While graduates from Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South high schools enjoyed traditional outdoor commencement ceremonies before turning their tassels and tossing their caps in celebration, the speeches both evenings focused on a year that was far from normal. Woven throughout were themes of hardship met with resilience and obstacles overcome by perseverance.
In his principal address at Grosse Pointe South’s commencement ceremony Monday night, Moussa Hamka painted a picture 50 years from now.
A middle school student is assigned a class project to interview someone who lived through the Great Pandemic. A South alum, now in their late 60s, is asked: What was it like to live during that time? How did you survive it?
“You will undoubtedly be asked about the numerous challenges you faced,” Hamka said to the seniors seated before him on South’s front lawn. “But as they dig deeper, they will ask you the unexpected outcomes. About the hidden blessings. How your life changed for the better. What will you tell them about your journey? What will you share how your experience shaped you moving forward?
“Your narrative is not yet written,” he continued. “My dream for you is that you would fill that child with the same hope and joy that you have given us. That your story of hardship and perseverance will serve as an inspiration for future generations.”
“This year did not make us stronger; it proved how strong we truly were.”
— Kerrigan Dunham, South student speaker
During North’s commencement ceremony Wednesday evening, Principal Kate Murray told a story of the present — that of the graduates’ strength and endurance during the challenges of the past 15 months.
“The world presented you with an unprecedented situation,” Murray said. “… Then in the middle of all of it, we asked you to learn. We asked you to learn in new and uncharted ways — and you did it. You are sitting here today awaiting the culmination of your academic perseverance. You pressed on. You survived.
“You have also learned to live through constant change,” she continued. “You changed where you learned, you changed how you learned and many of you changed why you learned.”
“If we’ve survived the unknown once, I believe we can do it a million times over because we are Norsemen. Being stranded at sea is both within our comfort zone and a challenge to overcome.”
— Amelia Nowicki, North student speaker
Student speakers encouraged their classmates to take the lessons of the pandemic with them into the future to make a difference.
“You are an artist. You are a visionary. You are essential,” said Jacquelyn Wang, South’s senior class president. “You can be that comet in the sky, trailblazing a path of extraordinary light and color and potential. You can be a disrupter, a cog that refuses to move for the machine, unapologetic and determined. You can be a person with a heart full of human empathy doing the good work, the right work, for the next generation of students like us.”
“It is up to us to be the healers,” said Amelia Nowicki, who delivered North’s commencement address. “Since elementary school, we have been taught to care for those around us and shine a light brighter than any stage or stadium to spread joy and a sense of community that we have been deprived of since the pandemic hit. Take this and run with it as far into the future as you can. Keep valuing what we’ve learned about connections and the longstanding impact of kindness because the world needs our skills and our grace over anything else.”
Pierce WEB leaders welcome fourth graders
Next year’s WEB leaders won’t get their official training until August, but the seventh graders had an opportunity to put their leadership skills to the test when fourth graders from Defer and Maire elementary schools visited on Wednesday. The students were there to tour the building, meet Pierce staff and enjoy a variety of games and activities. The visit culminated with popsicles on the lawn.
WEB stands for Where Everyone Belongs. When selecting WEB leaders, math teacher Jackie Claeys, in her fourth year as WEB adviser, said she looks for strong leadership skills and dedication. The students will need to commit to working with the incoming students at fifth-grade orientation as well as throughout the school year. The focus is on making them feel welcome and comfortable and supporting them both socially and academically.
This year’s 30 WEB leaders include students from OneGP Virtual who are returning to the building for in-person learning. The leaders will receive two days of training before fifth-grade orientation on Aug. 25, when they will spend three hours helping the new students acclimate to the new environment through team-building activities.
This past year, all activities took place remotely. Both orientation and monthly meetings were done through Google Meet. However, WEB leaders were still able to add personal touches, such as sending postcards to the fifth graders, creating Valentine candy grams and making goody bags before M-STEP testing filled with goodies, pencils, paper and test-taking tips.
“They didn’t get a chance to meet in their small groups, but they still got to provide that comfort of knowing there’s someone in the building looking out for them,” Claeys said.
Next year Claeys and her co-adviser, Leslie Dolle, are looking forward to more in-person activities. The students got a taste of this on Wednesday during a host of ice-breaker games, such as poison dart frog, duck-duck-goose, telephone and trivia challenges. The fourth graders also had the opportunity to tour the school, meet their future teachers and counselors, and ask questions.
The seventh graders shared their reasons for applying to become a WEB leader.
“I decided to become a WEB leader because I wanted to help people get used to going to a new school,” Anna VandePutte said. “When I first came to Pierce, I was scared about the number of people there were. But with my WEB leaders, they helped me adapt easily. I wanted to give these kids the same experience.”
“I liked the way my WEB leaders treated me and I wanted to give the new fourth graders the same experience,” Henry Chesterton said.
“I wanted to be a helpful older friend for the fifth graders,” Ellie Sahutske said.
The middle schoolers also had plenty of advice for the incoming fifth graders and tips based on what they wish they had known when they started middle school.
“Be yourself and try to find some good friends,” Luke Parent said.
“I wish I had known that middle school is not as bad as people make it seem to be,” Heidi Bryan said.
“I wish I knew that the teachers love when you speak up to ask questions or answer them,” Verona Relan said. “They love knowing you are engaged and liking their lessons.”
“I said I promise things will get less scary as time moves on and, in the meantime, these WEB leaders are here to help with anything you need,” Kayla McFarland said.
“I told them about how to open lockers and what the best routes are and which bathrooms are the best,” Ellie Sahutske said.
“It’s easy once you get a groove,” she added. “Just be patient for a month and a half and everything will be fine.”
Ferry fourth-graders leave a legacy
Next year, Ferry Elementary School fourth graders are headed to Parcells Middle School, but not before they leave a legacy in their wake. On Sunday, June 6, about 30 students showed up to help beautify their school grounds as a parting gift.
This year’s class gift — a Ferry tradition — was inspired by the fact that the fourth-grade promotion ceremony on June 16 will be held outdoors due to COVID. The best use of the funds raised, parents decided, was to landscape the school campus for this event — pulling weeds, tending gardens and sprucing up flower beds.
A particular area of focus was the front lawn by the Ferry sign where the promotion ceremony will take place. The drop-off area already had been revived thanks to the efforts of the Girl Scouts, who about a month before planted flowers in the flowerbed torn up during summer construction.
Another part of the class gift was to purchase two new benches to replace worn wooden benches donated by a teacher years ago and to refurbish the book house that also had seen better days, according to fourth-grade parent Leslie Genest.
Taking time over the weekend, the students arrived in three shifts to tackle weeding, mulching, planting and general garden clean-up.
“The kids were amazing,” Genest said. “They put on gloves, got right to it, weeding, planting, hauling bags of mulch.”
Each fourth grader signed their name on the repainted book house, which now contains a plaque that reads: “To Ferry. Reach for the stars” — the theme for the year.
As PTO president this year and last, Genest witnessed the growth of the fourth graders over the past months. Like many parents, she is both anxious and excited about the transition to middle school.
Among the fourth graders, it was mainly excitement in evidence during their tour of Parcells last Friday, Genest said.
“They loved seeing the big school. They loved seeing the activities that are available — the clubs and sports.”
The challenge is leaving the comfort and familiarity of Ferry.
“Ferry is so close-knit,” Genest said. “It’s such a lovely little place for our children. It’s just hard to imagine them leaving the building. It doesn’t matter if they’re going into fifth grade or sixth grade. We have such a fondness for the school.”
However, in her view, the students are “excited and they’re ready.”
Child care classes offered next fall
After about a 10-year hiatus, child care services are returning to the school district as an elective for high school juniors and seniors.
Andrea Gruenwald, life skills teacher at Parcells Middle School, has wanted to bring child care classes back to Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South for a few years now. In October of 2018, she presented the idea of reviving the class to the Board of Education, which approved it. However, enrollment numbers weren’t high enough for the course to run at either high school.
This spring, the district approved the class for the 2021-22 program of studies even if it fell below the 20-student minimum. Curriculum directors Maureen Bur and Keith Howell agreed the class was mutually beneficial to both high school students seeking the job experience and the preschool, Young 5 and kindergarten programs.
“What an amazing opportunity for our high school students,” Howell said. “This class is an opportunity to spark interest where students might consider early childhood education as a career pathway. The world needs qualified educators, especially in early childhood education.”
The class will be scheduled during a double block of sixth and seventh hour. It’s geared “to anyone who has an interest in one day working with children — teacher, pediatrician, school psychologist, or anyone who wants to be a parent,” Gruenwald said. “This is information you don’t get anywhere else.”
Students receive job skills that could place them directly into a childcare facility out of high school or be hired by the district once they turn 18. It could be a part-time job after school.
Students will shadow teachers in the satellite preschool, Young 5 and kindergarten programs. Teachers will indicate they are willing to host a student helper by responding to a survey. Placements will follow based on teacher feedback and interests as well as enrollment and student preference.
Students will conduct a self-evaluation weekly and their host teacher will evaluate them each quarter. Gruenwald, who is the family consumer sciences department chair for the north end of the district, will serve as the teacher on record and conduct regular observations of the students’ progress.
The long-term goal is to apply for career and technical education funding from the state. In fact, Gruenwald and Patti O’Hare, department chair at the south end, wrote the curriculum to align with CTE Teacher Cadet funding.
“It’s a lot of paperwork, but we’re happy to do it if we get that money to benefit the schools,” Gruenwald said.
Students interested in enrolling in the class should contact their high school counselor or email Gruenwald at email@example.com.
GPPSS school psychologists and school social workers created a quarterly newsletter this year to address the mental health needs of students, teachers and parents during a difficult year.
The “Summer Sendoff” issue includes words and resources to inspire people throughout the summer. It highlights developmental milestones for all ages, summer enrichment activities, fun summer activities, and summer-themed mindfulness activities and yoga for kids.
Check out previous issues and a link to mental health resources for families.
School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email firstname.lastname@example.org.