Schoolcraft board honors mental health coordinator

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Megan Boynton, mental health coordinator for Schoolcraft Schools.

Schoolcraft Schools Superintendent Rick Frens recognized Megan Boynton, the district’s mental health coordinator, for making a difference for students, staff, and families in the district at an August school board meeting.

Boynton started at Schoolcraft Elementary as a paraprofessional in December, 2018. She moved to the student services coordinator position in May, 2020. Working in student services, Boynton became concerned about student mental health in early 2022. She was especially concerned by an elementary student “who faced anxieties and severe depression,” and then learned there were several more students at risk for severe depression, even suicide. She says, “it broke my heart to hear students this young struggle with their mental health.”

After expressing her concern with the administration, her student mental health coordinator role began in December of 2022. Boynton has a unique skill set: a social work degree from Spring Arbor University and training in core concepts of childhood trauma, and trauma and the effects on the brain. She has also participated in courses for crisis prevention. 

“Schoolcraft is fortunate to have a team of four highly qualified staff members that specialize in social, emotional, and mental health of students,” said Matt Webster, secondary principal and assistant superintendent. “For a district our size to have a 1:250 ratio is pretty unheard of.  Megan, specifically, has served the students, families, and staff this summer as three separate tragic events occurred to SCS families.  Her leadership meant not only supporting the students and families during those times, but she also coordinated the communication within Schoolcraft Community Schools as every unfolded.  We’re lucky to have her as a colleague and our families, I’m sure, feel fortunate to know she’s there in times of need as well.” 

Boynton says her position allows for “in-house, direct care” which enables “tools and coping mechanisms.” These can help fill the gap with wait times to see an outside counselor or therapist.

Her duties are many: identifying students with mental health needs; coordinating with school personnel and family members to ensure appropriate and timely resources and services are provided; monitor overall general health of K-12 student population; assess student/client needs based upon unique social history and current situation; provide crisis management, including assessing students’ immediate and prolonged safety; coordinate and provide wrap-around services with outside agencies; maintain contact and positive relationships with mental health providers.

In addition, she leads the District Crisis Team and provides teachers and support staff with learning opportunities. When appropriate, she delivers direct therapy for student mental health needs and communicates and coordinates team meetings.

“Schoolcraft continually amazes me,” Boynton said. “I serve with four others on the District Support Team: Shelby, our school social worker, Britany, our 7-12 guidance counselor, Kelsey, our K-6 student services and Abby, our school psychologist. Each person has unique experiences, talents, and a wealth of knowledge to help our students and families.”  

Superintendent Rick Frens spoke highly of Boynton. “Megan was exactly the right person at the right time for this role.  We had several school tragedies this summer, and her ability to care for our students, their families and friends has been amazing.  She has been able to gather the right people around the table at the right time to ensure the proper level of support is available.  Our students and staff are lucky to have her on our team.”

Bus Safety Carnival teaches safety

By Jef Rietsma

Organizers of a Bus Safety Carnival hosted by Vicksburg Community Schools were optimistic the third annual event would draw close to 200 children.

Their projections probably weren’t too far off, as a steady stream of families attended the Aug. 17 event, held in the parking lot on the north side of the district’s administrative building.

Organized primarily by Transportation Director Karen McKinstry, the carnival featured food, games, prizes and some important bits of information. McKinstry said the festive atmosphere is a good way to help promote bus safety.

“When I came to Vicksburg as director of transportation, it was my first time as a director and I know the most important thing is for our children to have safe transportation. And for us to do that, they need to understand what they need to do and what the expectations are,” she said. “The Bus Safety Carnival is a baby that was born in my heart, it was my goal to reach these kids from a young age, be consistent with it through the years and so by the time they get to middle school, safe behavior is just normal.”

While the 90-minute carnival last month was geared toward younger students, McKinstry welcomed kids of all ages and even a few from a neighboring district. Bus safety, after all, is a common denominator in all school systems, she said.

The carnival featured two stationary buses. One was used exclusively to demonstrate safe crossing practices. The other allowed McKinstry and drivers to conduct rear-door evacuations. In addition, two more buses were employed to drive families through town and practice on-board safety skills, including railroad-crossing expectations.

Other stations featured games and food, including popcorn, shaved ice and hot dogs. McKinstry gave a shout out to Ibison Concessions for providing free hot dogs and water.

McKinstry said the carnival has yielded success stories.

“I’m excited that people call and ask when’s the carnival, so it’s on their mind, they know about it and they’ve remembered it from last year or the year before,” McKinstry said. “I had a Facebook post where someone said their child was scared, they didn’t want to ride the bus, but they came to the carnival, got to get on a bus and they just got really comfortable, so the carnival took the fear out of it for that child.”

McKinstry said she would like to see the concept of a bus safety carnival expanded to other districts to help reinforce the message of safety. She also welcomes area agencies and organizations as a visibility and promotion opportunity.

Vicksburg Community Schools has 17 bus routes. McKinstry said about 1,400 students rely on district-provided bus service. About 2,700 students attend the district’s schools.

Bathroom use concerns and district response

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools officials responded to several parents concerned about transgender students and the bathrooms they might opt to use at school.

Several parents have addressed the board intermittently over the past 18 months about the issue. Four parents addressed the board during its Aug. 14 meeting, prompting a response from board president Skip Knowles.

Knowles shared a letter prepared by the district’s attorney.

“The district’s policies prohibit discrimination, bullying or harassment on the basis of sex, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition to following its policies, it is equally important that the district complies with federal, state and local laws, and guidance in legal precedent related to unlawful discrimination, bullying and harassment,” Knowles read. “State and federal law and guidance, and current binding case law in Michigan require public schools to allow all students – including transgender students – to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity or to use single-user restrooms, whichever the student chooses.”
Knowles continued.

“Regardless of gender identity, Vicksburg Community Schools expects any individual using a restroom will respect the privacy of everyone else using the restroom and will conduct themselves in an appropriate manner,” he said. “If not, the student will be held accountable according to Vicksburg Community Schools discipline policy.”

In closing, Knowles said the district is obligated to create a safe and welcoming school climate, supervise it appropriately and clearly articulate expectations about acceptable behaviors.