A return to Jeopardy!

North teacher competes in Tournament of Champions

Many aspects of Ben Henri’s second experience as a contestant on Jeopardy! were similar to his first, when he was crowned 2020 Teachers Tournament champion last May. The Grosse Pointe North High School director of choral activities returned to the Jeopardy! set in mid-April in an all-expenses paid trip to compete in the Tournament of Champions, which aired May 17 to 21.

The rush of adrenalin while waiting to be called to the set for taping of his episode was the same.

Also similar was the camaraderie with the other contestants, although this time Henri faced not fellow educators, but other tournament champions, raising the level of competition.

Similar to his first experience, that camaraderie continued long after the competition concluded. While he did not advance to the finals this time, Henri and the other contestants maintain a group chat that includes all 15 contestants and the two alternates.

One difference during this latest appearance, Henri noted, was the atmosphere. Part of this was due to stringent COVID-19 protocols, allowing the crew to tape over 200 episodes without incident after a brief shutdown.

For example, rather than hang out in the small lounge area known as the “green room” between shooting promotional material or episodes, contestants sat in the audience section of the Wheel of Fortune set so they could socially distance.

“We did not get to touch the wheel,” Henri said — a question he gets often. “It was covered with a giant tarp.”

The other difference he noticed was a more somber atmosphere due to the loss of long-time Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek.

“I spent four episodes on the show with him as the host,” Henri said. “It was very easy to tell from the folks who worked with him on the show day in and day out what an impact he had on their lives. This was the first tournament they were producing without him as a host.”

The guest host for the Tournament of Champions is Buzzy Cohen, a former champion of the show.

“Buzzy was a great sport and the height of professionalism,” Henri said, although he acknowledged contestants get to see what the television audience doesn’t — the host making mistakes.

“Things get re-recorded,” Henri noted, adding even the legendary Alex Trebek made the occasional error. 

Henri’s episode aired on Thursday, and while he will not advance to the finals next week as one of the five winners of each episode or in the four wild card spots, he has only one major regret — that he didn’t come up with a funny answer to the Final Jeopardy question: “Milestones along the eastern end of the Mason-Dixon Line were marked on either side with the crests of these two men.”

The correct response was “Who are William Penn and Lord Baltimore?”

Henri, who didn’t know the answer, wishes he had quipped something like: “Who are Ben and Jerry?”

Earlier in the competition, he thought he had an edge when the category was musical theater, but unfortunately the other two contestants also were well versed in their musical theater trivia.

Regardless of the end results, the overall experience was “a dream come true,” Henri said. “It’s a signature experience not many people get to experience in their lifetime. I feel incredibly fortunate, one, that I got to meet Alex, and two, that I got to be part of two tournaments.”

And similar to his first appearance, Henri said he was humbled by the outpouring of support he received in the community from students and parents.

“I’m so grateful to the community and I’m also grateful to the other contestants, both in the Teacher Tournament and the other champions,” he said. “They’re obviously smart people and fun to just nerd out with. It was just an all-out great experience.”

Three cheers for Fan Faces

The Fan Faces headquarters — a.k.a. Susan Howey’s fourth-grade classroom at Monteith Elementary School — was bustling earlier this week as students fulfilled their most recent order. Monteith’s PTO paid for Fan Faces for each fourth grader for the moving up ceremony Wednesday, June 16. Students were hard at work printing enlarged images of their peers’ faces, laminating and then cutting them before gluing them on sticks for family members to display during the ceremony.

Clockwise from upper left, Chris Daher cuts out a cupcake topper; a display of Fan Faces’ newest product, FlowerPot Faces; working together are Malik Copeland, Anna Lia Weidenbach, Sam Wakefield and Eli Certeza; Ms. Howey helps Mae Stanley select her next Fan Face to cut out.

“Cheering people on is what we do” is the business motto. The fourth graders promote their products for sporting events, birthday parties and other special occasions, but with graduations on the horizon, spring is their busy season.

Fan Faces was created as a class business four years ago when Howey taught fourth grade at Trombly Elementary School. Howey transitioned the business to Monteith, which has provided “a wonderfully supportive home for Fan Faces,” she said. Staff members have been loyal customers and families raised enough money for the class to buys its own hard laminator.

Since its inception, the enterprise has served as an example of project-based learning which engages each student — Howey refers to them as “co-owners” — while teaching them many aspects of running a business.

Each year the business evolves as the new class takes ownership to create new product lines, connect with different local business owners, and select their own charities to donate to. Charitable donations are part of the business’s mission and students are involved in choosing the beneficiaries aligned with their own interests. For example, the class has been studying endangered animals and selected the World Wildlife Fund as one of the organizations to contribute to.

They also donated to the Red Cross because “they felt passionate about helping people with the wildfires in California,” Howey said.

Other organizations include the Rainbow Connection, All About Animals Rescue Michigan, and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Personalized photo cutouts include ornaments, magnets and, introduced last year, cupcake toppers. This year’s newest product are FlowerPot Faces, which resulted in an influx of orders for Mother’s Day.

Production was delayed this year because students weren’t in the building until January and Zoom was not conducive to the training required to get the business off the ground, Howey said. In spite of this, the business co-owners managed to raise over $2,000 in sales, donating about $1,000 of this to their charities of choice.

The class also has continued the tradition of writing to local businesses. This year they conducted Zoom calls with Rainy Day Art Supply and Jet’s Pizza, which culminated in a pizza party.

The co-owners took a break from production — and sweeping paper cuttings from the floor — to share their thoughts on what they’ve learned from owning and operating a class business.

“I learned that you have to work together and be flexible,” Mae Stanley said.

“I learned how to be proactive,” Kenzie Harris said. “It changed my life a little bit because now I know how to account and write receipts and all kinds of things.”

“I like how Fan Faces isn’t just a fun activity,” Aidy Grazioli said. “You learn a lot from it. You learn economics. You learn how to account. Now I can cut very well. It made me clean a lot more because you have to clean a lot."

The students also were quick to praise their teacher.

“She explains stuff really well,” Eli Certeza said.

“I like that she has a business and sometimes she brings in her dog, Finn,” Mae said. “She does really cool projects and stuff like the Cupcake Challenge and Lego ornaments.”

“She always says if you make a mistake, it’s OK, you can just restart,” Kenzie added. “We always listen to Ms. Howey and do what she tells us to do.”

South class officers address election controversy

When Aleena Siddiqui begins the 2021-22 school year, it will be as president of Grosse Pointe South’s Class of 2022 for the fourth consecutive year.

The junior ran unopposed this year. Also running unopposed was her classmate, Evie Klepp, who has served alongside Aleena as class vice president since sophomore year.

Based on their long tenure, the class officers agree that changes in the election process were long due.

“We’ve seen it all the time there’s always people elected who are just there because they want to put down on their resume that they were president and they’re popular,” Aleena said. “There’s a lack of accountability. The advisers recognized this.”

A meeting held on March 24 to introduce and vote on proposed changes to the bylaws was open to the entire student body. The unofficial tally of the vote was 45 in favor and 15 opposed.

“Anyone could have showed up who wanted to,” Aleena said. “It was a student-led meeting.”

Anyone opposed to the change also had an opportunity to suggest a change and the students would then have voted on that change, she added.

Said Evie, “All the classes and members of SA voted for it because I believe we found a good deal of benefit in having a new system and we understood why having adviser input would have benefit for everyone on the Student Council and everyone in the school. We found nothing but benefit from something like this.”

The new system is based on points and adds two elements to the popular vote: an interview with the Student Association and four class advisers, and an essay. Both are reviewed and ranked by the five advisers.

To determine a winner, the candidate is awarded points for each element. For example, the top vote-getter earns five points; second place gets four points; third place three points, and so on.

Similarly, interviews are scored 1 to 5. However, the advisers have the discretion to award a score of 5 to more than one candidate. The total rankings are added up and points allotted to the candidates in a similar fashion as the popular vote.

Essays are ranked similarly, but only used as a tie-breaker.

Both class leaders noted there is precedent at other high schools to incorporate this type of ranking system.

“The advisers have been hearing about systems like this since 2015,” Evie said. “A bunch of other schools in Michigan were doing it and they got a lot of inspiration from other schools to draft this.”

Student leaders and their advisers took advantage of South’s network as a member of the Michigan Association of Student Councils to reach out to other schools and to Matt Alley, Director of MASC/MAHS, to compare notes. High schools with similar election systems or bylaws include Rochester, Troy and Deer Creek. Waterford Kettering, Midland, Dakota and DeWitt include a teacher component in their election process.

“We consulted with other schools, saw their processes,” Aleena said. “This didn’t come out of thin air.”

Some of the high schools have more stringent requirements than South does, she added. For example, at some schools, students have to apply or attend a leadership class to participate on the Student Council.

“For us, anyone can be on Student Council,” Aleena said. “It’s a club. Anyone can come. Meetings are held after school.”

The meeting in which changes to the election bylaws were discussed and voted on also was open to the entire student body, she said.

‘Even with all the pushback from parents, as student leaders we know that this system was voted on by the students for the students.'
— Aleena Siddiqui, Class of 2022 president

Aleena said it will be important to see how the new system “plays out for the people who are going to be in office for the 2021-22 school year. Is there going to be a little more accountability? Maybe some executive board members weren’t living up to the position and attending all the meetings. It will be interesting to see if attendance improves.”

Revisiting the changes next year will be part of the process, she added.

“We’re all learning together,” she said.

Results of the election were announced May 18, and the class officers hope this will bring an end to the controversy.

Both say they learned a lot from the experience.

“As a leader, I’ve a lot more appreciation for the people around me and the advisers and the students for keeping an open mind when in comparison you have a lot of people in your community who can’t do the same,” Evie said.

“I think this experience just made us all stronger leaders,” Aleena said. “As someone who has been commenting on Facebook posts, I’ve definitely learned about the importance of communication. For many of the parents who have been commenting on the process, just clearly explaining the changes helped solve a lot of issues. We’ve definitely also learned that change is always necessary. From making these changes, we understand that it might not be the perfect system. We’re open and willing to make changes in the future.

“Overall it’s important to listen to the student body when talking about topics that affect them,” she added. “Even with all the pushback from parents, as student leaders we know that this system was voted on by the students for the students. Whether it’s the perfect system of not, it’s something the students have approved of despite opinions from community members.”

AAUW local branch awards STEM scholarships

The Grosse Pointe Branch of the American Association of University Women created five new scholarships this year to recognize graduating senior girls at Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South high schools who indicated a preference for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Receiving $1,500 scholarships were North seniors Mia Cassar and Victoria Treder and South seniors Hayden Barry and Peyton Lancaster.

South senior Alexa Rigotti was awarded a $1,000 STEM Robotics scholarship.

According to a news release, the AAUW Grosse Pointe Branch scholarship committee worked extensively to develop an equitable and fair application with clear objective metrics for evaluation in the selection process. They focused on academic excellence, participation and leadership in school and community, and STEM career goals.

The applicants’ essays weighed heavily in the selection. The essay prompt was, “If you could skip into a time machine and move forward or backward, where would you go and why?”

Hayden Barry, who aspires to a career as a pharmaceutical scientist, responded she wondered what would happen to the world’s climate if there was a nuclear war and whether it would be possible to sustain a country during this time. She wrote she would go back in time to when the first physicist completed a nuclear winter model to understand more about this.

Mia Cassar looks forward to becoming a physician. In her essay, she wrote, “In the midst of the global pandemic, I am personally more than ready for a post-pandemic word; the hope that the future brings in the ‘this too shall pass’ moments motivate me daily.

“This motivation ignites my passion to discover something that I will be able to do in STEM research,” she added.

Peyton Lancaster aspires to become a biomedical engineer.

“I have always been passionate about helping others in any way possible,” she wrote. “The best way I believe I can continue to positively impact other people’s lives is by applying my abilities in science and math in the field of biomedical engineering. Being a biomedical engineer will allow me to develop innovative solutions to complex medical problems.”

Alexa Rigotti is looking forward to a career as a machinist and wrote that she is “a female who does not conform to gender roles, especially in my interests. I am the only female in my high school to do percussion and drumline. I joined the robotics team to learn about machining.”

She added she would “welcome and advocate for female interests, especially in engineering and technical jobs and hobbies.”

Victoria Treder, who plans to pursue a career as a forensic scientist, wrote that she feels “that in order to properly understand the endeavors and accomplishments of my own life, I must credit the historical events that have led me to where I am.

“The concept of historical evaluation and acknowledgment can be applied to any day-to-day situation,” she added.

The Grosse Pointe Branch of AAU began in 1944. Over the years, it has provided fellowship, programs and opportunity to advance equity for women and girls in society. Fundraising provided the means to fund national endowments and scholarships, and local scholarships to women at Wayne State University, Alternatives for Girls, and Macomb Community College. In the last few years, the branch has provided the financial stability to continue and expand its STEM program, currently at Defer Elementary and Pierce Middle schools.

School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email info@gpschools.org.