The Wizard of Oz is a coming of age story, according to Vicksburg High School Drama Director Melissa Sparks. She cites a study in Italy that claims the movie is the most influential film in the world.
And it’s coming to Vicksburg’s Performing Arts Center. “This is a good choice for students to act in, because of our tumultuous world. They can learn that it’s OK to escape into their imagination. It’s a little bit of escapism. These kids love the message in the story.”
The enduring play will be performed on Saturday, March 16 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m. Additional performances are set for Saturday, March 23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online here. They are $5 for students, $10 for seniors and $12 for adults if purchased in advance.
“Sydney Andres was perfect for the lead role of Dorothy,” Sparks said. “She has charm, innocence, a kind and loving personality, much like Dorothy.”
Andres said she practiced really hard for the auditions because playing the part meant so much to her. “It’s my favorite movie of all time. It’s like a dream come true to play Dorothy and perform in this classic. I can do a pretty decent Judy Garland voice, but I’ll try to play it a little bit differently.”
Andres is a known stage quantity herself, having been chosen to act or sing in 12 productions while she has been in high school and middle school. She played Jane opposite Tarzan in the 2018 musical. Besides demanding rehearsals that can go from two to five hours, Andres plays on the Vicksburg lacrosse team, is in choir, plays the alto sax in the marching band, symphonic band and the wind ensemble. She carries a 3.9 GPA and works part-time on weekends dressing up as a princess for special parties in the area. She also works at Gander Outdoors – in her spare time.
“I don’t like being in front of people, it scares me. But when I get on stage it’s not me, I’m just acting and that makes it a lot easier,” she said.
Other major roles in the Wizard production are Jacob Henderson as the Lion; Lindsey Fleck as the scarecrow; Levi Shepard as the Tin Man; Lucas Cannizzaro as Oz and Meaghan Miller as the Wicked Witch. Music director is Dusty Morris, the high school’s choir director. Sets have been designed by Tim Fuller, director of the Performing Arts Center.
Schoolcraft 8th graders are following in a tradition of writing in the America & Me essay contest. The top three students and their work will advance to the state-wide competition sponsored by the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Remy Kasten took first place with his essay, naming his sister Gabrielle as his Personal Michigan Hero. Abigail Curtis was second with her essay on Grandpa Padoo. Catherine Wright took third honoring her 5th grade teacher, Kelli Mein.
The three will receive award certificates with the first-place winner having an engraved plaque for permanent display at Schoolcraft Middle School. All eighth graders in Mary Visscher’s English Language Arts class wrote about their Michigan heroes.
Vicksburg Middle School has been building a championship robotics team for over six years, according to co-coach Eric Hackman in his presentation to the school board in February. The students, ages 11-13, meet at the beginning of each school year to receive the year’s challenge from FIRST Robotics, an international not-for-profit company promoting science, technology and engineering through robotic competitions.
“These are pretty cool kids,” co-coach Matt Bombich declared. “There are 600 middle school teams in Michigan, with 96 of them competing at the state finals in Battle Creek. Our goal was to build the robots to do everything required and build the robots the very best that we can. That landed us in the top 50 teams in the state,” he said. The students demonstrated their winning techniques for parents, faculty and staff at the board meeting.
The team spends the first few weeks planning the design of their robot. It must perform tasks on its own with programming created by the students and must also be built to be driven by the students. Mentors and leaders are there to teach and encourage, said Bombich, who has been a co-coach with Hackman for the last five years.
“I’ve learned a lot myself,” Bombich said. “I didn’t know anything when I started with the kids in 2014. I sat in the back of the room to observe and pretty soon, I was the co-leader. A robot needs to lift something with a linear motion and be able to rotate at the same time, much like wheels on a car. There are mechanical and engineering skills needed to produce the solution to the problem that is thrown at them. It’s all in the learning process the kids encounter.”
FIRST Robotics, organizing the tech challenges, designs a game using a standard, reusable kit of parts. The game is played on a 12-by-12-foot playing field with two teams playing against another two teams for points. A new game is created each year by the company.
“Our fundraising goal for this year was $17,000,” said Bombich. We almost reached that goal with grants from the school, state and local corporate sponsorships.
It costs around $600 to start an elementary team and we started four this year. “We put out the call and 26 kids just showed up to get started,” Hackman said. Most of the cost is robot parts. Registration for tournaments is the next highest cost at around $300 for the four elementary teams to attend one event and $2,250 for the three middle school teams to attend three events each.
“We are beginning to reach that critical mass of student participation which will allow us to take the next step up into the FIRST Robotic Competition (FRC) division next year with our high school students” Hackman said. Bombich added, “When our high schoolers move up to the higher division, FRC next year, the registration fee will be $6,000.Those events cost more because they are more elaborate.” A budget of $10,000 is anticipated for the high school team alone, according to Hackman.
Events sponsored by the company are a chance for teams to engage in the fun and excitement of competition. Awards are presented for robot build, design, and performance as well as for community outreach and other real-world accomplishments, according to its web site.
FIRST is an acronym: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
Schoolcraft High School was quiet on a cold, windy February Saturday, except for the racket coming from one classroom where a handful of students, parents and a teacher were hard at work building a robot.
They were preparing for a robotics competition organized by FIRST, a not-for-profit organzation which holds competitions for several age groups. The Schoolcraft team has just six weeks to design, build and program a robot for competition. This is Schoolcraft’s sixth year competing.
“The kids actually fabricate most of the robot,” teacher Donya Dobbins said.
The FIRST Robotics competitions give students a variety of options on how they want to approach the challenges laid out for them. This year’s challenge revolves around moving cargo from one area to another and removing and replacing hatch panels to hold the cargo in place. It simulates how a robot might transfer supplies from a rocket to astronauts on a space station.
Competitions pit teams three on three against each other. They must strategize with the other teams in their group to accomplish as many tasks as they can in a little over two minutes. Most teams focus on one niche task. Schoolcraft is focusing on moving and replacing the cargo hatch.
“The goal for the three teams is to get as many points on our half of the field as quickly as we can,” Dobbins said.
Points are earned for each task they complete. And there are many opportunities for bonus points. For instance, they can earn more if their robot can climb back onto the raised platform it started on, which is no easy task considering the robot can weigh up to 125 pounds.
The rules vary from game to game, but some defense can also be played by blocking an opponent’s robot from its tasks or by stealing the other team’s cargo – although this isn’t Battlebots; there is a penalty for contact with an opponent. The teams with the most points moves to the next round.
The competitions are mostly for bragging rights. There is the possibility to advance to the state and national level. But there is also the chance to connect with different science professionals and colleges. Most of all, the competitions are about learning.
Senior Ben Sampley has been in the program his whole high school career. He loves the challenge of designing and real-world problem solving and science that comes with it.
“That stuff directly transfers to how the (engineering) industry runs things,” Sampley said. “They kind of help take everything we’re learning in school and help implement it. Then they help give you the connections and the practices that you need to be successful in the engineering industry,” he added.
Sampley said he has learned everything from computer-aided design software to MIG and TIG welding to programming and machining as a result. Some of those skills should directly translate to his chosen major of aviation when he attends WMU next year.
He isn’t the only one who sees the competition as helping to build skills for a future career. Freshman Brynleigh MacInnes thinks the things she’s learning could help her as she pursues a career in marine biology. “I want to make technology that can go deeper underwater,” MacInnes said.
She’s learned a lot even before the first competition has taken place. “The most fun for me has been learning how to program,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges is just funding the program. The entry fee costs $5,000. Dobbins said they have received donations this year from Denso, the Kalamazoo Pool Players Association and Parker Hannifin. Big C Lumber donated all the wood the students are using to make wooden platforms and the hatch panels they’ll use to practice on. Volunteers, both parents and from local businesses, help with the construction and some of the programming.
There are also the costs for the robot. The team recycles many parts from year-to-year, but they are also constantly upgrading. They added $1,200 in parts this year alone. “We do a lot of pneumatics, so it’s expensive,” Dobbins said.
A few marketing students are also on board to help deal with the costs for the team, providing yet another learning opportunity as the team is run almost like a business. “We could always use support, money, mentors, students,” Dobbins said. She said they are also open to working with students from other districts who may not have a team.
Sampley said that is another huge plus about the competitions, the chance to connect with other like-minded “nerdy” students from other schools. You step into an environment that is pretty much nerd-tastic,” Sampley said. “It is so nerdy there, it’s awesome. It’s kind of like going to Comic Con.”
The team’s first competition will be at Battle Creek Lakeview schools on March 8 and 9.
Schoolcraft’s basketball Homecoming court are pictured from left: Freshman class representatives: Kiarae Brooks and Rickey Peters; Junior class representatives: Paige Reid and Prince Garret Buchheit; senior class representatives: Grey Buchheit and Dean Morris, Annika Varker and King Brady Flynn, Queen Abby Blodgett and Phillip Stafford; sophomore representatives: Princess Maeve Stitt and Tom Dailey. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.
Vicksburg’s basketball Homecoming court are pictured from left: Brendan Monroe, Avalee Goodman Sophomores; Jack Tomer and Anna Moore, juniors; Shane Earl and Micayla Bozeman, Kevin Veld, Madeline Geiger, Nick Armitage, Kaytee Harvey, seniors; David Pitts, junior prince, Autumn Johnson, junior Princess; Kyle Kelly, senior King; Mia Mulhearn, senior Queen; Levi Shepard, Emily White, juniors; Levi Sehy, Nevaeh Gates sophomores; Blake Ford, Savina Centofanti freshmen.
Summer is usually the time for kids to run and play outdoors, unstructured and free. What is known to educators is that students in the early grades suffer from “summer slide”. That doesn’t mean they don’t have playground equipment to utilize. It means they often forget what they learned most recently in school. When they come back in the fall, these lessons in reading, math and English have to be covered all over again.
Schools have long sought ways to keep the learning light burning for children over the summer months, particularly when it comes to reading skills. If students can read and comprehend, they can fly more successfully through their lessons in the fall.
One way is to offer summer school. But not enough children can take advantage of this opportunity in the Vicksburg school district according to Superintendent Keevin O’Neill. “We have a need to address this issue where kids are during the summer in their development. It seemed like a bookmobile could be part of the answer. But how to fund it and get it operative?” In stepped the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, chartered 36 years ago to provide some of the extras for the school that taxpayers didn’t have to support.
“The answer for the Foundation board to the “summer slide” seemed like a bookmobile on wheels,” said Lucas Hillard, vice-present of the board. “It could come directly to where the kids are and make reading fun and exciting, almost as good as seeing the ice cream wagon round the corner to their house.” Thus was born The Big Read Machine to serve kids in the three Vicksburg elementary schools during the summer of 2019 and beyond.
An older school bus that was still in good condition was taken out of service and provided to the cause. A plea went out to parents and teachers to donate books of all types to be placed in the bus. Literally tons of them were dropped off at each elementary. They have been sorted by volunteers and school librarians, while still other, newer books have been purchased that are grade-related by the Foundation. The bus has been painted red and white so it is easily identifiable when it comes jingling down the many streets in the 115 mile school district.
Lots of volunteer hours have already gone into the building of the bus. Frederick Construction has offered to help with remodeling the interior so the books can be shelved and will travel without falling off. The cost of all this work will be born by the school’s foundation to the tune of an estimated $40,000. for the start-up. Another $2,500 will be needed each summer to keep it running. The Foundation exists on donations to a great extent and this project is no exception according to Bob Willhite, president of the board. Raising the necessary funds will be his duty as he finishes out his second term in office after being on the board for seven years. They are asking for corporate, service clubs and individual donations to support the project. The money needs to be in the Foundation coffers when the Big Read Machine starts rolling by the middle of June, Willhite said. The website is http://www.vicksburgcommunityschools.org/vcs-foundation/. Further information is available from Beth O’Roark at 269-321-1006.
The Schoolcraft school board at its January meeting approved refinancing the district’s 2009 bonds at lower interest rates. The move is expected to save an estimated $400,000. That’s expected to show up in lower tax rates dedicated to repayment.
Refinancing won’t affect the maturity of the loans, which will be paid by 2026. But it lowers interest rates which ranged from 2.5-4.75 percent.
The district was able to borrow at 2.26 percent and a cost of $4,345,000. The buyer is Stifel, Nicolaus & Company Inc, a brokerage and investment banking firm from Okemos. The result is an eight-year, $400,987 savings to taxpayers until 2026 when the repayment term ends. Of that savings, $72,873 will be used to pay the advisors and lawyers involved in the process.
“That savings will go straight to the community in the form of reduced millage rates,” said the district’s attorney, Matt Hiser of Thrun Law. “I think it’s always important for the district to understand and the community to understand that this isn’t a savings going into the school district general fund, this is really an opportunity for the district to give back to the community by taking advantage of this opportunity.”
Because the process is heavily regulated, the money can be returned only as savings and not banked for future projects.
While the process is similar to refinancing a home mortgage, Finance Director Rita Broekema said that unlike a mortgage, there are limited windows for a district to do this kind of refinancing. In the case of the 2009 bonds, this was the district’s last chance to do it.
The whole process has been ongoing since November. The district worked with PFM Financial Advisors to evaluate its credit rating ahead of the sale. PFM then worked with Standard and Poor’s Financial Services to establish a stable rating of “AA-“ for the district due to a stable economy, low overall debt and growing property tax base.
“Schoolcraft Community Schools’ bonds were well received by the bond market with interest from local banks and national investors,” Stifel Managing Director Brodie Killian said in a district press release. “We were able to take advantage of current low interest rates that met the goals of the district and resulted in a nice savings that will be passed on to the district’s taxpayers.”
“The board of education is very intentional about being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Board Treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook said in the statement. “We are committed to being transparent and accountable. We take seriously that which has been entrusted to us and are committed to managing our resources wisely.”