May 20, 2022
South's special education department and peer-to-peer program hosted an all-inclusive community engagement event on May 17.
South students champion inclusion
Students at Grosse Pointe South enjoyed a first of its kind event on Tuesday – a Champions of Change celebration focused on kindness and inclusion hosted by special education teachers and students.
The event grew out of a grant from Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools to supplement the school’s peer-to-peer program, which brings together students from the general education population with students with special needs.
One of the requirements of the grant was that it fund an all-school engagement grant. Categorical classroom teachers Jill Harrison, Shelby Salajka and Lauren Hancock, speech language pathologist Amanda Bungard and adaptive physical education teacher Kathy Smith worked with the peer-to-peer students to organize an all-school event that brought students and staff together during lunch on South’s front lawn to enjoy bounce houses, all-inclusive games, popcorn, ice cream and general camaraderie.
The Champions of Change event “gives our students with special needs ownership of a fun, spirit-filled day,” South Principal Moussa Hamka said. “Oftentimes it’s our NHS or class councils who put on an event. This time it’s our students with special needs. They take great pride in this day and can reflect on it, saying, ‘This is our contribution to the school.’ That gives them a sense of belonging.
“I’m just proud of our peer-to-peer program and students of all abilities coming together, interacting and engaging,” he added. “They’re all in there together."
In the afternoon, youth motivational speaker Kevin “Mr. Peace” Szawala gave a presentation in the auditorium on what diversity stands for, the need to value the uniqueness in everyone, the importance of kindness and empathy, and how compassion can positively change hearts.
The Special Olympics funding for both this event and the Unified Basketball team this winter were among a number of grants supporting special education programs at Grosse Pointe South. Most recently, the adaptive P.E. program received a grant from the Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education for medicine balls for the Boll Fitness Center. The medicine balls will be used by students in general education as well as adaptive P.E. classes.
For students with special needs, the medicine balls provide more opportunities to work on balance, core strengthening activities, hand-eye coordination, working in groups and team building, said adaptive P.E. teacher Kathy Smith, who has a background as a certified therapeutic recreational therapist.
Her goal, whether for students in her adaptive P.E. classes or general education students in her lifetime and leisure classes, is to increase their comfort level with the fitness center and create opportunities for them to improve their overall physical and mental health, leading to lifelong habits of incorporating physical activity into a healthy lifestyle.
The program also received a grant from The Family Center of Grosse Pointe & Harper Woods for nine new pickleball nets.
South Principal Moussa Hamka and Assistant Principal Cindy Parravano got into the pickleball fun during P.E. classes.
“That is the up-and-coming sport everyone is seeking,” Kathy said. “It is integrated so much in the community; you have courts at every park. It’s a great opportunity to hone those skills here and hopefully those students will be able to go and play on their own and in organized games.”
In addition, thanks to a grant from the Mothers’ Club, students have enjoyed visits from a yoga instructor who comes monthly to the lifetime and leisure classes and weekly to first hour special education classes.
The instructor’s “fight and surrender” class begins with a cardio focus to “get the endorphins going,” Kathy explained. “That’s the fight part. The surrender part is letting your body relax and set your intentions for the day. It’s that mental piece with the physical piece to encompass the whole sense of well-being.”
While the funding from these organizations supports important programs at the school, the benefits go even deeper, Kathy said.
“It’s that community connection,” she said. “I’m really overwhelmed by the generosity here.”
The Champions of Change event was a prime example of this.
“The whole school engagement event has really brought to light how many people are involved and engaged in making kind humans,” she said.
One Mason, One Family, One Team Family Fun Day
Mason Elementary took pride in celebrating their students, families and staff at their One Mason, One Family, One Team Family Fun Day on Friday, May 13. All gathered to recognize all of the hard work put forth throughout the school year, along with valuing opportunity to further build relationships among students across classrooms and grade levels, and promote connections from one family to another.
“It was an inspiring day filled with teamwork, fun and laughter,” Mason Principal Anita Hassan said.
North student awarded competitive study abroad scholarship
Marc Mueller, a junior at Grosse Pointe North High School, recently received the CBYX Congress-Bundestag Study Abroad Scholarship, widely regarded as the most competitive study abroad program to Germany.
This program is sponsored by the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag. The application process consists of a rigorous three-tiered process requiring a series of essays and interviews. Less than 1 to 2 percent of applicants are granted the scholarship, and Marc is one of 50 U.S. high school students selected to participate in the program.
Marc will attend a training session in August in Washington D.C. before heading to Germany for a month-long intensive German language training session, after which he will be placed in a host family. He will live with the host family and attend a top-tier high school for the duration of the year. During the year, Marc will travel to Berlin to take part in diplomatic meetings and events in the U.S. Embassy.
Typically, students in the program meet with members of the U.S. Congress and present in German to the German Bundestag.
“I am so very proud of Marc’s dedication and hard work,” said Susi Sipos, who has taught Marc for three years. “He is an outstanding and dedicated student who has constantly striven to learn more about German. During quarantine, he came to our virtual German club just to practice the language, and he seeks out information about German beyond the activities that we do in class."
Marc, who is currently enrolled in German 3 and is a member of the German National Honor Society, is such a fan of the language that he recruited his twin brother to start learning it, too.
“Besides being a dedicated, hard-working student, he is kind to others, gets along with everyone, and is great at making others laugh,” Frau Sipos added. “It's been a pleasure teaching him for these past three years, and I'm so excited to see where this adventure takes him.”
Up, up and away!
Parcells students completed their innovation and design unit on air balloons with a balloon launch on Thursday.
Sixth graders in Walter Charuba’s innovation and design class at Parcells Middle School honed their design and engineering skills to create hot air balloons out of tissue paper and cardboard, using glue sticks to adhere the strips of tissue paper together.
The only constraints, according to their teacher, was the mouth of the balloon needed to fit over the launcher and once filled with hot air, the balloon needed to achieve lift-off.
The young designers learned basic scientific principles about buoyancy, how warmer air rises in cooler air because it has less mass per unit of volume, and why balloons are traditionally made in a teardrop shape because it keeps the largest air volume at the top.
After students worked in pairs to create their balloons, it was full speed ahead to the playing field to launch their creations.
ALUMNI THROUGH THE DECADES
Anna and David Court
Grosse Pointe North High School
Class of 2008
David Court and Anna Collins were matched alphabetically in 1995 as classmates at Poupard Elementary, appearing next to each other in the yearbook. Years later they would make it an official match; the couple married in July of 2017.
While Anna started at Poupard in kindergarten, David didn’t join her class until a year later.
“I was shy and he was very outgoing,” Anna recalled. “He would tell you he had a crush on me at that point and I thought he was a rude boy, likely because he had a crush on me.”
The two went on to attend Parcells Middle School but, with different circles of friends, they didn’t cross paths much for the next few years, even through their first two years at Grosse Pointe North.
It was at an English class junior year where fate – with a little help from alphabetical seating – brought them together again.
“We got to chitchatting,” Anna said. “We had all the same memories for the most part so it was a pretty easy conversation. Everything that ever happened in our educational career was pretty similar.”
Then the Sadie Hawkins winter dance – the dance where the girl invites the boy rather than the other way around – rolled around and Anna asked David to be her date.
“The joke is that’s when I caved,” she said.
The two have been together pretty much ever since.
They both attended Wayne State University, carpooling to class and sharing a parking pass to save money. David left WSU for a year to attend Michigan State University, then returned when he applied to Wayne’s physical therapy program, receiving his doctoral degree in physical therapy after three years of study.
Anna received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wayne and was hired during the 2013-14 school year to teach first grade at Mason Elementary, where she remains today.
Before she was hired, she returned to Poupard for her student teaching under the guidance of her former teacher, Jill Barron, now a third-grade teacher at Richard Elementary.
“I was very inspired by my elementary teachers,” Anna said. “To this day, those are the ones that stand out most to me. I was fortunate enough to keep in touch with some of them.”
This led to the student teaching opportunity with Jill, who Anna says was “a phenomenal example.”
“Everything I know as a teacher started in her classroom as a student and then as a student teacher,” she said.
In her nine years at Mason, Anna taught first grade for five years, then two years in kindergarten before returning to first grade for the last two years.
Anna always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
“It was never a question,” she said. “I don’t really know what I would be doing if I wasn’t a teacher. I was that kid that would go play school in my basement. I have a little sister and she was one of my students and/or teaching partners.”
David came to his career choice in a more roundabout fashion. While he originally planned to pursue pharmacy, after taking a few classes he decided it wasn’t for him.
Much more suited to his energetic and “people person” personality, according to Anna, was physical therapy, which David discovered after enrolling in a few classes. He is currently a physical therapist and supervisor in Beaumont’s outpatient facility at the Neighborhood Club, where he works with a range of clients, from teen athletes with sports injuries to people recovering from knee surgeries.
While working full-time as a teacher, Anna enrolled in an online program at MSU to get a master’s degree in education with a focus in literacy and technology. David was still in the PT program at Wayne at the time and the two were living at home with their parents.
While together since they were 16, “we both knew we wanted to get our education and degrees out of the way before we took the next step,” Anna said. “We knew we were each other’s forever partners; there was never a question about that.”
Anna was expecting to receive her degree from MSU in May of 2016, but she didn’t plan to attend the ceremony as she had taken all the classes online and saw no reason to sit with strangers. Both David and her family insisted that she go, however.
She reluctantly agreed, and afterwards David surprised her with a trip to Grand Rapids. Anna thought this was her graduation celebration. What she didn’t know was that he planned to propose to her on their way to dinner. Waiting for them at the restaurant was a group of their closest friends who celebrated their engagement with them throughout the weekend.
“We were waiting for this next step,” Anna said. “I didn’t know he literally meant the moment I walked across the stage we were going to get engaged.”
Nominate your favorite GPPSS couple!
We are partnering with the Grosse Pointe Alumni & Friends Association to feature 100 alumni as part of the district's 100th anniversary. Click here for details on how to nominate an alum of your choice. And if you know any GPPSS couples, click here for a nomination form!
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