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OHSPA again making 'wishes' come true

Armed forces flag purchased with OHSPA funds

The Ottawa Hills Schools Parent Association (OHSPA) has made educators wishes come true again by funding items from the district’s annual “wish list.”

This year, the group spent more than $22,700 on 13 projects, ranging from art easels and kindergarten books to wobble chairs and clay extruders (more on that later). “We are very proud of the fact that we able to fund these projects,” said Lauri Cooper, president of the all-volunteer nonprofit group.

OHSPA raised more than $388,000 last year from its many fund-raising programs; after expenses, mostly for operating the school lunch program, it donated $113,251 back to the district for various projects, a total that includes $22,700 for the wish-list items.

In addition to the school lunch program, its other fundraising efforts include the Fall Festival and Marketplace, end-of-year elementary carnival, and two book fairs. (The book fairs generate an additional $3,883, which is sent directly to the district and is not counted as OHSPA income.) The group also is a key organizer of  the Green Bear Ball and Celebrity Wait Night, which occur in alternating years (2019 is a Celebrity Wait Night year). The ball’s other sponsor is the Ottawa Hills Boosters; the Celebrity Wait Night in organized in partnership with the Ottawa Hills Music And  Theatre Association.

The wish-list funding process begins in early spring when faculty at the elementary, junior and senior high schools submit requests. The requests can be for projects either within the classroom (new or replacement equipment for example) or for extracurricular activities. District administrators compile the requests and send them to OHSPA, which then seeks member input during its annual membership meeting. Then, the OHSPA executive board considers that input and makes a final decision on what to fund and how much. The district is notified in May and then spends the summer completing the purchases and getting the items to classrooms.

On behalf of the district, thank you to OSHPA and its members for supporting our faculty and students. Here are brief descriptions of the funded projects:

Clay extruderHelp with creative clay projects

The elementary art program, under the direction of Cynthia Bodziak, received a new Brent Clay Extruder. The tool dispenses clay into coils, which are used for a variety of projects, such as vases, mugs and birdhouses. Mrs. Bodziak shares: “Our elementary artists can’t wait to begin using it next month during our clay unit, and for many years to come! Thank you, OSHPA!”

Creating inviting and comfortable environments

The elementary school classroom serving students with multiple disabilities received new flexible seating, textured pillows, and emotion-floor cushions. The needs were outlined in a request from Megan McKean, a teacher in the multiple-disabilities classroom. The equipment arrived this summer and already is being used.

“As a classroom, we feel extremely appreciative of OHSPA and their continued mission to support the wonderful staff and students here at OHES,” Mrs. McKean said. “It is a very humbling feeling knowing that our suggestions and wish-list items will be given careful consideration when we plan for our students each year.”

The seating assists students who need sensory feedback while sitting. With these new accommodations, students are able to sway and move while staying seated. The textured pillows are used for flexible floor seating as well as color recognition. Each has a different texture, such as shiny or corduroy, to help with sensory touch and feel. The floor cushions with facial expressions are designed to encourage students to identify and express their emotions.

“I have found that having flexible seating in my classroom with learners of all types is vital in providing the type of sensory each student needs, while also providing a safe and comfortable work space,” Mrs. McKean added.

Aiding young readers through leveled collections

OSHPA also funded requests for new “leveled reading” books from kindergarten and first grade faculty. Leveled reading is a literacy strategy that matches a student’s ability to the appropriate book. As reading improves, he or she moves progresses in the collection to read more complex books.

With the implementation of Daily 5 (and all-day K), kindergarten teachers now can meet with small groups each day and use the leveled books in those interactions. The new collections increase the number of physical books offered as well as the number of levels. The request was submitted by kindergarten teachers Melissa Jankowski, Courtney Gibson, and Lianne Genzman (now a fifth-grade teacher).

Similarly at the first-grade level, the request recognizes that literacy is a pivotal skill across all curricular areas, and essential to creating a strong base in a student’s early academic career. With the money, two leveled libraries (one non-fiction and one fiction) were purchased. The request came from the first-grade teacher team of Laurie Keating, Rachel Wanner, Heidi Morris, and Heather Christensen.

The first-grade classrooms also are benefiting from the purchase of wobble chairs. The chairs are designed to provide movement for students while encouraging posture and engaging core muscles. In the first grade, students are very active. As a result, activity and movement are essential for refocusing and maintaining concentration. It is essential for them to be able to wiggle and move in an appropriate manner. The chairs are providing students that energy outlet while still remaining in their seats during lessons.

“It is with heartfelt gratitude that we thank the Parents Association for their contribution of fiction and nonfiction texts to our classroom-leveled libraries. These materials have played a pivotal role with enriching our students’ use of literature in the classroom,” the teachers said. “We are also truly appreciative of the wobble chairs. These fun chairs allow us to meet the needs of the students who benefit from this flexible seating option. Thank you, again!”

flexible seatingFlexible seating empowering second graders

To help second graders move about and be more collaborative, OHSPA funded a request for a variety of flexible seating. Flexible classrooms give students a choice in what kind of learning space works best for them and helps them to work collaboratively. The request came from second-grade teachers Holly Morgan (who now is a fourth-grade teacher), Jennifer Powers, and Kristin Prevette.

For example, flexible seating allows students to talk, peer over shoulders, ask questions, and share discoveries. This type of classroom environment makes it easier for them to rotate around and get another student’s point of view or to explain what they are thinking. Theories behind flexible seating show that supporting a student’s social-emotional and academic growth is best enhanced by allowing them a safe space to demonstrate choice.

“The second-grade teachers were excited to purchase several flexible seating options for their students this year. We want to thank OHSPA for their generous gift to our students,” the teachers commented. “Without you, our vision of flexible seating would not be a reality. Thank you for understanding the different learning needs in today’s classrooms. We value your dedication and commitment to our students and school.”

Patriotic symbols for a patriotic occasion

To encourage a program now its fourth year, OHSPA agreed to purchase flags for use at the annual Fifth Grade Veterans Day Program. The event honors “special” veterans of fifth-grade students. Through a variety of educational experiences, students learn about the history and significance of Veterans Day as well as the United States Armed Forces. Fifth graders interview their “special” veteran to learn about their military experiences and then invite that veteran to school to be honored on Veterans Day.

FlagThe entire elementary school welcomes these veterans to an assembly that features a guest speaker and where veterans are honored through words, music, and song. The request was submitted by fifth-grade teacher Angela Parker. The money is being used to purchase American-made, 3-by-5-foot flag sets representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard flags. In addition, the funding allowed for the purchase of a single 3-by-5-foot flag containing the official seals of all five branches.

“We are so thankful to OHSPA for providing funds to purchase flags for our Veterans Day Unit,” said Mrs. Parker. “These patriotic flags will be used in our social studies classroom as we learn about each branch of the armed forces and then be proudly displayed during our Veterans Day Program on November 12.”

Lab tables enhance scientific opportunities

Sixth-grade students will be able to have more meaningful and frequent science lab experiences thanks to new tables. Requested by sixth-grade teacher Jonathon Siebenaler, the proposal called for replacing less versatile traditional student desks with lab desks. His room previously had four lab tables; now, he is able to turn his entire classroom into lab space.

As sixth grade is the last stop in the elementary school building before students enter junior high, it is important to have lab experiences to prepare them for the more advanced labs to come. By design, labs require lots of materials as well as movement throughout the room. Students are now sitting two to a table and have the flexibility to move their experiments back to their lab table instead of crowding around the previous four lab desks concentrated in the current “lab area.”

tables“The lab tables provided by OHSPA for my sixth-grade science classroom have truly revolutionized the organization of labs in my classroom and I cannot express my gratitude enough to OHSPA for this purchase!” Mr. Siebenaler said. “By extending lab experiences into the entire classroom, and not just into one small space, students have been able to enjoy laboratory activities through a much smoother and streamlined experience.  Students have lab table numbers and numbered lab bins that they are able to use to take lab materials back to their table, which has made lab days so much more structured, manageable, and attainable on a frequent basis.”

Added Mr. Siebenaler: “Students are truly engaged in hands-on, minds-on experiences every week, which previously was difficult to do with the desks that were in my room.  My classroom feels like a 21st century learning lab with these new tables and I am excited to use them every day with my students to teach 6th grade science standards. Thank you, OHSPA!”   

OHSPA says ‘I’m In’ for Shark Tank funding

Supporting a program that has generated lots of student interest, OHSPA funded ongoing efforts to produce a program mimicking the famous TV show “Shark Tank.” The request came from junior/senior high English teachers Lauren Hurst and Jim Kinkaid. They wanted to continue the program, which actually is an exercise in informative and explanatory writing, student collaboration, and student presentations. The final work is presented before adults for feedback.  

Artistic devices that come in handy

easelThe art interests of students are being enhanced through the purchase of new digital tablets and easels. The 24 digital drawing tablets from Wacom are being used in three classrooms; the district previously had only two tablets, used primarily by graphic design students. Wacom is a maker of creative devices used to draw and manipulate images more easily.

With “Graphic Design 2” now a separate class, the number of students using the tablets increased. The tablets were requested by junior/senior high art teacher Hannah Lehmann and high school technology instructor Gerry Davis. “The tablet is so much better for doing precise work, especially when drawing the backgrounds for my animation,” said senior Dylan Schreder.

Added Mr. Davis: “In my multimedia class, the tablets give students the ability to create smoother more precise animations, not to mention they seem much more engaged with the work,” he said. “I believe that the ergonomics are so much better that just using a mouse. They seem to have much less tension in their wrists and shoulders after working for extended periods.”

In addition, OHSPA supported a request to purchase an additional nine easels for use in various art classes. Those classes collectively serve about 200 students a year. With that volume, the existing easels were ready for replacement. Students use easels to display artwork during the smART show, view and discuss artwork during group critiques, and to aid in the creation of drawings and paintings. Easels are often loaned out for community events like the Fall Festival and Marketplace as well. The easels will be used at this year’s smART Show and are currently being used by the community and students in classes.  

Wacom“The Visual Arts department is incredibly grateful for OHSPA’s continued support of the arts at OHHS,” said high school art teacher Kristen Johnson, who submitted the request. “Over the years, they have partnered with us to provide the financial backing for countless educational opportunities that enrich our students experience. We can’t say thank you enough!” 

Continued support for a new type of machine learning

The district’s robotic initiatives received a boost from OHSPA when it funded a request to add at least one robot and upgrade two others. The funding also covers additional batteries and motors needed for competitions. The Robotics Club now has 19 students, up from three in 2015. The numbers are increasing as students complete the automation and robotics portion of seventh-grade STEM. Members –boys and girls – now come from both the junior and senior high schools. Last school year, an Ottawa Hills team made it to the semifinals and another made it to the finals at another event. The request came from Patty Dowd, the junior/senior high STEM teacher.

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