ hands were up repeatedly, asking questions about his work, his experiences and even his conditioning for the arduous dance routines the unit performs. The group is subtitled “architecture in motion. The routines resemble modern dance to some extent but also involve athletic techniques, gymnastics and endurance. The structures they perform on cost millions to construct, Wagner told the students.
Some of the questions they asked:

How much do you practice? “Sometimes many hours a day.”

Do you know how to play Fortnite (an online video game)? “Yes, but I don’t play it.”

Why is Jacques the leader? “It was his dream to have a dance troupe.” Jacques Heim is the troupe’s founder and artistic director.

How much does it cost for the entire troupe to travel? “A lot. The 16 to 18 people have to fly, stay in a hotel room, travel in buses to get to the performance venue, rent studios for practice, pay for food for each day, employ truck drivers for the rented semi-trailers, costumes and sets. It adds up fast.”

What’s the biggest theatre you have performed in? “One in Germany where we appeared on TV.”

How did you come up with the logo? “Jacques actually did and this is the second one we have that plays on the name Diavolo.”

Did you win on America’s Got Talent? “No, we placed second.”

Did you get to talk to the winners? “We spend a lot of time waiting around backstage and get to know the other contestants.”

Do you get paid for doing this? “Not a lot but getting paid for what you love to do is not a problem.”

Do people recognize you when walking down the street? “No.”

Can you do a back flip on the ground? “Yes.”

Can you do a side aerial? “Yes.”

Do you get injuries? “We don’t use safety nets or mats when flying. We do have bumps and bruises but that just goes with the territory.”

After the performance some students waited around to get Matt’s autograph and ask him a few more questions. It appeared that they felt a little star struck and desired to know more.

When asked if he had any advice for the 5th graders, he replied, “The more you do, the better life can be for you! Always be willing to try new things!”

Rutkoskie Appointed to School Board

President of the Schoolcraft School Board Jennifer Gotttschalk administers the oath of office to Wade Rutkoskie who was selected to take the seat vacated by Darby Fetzer on the board.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft school board appointed Wade Rutkoskie to fill the board vacancy opened by the resignation of former board President Darby Fetzer last month.

The board interviewed two other candidates, Michael Wilson and Dr. Lloyd Peterson for the position. The three candidates were interviewed for about 10 minutes ahead of the regularly scheduled board meeting. Each answered the same series of seven questions and board members scored the candidates answers on a rubric.

The questions varied. One asked about the relationship the board and district should have with their stakeholders. Another asked about the challenges facing education in Michigan, both at the local and state level. The board also questioned the candidates what they believed were their strongest personal traits that would make them ideal for the position. “I don’t like to lose, that is something that has driven me my entire life,” Rutkoskie told the board. Prior to filling the vacancy, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for election to the board last November.

At the conclusion of the three interviews, Rutkoskie had tallied the highest score and was sworn in to fill the vacancy.

Rutkoskie is a 1990 graduate of the district and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from WMU. Currently he works as the Senior Member of Business Integration at Tekna. His wife works at Stryker. Their son currently attends the middle school.

He has also been involved with the district already as president of the Athletic Boosters, an advisor for Junior Achievement and as a coach for Rocket football and Little League. More recently he has also been involved with the facilities planning committee looking into options for the district’s aging elementary and middle school facilities. He said the facilities are one of the biggest challenges the district is currently facing. “Assessing is one thing, making a long-term plan is another,” Rutkoskie told the board members during the interview.

He also said he’s talked to some parents who are upset in the belief that out-of-district students attending Schoolcraft schools through the school of choice program don’t pay property taxes to the district. All Michigan property owners pay school taxes to the state. The state pays foundation grants to districts based on the number of students enrolled, whether or not they live in the district. Rutkoskie said that communicating that will be a big goal during his term.

“My goals as part of the board are to be a conduit from the folks that are accustomed to the inner workings of the board and understanding what they do,” Rutkoskie said after the meeting. “I appreciate the trust that they put in me in appointing me to the board.”

“I want to say thanks to everyone who came out and threw their hat in the ring,” Board President Jennifer Gottschalk said. She also extended invitations to both Peterson and Wilson to become a part of the ongoing facilities study committee.

Middle School Report Card Presented to the School Board

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg Middle School Principal Matt VanDussen and Assistant Principal Dennis Kirby presented data to show outstanding performance in math, social studies and science when compared to nearby schools of similar size. February is designated for the Vicksburg Middle School to host the monthly school board meeting to report on the progress made during the first half of the year.

“We are building a collaborative culture in the middle school,” VanDussen said. “We have student intervention teams where all the teachers for one student get together to help if the need arises. The goal is to maximize the success for every single student. We do this with data management, collection, analysis and then focus on the results with data review days.”

“We only have three years to figure this out for kids. Our job is to try and get them on track and keep them there. We look at it as the K-12 whole, while ensuring that all students learn while in our domain. We hang our hat on this, from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning each day,” VanDussen told the board. “We have a multi-tiered system of supports that includes homework club, extended learning opportunity classes, with tutorial the most important.”

He presented a slide show of graphs and test scores to show how Vicksburg Middle School compares on the M-Step test and how students collectively are doing compared to other schools in the state, especially in the Student Growth Percentile. This measures the individual student’s and teacher’s performance in math, English Language Arts, science and social studies.

All the data VanDussen reported can be found on the Parent Dashboard that all parents can access.

Middle School Science Night Can be Fun and Educational

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Phoenix Daniels takes great care in her Science Night demonstration last year.

By Sue Moore

The 15th Annual Science Night at the Vicksburg Middle School will take place Wednesday, March 13 from 6-8 p.m. It has evolved from something small to a well-attended community event, said Lisa Harbour, the 8th grade science teacher who is in charge.

Lots of businesses from the greater Kalamazoo manufacturing community take up Harbour’s invitation to attend at their own cost. “The companies are proud of what they do and are committed to community involvement. They volunteer their time so students and adults can learn about what the companies do and the necessary skills for the job. All of the presenters are there by choice and share their passion and knowledge of science and technology in their everyday work life, Harbour said.

The night was organized 15 years ago. The science department under the leadership of Mary Burke wanted to provide an opportunity for students to experience science with their parents. The first year, they did everything themselves without outside presenters. The lure was free pizza and door prizes to encourage attendance. Approximately 125 attended, Harbour recalled.

Carol Lohman was Burke’s assistant in the coordination of the event. In 2017, Harbour became the coordinator and poured her heart and soul into planning the event on her own. A horrific wind storm that knocked out the power in the village on the day of Science Night caused the school to cancel the event just three hours prior to the doors opening. “I was devastated,” Harbour recalled. “2018 became my next real event and I have to say it was awesome. We had over 20 presenters and approximately 575 people attending.”

“I have had the most luck recruiting companies by attending the MiQuest Career field trip with our 8th grade students. As a chaperone, I took the opportunity to recruit possible presenters from what I saw at the event,” she said. The presentations in Vicksburg might include live animals, electricity activities, chemistry experiments, telescopes, rocks, robots, water, hydraulics and pneumatics. Each presenter is in a different classroom. Attendees move at their own pace. Many of the presenters have giveaways. Most rooms have hands-on activities.

It is intended for students in grades 6-8 and their families, but any community member is invited to attend. There is no cost for the event.

Current list of presenters includes: Kalsec, Bridge Organics, Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary, Pfizer (chemistry), Kalamazoo Watershed Council, Perrigo, Thermofisher (forensics crime lab), Stryker Instruments, Mann-Hummel, Humphrey Products, Flowserve, Kalamazoo Astronomical Society, WMU Geology, KVCC Groves Center, Pfizer (quality control and sterile manufacturing), Consumers Energy, KRESA – Innovation Center, VMS & VHS Robotics Team + 4th/5th Lego League, KRESA Vet Science, KRESA VHS Engineering, KRESA Film/Video, Kathy Mirakovits (forensic science).

Schoolcraft Schools Host State Department of Education

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Two representatives of the Michigan Department of Education (in the center of the picture) were in Schoolcraft to gain an understanding of how project-based learning is being taught. Speaking to them on the left is Matt McCullough who is in charge of innovation for Schoolcraft and on the right is Matt Webster, principal of Schoolcraft elementary school.

By Sue Moore

A common image of public education: classrooms of students seated at desks, all learning the same information from a teacher; finishing a semester having learned the material well, mostly well, or not very well, continuing until high school graduation, or dropout.

Competency-based education, being promoted by Michigan’s Department of Education, challenges that image. The challenge pushes project-based learning, often in a group, each student learning at the student’s own pace. And not always in a classroom. And more likely to keep learning until their competent.

The state has pushed this mode in recent years, and in 2017 pushed it further with grants totaling $500,000 to several school districts in the state. Schoolcraft was one, with a grant of $60,841.

Last month, state officials met with those districts in Schoolcraft for an update on uses, successes and failures of the grants. Two others, Tecumseh and Kenowa Hills, attended in person. Other districts were present electronically.

Under Matt McCullough, Schoolcraft’s director of innovation in teaching and learning, students have been engaged with project-based learning: Classrooms district-wide have been working with businesses and nonprofit organizations in the area. The goal is to solve an identified problem through team research and reporting recommendations that are worth putting to use.

The school district was already in the process of installing this kind of learning opportunity when the call went out to districts around the state to try competency-based learning. It was one of the recommendations in former Gov. Rick Snyder’s effort to make Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years.

Schoolcraft administrators and teachers went to work on several fronts to put the grant to work. McCullough was instrumental in contacting businesses such as Walther Farms, Chem Link, Concept Molds, The Dome and South County News. They have hosted students who have learned about their businesses, addressed an identified problem and tried to solve it with a project that involved real world experiences.

At the same time, High School Principal Ric Seager convened his teaching staff to consider reinstating courses scrapped from the school’s offerings. That led to the unbalanced trimester plan currently in place, with two 75 day terms and a May through mid-June 30 day mini-term. It offers over 55 course choices for students with an opportunity for credit recovery to enable a student to graduate on-time, Seager explained.

It will give students an opportunity to take less traditional courses in the 30-day period such as 21st century wars, aeronautics and aviation, creative writing, forensic science, algebra recovery, ceramics, food chemistry – and Costa Rican customs for two classes planning a trip to that country next year.

After two years of study and final recommendations from the teachers, Seager had 100 percent support by the time the trimester plan was proposed to the Board of Education. The Board approved it wholeheartedly.

Cursive in the Curriculum

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Schoolcraft seventh graders work on their newspaper project in Karin Lynch’s class. She is the photographer.

By Schoolcraft 7th graders Mia Mulder, Allison Centilla, Caleb Goldschmeding, and Daniel Standish (Editor, Writer, Photographer, and Interviewer)

Do you write in cursive? If so, this is the article for you.

Cursive is only learned for two years in elementary school, but why?

Matt Webster, principal of Schoolcraft Elementary School, told us that kids and adults have many more tools for communication at their disposal today than ever before.

Long ago, outside of verbally communicating with others, a penned or typed letter were among your only other options. Today, students are creating websites, writing blogs, developing podcasts or even hosting “hangouts” that allow them to talk to and see one another virtually.

What is true with technology advancing and becoming more and more accessible is that writing your words out on paper isn’t a student’s only option nowadays. Students at Schoolcraft Elementary still learn cursive in 3rd grade and practice it each week throughout 4th-grade but are not directly taught that skill in other grades.

“Cursive writing expectations of the past have given way to keyboarding expectations on the educational technology tools of the 21st Century,” according to David Powers, Schoolcraft Middle School Principal. “Although students are introduced to cursive in elementary school, the fact remains that middle and high students are not mandated to produce handwritten essays, and our graduates are thriving in this new age of technology.”

When asked why we only learn it for such a short period of time, Mr. Webster said, “You might learn a standard until you’ve mastered it and then you move on to other standards. We teach you how to communicate in multiple ways in elementary school, including cursive, and then it changes in middle school.”

Many people bring up the issue that we need cursive to sign checks and other important documents, like buying a home or a car.

Most children know how to write their name in cursive, but they also need to know how to read it.

Mrs. Kathy Descheneau, a former teacher of Schoolcraft Elementary, is worried about how. “It’s unfortunate that, in my way of looking at it, the day is going to come when people won’t be able to read primary source documents from the past.”

If you think about it, in the future of cursive could be a secret language because people won’t be able to read it.

According to Mrs. Descheneau cursive is only in the curriculum in 3rd and 4th grade because the curriculum was too full in the other grades. There were already more important things to learn, and they couldn’t fit so much into one whole year.

We asked Mr. Webster if he minded the fact that people think cursive is gone.

He told us, “Cursive is not gone at Schoolcraft. It’s intentionally taught and practiced for two years in a row. All of the educators at Schoolcraft care about what our students learn and we want them to be ready with whatever direction they go in life.”

The problem is, like Mrs. Descheneau said, if a child decides to be a historian, that child may not be able to read important documents from the past. Many children don’t know how to read cursive, and a vast majority don’t know how to write in it. This is not just a community problem, this is a worldwide problem.

With this being said, should cursive be taught more than just in 3rd and 4th grade? Other things to consider are should our middle school teachers expect us to use cursive more?
Better yet, should we the students push ourselves to use it more often than we do? Think about that.

So, I’ll leave it up to you. Do you, the person reading this, think cursive is worth investing in?

Schoolcraft Play Features the Tale of the Ugly Duckling

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Seniors Ben Sampley and Phillip Stafford rehearse their parts in Honk! It will be performed at the Schoolcraft Performing Arts Center.

By Sue Moore

This spring the Schoolcraft Drama Club will present Honk!, a musical retelling of the Ugly Duckling story with a cast and crew including both high school and middle school students. It will be performed March 21 and March 22 at 7 p.m., March 23 at 2 and 7 p.m., and March 24 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for general admission, $7 for students and seniors, and are available at the door or through this website

In Honk!, the Ugly Duckling, senior Ben Sampley, must go on a journey of self-discovery after being separated from his mother, Ida, played by senior Kiaha Grey. The machinations of the hungry Cat, sophomore Isabella Parker, and the scorn of the other ducks and chickens in the duck yard is hard on the Ugly Duckling. Along the way he meets a full cast of cats, chickens, military geese, bullfrogs, tadpoles, and a beautiful young swan named Penny, played by senior Bridgett Crofoot. Through many trials and dangers Ugly comes to accept his fate as an outcast, only to discover that his very existence is not what it seems. Guided by the wise words of the bullfrog, played by senior Phillip Stafford, Ugly and his duck yard family come to understand that someone is always going to love you, warts and all.

“I chose Honk! as a good first show to integrate the middle school into the musical program,” Director Leigh Fryling explained. “Musicals require a lot of extra help. They are usually larger productions. In the future, the spring musical will likely be a joint effort between the middle and high school. The fall play, which has more adult themes, will be exclusively performed by the High School.”

Honk! is an all ages friendly show. “It’s important to make sure that everyone in Schoolcraft Schools is getting an opportunity to enjoy the theatre and become excited to support or become part of our program,” Fryling said. She took over the directorial responsibilities in 2018 from long-time Drama Club director, Christine Sargeant.

“This is the year of the seniors, we have 10 seniors involved in the show. We will be very sorry to lose them at the end of the year,” Fryling said. “They are almost a third of the entire company. Because so many of them are graduating out of the program, we may have to consider some smaller shows going forward until our numbers go back up. Of the five major leads in the show, four of them are performed by seniors.”

A generous donation from Edward Jones of Schoolcraft meant the drama club was able to take students on a field trip to see a show at Western Michigan University. They were given a guided tour of the facilities and a talk-back with the cast, crew, and designers of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. “We are looking forward to adding more opportunities for the drama students, and are excitedly planning our first major fundraiser, a murder mystery spaghetti dinner in late May.

“We were able with a donation from last years’ senior class to afford a new set of stage microphones. We are hoping with the proceeds of the murder mystery fundraiser to revamp/remodel our costume shop and set shop. We have big plans for the future,” Fryling said.