Some of my favorite stories from School Life Troy
My year documenting school life in the Troy, Michigan school district has come to a close due to lack of funding. I had a great time sharing their stories and snapping their photos. Here are some of my favorite stories. To see some of my favorite photos from School Life Troy, click here.
(all stories and images are copyrighted by Rodney Curtis)
Harry Potter and the Magical Troy Grad
She’s no Muggle.
And as a matter of fact — contractually and legally — she has nothing to do with Harry Potter. But Troy High alum Andrea Miller stars in a new Off-Broadway play, PUFFS, about “a group of young wizards going to school at the same time as a certain famous boy wizard. It takes place over the same seven years and shows what it was like for the house that has never been brave, ambitious, or smart,” Andrea explained.
Confused? There’s probably a spell for that. But apart from using magic, here’s how the PUFFS press release tells it.
“Some people are born with the capacity to do great things. Some people change the world. Some people rise from humble beginnings to defeat the forces of darkness in the face of insurmountable odds. PUFFS is the story of the people who sit in class next to those people.”
Andrea Miller graduated from Troy High in 2008 and the character she plays in PUFFS “was actually written with me in mind, so Leanne and I are very similar. We are both very high energy, easily excitable, and a little bit weird,” she said.
She doesn’t just play one character, though. “There are 11 actors in the show playing all of the characters in the world, so we all play multiple parts. My main character is Leanne, but I also get to play Ginny, Frenchy, and Helga.”
A few of those names don’t sound familiar, at least from a Potter standpoint. But Frenchy? Wasn’t she in Grease? By the way, Harry — that certain boy wizard — is played by a 20-something woman, Madeline Bundy. Usually Harry annoys the main characters and just gets in their way.
There’s a great backstory to PUFFS. Andrea explained, “Our original run was at The People’s Improv Theatre (PIT) and was only supposed to last for a month. We sold out all of the shows so they extended us for another month, and then another and another. Eventually the right people came to see it and now we are transferring to Off-Broadway! We are moving to the Elektra theater at 43rd and 8th, right in the middle of everything.”
Matt Cox, the playwright, is the author of another fun play called Kapow-i GoGo. Kristin McCarthy Parker directs the show and her recent credits include Hold On To Your Butts, Fly You Fools and Three Day Hangover’s Dracula.
Andrea, or as she’s known on the stage “Andy Miller,” shared her own backstory.
“I took Theatre classes and was in most of the Troy Theatre Ensemble (TTE) productions while I was there. But when I first started at MSU, I was majoring in molecular biology.”
Let’s just pause there for a second. Molecular biology may be the furthest thing from acting, but if you Google “molecular biology magic” you get almost a million hits.
Okay, sorry, please continue Andy.
“I went to the MSU Theatre department open house just to see what it was all about and I fell in love. I remember calling my mom in tears because I was so upset at the idea of not acting anymore.”
So molecular biology gave way to acting.
It wasn’t always easy for Andy. “This business is hard work. It’s hard physically, emotionally and financially. If you are interested in this career path, you have to be willing to wake up every morning and work, because there is no single clear path to success, but it can be so rewarding!”
Indeed, Eric (class of 2010) played Tony in West Side Story among many other roles. Kevin (class of 2013) played Curly in Oklahoma and multiple other parts as well.
The family — along with their mother, Cheryl, who was TTE house manager for years — are theatre royalty at Troy High.
“Eric recently moved to NYC to pursue acting. I love having some family so close. He is studying improv at the PIT, where Puffs debuted, and I’ve seen him perform a few times,” Andy said.
Then the trash talk began, “He’s not as funny as me yet, but he’s getting there … Eric, if you’re reading this, I’m just kidding. You’ll never be as good as me.”
Kids, don’t make us turn this car around!
“Kevin is at U of M getting a degree in some sort of science,” Andy continued, “which is good because one of us has to make some money or my dad will have a heart attack.”
Her father Greg’s imaginary heart problems aside, Andy loves what she does. And yes, when she’s on stage, she creates magic. “Oh I definitely believe in magic! I was in a show last year where I had to fling a cardboard basketball at a hoop and miss horribly. One night it miraculously went in and the audience went crazy. It was pretty magical!”
Andy concluded, “PUFFS is really goofy and over the top, but by then end of the show, you really feel for these characters. They are outsiders who don’t really know where they belong in the world and I think everyone can relate to that in some way.”
PUFFS, or as it’s also known: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic, will be performed on Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays at 9:30 PM and Saturdays at 9:30 PM. Previews begin on Thursday, September 29. Opening night is Thursday, October 20 and the limited engagement runs through Friday, December 30.
The show is at The Elektra Theater, 300 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036.
Here’s a little more about the play from their press release, just in case you have the time and feel like hopping on your broomstick:
“Meet Wayne, a very average boy from New Mexico, who finds out he is a wizard … also, wizards are real. Join him and his new friends as they try to keep their heads down and get a basic wizarding education while a certain other famous boy with a very peculiarly shaped scar on his forehead sets out to make life at school increasingly … eventful.”
It All Came Down To A Shoot-out Again (again)
It’s not like Athens High School hadn’t been in this predicament before, a shoot-out to determine who wins. A day earlier — in a game that made statewide news — they had to replay the closing minutes of their Friday game, also a shoot-out, due to an error by the officiating staff.
So on Wednesday night when someone on the sidelines yelled, “Come on, we’ve got this. We’ve done this before, TWICE!” They knew what they were yelling about.
In the end, the Athens varsity boys soccer team won their state Division I semifinal game against Rochester High on Wednesday evening. The game was played at Troy High, neutral territory, and the outcome was determined in another shootout — after regulation play and two overtimes were completed. It was their third shoot-out in less than a week.
“I’m excited we’re in the finals. We’re going to win that ring,” said senior Zac Ayotte.
It took them a little while and a lot of stress to get to this point.
Here’s a brief synopsis of their storied playoff run. Athens advanced to the state semifinals initially last Friday against Macomb Dakota. But due to a strange error by the officiating team, the two high schools had to replay their final shoot-out on Tuesday.
Their regional final was tied at the end of regulation and overtime play last Friday, so the game was decided on a shoot-out, with each team getting five chances to score a penalty kick. Athens won that shoot-out and the game, but the next day they were notified by the MHSAA they’d have to replay the shoot-out.
Apparently during the end-of-game shoot-out, officials nullified one of Dakota’s goals because their player shot out of order. But MHSAA tournament rules don’t require any particular shooting order. So both teams had to meet again on Tuesday to replay their final shoot-out.
Confused? You’re not alone. But just fast forward to Wednesday night and an Athens win against Rochester. Final score of the shoot-out: Athens Red Hawks 5, Rochester Falcons 3.
Final score of the game:
Athens 2, Rochester 1.
“This is a big deal. We haven’t been anywhere near here since 1998. Most of us weren’t even born then,” said senior Shamik Patel who scored the final goal in the shoot-out. “Now we’re going to win the ring.”
“I live for these moments,” said goalkeeper Mason Maziasz after the game.
He sure does, “This is the first field he won his first game on in his sophomore year,” explained his father Rich Maziasz.
“They’re unstoppable; they’re so motivated,” said assistant coach Frank Mancini. “Why not us? That’s been our motto all year. They dug down deep; this is a great group of kids.”
Shamik Patel echoed his coach’s words, “That’s one thing we’ve been saying, especially since the tournament began, why not us?”
The team plays in the state finals at 3:00 pm on Saturday at Comstock Park High School just north of Grand Rapids against East Kentwood.
“Hats off to Rochester, they’re a tough team,” said Athens coach Todd Heugh. And as far as East Kentwood, “I went and listened to their coach John Conlon in the pre-season coaches convention. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Apart from the suspenseful win, there was at least one other positive from Wednesday night’s game. “I don’t have to take the SAT on Saturday now,” yelled junior Brendan Bucchi from the sidelines.
A Sticky Situation
First, let’s dispel with the notion that the Barnard Elementary School gym/cafeteria is leaking. The walls are sound; no cracks, fissures or holes can be found anywhere. So why in the world did it need more than 500 feet of duct tape Wednesday morning?
And why was principal Melanie Morey sticking around to watch?
She had a choice in the matter. She chose to let the students duct tape her to the wall. It was a reward for the kids who raised money for the school. Those who raised the most, got to add their own piece of duct tape, fixing their principal to the wall.
“The students raised $20,600 from donations and from our annual Fun Run,” said Arminda Johnson who works in the school’s tech department, “and they had a goal of $20,000.”
“This year, I knew we needed to do something to up the incentive since we upped our fundraising goal,” explained Jyl Boehms, the co-president of the PTO. “Making her into an ice cream sundae was pretty cool last year.”
You read that right, a human ice cream sundae. She got sticky last year too.
$20,000 is a lot of money to raise and can help the school in a lot of different and meaningful ways. To help put it into perspective, the other PTO co-president, Casey Colussi asked the students, “Do you know how many Pokémon cards you could buy with that?”
(It was a rhetorical question, but we did some digging and if you’d like to check out what your Pokémon cards are worth, feel free to click here.)
Colussi continued, “There is more than 500 feet of tape on her now. It took all 500 kids to make this happen.”
As she was glued to the proceedings, principal Morey told the assembled classes — via a microphone held up to her face — “It was pretty easy to decide to do this because these kids are the best kids EV-ER!!!”
“This is so fun,” said Selena Fawaz, a kindergartner watching in the first row.
“I got to tape her legs,” added another kindergartner Gabby Biemiek.
“I just don’t want Mrs. Morey to fall,” said 4th-grade-teacher Debbie Rosenman.
As the assembly concluded, Mrs. Morey yelled out, twisted, turned and broke herself free, but not before taking a group shot with all her teachers.
Asked afterward what it was like to hang out with all that tape, principal Morey explained, “It was very warm and restricting. It was nerve-racking but it was also fun.”
“I don’t know what they’ll do next year,” commented Mary Ference.
When The Dentist Visits You
You’re not going to hear a drill backstage at the Morse Elementary cafeteria. But that’s about the only thing a visiting team of hygienists and a dentist didn’t bring to the school on Friday.
“This is a traveling dental program. We do a full dental examination: we clean their teeth, we apply fluoride, we take X-rays and we will do sealants if necessary,” said Grace Santine, a hygienist for Dentist R Us, a company affiliated with Troy Dental Care. “We see kids whether they have insurance or they don’t; we don’t discriminate.”
First came the kindergartners, followed by fourth-graders.
“I’ve been doing this for 2 1/2 years,” said Dr. Suela Veizaj. “We see more things than they teach us in school. I love seeing all the kids. When I was in school, I didn’t love pediatric dentistry, but now I love it, love it.”
“They’re really nice,” said 4th-grader Julia Cywka.
“My favorite thing about dentists is they clean your teeth so you don’t get cavities,” said 4th-grader Syed Rahman. “When I grow up I want to be a doctor.”
Ruixi Zhan gets her teeth examined by Grace Santine and Dr. Suela Veizaj.
“With kids, things change all the time. When we see a kid with no cavities, it’s a win/win for everybody. When we see a student with cavities, we’re able to take care of that so it doesn’t go any further,” Santine said, then took care of her next patient.
“Which teeth should we brush?” asked Santine.
“All of them,” answered kindergartner Ana Alibashi, with some prompting.
“I love it when kids say, ‘I hate the dentist’ because I get to say, ‘It’s okay, I’m the hygienist,’” laughed April McLain.
Most Morse kids were fine with the procedures.
“I like how it gets my teeth more clean,” said 4th-grader Jenna Kim.
“I like to brush my teeths and get a sticker and a toothbrush,” said Alibashi, with a pretty smile, before she walked back to class.
A Super Interview
Sometimes you can sit back and let others do your work for you. Today, a group of first-graders from Bemis Elementary School sat down in their Story Pit for a wide-ranging interview with Troy Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard Machesky.
The questions — thought-out ahead of time and written on large sheets of paper, as well as index cards — were fun, intelligent, insightful and led to some wonderful reactions.
What follows is a partial transcript of their session.
“What do you like about your job?”
Working with a big strong team. I’m lucky having so many good people to work with.
“What don’t you like?”
Snow days! I’m just fooling, everyone likes snow days, even your teachers.
“How long have you been doing your job?”
I have had my job for nine years. So that makes me like a 3rd-grader.
“What is your favorite memory?”
One of my favorite memories was when Bemis won the Blue Ribbon award. Also, eating lunch in the cafeterias. I love pizza. I had pepperoni pizza for two whole months.
“When you were a first-grader, what was your favorite homework?”
My favorite homework was no homework. But I really liked reading too.
“How old are you?”
I will give you a math problem to answer that. What is 2 x 20 + 8?
“What is your favorite color?”
Blue, but I like pink and lots of other colors too.
After half an hour, the questions wrapped up and the intrepid students formed lines back to their classroom. But a few older kids met up with Dr. Machesky in the library as he was walking out. The two girls stopped him for two more questions. The first was sort of an introductory salvo.
“What were your favorite books growing up?”
I liked Dr. Seuss books, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Curious George.
But then you could tell something was on their minds.
“Have you ever been laughed at?”
His answer was kind and tender, “Sure, of course, we all have. It’s part of growing up. But you can’t let others take advantage of you. Sometimes you have to understand that the kids doing the laughing don’t know any better.”
To which the two young girls hugged him, said, “You look so handsome,” and went back to class.
No celebrity chefs were in attendance Wednesday night at the Future Chef competition. We should say, no celebrity chefs YET!
But there’s no doubt that out of the 12 Troy elementary students that competed for the top prize in the Athens kitchen and cafeteria, any one of them could be the next Michael Symon, Giada De Laurentiis or Ted Allen.
“This has been an outstanding challenge for the kids; they love it. Every year it gets better and better,” said Director of Food Services and Sodexo General Manager Gayle Moran. “We had 40-some recipes that came in and we narrowed those down to 12 and those students are in here this evening to make their recipes.”
Arriving to a relaxed pizza snack beforehand, the students were briefed on the competition rules and were decked out in their chef’s coats and hats. They then proceeded into the kitchen where, with helpers from school kitchens across the district, they cooked their meals.
“This year, the theme is comfort food,” continued Moran. “The kids just shine; they just love it. That’s what makes me feel really good about it. It’s just wonderful when you see kids that really enjoy it and practice it at home, then make their parents eat it.”
“I’m having fun making this dish because I’m Hungarian,” said Schroder fifth-grader Nina Slaviero who was making “Hungarian Sunset Pasta.”
“Me and my mom made this up,” said Grace Belanger who was making meatloaf muffins or “Nacho Ordinary Meatloaf.” “This is my favorite thing to make at home.”
The kids weren’t too panicked or stressed out by the time. And their professional helpers made sure to oversee their chopping and hot pan handling.
“I’m not just here to win the competition; I’m here to have fun,” said Giadelle Micene, a Morse fourth-grader. “I like to either help my mom or dad make dinner.”
“I’m making stuffed shells, which are like lasagna but in a shell,” said Leonard fourth-grader Bella Colon. “At home I love to bake; I love to cook. I usually help my dad cook dinner because he’s usually the one who teaches me how. I love making mashed potatoes and a lot of other things too. There are so many different, amazing recipes here tonight. I’m looking forward to seeing everything when it’s done. The fact that everyone has all these great ideas is really cool.”
“This is the seventh year we’re doing this in the district,” said Julie Ross of Troy School District Food Services. “Every year is different. This is the biggest variety of recipes we’ve had. Everyone seems to be having a fun time. The kids are always so creative.”
“Usually on Saturday or Sunday mornings, my family makes pancakes and eggs,” said Lindsay Burke, a Wattles fifth-grader as she was finishing making mini breakfast pizzas. “I’ve learned that you can use colors to garnish your dish and it makes it look so much better.”
The scope and size of the kitchen wasn’t lost on the young cooks. “Athens is big. They have a lot of materials and spare ingredients,” said Rishab Sheth who was making “baskets filled with goodies” out of sliced peppers.
Out front, preparations were complete for the judging, done by luminaries from the school district.
“Four years ago I was a guest judge,” said Wass Elementary principal Matt Jansen, who was serving as the evening’s emcee. “Three years ago my daughter was in the program. So I got a chance to observe this as a principal and as a dad.”
As parents, teachers and friends took their seats, Jansen continued, “The neat thing is Troy schools offer so many opportunities to kids: academically, clubs, athletically and now you have something that fits the culinary piece. You never know where this lights a fire or an interest for a hobby or even a career for a kid,” Jansen said. “This is a great opportunity for kids to find another skill or area that they’re interested in.”
Judges walked around the display table, ringed by the chefs looking smart and attentive in their white coats and hats. Sampling each creative dish, they asked questions and listened to comments made by Jansen and the chefs being interviewed.
One by one, they tasted each dish and the broad consensus was it was tough to choose a winner.
In the end, the first place winner was Georgia Mckee — a fourth-grader at Barnard Elementary — for her recipe “Georgia’s Warm Hug Soup.” She went home with the grand prize basket and her recipe will move forward to be judged in the regional finals.
After that, it’s on to the nationals.
Here’s hoping Georgia’s Warm Hug embraces a national trophy very soon!
It’s not every day Frederick Douglass shares the limelight with U2 frontman Bono. Nor would you find Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai rubbing elbows with Harriet Tubman. But these powerful, yet peaceful luminaries were on display Friday, in the form of Hill Elementary fourth graders.
“This is the culmination of a research project where the students chose people who we designated as “peacemakers” or “human rights heroes” to learn about them and create a presentation to help others learn about them,” said fourth-grade teacher Mike McEvoy.
The students came dressed for their Showcase of Peacemakers and Human Rights Heroes. Traveling around to different classrooms, then in front of parents afterward, the fourth graders gave presentations about who they were portraying.
Here are some of their wonderful words of wisdom.
“I chose Malala because she was shot and survived it and she won the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Mackenzie Clarke, portraying Malala Yousafzai.
“My mom’s a nurse, so when I searched it up I thought, ‘that’s kind of cool.’ She started the American Red Cross because she went to Europe and found a group of people and thought we needed something just like that here,” said Samantha Sulak, portraying Clara Barton.
“I like how she was trying to find peace among nations. She walked around the USA to stop nuclear bombs and help people find inner peace and put others before themselves,” said Daniella Boufford, portraying Mildred Norman, the Peace Pilgrim.
“He’s a very good guy. He gave the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves,”said Aidan Mahoney, portraying Abraham Lincoln.
“He was a really helpful human rights person. He was one of the reasons why the Civil War was won by the North. He helped convince Lincoln to bring 186,000 former slaves to help fight. Abraham kind of doubted it at one point, but when he saw how good they were doing, he said, ‘Fred, go get more.’ And then Fred actually surprised the world by marrying a white woman,” said Drew Bailey, portraying Frederick Douglass.
“A lot of people think they know a lot about him because he created E=mc2, but there’s a lot more to him. His theory allowed people to create TV,” said Yousif Khaldon, portraying Albert Einstein.
“Harriet believed that slavery was a bad idea and that everybody should be treated equally,” said AJ Miller, portraying Harriet Tubman.
“He donated glasses to so many kids to help them learn,” said Ella Sidorowicz, portraying Yash Gupta, who — starting as a teen — has now donated more than $1.5 million worth of eyeglasses to students around the world.
“He donated millions of dollars to charity. And he started 30 charities himself. He’s a singer and I love to sing. My favorite song of his is It’s A Beautiful Day,” said Ashley Miller, portraying U2 frontman and humanitarian Bono.
“I Marched with Dr. King”
He came with his grandson, great-grandson and family. They had some breakfast, watched a presentation about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then his family went into the gym to help out during the service day.
He’s 93 and his name is Albert Boswell, a veteran of World War II — an engineer in the European campaign.
“When I came up in Lexington, KY, I lived right next to a school, but it was a white school. I had to go to another school that was four to five miles away. I couldn’t go to the school right next door,” he said.
“So after school was over, we’d go to the school grounds next door to play. And the janitor would run us out every time he saw us over there. We didn’t have a playground or nothing like that, so we’d go over and play on the swings and slides and stuff. He’d say, ‘Okay you kids get outta there; that’s not for you,’” he continued.
Students today “have no idea what I went through — that they don’t have to go through,” he said.
His family spent the morning with hundreds of other Troy families; assembling care packages and letters for the troops, making blankets for patients at Beaumont Hospital, filling food bags & boxes for families in need and donating blood or adding their names to a vitally important bone marrow registry.
It was all part of the MLK Day of Service held at the high school on Monday morning.
For most of us, MLK is a historical figure, a great man who helped bring about enormous change. But for Albert Boswell, it’s more personal.
“I marched with Dr. King the last time he was in Detroit. My son was there too. I marched with him and when we got down to Cobo Hall, it was filled up. I had to sit out on the grass and listen to him on the loud speaker,” he said.
“It’s a big difference now from when I came out of the service in WW II. I went through Jim Crow with jobs, housing and stuff like that not being available. It’s much better now.”
We’re on our way as a country.
“Oh I think Dr. King would be pleased with things today, with what he came up with and what it is today,” Albert said. “The future is getting better. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting better.”
You Gotta Have Heart
“I tell the kids that they should be “pumped” for the heart dissection,” laughed Schroeder fifth-grade teacher Jason Cichowicz as he distributed large bovine hearts throughout the elementary school’s cafeteria.
And with that, a group of Schroeder and Boulan students dove into what has become an annual tradition, dissecting cow hearts.
“Today the kids are doing a culminating event for their science unit on the human body,” explained Cichowicz. “Boulan sixth-graders are here to lead our fifth-graders in a heart dissection.” Cow hearts stood in for human ones.
“It’s really cold and kinda slimy and there’s blood all over it,” said Boulan sixth-grader Amee Lamba as she handled her heart while wearing latex gloves.
It was the social event of the new year, with dignitaries and media crowding in to watch the kids discovering atriums, ventricles, valves, aortas. In all, 24 hearts were dissected.
“It’s cool to see all the tendons and veins and how the blood goes through them all,” said Schroeder fifth-grader James Cummings. A smart aleck visitor asked if one of them fell to the floor, how could they mend a broken heart?
“These hearts come from the Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit’s Eastern Market, so they are locally sourced,”explained Cichowicz. “The hearts are very, very fresh. Mr. Canfield (the Schroeder principal) actually picked them up this morning.”
So there was no smell of formaldehyde, like in dissection days gone by.
“Hopefully we have many future doctors, cardiologists or veterinarians here today,” said Bouland science and honors math teacher Tammy Gilbert, who helped put on the event sponsored by the Troy Foundation for Educational Excellence.
As if in response, Boulan sixth-grader Avery Allen said, “I kinda like it because you can experience what a real heart would look like. If you want to be a doctor it’s kinda the first step to doing that.”
For the better part of an hour, students dug into the hearts, examining them and writing down what they found.
“It’s really interesting. Some parts are soft and some parts are like, hard. I’m looking forward to cutting it open,” said Boulan sixth-grader Isabell Ku.
“It’s really cool. I’ve never seen a real heart before. It’s a lot bigger than I thought it’d be,” said Boulan sixth-grader Graeme Edoff.
There were some fun reactions.
“It’s really meaty and has a lot of muscle in it. It’s really confusing,” said Schroeder fifth-grader Ford Schoonover.
“It’s very different from the diagrams, but it’s cool to dissect,”said Schroeder fifth-grader Sean Regner.
“I had fun, lots of fun!” said Schroder fifth-grader Max Falk.
As the students went back to class, Schroeder fifth-grader Claire Benson summed up the experience, “It was pretty exciting. I was kind of scared at first. I thought it would be weird and icky but I had a lot of fun,” she said.
Diversity isn’t just a buzz word, a concept, a hot topic of the day. Diversity is students; diversity is Troy. At Smith Middle School, it’s also a club that meets once a week.
With three teacher sponsors, the 10-member club helps set the agenda for the school’s tolerance, openness and safe spaces. Meeting in one of the Smith science classrooms, there’s intelligent discussion, pertinent issues raised, lots of laughter and definitely snacks.
Here are some Wednesday afternoon voices from the wise and wonderful Smith Middle School Diversity Club.
“We focus on anti-racism, anti-bullying and LGBTQ awareness throughout the school. For me it’s a place to hang out after school, talk about important stuff and get a little bit done while doing that.” Eighth-grader Jyothsna Musunur
“I wanted to do this because I’ve witnessed things that have happened in the classroom. I know others who are part of the LGBT community and I felt like it would be cool to do this to support them.” Eighth-grader Natascha Lagesse
“I joined the club because I’m really new in America. I thought this club would be a good place to come because, well, it’s a place for everyone.” Sixth-grader Trisha Mallempudi
“They are putting together a slideshow and presentation that they’ll present to a staff meeting about gender, sexuality, bullying and how to deal with those issues in the classroom. It’s all driven by them. It’s coming from their hearts and their minds, teaching their teachers.” Seventh-grade science teacher Terri McCormick who runs the Diversity Club
“Red has done so many things. He is a great teacher, a creative personality, a great model.” Seventh-grader Grace Huebner
Diversity Club students at Smith Middle School work on their anti-bullying PowerPoint presentations after school.
Fred Sanders and the Morley Chocolate Factory
The secrecy difference between Willy Wonka’s and Morley’s Chocolate Factories is simply by a matter of degrees. Only a very few were invited into Willy’s fictitious factory; the general public is welcomed and encouraged to visit Morley. But still, there was no photography allowed of the workers, assembly line, or the chocolate manufacturing process at Morley’s Clinton Township plant. School Life Troy can confirm, however, that there were no Oompa Loompas to be seen, at least by the Hamilton Elementary second-graders who visited on Thursday.
“When I grow up, I want to make chocolate,” said second-grader Sophia Deng as she watched the Morley workers do her dream job.
In 1875, Fred Sanders opened his iconic Detroit store — Sanders, on Woodward Avenue.
Morley Candy Makers began in 1919. By 2002, with Sanders failing, Morley purchased them and began making Sanders products including: Bumpy Cake, Cream Puff shells and the famous sundae toppings.
The Hamilton students toured the factory, watched a video about cacao and got to sample then purchase various items toot sweet.
Shawna Couto, Director of Tour Operations at Morley and Sanders, answered some of the most-asked questions:
Q: “How much chocolate do you go through in a year?”
A: “3.5 million pounds.”
Q: “In a day?”
A: “We usually go through about 10,000 pounds of chocolate and about 20,000 pounds of caramel, which is pretty insane.”
Q: “What about those sea salt caramels?”
A: “We’re usually making about half a million of those in a day.”
Q: “What interests kids most?”
A: “Kids are fascinated that chocolate comes from a fruit. They can go home and tell their parents that it starts as a fruit and has dairy in it.”
After the tour, in the company’s gift shop, 2nd-grade teacher Christine Russell said, “I bought this small bag so I could just eat the whole thing and not feel guilty!”
Not to worry, the teacher had nothing on Augustus Gloop.
Diwali: A Celebration of Light
When you first saw nachos being served at IA East’s Diwali celebration on Friday night, you might have thought you were in the wrong place. But that’s just another fantastic example of Troy’s multiculturalism. People were asked to bring appetizers for the traditional Hindu celebration, so nachos were what the volunteers brought in.
Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated every autumn. From Wikipedia, “It is one of the major festivals of Hinduism, it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.”
Karuna Bharadwaj, an IA East freshman, explained it this way, “So basically what happened was Rama and Sita came back from living in the forest for 14 years. Because it was dark and a new moon, everybody in the city lit up their lamps so they could find their way back home.”
Here in the IA East gym, nachos soon gave way to a buffet of sumptuous and savory food provided by Royal Indian Cuisine. Students commented on how much they loved the food, the dancing, the people, the good music and the food again.
IA student Christina Barghese loved, “spending time with friends and having a party, the food too.”
“In India, all schools get this day off, but we’re celebrating it here to bring our school together,” explained student Bhavani Iyer.
“It’s just a time when everyone in the Indian community gathers together, lights everything up and has fun,” said Bhuvana Kanakamedala, a freshman.
Another student added, “There’s usually a lot of fireworks and lights. It’s a major festival of lighting; you light every corner of the house, every room is lit for all our gods.”
Somebody must’ve been listening. Walking out of the festival of light, lightning was lighting up the sky.
“Everyone’s happy, it represents good vs. evil,“ concluded Rohit Bollampally.
Thirty One Students & One Seventh-Grade Math Teacher
As school ended for the day, Boulan Park’s band room became a yoga studio. The drums, music stands and chairs were pushed to the side and replaced with colorful, unrolled mats. Since play practice was going in the cafeteria and sporting events were taking place in the gym, the band room seemed the next logical locale.
It’s better than doing it underground.
“We started doing this in our basement over Spring Break last year,” said Geeta Venkatesh, one of the visiting instructors. “We thought, ‘why only Indian kids; why not do this for everyone,’” she continued. “We approached Mrs. Kwasny and she was so gracious, giving us permission to start the club.”
Thirty one students, two instructors and one seventh-grade math teacher stretched, played games, breathed calmly and learned new poses.
“We’ve noticed in society that kids are more anxious, more stressed, so we thought that yoga would be the best way to bring that anxiety down and make them more calm, more peaceful,” continued Venkatesh.
“All the side effects are positive,” she said.
Seventh grader Divya Suresh sits in a half lotus position.
Sixth-grader Katelyn Morris practices her breathing technique.
The students all seemed to agree. “I think it was really relaxing and peaceful. It just helped me take my mind off things for the time we were here,” said sixth-grader Grace Liu.
Several more kids, waiting for the bus, kept poking their heads in, smiling and watching. “We may have even more kids joining next time,” said math teacher Mark Martin afterwards.
“We’ve gotten a very good response so far,” said Venkatesh. “Yoga is much more than just poses. You calm your mind with breathing control and work toward a feeling of connectivity.”
Seventh-grader Chinmayee Mannava spends a quiet moment.
“It helped me get calm and take my mind off homework or any tests I have coming up,” said sixth-grader Harshitha Suryadevara.
For the better part of an hour, as the outside hallway calmed down — as if in concert with the band room — students in Yoga Club spent their second session finding out more about the practice.
“These are some tools they can use in life whenever they’re going through a rough phase,” explained instructor Veena Kulkarni. “They can always rely on deep breathing and asanas (yoga poses).”
“It was really good. I got peace and it was nice that we played games,” said sixth-grader Tharunika Ramanathan.
Seventh-grader Shalin Kakasani echoed that feeling. “It’s pretty helpful for me. I’ve been doing yoga by myself and I’ve seen it help me. I’ve been more concentrated and focused,” he said.
As the club wore on, the middle-schooler’s self consciousness gave way to consciousness of self.
“Yoga is really necessary for people throughout their life. It’s a life skill that helps you physically, mentally and emotionally,” explained eighth-grader Amruta Venkatesh.
“I don’t usually do this a lot, but Yoga Club helps me relax,” said seventh-grader Skanda Vijaykumar.
It isn’t just for students.
“Already my back feels a little better and I feel a little bit limber, a little looser,” said math teacher Martin. “I’m a runner; I’ve run marathons many times. But this is different than running. I’m thinking I want to build this into my weekly routine. Already it feels kinda good,” he said afterward.
He must feel good after throwing himself under the bus.
“I’ve been meaning to try it and I just never got myself to,” Martin continued. “But when I heard ‘Yoga Club,’ I thought two good things. First, I’ll get in there and learn some moves and get going on it. And then I figured the kids would get a kick out of having a teacher in there, seeing me struggle, doing my best. I’m thinking, they can look at me and think, ‘well, I’m better than him!’” he said with a laugh.
There is no judgement in yoga.
“Yoga has no religion, no cast, no nationality; anyone can do it,” explained Venkatesh.
“I like it. It’s different and there aren’t many clubs like it,” commented seventh-grader Nathan Green.
“It’s fun and really relaxing. I’ve learned some poses that help you when you’re stressed or tired. I’ve inhaled and exhaled before exams when I’m really tense and it works!” concluded Chinmayee Mannava.
Six kids and a guy with an awesome mustache met after school in the LGI room at Hill Elementary School. Chess was their game.
“This is basically an instructional chess class for elementary school kids of all ages and all skill levels,” explained Kevin Singles, the aforementioned mustachioed man. “Because it’s a smaller class, I can do a little bit more individual teaching which is really, really nice,” he said.
“It’s fun and you use your brain,” said fourth-grader Jesse Kim.
As part of Chess Wizards — a company that began in Chicago and has since become the biggest chess program in the country, according to Singles — students in most of the district can participate in after-school classes under the auspices of Troy Continuing Education.
“I like challenges and I like horribly beating my dad,” said third-grader Nolan Sackrison.
Students are taught various games, skills, strategies and puzzles.
“Atomic chess is a game they really like. It’s just ridiculous,” continued Singles. “We made it up a couple years ago where when you take one piece, the pieces surrounding it also explode. So that’s a nice little fun thing. We also do Bug house once in a while which is a team game where you play with your partner.”
“Chess is fun. You have a goal to get to the king,” said fourth-grader Jack Qu. “You’re in a war and you get to make up a strategy. I like that there’s an order; there are many ways to use your brain.”
Kids seem to really love the challenge.
“A while back, I had a young girl who must’ve been five or six,” recalled Singles. “She was playing a fourth or fifth-grader. She was a great student, did all the puzzles and homework we sent home, and one day it came down to a game where she had to take a pawn to win. I saw a smile creeping across her face. When it was her turn, she went BOOM and just slammed down on the pawn. The little ball on top of the pawn popped up in the air and she grabbed it out of midair and just started laughing. It was amazing, it was a joyous thing for her,” he said.
Singles continued, “This dominates other parts of kid’s lives. It doesn’t stay just a game for a lot of kids. They start to think ahead three moves in life, not just on the chessboard. And that makes the biggest difference. When they know the consequences of their actions and take that skill out into the real world, it’s awesome,” he said.
Outdoors in the real world — the Hill parking lot after Tuesday’s class — Singles was headed off to another teaching gig in Rochester. When asked if it was another chess session he answered, “Actually, I also coach gymnastics. So I’m heading over to do that. Gotta keep the mind and the body fit, you know.”
The Impact of an 11-Year-Old Girl
You may have seen the shirts or jerseys around town, at a local restaurant, on the football field.
J. Kast, 24, W.E. Believe in Miracles
It’s all about a young girl who left Troy and this world far too soon. But she also left an unforgettable mark.
“Athens does a Charity Week every year,” said senior Nina Como. “This year, in specific, is very near and dear to our hearts — especially us three,” she said, indicating herself, Joey Stark and Aubreigh Wachowski as they sat around a conference room table reflecting on their friend.
“Jenna Kast was our best friend growing up through elementary school. This year would’ve been her senior year here at Athens,” Nina continued. “She passed away when she was 11-years-old from multiple brain tumors throughout her life.”
The girl was adored.
“She was one of those people that everybody loved being around,” said Joey Stark. “She was always laughing, always had a smile on her face. Even with the struggles she went through, she always stayed positive. When it came to Charity Week, there was no better way to honor that impact she had.”
Aubreigh Wachowski agreed. “Even when she was so sick — so at her worst — she was always thinking about other people. If you could describe her in one word, it would be ‘selfless,’” she said.
The Jenna Kast Believe in Miracles Foundation
“Believe in Miracles raises money and grants wishes to kids who are chronically ill and fighting terminal illnesses. It’s like Make a Wish on a smaller scale,” said Joey.
“Jenna and the Kast family have all brought us closer together,” explained Aubreigh. “All of our families are so willing to drop everything and go help volunteer with the Believe in Miracles Foundation. Being around it has helped me realize the importance of giving back and the importance of helping out kids, making a difference.”
The students plan on making a BIG difference.
“Last year during Charity Week, we raised $84,104 and .21 cents. This year we’re striving for $100,000,” said Nina. “To be completely honest, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re gonna make that happen.”
“Our football coach, (Josh Heppner), is a great, very charitable guy,” said Aubreigh. “He has a close connection with the Kast family since their son Brett played on the team. He wanted to do something special, so he came to me and Nina. We designed these blue shirts we’re wearing and then he surprised the football team this year with jerseys that said J. Kast on them for the last football game of the year.”
Every player wore her name on the back of their jerseys.
On the blue shirts, “W.E. stands for ‘win everything’ and that is one of Coach Hepp’s sayings for the football team,” said Aubreigh. “It was just a way to connect both the football team and the foundation together.”
The number on the back of the blue shirts is 24; it represents Jenna’s birthday.
The Kast family
“The students have been great,” said Rick Kast, Jenna’s father as he sat with his wife in their living room.
“That, I don’t have words for,” said Paula Kast, her mother, who is also the President and Secretary of The Jenna Kast Believe In Miracles Foundation. “It’s just incredible.”
The Kasts explained more about what their organization accomplishes.
“We grant wishes for kids like Jenna who have had a recurrence or ongoing condition,” said Paula. “We do primarily second wishes and help up to the age of 21. So kids who are newly diagnosed in that gap age — where they’re too old to get a Make-A-Wish — we do their wishes as well.”
How did they get from the loss of Jenna to the Foundation?
“We started this back in 2005 when Jenna was in a clinical trial at the time,” explained Paula. “My son Brett noticed one boy who looked really sad at the time. Jenna was doing crafts but there wasn’t a lot for the boy to do. Brett brought him his Game Boy and he saw how happy the boy was. That night he came home and wanted to buy a gift for a child in hospice. So he and his friend designed Believe in Miracles bracelets. We got the bracelets with some friends; the boys were selling them and we were going to buy a gift for a child. The word was spreading; we were getting a lot of donations. One gift turned into two. I had some at a hair salon and the woman there wanted to do a luncheon so we raised more money there. So we did another wish,”she continued.
It kept snowballing. “We became a 501(c) (3) in 2005” — a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. “Throughout the next five years, we probably did two or three wishes a year. It was great for our family,” Paula said.
“It was great for Jenna too,” said Rick, who is also Vice President of the foundation.
“Now we do 41 wishes a year,” said Paula.
“We granted a wish last year to an Athens grad who’s at Michigan State and came down with lymphoma,” Paula said.
There have definitely been some unique wishes the foundation has granted.
“We had a Walking Dead wish,” said Rick.
“The patient went to see the filming of it in Georgia,” said Paula. “They went above and beyond.”
He went on the set, went out to dinner with the cast.
“The cast fell in love with him,” said Rick. “It was supposed to be a three-day trip, but it ended up being five or six days. One of the cameramen fell in love with him and ended up taking him on another shoot for MTV Cribs. They were invited into a basketball player’s house, then he also fell in love with him. From there, a PGA event was going on and he went with the cameraman to the golf event. He got to meet Tiger Woods and got an autographed glove from Phil Mickelson. So this wish kept building on its own; Paula didn’t set any of this up.”
“This past year we did a princess party for a little girl at the St. John’s Van Elslander Cancer Center. We kind of transformed the radiation waiting room. Volunteers came in and we had her favorite food and drinks, a dress for her and we had her favorite Disney princesses — Elsa and Anna from Frozen. It came together really quickly and it was a fun wish for everyone who was a part of it,” remembered Paula.
“The little girl ended up passing away about a week later,” said Rick. “Those are the heartbreaking stories.”
“The important thing is to give the kids an opportunity to forget about what they and their family are going through,” said Paula. “We have great memories with Jenna, the people that supported us. She had a Make-A-Wish and traveled to Utah and met the cast of High School Musical. It was very special trip for our family.”
Other ways of raising money
“We do a golf marathon every year,” said Rick.
“Last year we did a JennaThon, a 5K run at Troy High School,” said Paula. “That’s going to be an annual event now.”
“We’ve had great support. My son went to Michigan State and his fraternity raised close to $20,000,” said Rick. “Really, it’s kids helping kids.”
“One of Rick’s friends from high school started a Gears and Beers bike ride after Jenna passed and they raised $3,000,” said Paula.
“We had an ice cream fundraiser at a local bookstore when Jenna was with us. We called it A Scoop and a Prayer. Jenna made prayer cards and you’d get one along with an ice cream bar. She stood there the whole eight hours, not sitting down, serving everyone. We had a line out the door for her,” said Paula.
“We raised $5,000 on that, an ice cream fundraiser. Think of that!” said Rick. “We also have a JennaBration fundraiser. But the Athens Charity Week is obviously going to be a huge gift.”
“And two young Troy men have their birthday parties each year. Everyone who comes donates money. We’re talking a couple thousand dollars for these. They’ve done this for the last four years,” said Rick.
“They give up their birthday gifts for this,” said Paula.
For the families as well
“This is as much for the family, the brothers and sisters,” said Rick. “They all deal with it. And it’s amazing to see how many wish children buy things for their brothers and sisters. It’s not just for themselves. It just blows my mind.”
“You’re taking away their illness for just a little bit of time and giving them some joy,” Rick concluded.
Back at Athens, the three seniors summed up their feelings.
“There are going to be a lot of emotions during Charity Week, but they’ll be very happy emotions. We can do this,” said Nina Como.
“Even though she’s gone, she is still making such an impact on us and everybody,” said Aubreigh Wachowski.
“You should never underestimate how big an impact you can make. Even an 11-year-old girl has permanently changed my life and a lot of other people’s lives,” said Joey Stark. “It’s amazing what you can do with a positive attitude.”
Next Stop, Calihan Hall!
Oh Mercy, the Troy Colts are headed for the Quarterfinals!
With their 48-40 win over Warren De La Salle Wednesday night, the Troy Colts are heading to University of Detroit Mercy and quarterfinal play in the 2017 MHSAA Class A State Tournament.
Playing on a larger stage than they’ve played on in quite some time, the boys will be hitting Calihan Hall to take on West Bloomfield next Tuesday night, March 21st at 7:00 p.m.
“I have never been this far as a head coach,” said Gary Fralick. “As an assistant coach, we went to Quarterfinals in 1989. But as a head coach, this is the first time I’ve ever been in the quarters.”
This is his 32nd year as a head coach.
“I’ve lost four or five Regional Finals; if at first you don’t succeed, you try, try again,” Fralick said with a smile.
Warren De La Salle “usually shoots the ball a little bit better than that, but we did a good job in the zone; we did what we wanted to do,” Fralick continued. “I was real proud of the kids. And we rebounded well.”
“It’s really tough coaching against De La Salle’s Greg Esler. He’s a fantastic coach; they beat us in 2003 in the regionals here,” Fralick explained.
When asked afterward how he thought he’d prepare his kids for the bigger stage of Calihan Hall, Fralick replied, “Well, I don’t know. It’s been a long time since we’ve been there, so hopefully my memory kicks in over the next couple of days.”
That shouldn’t be a problem at all.
Fralick concluded, “The kids have a lot of confidence in themselves and it’s growing by the game. So it’s nice to see they’re growing up. They’re feeling real confident in the way they’re playing.”
“We Don’t Call It Home Ec Anymore”
“Hopefully this can introduce me to some new things I can do in my free time,” said 6th-grader Danni Vagts as she worked on a cross stitch project.
Meeting once-a-month after school for two hours, the Life Skills Club teaches things outside of the normal curriculum.
“I designed the club to have these two-hour chunks so we can do what, I think, are bigger and better things,” said teacher Sarah Condne. “I try and do a little bit of everything, just fun stuff we don’t get a chance to cover in the class.”
“I think it’s pretty fun. There are challenges and you get to make a lot of cool stuff every single time you get here,” said 7th-grader Eli Kuriakose.
“I thought it would be interesting to try something different. My favorite thing so far has been covering marshmallows with chocolate,” said 8th-grader Elise Moore.
“We don’t call it home ec anymore,” Condne explained. “I tried to just create big themes for the month. We’re gonna do eggs next month. In May we’re going to do gardening and in June we’ll have a big party.”
“It’s really fun to get the opportunity to do stuff that you don’t regularly do. Today we’re doing cross stitching and I wanna make a laughing emoji,” said Alaina Sharp.
“Cross stitching is a little challenging at first, but once you get the hang of it, I think it’s going to be pretty fun,” said 6th-grader Julian Kirchler. “It makes me feel like an old person,” he laughed. “This reminds me of my grandma up north.”
It is challenging. “I’m making my first initial, “L,” said 6th-grader Lily Batzold. “But right now I can’t get the string through the needle.”
“I like that we get to learn different things like stitching and baking,” said Jackie Kennedy. “I’m making a cross-stitch pattern of a cherry.”
Condne joked about what she thought all the kids were going to make, “I think everybody wants to do the poop emoji,” she said.
The students had several different takeaways from the club’s second month.
“I like to learn about new things. I think it’s cool to learn how to sew, because I never knew how,” explained 6th-grader Sophia Selden.
“I like how you can learn about basic stuff that you’d need in your life when you get older,” said 6th-grader Roxana Tipurita.
“I think most of it is just about learning certain skills you can do and find your passion,” said 7th-grader Isabella Sulak.
“I’m just looking forward to having fun,” concluded 7th-grader Addison Parsell.
Free Books, Free Stories, Free Cookies and a Dog
You don’t normally get to hear an elementary school principal talk about a flatulent dog. But then again, you don’t normally hear about a contest between a rhino and a hippo, or pale green pants with nobody inside them either.
“This is our first Morse Elementary Story and Book Bonanza, it’s a kick-off for March is Reading Month,” said Lauryn Mills, intervention specialist. “We wanted our families to come in and hear a variety of stories. We have poetry, non-fiction, chapter books to get kids excited about reading. We also have a lot of donated books that kids can take home.”
The cafeteria in the school was loaded with books and students were encouraged to select eight of them to take home, read and keep. There were also free cookies, lots of them!
“I think it’s fabulous. I love how all of the staff gets involved and takes time out to come here and read,” said Morse mother Mary Kereji.
Throughout the school, teachers and staff read children’s books as students and their families rotated through. In some rooms, you could win a Dr. Seuss prize, eat some popcorn or hear about that dog mentioned earlier.
“This is a good experience for me,” said father Pareed Jakkamsetti.
“There are fun games and a lot of books,” said student Kristan Samuel.
Shel Silverstein poems were read, Dr. Seuss stories were told and there was even a bit about The Littlest Bigfoot.
“It’s going really good. A lot of people are here and they’re interested in the books they’re reading. Not only is it books and reading, but they get to actually take something home too,” said long-term sub Kate Johnson.
“It’s going fantastic. All the kids are having a good time, the families are enjoying it and so is our staff,” said fifth-grade teacher Patrick Scott.
And way back in one of the furthest rooms, a fairly serious subject was being taken on in a humorous, engaging way. A dog safety and dog bite prevention presentation was helmed by principal Stephanie Zendler, Lindsay Emery from Canine Companions Rescue Center and Roscoe the black lab who, while School Life Troy was in attendance, wasn’t one bit gaseous.
But the story sure was.
“We love Walter the Farting Dog read by principal Zendler,” said Jackie Laws. “My kid loves stories and he loves listening to them.”
Good dog, Roscoe!
Art After Hours
It was easy to find where the art was happening.
“You just go down this hallway and make a left,” said Joe Duda, Larson Middle School Principal.
Before you see the art room, you hear the art room — at least after school — loud music, loud laughter.
Visual art teacher Veronica Krozeck started Art Club to fill a void. “I’ve been doing this for ten years,” Krozeck said. “In middle school, if students choose orchestra or band or choir — which are all fantastic — they lose the opportunity for visual art. They really want to participate in art.”
But it’s not just for musical kids; everyone’s welcome. “It’s also for art students who want to take something more on top of that,” Krozeck explained after turning down the music a little.
“My favorite thing about Art Club is you can do anything you want, freestyle” said sixth-grader Matthew McDonnell who was working on a mini canvas.
“Today we are working with acrylic on canvas,” said Krozeck. “The students have been putting a lot of detail and thought into them. We studied a little bit about painting techniques, how to put the paint on the canvas.”
Students shared ideas with each other. Smocks and even faces got splattered with paint. Some students were quiet, serious and studious. Some laughed like crazy.
Art was happening.
We don’t want to give away any of the questions — or for that matter, any of the answers — but right off the top, the very first query of the Leonard Elementary Geography Bee was about a certain state that had both an upper and a lower peninsula.
“This is a national quiz, so some kid out west might have a more difficult time answering that one,” said fifth-grade teacher Karen Socier. “But the person who got that question here today was very lucky.”
Trust us, the rest of the questions were much harder and required more work than just seeking a pleasant peninsula by looking about you.
All Leonard fourth and fifth grade students participated in a preliminary round earlier in the school year and the top ten students moved on to the next round.
So how did students get this far in the competition? “I just used my Atlas,” said fifth-grader Achyudt Venkat who eventually won, “I also used some books, a globe in my classroom and looked up stuff online.”
Fifth-grader Karina Pirzada explained her game plan, “I went to the online website to study and did a couple games with my brother. He helped me study and we did some quizzes,” she said.
“I read a lot of books and I studied,” echoed Emily Baek.
Others had interesting study strategies, “I basically just guessed,” said fourth-grader Nathan Lackey.
Fifth-grader Luna Saad explained “I did the competition in the classroom and I studied.” When asked if she really liked geography, though, she replied, “No, not really.”
In the competition today, “the students answered random geography questions. Most of them are done orally,” explained Socier, who also served as the moderator. “A couple they’ll have to write answers to; a couple they’ll have to use a map and use their map skills to answer the questions. The school winner will take an online test and that may or may not qualify them for the statewide competition.”
“It will be fun and it will be hard, but there are some easy ones too so no worries,” she said before the bee began. “Are you guys excited, terrified, nervous, hopeful?” she asked as competition got underway.
Two wrong answers eliminated a student. After a while it was down to two kids.
“It was fun to just answer the questions, study for it, compete with my friends,” said runner-up, fifth-grader Gautham Veettil. “Some of the questions were really hard.”
When all was asked and answered, winner Achyudt Venkat said “When I found out about the competition, I got enthusiastic and I wanted to study more. I tried memorizing all the countries when I was in third grade. I learned about 50 capitals, lots of landforms and studied history too. Lots of those history questions related to geography and that helped me a lot.”
“Achyudt is a walking Atlas. He knows amazing amounts of geographic information,” said Socier.
He did miss a question. “I knew that the Canary Islands were in Spain, but I suddenly got it wrong. But anyone gets things wrong.”
That’s very true.
“There’s a big world out there,” Socier said. “I try to encourage my students to just spend some time looking at maps. When you look at maps you can create questions. And when you create questions you can search out answers and that’s when you learn,” Socier concluded.
We won’t give away the final question or answer, but rest assured, it involved somewhere far, far away from Leonard Elementary. It is, like Ms. Socier said, a big world out there!
At the end of the day, an announcement came over the Boulan Park Middle School PA system reminding teachers and staff to set their recycling bins outside of their classrooms for collection. But Club Green was already on the prowl.
Bins were already being stacked high on carts as the club, overseen by teachers Sue Domin and Paula Mather, spread throughout the school like they do every month on the second Monday.
“Club Green is really fun. We plant stuff, pick up trash and recycling,” said sixth-grader Pranathi Batti.
“It’s fun; I like the projects we get to do,” agreed sixth-grader Cate Deller.
“We recycle; we do an ongoing informational board …” said Domin, a sixth-grade reading and language arts teacher.
“… Reduce, reuse, recycle,” chimed in eighth-grader Emma Wilson. “We recycle batteries and ink cartridges too.” she said.
The club, which has been around for about three years, doesn’t just handle recycling. “We are trying to improve our environment for people and for our animals,” said math teacher Mather.
“I really like that Club Green makes a difference. I hope that carries over at home for other kids. At ours we usually just have one bag of trash a week and then three recycle bins,” said 7th-grader Ellissa Fletcher.
When several schools in the district were forced to use bottled water recently due to a water main break, Club Green added the empties to their recycling routine. “Students will still bring me water bottles even afterward,” said Domin. “I’m the water bottle lady,” she admitted with a bit of prompting.
The club also maintains the Michigan Garden in the school’s courtyard, planting, weeding, raking, spring cleaning, etc.
“Along with taking care of the Michigan Garden, we clean up along the football field and even go all the way down Northfield Parkway,” said Mather. “The houses along Northfield Parkway really love that we do that.”
The students aren’t just environmentally conscious; they’re socially conscious too. “There’s a bunch of random stuff you can find in the hallways,” said Cate Deller. “One time there was a pencil box, there was a bag full of glue sticks, a couple of binders.” Today’s haul included two stray gloves that weren’t recycled, but taken to the school’s Lost & Found instead.
It’s an academic pursuit as well. “Last year one of our students won first place for the whole State of Michigan in an Arbor Day writing contest,” said Domin.
“We can actually make a difference,” said Emma Wilson. “We inform others about how they can change the environment too. It’s a slow process, but people recycle more now, especially at lunch,” she concluded.
The projectiles were soft, multi-colored and hurled at high speeds toward students.
No one was suspended, put in detention or even reprimanded though. It was all for a good cause.
“Today’s dodgeball tournament is for a Troy High teacher, Miss Martin, who has mast cell activation syndrome. We’re raising awareness for her cause,” said Troy High senior, Enas Gaballa on Friday afternoon as the gym began to fill up.
Theresa Martin, the teacher with the rare disease, was lucky enough to be in attendance to watch.
“I get to hang out with the best people in the world. I feel blessed,” said Martin.
According to Wikipedia, the primary symptoms of mast cell activation syndrome include cardiovascular, dermatological, gastrointestinal, neurological and respiratory problems.
“A portion of the money raised goes to Miss Martin’s flight since she has to travel pretty far to get treatment,” explained junior Brooke Hammerschmidt. “The rest of the money will go toward a study for the cure for mast cell.”
“It’s pretty inspiring. I hope we’re a role model for other school districts,” said junior Grant LaBelle who served as announcer for the event.
Each class fielded a team and the winners went on to play the teachers. Here Givon Cinque lines up a target with perfect form.
Teams from each grade competed against each other in a run-up to Friday’s event. The final four teams — one from each grade level — played against each other. The winning class took on a team composed of teachers nominated via donations made by the students.
“We think we’re the team to beat; we’re definitely the oldest group and the strongest group,” said Carter Scillion of the senior team Ultimate Oreos beforehand. “I think we’ll take down the sophomores pretty easily and then whoever wins the other game should give us a tough match. Then the teachers are just a breeze,”he predicted.
Scillion was pretty accurate; the seniors beat the other classes then absolutely annihilated the teachers.
“I’m not playing, but I’m really looking forward to the school coming together to embrace this event,” said assistant principal Brian Zawislak. “It’s not just the dodgeball itself, but more of the bigger picture, taking care of one of our own in Miss Martin.”
Zawislak continued, “We want to make sure to make others aware of this really rare disease that she’s trying to fight. That’s why this came to life; Miss Martin was very open about her illness.”
“We’re happy to be supporting one of our teachers,” sophomore dodgeball team member Nisha Bhargava agreed.
“But we don’t think we’ll get too far in the game,” laughed her teammates.
“I’m so excited. We did so many different fundraisers,” said senior Alyssa Asmar.
The matches were officiated by super refs, literally. Assistant superintendent Mark Dziatczak confers with Superintendent Richard Machesky beforehand.
“This is to me what high school is all about. It’s not a curricular thing: it’s about helping people. This is important for all people struggling with a disease or isolation. I could not be more proud of being principal at Troy High School than I am today,” said Remo Roncone.
“I’m proud of all you guys,” echoed organizer, English teacher Harriet Clark. “I don’t do this by myself. It’s kids staying after class, into the night, until whenever. It’s kids doing a lot of hours. But it’s not pulling teeth. I have to sometimes stop them from doing too much! They say, we can do this, we can do this, we can do this … ”
Clark continued, “I got a letter from a boy who didn’t want to come to Troy High because he felt like he’d be the kid with the weird disease. He has an older sibling here and that sibling went home and said, ‘you won’t believe what the big fundraiser is this year; they’re doing mast cell.’ So the mom fires me off an email and tells me she can’t believe what it’s done for her son. Now he’s decided to come here. He knows people know what it is and doesn’t have to explain it to his teachers. For a middle schooler, that’s big,” explained Clark.
“That’s just unbelievable. We all know the importance of the social aspects of high school,” said Roncone. “And now that student doesn’t have to miss everything else; the camaraderie, the support, the love of the people, not feeling alone.”
Theresa Martin didn’t feel alone. “I can’t thank you all enough,” she said tearfully after the event.
“You don’t have to thank us; we got much more out of this than you,” said Clark.
“There are no words,”said Martin.
“This will have a ripple effect,” said principal Roncone. “These kids in the future will go out in their universities, their communities, their small towns, wherever they end up in the world and will do this same thing for others, paying it forward.”
“We can sit and talk about giving, or we can do something about it,” concluded organizer Clark.
And at the end of the event, as the gym was mostly cleared out, somebody walked up to Clark and handed her a check for $500, just like that.
The tears, like the projectiles earlier, were tough to dodge.
Greetings From Around The World
Sain baina uu
Did you know those are all ways to say hello? Marcus Rampin does. In fact, he can greet you in about a dozen-and-a-half languages! The first word he ever spoke was “hi,” (in English).
“I think it started when I was very young,” the 7th-grader at Larson Middle School explained. “My grandmother speaks fluent German,” so he learned how to talk like she did.
“I can say hello in at least 17 languages: English, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Mongolian, Russian, Armenian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Japanese and Italian.”
If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll need a quick primer for some of the words above:
Bonjour is French
Hola is Spanish
Hallo is German
Ciao is Italian
Ni hao is Mandarin
Sain baina uu is Mongolian
Zdravstvuyte is Russian
“I’m pretty fluent in German. I’m learning Spanish just a few classrooms down from here. And I’m also learning Mandarin at Niles,” he explained.
“Marcus is a wealth of knowledge in Geography,” said his Social Studies teacher Katy Stanley. “He has a passion for maps and flags. He loves to share all the different things he’s learned on his own.”
Marcus is also fascinated by kings, dictators and foreign national anthems of all things. “My favorite one is from Kazakhstan,” he said (dictator and national anthem).
“I’m very interested in the world and I travel a lot with my family,” he said. His father works for Lufthansa, so that explains his wanderlust.
For a 12-year-old, he’s been to a lot of places, “Besides the U.S., I’ve been to Canada, Germany, China, Mauritius, Italy, France, Monaco, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, and the United Kingdom.”
Frankly, that’s a lot of countries for anyone, regardless of age.
When asked about what he’d like to do with this knowledge as a grown up, Marcus responded, “Maybe I could be a United Nations representative or a reporter who goes around the world and interviews people from other countries. That’d be cool. I could also be a spokesperson or represent a country in the European Union since I also have a German passport.”
Those all sound like great ideas. Speaking of reportorial skills, we put Marcus to the test and asked him to sign off this story by saying thank you and goodbye.
Merci, au revoir (French)
Gracias, adios (Spanish)
Danke, auf Wiedersehen (German)
Grazie, arrivederci (Italian)
Xiexie, zaijian (Mandarin)
Spasibo, dasvidania (Russian)
No Ice? No Problem
With a boombox blaring pop music and an incongruous disco ball spinning colorful patterns in one corner of the gym, nine students and an older helper swatted a plastic ball with plastic sticks into lightweight mesh goals. Welcome to after-school floor hockey at Hill Elementary, hosted by Troy Continuing Education.
Wearing the requisite safety goggles and pulling on and off colored vests as they switched up teams, Hill students — all boys at first — spent a raucous hour running back and forth, falling on the floor and generally being excited that they weren’t doing this on ice.
“I just love hockey, but this is on wood not ice. I’ve never played ice hockey, but it’s easier to run than to ice skate,” said Jasper Srock, a Hill 2nd-grader.
“I love playing it, but it’s kind of hard,” agreed 2nd-grader Joseph Kuriakose, “You don’t have to skate on ice and be a professional. It’s easier to just run and get the ball.”
“It’s kind of the same as ice hockey, but it’s better because you might slip if you were on ice. I like being goalie; I can just scoop up the ball sometimes with my baseball cap,” said 3rd-grader Owen Dziurman.
It did seem easier. “This is a smaller gym and we try to keep the team sizes small,” said Curtis Dicho, who was overseeing the program. “We are giving kids a game they like to play and it teaches them more about physical education.”
Halfway through the hour, several of the boys were tired so they took a break. But when they found a basketball, they were instantly revived.
Then it was back to floor hockey. “I like that I get to hit the ball hard. It’s one of my favorite sports to play; I’ve been playing it a couple weeks,” explained 3rd grader Aidan Mitchell.
When the boys were playing against each other, it was a pretty fair match up, but when two girls joined in, the game became a blowout; the girls were older, better and faster.
“It’s really fun because you’re not on ice and you don’t have to learn how to skate. You can be more steady. To me playing against boys is hard, especially because they had lots of classes. But then I think of it as ‘okay, I just got in, let’s show ‘em who’s boss,’” said 5th-grader Miruna Bordea.
“It’s easier with a ball instead of a puck. I like that,” said 5th-grader Elena Carey. “I find it a little bit hard to work with the boys because they don’t like to pass to girls. I like playing as a team and not separate.”
One by one, parents came to pick up their kids and teams dwindled down to two on two. Waiting a few minutes for her son, Anitha Kuriakose enjoyed watching the sport, “This is really good and it keeps them active,” she said.
Emotions in Motion
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” — Pablo Picasso
It’s never easy talking about emotions, let alone discussing them in a large group, drawing them out — both verbally and artistically — and then finally acting them out in a video. But that’s exactly what happened today at Barnard Elementary School.
Fifth-graders were joined by Wayne State University students to explore the role emotions play in conflict resolution. After picking emotions out of a paper bag, then breaking up into several small groups, students — both collegiate and elementary — discussed emotions like; aggression, love, bittersweet feelings, boredom, being annoyed, craziness, etc.
“We’ve been talking about character study, different emotions and helping kids work together and work through their emotions. Our principal got together with WSU and came up with this plan to use the movie Inside Out to help kids start talking about their emotions. It’s been very interesting to see what emotions the kids came up with that weren’t in the film,” said Barnard teacher Taryn Huang
“Inside Out tells the students that even though they’re different, they have to work together,” said Dr. Nicole Wilson, Wayne State University children’s literature coordinator.
“All these facts and opinions look the same. I can’t tell them apart.” — Joy, from the movie Inside Out.
All morning long and after a pizza break at lunch, the students worked on the emotions they wanted to express. Dr. Nicole Wilson, who is also mom to a Barnard fifth-grader, was impressed with their work. “They engage with each other so well. The teachers here at Barnard do such a great job of training these kids to work together, to be collaborative and to be really good thinkers. They always blow my Wayne State students away with their level of thinking.”
That sentiment was echoed by WSU student Adam Pedersen. “They’re a very bright group of kids. These can be very difficult questions about emotions and how to regulate and identify them. I liked the way they answered their questions with critical thinking.”
The kids weren’t only bright, “I think the most incredible thing is the sheer level of excitement the fifth-graders have for doing these things. I love that, I love that energy,” said Alexandra Biedenbach, a student in the WSU children’s literature class.
By all accounts, the workshop was a success. Barnard teacher Deanna Dutts summed it up, “I love the collaboration between the university and our students. The thought process and deep level thinking that goes into this, it opens both their eyes, the university students and elementary students.”
Election 2016: The Voters Decide
Playground proposals, presidential preferences, cafeteria crests: there was a full slate of issues to vote on at Bemis today as youngsters went to the polls.
Turnout was historic. “We had high participation, a 100% turnout. Everyone who can vote is voting today. They’re all registered voters here at Bemis,” said Principal Jeremey Whan.
Voting irregularities were non-existent and there was no reported voter intimidation to speak of. Though at times, younger students needed a little help as they voted behind a partition, “Check which bear you want,” said Kerry Houghton, student teacher. But by no means was the election rigged!
Bears? All four of the cafeteria crests being voted on involved different iterations of the Bemis Solar Bear.
On the ballot, “We have the presidential election, of course, plus two special elections. One is voting for a new piece of playground equipment, from a selection of four items. Then the other, is choosing a logo for our cafe,” Whan said.
Poll workers were volunteer parents and PTO members. By all accounts, early voting went smoothly.
One student had a great question, “But if I’m choosing them, why am I putting an X next to their name if I want them to win?” reported Marianna Perakis. “He thought he was X-ing them out!” she said.
“I think the older kids are more aware of the process. They’re more private and confidential about their vote results compared to the kindergartners who were just learning as they go,” said PTO vice president Cijay Avery, “This is the first time and they’re learning the process.”
“It’s a great experience for the younger kids, especially for the kindergarteners,” said volunteer Fiona Wang. “They’ve never had any experience, so now when they’re back home and their parents are talking about the election, they can say, ‘yeah, I did the same thing!’”
The volunteers kept checking the results between classes, seeing which stack of ballots was highest. Vote tabulations happened in real time.
The students enjoyed the process. After voting, they each received a sticker and a flag.
“I notice that the kids are taking it very seriously,” said Marianna Perakis. “Some of them are even nervous. You can sense that they feel the importance of this event and I hope that instills their obligation to vote in this country when they get older.
“A lot of kids came to the office and were really excited by being able to vote,” said the principal’s secretary, Christine Clifford.
Asked how things were stacking up, principal Whan replied, “We aren’t doing exit polling; but we’ll know the results by the end of the day.”
All In the Family
He’s not doing endorsements … yet.
But Steven Forman is the newest Division I, #1 singles state tennis champion. The Troy High junior won his first #1 singles title in the state finals on October 15th up in Midland. The left-handed junior beat Bloomfield Hills’ Josh Mukherjee in the finals.
He’s not the first Troy High student to win it all; he’s not even the first in his family!
“My brother Brett won back in 2010. He plays at Michigan State now and he’s really supportive of me, just like I was of him,” said Steven.
“It’s very exciting. I’m very proud of both of them,” said their mother Carol Forman. “They’re very different players with different styles.”
Carol continued, “It was really exciting watching Steven win. He was playing someone he’s known for years and I knew if he played well, he could win. Steven had a sprained ankle and missed half of the season, so I was just happy he was able to get back to the level he was at before his injury.”
Steven hits some tennis balls tossed by assistant principal Dan House. (photo by Rodney Curtis/School Life Troy)
Although he’s not doing endorsements, Steven joked around with assistant principal Dan House about tennis racquets during a Monday morning photo shoot. House asked him what he thought of a particular racquet and Steven laughed saying it wasn’t the greatest.
He definitely knows racquets. “I started playing tennis, probably, when I was about four or five years old,” Steven explained.
But he’s also done a lot of other things. “He’s always been a really good athlete,” Carol added. “He’s a really good pitcher in baseball and he played on the varsity golf team as a freshman. And our family owns Troy lanes, so Steven also likes to bowl.”
“Tennis is like a six-day-a-week commitment and then he takes one day off,” Carol said. “It’s just like a typical college tennis schedule. Now we start travel tennis; that’s where we get the rankings for college. He played on three teams and they all won this past summer.”
Speaking of college, Steven wouldn’t let on to where he was thinking about going in the future. “He’s ranked 25th or 26th in the country through the USTA for his graduating class, the class of 2018,” explained Carol.
But college and the future not withstanding, he did offer up some fun facts about himself.
Here’s a little bit more about Steven, when he’s off the court:
Favorite food during training: pasta “We eat a lot of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken and bowtie pasta,” said his mother, Carol.
Favorite sports team: New England Patriots
All-time favorite movie: The Dark Knight Rises
Favorite band: Coldplay
Favorite TV show: Modern Family
Favorite athlete: Tiger Woods
She is donating half of her proceeds to a little girl with cancer.
That’s the most important thing you need to know about 9-yr.-old Samiksha Saravanan, a 4th-grader at Leonard Elementary School.
After summer camp she came up with the idea of creating a vegetable stand.
“We were making up businesses and talking about becoming entrepreneurs. I liked watering plants and growing things, so that’s how it started,” she explained. “We began planting at the end of May.”
It wasn’t all a bed of roses, “I was impatient for the plants to grow; it seemed to take a long time,” she said. “But I was excited when they started to grow.”
She set up a stand and began selling her wares, 50¢ each. “I at least made twelve dollars and something cents.”
“I’m going to save the money for if my parents need it, for vacations or things,” she said. “But I also want to give some money to charity, like the little girl I saw who had a cancer fundraiser.”
When Samiksha was asked how much, she thought giving half of it away was about right. What a great kid!
Asked about her future with farming, she responded, “I’m not really doing this forever; I want to be a doctor or a CEO,” — a CEO of what, she hasn’t determined just yet.
Stanford, University of Michigan, Cornell, Brown, U-Penn, Berklee College of Music, these are just a fraction of the prestigious schools Troy School District seniors are applying to.
First Day of School
Creating A Spectacle
“This was seven times harder than in middle school,” Kyle Brennecke explained.
The freshman percussionist in the Troy Colt Drumline had just finished a week of band camp and was exhausted after putting on a Sneak Peek Performance show for parents and friends back at the high school.
213 members of the Troy Colt Marching Band spent a week that alternated between sweltering and soaking at Faholo Conference Center in Grass Lake, Michigan.
Trombonists from the Troy Colt Marching Band march in front of a large rock wall prop during the Sneak Peak Performance after a week at band camp.
“It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off in the end,” added senior trombonist John Jalkanen.
Junior Hyonjoon Kim seemed to agree, “It was a great time of family, of unity,” he said.
Previewing the band’s upcoming marching season is an annual tradition. The students show off what they did at camp and share some of what’s in store for the fall. New this year, a large artificial rock wall that goes along with their theme Carved In Stone. Their 2016 show features songs that rock including oldies like ELO’s Turned to Stone and Paul Simon’s Loves Me Like a Rock. No, nothing from the Rolling Stones or Rocky (yet!).
This year’s band features other firsts, like their largest number of sousaphones ever (14), and their biggest color guard to date, (30 members).
There were also 30 alumni who came back to help the band including Spencer Eaton, class of 2015. “It was amazing,” he said, “The best part was watching them start from scratch on day one and progress to where they are now, a week later.”
More than two dozen parents and assorted other adults also helped the Colt marchers including Theresa Clancy who said, “This is the best I’ve ever seen them after camp. They’re coming back sharp and sounding great, all in one week!”
Director Brian Nutting summed up the band’s experience after the Friday night Sneak Peek, “There’s a real outward joy and passion these kids have for creating a spectacle.”
The band has ten scheduled performances so far this fall, including home football games and marching band festivals/invitationals and an indoor Colt Spectacular at the end of October.