With no parents in the buildings due to COVID precautions, how to handle student drop-offs and pick-ups became one of the biggest challenges facing the staff at West Godwin Elementary.
“We have hundreds of 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds all going in different directions,” said Principal Mary Lang. “We knew we had to figure out something, and then Ellen (Veenkant) offered to work on it.”
Veenkant volunteered to become the school’s bus coordinator, and created a system of nametags for students that identified whether they are riding the bus or being picked up. If riding the bus, the nametags are color coded to the bus the student is to ride.
Parents awaiting pick-up display a bright yellow card with the student’s name in their vehicle’s window, so staff can radio to teachers and students can be sent to awaiting vehicles.
“It is pretty much like herding cats,” Veenkant said with a laugh.
Veenkant is a TEAM 21 coordinator for the City of Wyoming. TEAM 21 is an after-school and summer school program that serves more than 1,800 students in the Wyoming, Godfrey-Lee and Godwin Heights school districts.
“She’ll cover the front office when needed,” Lang said. “She also substitutes. I was looking at a Friday schedule and realized I needed seven subs and I knew I could just ask Ellen.
“Staff just thinks of her as part of the staff.”
Second-grader Aixi Medina-Marti loves attending TEAM 21. There are field trips, the garden and it’s a place where she feels safe to talk about her day.
“The best part about TEAM 21 is the activities, gym and how Ms. Ellen is so nice,” Aixi said.
Part of Veenkant’s goal through TEAM 21 is to build relationships with students and provide additional support academically, socially and emotionally as well as to be a safe place for students. She tries to include every student she can, often running one of the largest summer programs because she said she would not turn a student away.
Veenkant joined the TEAM 21 program a few years ago after earning a degree in psychology from Grand Valley State University.
“I had worked in several after-school programs before this, so it was something that I was familiar with,” she said. She started at North Godwin, but moved to West Godwin when the district decided to make West Godwin a kindergarten through second-grade building and North Godwin a third through fifth-grade building.
This year, COVID precautions have required modification of some of TEAM 21’s programs such as smaller in-person after-school activities, and virtual programming with activity kits. Even with the challenges, Veenkant still leads the way in helping to reach as many students as possible, said Jessica Hughes, recreational programmer for the City of Wyoming who oversees the TEAM 21 program.
“She has been a really good fit for the district,” Hughes said. “She has always been available for little side roles, and if she sees a need she just fills it.”
A New Team
Being a part of the Godwin Heights Public Schools has sparked a passion in Veenkant to become a teacher.
“I come from a family of teachers,” she said. “I was not sure that this was something I wanted to do, so I decided to get a degree in psychology.
“But after being here and having the opportunity to see how the teachers encourage and impact students and how they connect with families, well, I definitely want to be a part of that.”
Because she will be a full time college student and will need to student teach next fall, Veenkant will leave her role as TEAM 21 coordinator and West Godwin Elementary in May.
“I can’t imagine not being here on the first day of school next year,” she said, adding that she hopes she can return to the district once she earns a teaching degree.
Lang said she and many of the staff hope so too.