A season of giving

Students give back through community service and learning projects

Left, Andrea Gruenwald demonstrates to Parcells students how to rub butter under the turkey skin. Right, Millie Vollmer, a seventh grader at Brownell, heats butter to make the roux, or brown gravy, for the turkey.

Things got a bit heated in Taylor Barcyzk and Andrea Gruenwald’s middle school family and consumer sciences classrooms this week — literally.

Every oven in their classrooms was set at 500 degrees as students prepared and then roasted turkeys for distribution by Motor City Mitten Mission to homeless people throughout metro Detroit.

Dr. Barcyzk and Mrs. Gruenwald, teachers at Brownell and Parcells, respectively, teamed up again this year to roast turkeys for Thanksgiving.

It started about 12 years ago “with a mom asking us to cook a turkey for her,” Dr. Barczyk said. “Then we were like, ‘Hey, wait a second, we could do this for a larger group. We could start partnering up.’ The next year we asked people for some turkey donations. It’s become an annual school-wide thing where parents donate turkeys and we cook them up.”

In the past, Brownell donated cooked turkeys to Grosse Pointe Memorial Church’s Everybody Eats program and Parcells donated turkeys to Crossroads of Michigan and the organizations did the rest.

This year, the order was a bit taller: to make 150 complete meals, including turkeys and all the fixings. The two teachers recruited colleagues and students from Pierce’s family and consumer sciences classes along with Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South culinary classes to help. Brownell and Parcells prepared the turkeys, gravy and mashed potatoes. South was responsible for the vegetables, North for the cornbread muffins and Pierce made desserts.

On Friday, Brownell (top photo) and Parcells (bottom photo) students boxed up a total of 150 meals for pickup by Motor City Mitten Mission.

“It’s really cool because they’re going to take the meals to the homeless where they live in abandoned houses in places like 8 Mile and Woodward, under bridges and overpasses,” Dr. Barcyzk said. “They know where all the homeless people are, so they drive their van up to the areas and give them what they need.”

A SignUpGenius link requesting donations from families, from turkeys to aluminum pans and pounds of unsalted butter, was filled within days.

“Everyone so generously and graciously donated,” Dr. Barcyzk said. “We’re really thankful to work in this community because so many people support the schools and it’s so kind. Kids are walking in with two turkeys in their backpacks! It’s quite the scene.”

On Thursday, Dr. Barczyk taught her students the art of making a roux, a cooked mixture of butter or other fat and flour used to thicken sauces and soups — and perfect to make brown gravy using turkey drippings.

Students at Parcells prepared and roasted turkeys using a classic recipe from The Food Network’s Alton Brown — “the food science guy.”

“We trust that he knows the right way to do everything,” Mrs. Gruenwald said.

While cooking 75 turkeys is a major undertaking, one of the benefits is that each kitchen group in all hours of the day has the opportunity to participate from start to finish — prepping, roasting and carving the turkeys, Mrs. Gruenwald added.

Both teachers agree the students did a great job.

“I had a kid last hour say, ‘Hey, this is actually the coolest thing we’ve ever made,” Mrs. Gruenwald said.

All set for Friendsgiving

As someone who makes ceramic pottery, Pierce Middle School art teacher Jane Plieth knows what hard work it is. After her seventh-grade art students successfully completed an assignment of making three ceramic pieces — a plate, bowl and cup — she wanted to let them know how proud she was of their work.

To show her gratitude, she prepared a Friendsgiving meal for them. Her sixth-grade students, who had a class the hour before, set the table ahead of time, paying it forward for when it’s their turn next year, Mrs. Plieth said.

“You guys did an amazing job,” Mrs. Plieth told the seventh graders. “My give-back to you guys is to say thank you for working so hard, coming back to full face to face, doing your best with a mask on — on the potter’s wheel! That was hard.”

The Friendsgiving meal consisted of Boar’s Head turkey sandwiches dressed with stuffing and lettuce, yams prepared with cranberry sauce, nutmeg, cinnamon and butter, homemade mashed potatoes (complete with lumps), gravy, greens and, for dessert, Mrs. Plieth’s mother’s homemade apple crisp and cookies baked by two of the students.

While students successfully completed their own place settings for their meal, they did encounter one “epic fail,” according to Mrs. Plieth. After watching a video of Native American Indian weaving baskets, they set out to make their own. The finished products — with one notable exception, a basket woven by Chloe Slawson — were less than optimal, but Jane said she still considered them art and displayed them as decorative pieces on the table.

Alumni Through the Decades

Our 100th anniversary series on GPPSS alumni continues

Ryan Foster, pictured here with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, worked with the governor’s office to host a press conference on behalf of the American Heart Association. Courtesy photos

Ryan Foster
Grosse Pointe North High School
Class of 2007

Ryan Foster knew since she was 7 years old that she wanted to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.

What planted the seed was watching a TV sitcom called A Different World about a group of students at a historically Black university who struggle to make it through college. While the show was set at a fictional college called Hillman, it was shaped by showrunner Debbie Allen’s time at Howard University.

“The show followed young Black people around campus and showed their experiences,” Ryan said. “Everyone was Black. That was something I hadn’t experienced before.”

The characters also were all different, she added — from nerdy to Bohemian.

“I thought it was the coolest show and the coolest school,” she said.

Another inspiration was Howard alumna, Zora Neale Hurston, author of the 1937 Harlem Renaissance classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston has been Ryan’s favorite author since she was introduced to her by her English teacher at North, Geoffrey Young.

“So many influential Black people went there, I just felt that was where I needed to go,” Ryan said. “And there I went. Everyone was applying to seven schools. I literally only applied to Howard and got in and was like — done!”

Ryan has no regrets about her decision. In fact, the experience was so phenomenal, she said, she wants her sons — she has a 7-year-old named Conner and is expecting a second boy in early March — to go there.

She also worked with two other North alumni and Howard University graduates to make this dream possible for others. Ryan, along with 2007 classmate Deontay Morris and 2006 graduate Korene Jones Smith, created a scholarship for a North graduate to attend a historically Black college or university.

While at North, Ryan and Deontay both worked on the student newspaper North Pointe, and went on to work together at Howard on The Hilltop, the nation’s oldest Black collegiate newspaper, co-founded by Zora Neale Hurston in 1924.

According to Ryan, journalism was her “thing” during her time at North. She started at North Pointe as a reporter, then was features editor and, by her senior year, she was one of three co-editors-in-chief. Her first mentor was Elizabeth (Penny) Soby, a longtime GPPSS teacher whose last position before retiring in 2006 was serving as North Pointe adviser. Fresh off this experience, Ryan started off her college career as a journalism major, working for The Hilltop as a writer and editor.

Her experience with North Pointe prepared her for the rigors of writing for a newspaper that came out five days a week, she said.

However, halfway through, she decided to switch from journalism to public relations, noting that the skills she developed in the one field carried through to the other.

After graduating from Howard in 2011, Ryan went on to pursue a master’s degree in public relations and organizational communications from Wayne State University. Following a stint in marketing for General Motors, she did marketing and communications work for a variety of non-profit organizations, serving as the communications director at the American Heart Association for Michigan for a few years. She is currently a press secretary for Mayor Mike Duggan.

Ryan credits her teachers at North for her educational and career trajectories, in particular Mrs. Soby and Mr. Young.

“Mr. Young was literally my favorite teacher,” she said. “He was the first Black teacher I ever had. He recommended so many readings to me and so many authors I had never heard of. He made it his business to get to know the students personally. It wasn’t just the coursework we discussed, but he took note of the things I was interested in — what I would talk about in class — and recommended authors I should look into and opened up my eyes to more things than we talked about in class. I was a voracious reader. It was so great to have a teacher who took note of that and suggested things that I probably wouldn’t have run into myself.”

In fact, every time Mr. Young recommended a book, Ryan said her mother would purchase a hardcover copy for her to keep.

“Reading is so important,” Ryan said, adding she still has those books in her home in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Mark your calendar

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