Category Archives: Schools

Student Biliteracy Program

biliteracy certificate winners
The students and teachers are shown above from left to right: Miles Crawford, Kaitlyn Szydlowski, Megan Bresnahan. Back row, left to right: Spanish teacher Allie Lamers, Sophie Bradley, Mikayla Sands, Sarah Mitchell, Grace Taylor, Spanish teachers Jennifer Rodas, Mary Zemlick, and student Kelcey Cook.

Six of eight Vicksburg High School students who participated in a pilot biliteracy program a Global Seal of Biliteracy at the Functional Fluency level, according to French teacher Jennifer Teal. She petitioned the school board in January to add this test to the curriculum.

This certifies the students at an intermediate-mid level of proficiency in Spanish. They meet the literacy requirement for their native language, English, by earning a high school diploma. All of the students who earned the seal in the pilot are Spanish students at Vicksburg High School, but the seal can be earned by any student who meets the criteria in two or more languages. These six students earned the seal in January after passing a proficiency assessment to certify them at an intermediate-mid level in Spanish. The Global Seal of Biliteracy is a credential that allows recipients to verify their language skills to future schools or future employers.

Vicksburg School Board Hears Band Boosters Report

vix sch bd 1
Tabitha Farnham, president of the Vicksburg Band Boosters, Inc., made a presentation to the Vicksburg School Board. Band Director Ben Rosier is on the right.

By Sue Moore

In a report to the Vicksburg School Board, Tabitha Farnham, president of the Vicksburg Band Boosters Inc. said her organization’s operating budget for 2020 is $72,300. “What money we raise to fund band programs is necessary to keep our band program top notch. It has helped to keep the band competitive with surrounding schools that are much bigger than us. With improved equipment, it has even encouraged some students to come to Vicksburg schools to be a part of our award-winning band program,” she told the board.

The group has maintained the instrument repair program for middle and high school bands to the tune of $3,100 each year. “We have covered what the three directors call their wish list and needs of the program that wouldn’t be funded otherwise,” she said. The organization purchased a whole new set of uniforms six years ago at a cost of $90,000. It also raised funds for the huge travel trailer that houses the band’s instruments on site and other items when they go to perform, such as the holiday trip to New Orleans.

With the help of the Vicksburg Foundation, they have been able to purchase $100,000 in band instruments. The program has grown to include one third of the student body in the Middle School and one fourth of the students in the High School.

Don Puckett reported on the technology advances the district has made over the last six years, especially with the funds from the technology bond issue of 2014. He cited the following:

A total of 5,000 outside devices connected in any one day.

2,000 Chromebook laptop computers in use.

Over 180 phones.

Over 300 desktops and laptops in use.

236 wireless access points.

302 security cameras installed.

41 door and door entry systems.

115 printers and copiers, a number which has actually decreased over the years by utilizing bigger and more efficient copiers.

Over 150 presentation systems.

18 servers on the network.

Countless software platforms.

Google for education has been used over the last six years because it is free. It was a hodgepodge all over the district. Now each building has wireless coverage.

Plans for the future include rolling out new teacher computers, updating and replacing Chromebook laptop computers which are nearly eight years old. Replacing the network infrastructure will be the big expense, he said.

Dawn Simpson, math teacher in the Middle School, demonstrated the use of Chromebook software that allows her to see what every student in her classroom is doing on their device.

Matt VanDussen, Middle School principal, spoke to the board about data on student performance. Math compares well to other schools in the area, he said. It points to a lot of things the teachers and staff have been working on the past few years.

While social studies scores were lower than expected, teachers have worked hard to transition to the new social studies standards, which haven’t been tested by the MSTEP yet.  Students showed a very high level of achievement in English Language Arts, according to the PSAT, with 83 percent of 8th grade students demonstrating college readiness.

He described Walkin’ the Dawgs as the one and only fundraiser the Middle School now uses. “This means that parents only have a one-time donation to make rather than all the little requests for dollars that typically came home with students. They raised $17,000 the first year they tried this approach and $19,000 in 2019. The money supports band, social studies program, teachers’ supplies, Civil War Days for the 8th grade, student council, athletics, fall musical, podcast equipment purchase, anti-bullying presentation, student incentives, respect rewards and principal’s awards to students.

Irving Berlin Musical to Come Alive on Vicksburg Stage

Dancers in Holiday Inn strut their stuff.

By Sue Moore

Irving Berlin’s all-time classics, “Shakin’ the Blues Away,” “Heat Wave,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today,” “Easter Parade,” and, of course, “White Christmas,” will be staged by Vicksburg High School’s theater group this month.

Under the directions of the dynamic Melissa Sparks, the teenagers will be performing the “New Holiday Inn Musical“ at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 14 and 21 at 7 p.m. There are two Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on March 15 and 22.

There are 13 large-ensemble musical numbers featuring a cast of 50 student performers. Every number has some dance in it from ballroom to jazz and, of course, tap. One number, “Shakin’ the Blues Away,” includes tap dancing while jump roping. Sparks said the day her students perfected that, she cried. “We actually have more students who can accomplish this than there is room on our stage for them to dance. It’s incredible to see how much our students’ skills have grown in this amazing show. Not to mention, it’s just a beautiful old-fashioned musical with the Irving Berlin songs, the glorious costumes, and magnificent sets. It’s going to be a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the heart,” Sparks exclaimed.

“Students began learning these dances in January and have been working hard on the technique necessary to pull it off. Thankfully, a few have learned the basics on these dance styles in previous productions so the rest have a few leaders to follow,” Sparks said.

“I loved this musical since I saw the Broadway production on PBS just a few years ago. While it’s the same title and basic premise as the old film, it has been reinvented for the 21st century. I love how it keeps the style of the classic golden age of musicals but feels fresh and modern,” she said.

“I believe all students can accomplish great things, if you believe in them. I love to challenge our students. They are doing Broadway level choreography in this show. It’s incredible! As our program grows, so does the capability of our students. I knew this was the year to tackle our most challenging show yet, by far!” Sparks said.

There are almost 400 costumes in this production. Sparks’ mom has usually helped with costumes in the many plays that her daughter has directed. Last year her mom had a heart attack right in the middle of the last rehearsal. “This year, I felt not only for her sanity but for mine as well that the best choice was for us to order many of the stunning costumes you will see. We have carefully selected and created a spectacular show for the eyes as each holiday has a different look, different costuming and different feel. She’s busy tailoring what we ordered and putting her touches on everything that makes it look so special. In the meantime, I’m thankful she’s here with me for another production,” Sparks said.

Schoolcraft Drama Club Stages Popular Musical

Schoolcraft musical
Pictured, left to right: Juniors Beth Pavlak and Isabella Parker and freshman Kelsei Rossman.

Schoolcraft High School is proud to present “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, Thursday March 19 at 7 p.m., Friday March 20 at 7 p.m., Saturday March 21 at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday March 22 at 2 p.m.

The show tells the story of ambitious window washer J. Pierrepont Finch, as he schmoozes his way up the company ladder with the help of a very special little book. Madcap 1960s-style hijinks ensue as he climbs through the ranks, falls in love, falls from grace, and then ultimately reminds us that we are all one brotherhood of man in a show-stopping finale. This show requires a large cast, featuring many roles for all types of performers and a great opportunity to showcase a male ensemble.

“I picked this show for its lighthearted fun and swinging music,” Director Leigh Fryling explained. “After the transformative but heavily emotional fall play ‘She Kills Monsters’, we all needed a goofy palate cleanser. That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have important messages to share, especially in the age of #MeToo, but that those messages are candy-coated with a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. It will be a nostalgic turn for a lot of grandparents in the audience who might remember the movie.”

A new sound board and sound equipment purchased through a grant from Midwest Energy and Communications will be put to use for the first time in this play. “We can’t wait to utilize them in the coming seasons and want to take this opportunity to thank MEC for helping us make our space better for the future, one element at a time,” Fryling said.

Schoolcraft Board Says Goodbye to Broekema

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft public school’s Finance Director Rita Broekema made her last presentation to the board of education at its February meeting.

After 18 years in the district, Broekema revealed she has taken a new position at Watervliet schools where she will re-join former high school principal Ric Seager, who left to become superintendent there last year. Her decision to leave, she said, wasn’t based on anything going on in the district. She saw the opportunity as good timing for a “new adventure.”

“I was not job hunting,” Broekema said. “I was not intending to do anything but retire from Schoolcraft schools and this was one of those opportunities.”

The board members all thanked her individually in their closing remarks of the meeting.

“I just want to say Rita, thank you very much for all you do for us and we wish you well as a board,” President Jennifer Gottschalk said. “We’re sad to see you go, but we understand.”

Superintendent Rusty Stitt echoed those thoughts.  “We’re truly going to miss Rita and we thank her for her 18 years of service,” he said. “She has been my go-to gal for my nine years here.”

Middle School Principal Dave Powers also chimed in at the meeting’s close, saying Broekema is the best finance director he’s ever worked with.

“You are incredible at what you do. What makes it even more incredible is who you are,” Powers said. “I could not do what I do without Rita Broekema and she extends so much grace; it’s unbelievable the way she holds our hands and gets us from point A to point Z.”

Broekema thanked the board and staff for their kind remarks. She also noted this was where she raised her children and said she wasn’t planning to leave the village. “I thank you for allowing me to grow up in Schoolcraft,” she said. “It’s just been an amazing ride and so thank you.”

The board also recognized three people for their monthly “Soaring Eagle” awards ceremony. The first was SHS staffer Chris Kato; the second, States Golf Course. The most notable honoree of the meeting was high school senior Karson Leighton. It marked one of the first times the district has honored a current student with the award.

Leighton was recognized for being involved with the superintendent’s advisory committee and student council. Stitt said the dual-enrollment student has remained heavily involved in the goings-on at the school despite his heavy schedule, even giving input on the district’s plans for 2020 and its strategic plan.

Stitt also noted that Leighton has even returned to the school during free time between his dual-enrollment classes at KVCC, just so he could interact with fellow students.

Schoolcraft Schools Bond Issue on March Ballot

Many of the volunteers who are going door to door in Schoolcraft in support of the Yes SCS campaign are pictured here.

By Sue Moore

Schoolcraft schools’ $39.9 million bond issue is again up for a vote in the March 10 election. Michigan voters will also choose a Democratic party presidential nominee in the election.

This is the third time a bond issue for the school has been put to a vote in the past six years. The earlier two were defeated. The most recent one in 2019 was close, thus encouraging the Yes for Schoolcraft committee and the school board to try again. Opposition has largely centered upon the large amount, unchanged from last year’s proposal, plus plans to build new elementary and middle school structures and some improvements to the athletic facilities.

A new committee of parents has come together to spearhead the push for the proposal, going door to door with a message that the current buildings are beyond the point of fixing, that the middle and elementary buildings raise huge structural concerns.

Lloyd Peterson, an opponent to the bond issue, has been at school board meetings claiming that the amount of money being sought is too much. “It’s a big chunk, but I’ll live with it either way.” He has a daughter who is a sophomore in Schoolcraft. The family lives in a tiny corner of Texas Township that is in the Schoolcraft school district. He is semi-retired from being a professor at WMU and moonlights as a behavior analyst.

“I support an addition to the high school for the middle school, as I compare including grades 6-8 together to a one-room schoolhouse where each grade was taught according to their skill level. Good teaching is good teaching wherever it may be. I taught in a one-room school in Texas. I believe the people told the school board ‘no’ twice in a row, so having this third election during the primary season is going around the public. We would have had a bigger turn out in November.” He believes that a capital expenditure fund for the school should be set up to save for future construction.

The citizens team in favor of the bond issue say the heating systems are outdated, inefficient and failing. To renovate would cost an estimated $32 million and the buildings would still not have enough space, enough storage, or serve the needs of today’s methods of instruction and learning for students.

The middle school and elementary have small, cramped classrooms that are overcrowded, according to the Yes for SCS campaign literature. Some voters have objected to athletics being included in the bond issue. No major changes are anticipated but it will make improvements to athletic facilities that are deemed unsafe. It will bring these areas up to code, repair serious damage and make them safe, the literature said.

“The bond is the solution to the building problems and a critical part of the school’s long-term plan,” the citizens committee said.

Homecoming Courts at Schoolcraft and Vicksburg Schools

Here are the Homecoming Courts for Vicksburg and Schoolcraft High Schools.