- Sponsorship -

A real team player

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.”

TEAM Player

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.”

TEAM 21 Coordinator Ellen Veenkant tackled the change of coordinating the West Godwin Elementary’s drop-off and pick-up schedule

TEAM Leader

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.”

Second-grader Aixi Medina-Marti shares with West Godwin Principal Mary Lang what she likes about the TEAM 21 program and Coordinator Ellen Veenkant

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.

- Sponsorship -
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio or email Joanne.


Vaccine trial participant: ‘I really want to get back to normal’

Orchestra teacher and cellist Eric Hudson longs for the days when he can direct student musicians in concerts and tours and play in his own ensemble once again. To help speed that process along, he is participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial...

Longtime agriscience teacher earns honorary FFA degree

After 24 years of teaching, John Schut believes incorporating fun and service into education is more engaging for students than taking notes in a classroom...

Stress, studies and the pandemic: a steep learning curve

In response to the social and emotional impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rockford’s Developing Healthy Kids Campaign wants students and families to know they are not alone...

Health Department helps schools tackle challenges of instruction, during winter, in a pandemic

Working with the health department has been crucial in helping area school leaders understand the nature of COVID-19, the types of mitigation strategies that can be most effective and how to plan for the future...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Schools in nine districts announce closures as COVID cases spike

New temporary school building closures were announced by nine school districts in Kent ISD this week, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...

‘Vote!’ urges student, staff video

Not one vote is wasted, says the sixth grader. '(A)nd if someone says they’re wasted, they’re wrong'...

Bringing individual value to shared space

An assignment based on a Detroit art project teaches students that they each help to build and shape their ‘neighborhood’...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU