Big Read Machine brings more books to more kids

By Bob Willhite, Big Read Machine manager

Summer shined down on The Big Read Machine — our local bookmobile sharing summer reading options with youth throughout the Vicksburg Community Schools district.

Over 400 kids checked out over 1,700 books this summer, both sizable increases. Each patron was given a Big Read Machine cinch sack to carry the books. And after the books were returned, the student received a neat book light.

Kids do not have to be Vicksburg Community Schools students to use the bus, which is parked at key locations throughout the district. This year, Portage Terrace Mobile Home Community and the Food Trucks at the Mill were added as new locations.

The kids are always providing memorable reactions to the Big Read Machine: “The book bus is here, the book bus is here!”, “Reading is magic!”, and my personal favorite: “Library books on a bus? That makes no sense!”

I manage the Big Read Machine schedule, its locations and times. We welcome ideas to help us reach as many area kids as possible. We’re already considering two new locations for 2023. Suggestions can be sent to

The Big Read Machine is sponsored by Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation. We extend thanks to foundation trustees, donors, bus drivers, volunteers, and of course all of the kids and families that visited us this summer.

See you next year.

Summer improvements at two Vicksburg schools

Mike Frederick, construction manager DJ Bird, and Keevin O’Neill.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools once again took advantage of empty school buildings over the summer to catch up on construction projects.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said the district continues to identify and address a variety of building needs. A heavy focus was placed this summer on work at Indian Lake and Sunset Lake.

The work is being done thanks to a $17.6 million, 20-year millage request district voters approved in May 2020. The Board of Education tapped the expertise of project manager Frederick Construction and architect TowerPinkster to oversee this summer’s work.

Nearly $6 million in work was performed between the two schools.

O’Neill said the district is not disappointed with the improvements.

“I’m very pleased that all our projects were completed on time and I want to once again thank our supportive Vicksburg community for passing the 2020 bond,” O’Neill said. “The comfortable, flexible learning environments we are creating will enhance learning for all. In addition, I would like to thank our construction manager, Frederick Construction, for their efforts to ensure the quality and timeliness of our summer projects.”

Here’s a closer look at what was done this summer, starting with Indian Lake:

  • Electrical improvements, including reworking existing ceiling-mounted technology (wireless access points, cameras, clocks, etc.) in preparation for new ceiling tiles, installation of LED lighting and lighting controls throughout the building, and some work to clean up existing circuitry to free up capacity for future use.
  • Mechanical upgrades: installation of new HVAC components throughout the building to provide heating and cooling in several locations, including all classrooms, offices, common spaces, media center and cafeteria.
  • New flooring in some areas in the building.
  • Interior renovations. Includes acoustical ceilings, new drywall bulkheads and walls related to the new vertical HVAC units, as well as repairs to the exterior-insulation finishing system.
  • Masonry. Modifications to interior and exterior masonry to accommodate louvers for the new vertical units.

Total cost at Indian Lake is about $2.4 million.

Meanwhile, district officials said the scope of work at Sunset Lake is essentially the same as Indian Lake, with the addition of window and exterior-wall renovations. Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss said the work at Sunset Lake was sequenced over last summer and this summer. Total cost for the school is approximately $3.5 million.

The district is expecting about 2,700 students for the 2022-23 academic year.

Schoolcraft offers summer school, camp style

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

For a second year, Schoolcraft Community Schools has partnered with Next Level Performance, offering the district’s summer school at the Dome Sports Center on US 131. From all indications, this is a positive, successful program.

Two years ago, districts across the state of Michigan began experiencing the effects of the isolation of COVID shutdowns on student achievement and emotional health. The State of Michigan encouraged school districts to partner with community organizations in designing summer school to make these programs as effective as possible, and additional funds for summer programming were available.

Schoolcraft Elementary Principal Matt Webster says, “The district leadership wanted to build a program which was wellness driven, focusing on not only academics, but the whole child, including behavioral, social, emotional, and physical well-being.”

As the district leadership discussed options and locations, they contacted the management team at Next Level Performance at the Dome, and Webster said the response was an immediate “Yes!”

Schoolcraft summer school students attend “Summer Camp” from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. From 8:30 to 10, the focus is on academics. During this time, students meet in the Dome’s multi-purpose room for academic lessons and support. The ratio of students to staff in this setting is 5 to 1, and the district’s team includes highly skilled teachers in reading instruction, led by Amy Desmond, one of Schoolcraft Elementary’s 1st grade teachers. Webster and the district’s social worker also check in with students during this time.

Parents transport students and a snack is provided.

At 10 a.m., the Schoolcraft students join the Dome’s summer camp program. These programs not only focus on a particular sport or activity each week, but the focus is also on character and leadership.

Campers receive sports instruction, lots of play time, and interaction with camp staff.

Last year, 20 Schoolcraft students attended each week during the district’s eight-week Summer Camp. This year, the number is 25 per week.

Webster says the goal is for students to maintain their current academic level through the summer, avoiding any academic loss. As for the other goals for the children — the behavioral, social, emotional and physical well-being?

The smiles on the campers’ faces tell it all.