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Hey Teacher, How Did You Spend Your Summer Vacation?

Educators Hone Skills, Study Up, Take Students Abroad

As choir teachers passionate about music, Jed and Mandy Scott found themselves in Nirvana this summer by studying under renowned choral composer Alice Parker.

The Rockford Public Schools couple spent a week at Parker’s idyllic farm property in Massachusetts, learning from and singing with one of America’s premier composers.

“She’s like a guru,” said Jed, a choral composer and director of the Rockford Aces boys’ chorale. “She carries all this wisdom and knowledge and shares it very freely.”

“It was really transformative,” added Mandy, director of choirs at Rockford High School, calling Parker “a spiritual leader to the music community.”

The Scotts were among many Kent County teachers who spent part of their summer enriching their teaching, educating other teachers or taking students to eye-opening places.  Far from chilling all summer, many educators use the break to further their professional skills andgive students new experiences.

For Jed and Mandy Scott, their time with Parker was a follow-up to her 2013 visit to Rockford. She composed a piece for the Rockford Aces, attended its premier performance and gave workshops. Staying with the couple, she became like a grandmother to their children and invited them to visit her.

They did just that in July. They stayed in one of her cabins near mountains and a brook, where their three sons caught tadpoles. In Parker’s studio, they sang around her Steinway, and absorbed her teachings about the importance of conveying “meaningful sound” through music and poetry. They intend to apply her teachings with their students.

“I want to spend more time with the text of the music we’re singing,” Mandy said. “Once you’re inside the poetry, it’s so much easier to communicate the song and touch people’s hearts.”

Another Rockford teacher, Roguewood Elementary Spanish Immersion teacher Sheryl Dalman, worked with other immersion specialists across West Michigan to plan classroom research projects, while Roguewood teacher Kathy Walcott trained immersion teachers in the Dominican Republic.

Ingrid Dykeman
Ingrid Dykeman

More Music, Rock-Style

Kentwood Middle School Orchestra director Ingrid Dykeman spent a week immersed in a different musical milieu — rocking out. Each summer, the cellist lets her hair down, creating music with electric energy that circuits back to her orchestra students.

As a volunteer counselor at the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, Dykeman helps classically trained young people learn cutting-edge alternative music. She serves as a camp counselor and plays her Cobra Electric Cello in two orchestras there.

Wood, an Emmy-winning composer and member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, is a natural educator who captivates students, Dykeman said. She incorporates what she learns at his camp into Kentwood’s middle-school music curriculum and the district’s Anything But Classical (ABC) Orchestra.

Artist mentors including Wood use his Electrify Your Strings music education program at camp and to help schools put on rock concerts. Wood has performed with students at Kentwood Public Schools.

Dykeman calls the camp invigorating. “When you go and see it, you just know this is something you must incorporate into your classroom,” said the 25-year school music director. Many of her students, including some campers, have embraced rock and alternative music, snagged scholarships and learned to play outside their comfort zones.

For Dykeman, it’s about challenging herself as a teacher.

“I could have stayed the traditional path or taken a different path to learn something new. Knowing it will benefit the kids, I chose to take the path of learning.”

Forest Hills counselor Ginny Grit says it was “amazing” to push Cameron Weatherford in a Byron Center race
Forest Hills counselor Ginny Grit says it was “amazing” to push Cameron Weatherford in a Byron Center race

Seeing Sites Abroad, Helping at Home  

In Forest Hills, teachers took students to far lands to see educational sites and help build one.

Faith Shotts-Flikkema, a teacher at Forest Hills Northern High School, led the school’s international travel club to London, Paris, Florence and Rome. Students visited Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; the Louvre, Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower in Paris; Michelangelo’s David in Florence; and the Pantheon and Colosseum in Rome.

Scott Kemperman, an architecture teacher at Northern, worked in Costa Rica with a group of graduating Forest Hills seniors to help design a school. Donations are being taken to build it eventually. Scott teamed up with Bruce Macartney, also a teacher in Forest Hills, who is on leave from the district and living in Costa Rica with his family in order to help students there.

Back home, Forest Hills guidance counselor Ginny Grit served as a “pusher angel” to Meadow Brook Elementary student Cameron Weatherford, during the Byron Days Chemical Bank race. Grit volunteers with “My Team Triumph,” an organization that gives children and adults who use a wheelchair the chance to compete in races and triathlons.

“It was an emotional and amazing experience to push Cam,” Grit said. “He wants to do this again, so we are working on making that happen.”

Taking Time to Learn More   

Some faculty took the opportunity to continue their education and refine their skills.  Cherie Horner, principal of Kenowa Hills’ Central Elementary School, finished her doctorate in education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She successfully defended a final research paper about her five years as principal of Fulton Elementary, a high-poverty Chicago Public School.

Horner’s capstone paper detailed her efforts to set high expectations and improve teaching and learning at a struggling “turnaround school.”  But she also pointed out that reform takes time and requires emotional and social supports for students living in high-poverty communities.

“(M)y Capstone is an effort to reframe and reflect on my leadership practice, not only to make sense of what happened, but also to help me improve future results as a current school leader,” wrote Horner, in her second year at Central.

Ruth Vander Weide
Ruth Vander Weide

Ruth Vander Weide, a Godwin Heights High School English teacher, intends to spark hope in her students after attending the Delta Kappa Gamma Society’s 2015 Northeast Regional Conference in Baltimore, Md. “Hope is a better indicator of what a student can do than ACT scores,” Vander Weide said.

She was impressed by speaker Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, who encouraged attendees to think of their students the way Michelangelo looked at an untouched chunk of marble.

“Teachers have to envision what they don’t see in students,” Vander Weide said. “Maybe no one in their family went to college, but they can be the first one. Let’s set that aspiration free from that block of marble.”


Rockford Choirs

Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp

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