Kelloggsville — When Nicole Postma and Jane Lewis first met at East Kelloggsville Elementary School, they already had something in common: both are Kelloggsville alumni.
“I think that is one thing that I discovered while researching the history of Kelloggsville,” said Postma, who became Lewis’s co-worker in the food service department. “There are a lot of Kelloggsville alumni who have come back to the school.”
Cassie Groters, a 2007 grad who is now a district network technician and head of marketing and communications, said she estimates there are more than 30 Kelloggsville alumni currently working in the district.
“Some of our staff earned degrees and returned to be a Rocket in a new way,” Groters said. “Other alumni started their careers right after they graduated from Kelloggsville.”
The high number of alumni led to the creation of a social media campaign called Full Orbit, to recognize staff who have returned to the community that helped shape them when they were younger, Groters said.
The Food Service team: Jane Lewis, Class of 1977; Nicole Postma, Class of 1991; Marisela Salazar-Lopez, Class of 2016
Postma estimated there are seven alumni working in the district’s food service, three of whom are based at Central Kelloggsville Elementary School: herself, Lewis and Salazar-Lopez.
“My kids were in school and I had talked to some food service workers in Kentwood who suggested I apply,” Lewis said. “I applied to Kentwood and Kelloggsville, and Kelloggsville called back.”
Salazar-Lopez wanted to be part of Kelloggsville’s food service because of some of the food she recalled enjoying: the strawberry cups, the pizza and juice, she said, which made Postma chuckle.
“I love being here,” said Salazar-Lopez, who worked in a family restaurant before coming to the district. “I can see my son and build bonds with the students.”
Postma said someone in her family attended the district over four decades, from 1963 when her mother attended until this spring when her daughter graduated. Postma had left the district, but several years ago her family moved back. They started attending the football games because “they were just down the street,” she said.
“I never really left. My mom dropped me off in 1977 for preschool, and I have been here ever since.”
Her most bittersweet memory “was being in (Central) and watching as they tore down the old East building, because I had spent so much time in that building,” she recalled.
Rose Zaiger, Class of 1990
When Zaiger’s children reached school age, she started to look for something she could do while her kids were gone. She found a position as a medical center specialist at West Kelloggsville Elementary School.
“I think every mom wished they could be at their kid’s school, because it is nice to have that extra time to be with them, said Zaiger, who is now the secretary for the district’s athletic department.
There have been a lot of changes to buildings, including an extensive remodel of the high school completed in 2017, but Kelloggsville still feels like home, she said, mostly because of the people.
There are also the memories. Her fondest: “singing Christmas carols through the hallways during school.”
Lamont Mallett, Class of 2011
“At the time of graduation, I had no plans of ever stepping foot back into Kelloggsville,” said Mallett, the Early Childhood Center’s dean of students and assistant athletic director. “The plan was to move away and not come back.”
But an internship requirement brought him back to Kelloggsville, where he discovered it was where he belonged.
“I am a Rocket,” he said. “I bleed orange and blue.”
He said he sees the importance of students being able to see someone (who looks) like themselves in school, so that they see they, too, can attain leadership positions in their communities.
“It feels good to have this opportunity,” Mallett said. “I feel blessed to be able to work within the district in a leadership capacity here in this building, where I can be seen by the students and make an impact on them and their lives.”
Austin Jackson, Class of 2001
Jackson’s goal after high school included returning to serve as athletic director.
“I wanted to be that voice for the students,” he said. “I wanted to be that person to help the students get to the next level of their education, whether that would be through sports or another gateway, and I wanted to do it here at Kelloggsville.”
After informally helping the athletic director, Austin was hired as dean of students at West Kelloggsville Elementary. Others saw his potential as a teacher, so he returned to college, got a teaching certificate and has been teaching third grade Central Kelloggsville Elementary for the last few years.
Austin said he has a hard time believing that he is getting paid to be with students and go on field trips. He also helps with intramural sports, which he thinks gave him opportunities to grow as a student.
“You have to find joy in what you do, and part of that joy with these students is sharing something that I loved while in school,” he said.
Nicole Pickard, Class of 2001
Pickard, a media specialist and instructional support at Southeast Kelloggsville Elementary, admitted returning to Kelloggsville was more of a coincidence than a plan. She took a position with the district because it gave her flexibility while her children were in school.
“The science teacher will come in and tell the students that ‘Mrs. Nicole used to be one of my students,’” Pickard said. “Their faces light up because I was a student here, and now I work here.”
Picard said her favorite time was at the high school, but with all the renovations the building is not the same as she remembers.
“I love working right here,” she said of her alma mater. “I just love the kids and seeing how much they grow from year to year.”
Mackenzie Nelson, Class of 2014
For Nelson, the opportunity to return to Kelloggsville “kind of fell into my lap,” she said.
“The opportunity opened up at the 54th Street Academy, and my father and sister already worked here,” Nelson said, adding that her father, Scott Nelson, graduated in 1991 and her sister, Bailey, graduated in 2016.
“I know it sounds cliché, but it felt like family coming back because I had gone through preschool to graduation in Kelloggsville, so I have known so many of the people already here.”
Nelson said she has found her niche being at 54th Street Academy, where she is the secretary.
“I have built a lot of relationships,” she said, adding that while she never attended 54th Street Academy, she understands some of the struggles students face. “Because we only have seven staff members here, I help the students with a lot of things. I am able to talk with students about academics and life challenges, but more importantly I can give them an idea of what life looks like after high school.”
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