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From tragedy, bonds are forged

Local elementary supports one on east side of state

Caledonia — On the morning of Dec. 1, 2021, second-grade teacher Scott Carpenter held a meeting with other teachers in the library at Emmons Lake Elementary.

They gathered to process the tragic events of the mass shooting the day before at Oxford High School in Oakland County, and how to move forward. From the meeting grew a brainstorm of ideas, including several connections to the Oxford community.

“Our principal, Jenn (Schultz), has a friend who lives in Oxford, and that friend’s neighbor is Jeff Brown, the principal of Oxford Elementary,” Carpenter said. “She reached out to her friend and then connected with Principal Brown, and it took off from there.”

Emmons Lake staff began the Oxford Strong partnership by purchasing Oxford Strong T-shirts and hanging posters around the school to spread awareness. 

Following the mass shooting at Oxford High School, Emmons Lake displayed Oxford Strong signs to show their support and keep the community in their thoughts (courtesy)

“Our intention is not to make (the pain) go away or force healing; we are walking through that pain with them,” Carpenter said. 

Added kindergarten teacher Melissa Vangessel, “It’s hard. When it first happened, we shed a lot of tears together. It’s hard to process. School is supposed to be safe. We’re supposed to learn, play Play-Doh and have recess.

“Because it’s such a sensitive subject, we hope those conversations are happening at home between students and their families.”

‘Educators never forget. We want Oxford teachers to know they’re not forgotten.’

— kindergarten teacher Melissa Vangessel

Instead, Vangessel and her colleagues led their students in bucket-filling practices like creating art projects or writing cards for their friends on the other side of Michigan. 

Ongoing kindness is part of everything we do at Emmons,” Vangessel said.

The staff at Emmons Lake Elementary show support for the Oxford community (courtesy)

Since forging the partnership, Emmons Lake staff has assembled care packages, written thinking-of-you cards and even provided lunch for  Oxford Elementary staff. 

“It’s an act of faith and trust for parents to send their kids to school,” Vangessel said. “As a teacher, when you walk in these doors you take on the responsibility of these kids, every one of them.”

Vangessel and Carpenter also offered praise for Schultz’s role in Oxford Strong.  

“Jenn Schultz’s mantra is that everyone is loved, valued and appreciated,” Vangessel said. “One of my students recited that to a cafeteria worker the other day. I don’t know what this building would be like without Jenn.” 

Carpenter credited the partnership as a close-knit staff effort and said plans are to continue and build on the relationship with Oxford Elementary beyond the school year. 

“This partnership will continue, like blooming after a rainstorm,” Vangessel said. “After a few months, when it’s no longer in the news, people forget, but educators never forget. We want Oxford teachers to know they’re not forgotten.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN.  Read Alexis' full bio

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