It takes a village
Pierce students invite the community to explore their snowman park
The challenge was to carve a snowman out of a Styrofoam block. The Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce created this holiday scavenger hunt as a fun outdoor activity for families. Over 70 snowmen were crafted by local businesses and organizations, including Grosse Pointe public schools and central administration’s new offices at 20601 Morningside in Grosse Pointe Woods.
Jane Plieth and her art students at Pierce Middle School turned their snowman block into an entire snowman village park and titled it “It Takes a Village … to raise a middle schooler.”
Mrs. Plieth wrote the artist statement based on conversations with her students.
“It follows the theme of ‘get outside’ with an added thought of helping with teen anxiety,” she said.
She posed the following questions: What if you had no park to meet friends? What if you couldn’t afford a hot drink on a cold day? What if you just wanted a flower?
According to the statement, “The Pierce Snowman Village Park is here to help you soothe your soul, pep up your activity and socialize safely with others. We know that the last two years have changed our way of living. It’s hard to stay positive.”
The park includes plenty of positive signage “to remind you that you are loved,” the statement continues. “You can rest in the drink areas or under the sides of the skating rink where we have socially distanced cubby spaces with lavender scent and soothing music from local student musicians.
“If and when you decide to pep up you can choose from so many outdoor activities. Zip lining, luge tubing, sledding and ice skating. All of these are offered 24 hours with adult supervision and a clinic just in case you get a bump or bruise.”
The statement concludes with the following reminder: “We hope you enjoy our park and remember that Trojans are always your friend.”
Mrs. Plieth gives a special shout-out to her students Ella Andrews, Heidi Bryan, Ethan Hundley, Liam Reeves, Nora Shalhoub and Eva Zoyes for their contributions. And because it truly takes a village, she enlisted the help of her neighbors, Keiran and Eloise Purcells, a sixth grader at Parcells and fourth grader at Monteith Elementary School, to put on the finishing touches.
The snowman village can be viewed at the Chamber office at 106 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms.
“The Chamber is displaying Pierce’s Snowman Village Park because the location of the Chamber is in a central location within the community with heavy foot traffic that will bring awareness of Pierce Middle School and the message they are sharing about their Village Park,” Chamber President Jenny Boettcher said.
Its presence also may entice visitors to stop in and pick up the Map of Frosty Snowmen, also available online.
Other snowmen created by GPPSS students and staff can be viewed in the windows at Ferry Elementary, Brownell, Parcells and Pierce middle schools, and the central administration offices at 20601 Morningside.
Digging through the archives
It started as a Genius Hour project.
Genuis Hour allows students to explore their own passions in the classroom for approximately an hour each week, according to Ean Williams, who teaches the grade 3-4 magnet classroom at Richard Elementary School.
This could range from narwhals and black holes to hockey pucks and nasal passages, depending on what a particular student chose to dive into, Mr. Williams said, citing a few examples from his students.
Third grader Anna Wahl expressed interest in looking up the history of Richard.
Typically, students use the library and other resources to conduct their research; Mr. Williams realized Anna would need to take another approach.
“We looked up Gabriel Richard but we couldn’t really even find a lot of information on that,” he said. “I was kind of struggling to find something concrete for her project.”
Principal John Kernan directed him to the archives in the school’s attic. That’s when Mr. Williams realized he could tie the project into the class’s study on primary vs. secondary sources — and a class project was born.
“I thought it would be beneficial for all the kids to see it,” he said. “We’d been talking about artifacts and primary sources. It’s coming from the initial place; it’s not somebody else writing about it. Which is hard to come by for a lot of history lessons. When I’m teaching about Native Americans, I don’t have anything to hand students that are the original documents because they’re all in museums. So, it’s cool that we have this treasure trove of documents that kids can touch. It makes it that much more interesting for them.”
Mr. Williams had introduced the difference between primary and secondary sources during an earlier social studies lesson, providing different task cards and having the students determine if it was a primary or secondary source.
Having the opportunity to hold actual artifacts from their school — newspaper clippings, letters from superintendents, photos, yearbooks and other documents — brought the concept alive to the students. Mr. Williams laid out different documents on the table and provided magnifying glasses and gloves — “These documents have lasted 80, 90 years; I wanted to make sure they last for another 80, 90 years,” he said — and the students dove into their study.
They filled out an investigation document, listing what kind of document it was, when it was made, and who made it. Some of this information was easier to obtain than others. For example, while it was easy to determine the date on a newspaper clipping, not all photographs had the dates on the back. Some included names, which was helpful. The students did their best with whatever clues were available.
“I had them write down what they observed,” Mr. Williams said. “That’s when I heard the kids say, ‘They dressed really fancy back then.’ Or when they looked at a class picture, they said, ‘Everyone looks so serious and sad.’”
One student, looking at a photograph of students in a cooking class, inquired why only girls were pictured.
Several students recognized their own classroom in photos based on original cabinetry still in the room even after the building renovations. Mr. Williams, who previously suspected his classroom was once a music room after observing cushiony material in the walls during summer renovations, noted that one student found a picture of a person playing the piano in what he determined was their classroom based on that same cabinetry.
“It was cool to make that connection,” he said.
Recognizing that students couldn’t get all their answers just by looking at the document, Mr. Williams asked them to write down things the document made them wonder.
He also put the project within a broader concept of a timeline. For example, with Richard opening in 1930, the student pored over many photos from the 1930s. A picture from 1938, for example, may seem old, “but there are still people living from that time,” Mr. Williams pointed out. To visualize the difference, he directed their attention to a timeline in his classroom indicating the existence of Native Americans in the region from around 400-10 BCE and even earlier.
The class will move onto the state of Michigan in their social studies class, but Mr. Williams believes that even though this extension unit occurred by serendipity, he will revisit it in the future. He also shared it with third grade classes.
“It’s more meaningful than a slideshow or just reading about something,” he said. “It’s real-life history.”
Alumni Through the Decades
Craig Spencer, MD, MPH
Grosse Pointe North High School
Class of 1999
Had Craig Spencer not spent his last year and a half of high school at Grosse Pointe North, his life might have taken a completely different direction.
“I undoubtedly wouldn’t have had the academic foundation or the people to push me if it weren’t for Grosse Pointe North,” he said. “It may sound a little cliché, but as someone who didn’t spend all my time there but transferred in, I immediately felt the difference. The support I had from Kate (Murray) and other people was essential. I don’t know if I would even have gone to college. No one in my family had gone to college. There was no one who had gotten a career after high school. I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but I had no idea how to get there.”
Craig grew up in Redford. Halfway through his 10th grade year, his family moved to Grosse Pointe, mainly due to the school system.
“I had a brother and a sister and my parents were looking for a different place for schooling, which obviously a few years later I greatly appreciated,” he said.
His initial plan was to be a sharkologist — until he discovered no such thing existed.
Later he set his sights on becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“That was my passion and that was why I went to medical school,” he said. “That’s not at all where I ended up, but that’s what got me into medicine.”
While an undergraduate at Wayne State University, Craig studied medieval history — “as all budding physicians do” — because of his passion for the subject after taking advanced placement European history at North with Crosby Washburne.
He describes Mr. Washburne, now retired, as an “absolutely incredible teacher.”
“He got me interested in doing my undergraduate degree in something I’m still interested in,” Craig said. “Now I have melded my history background with public health. I now teach a history of public health in a humanitarian setting. I think there’s a direct line with the people I met at North and what I am doing now.”
Another influential teacher at North was Guido Regelbrugge, “an unmissable force,” who died in 2005.
“He was absolutely amazing. He both humored me and pushed me and gave me a hard time because he could tell I wasn’t the student I was capable of being. I wasn’t the best student, but I wasn’t the worst student. I was good enough. He was absolutely essential, one in learning French and also pushing me to be better.”
Craig went directly to WSU’s School of Medicine after he graduated, and his first summer of medical school he embarked on an international project. It was his first time out of the country and he loved it.
“That summer I started thinking about how I really liked this and wanted to do more international work,” Craig said. “Shortly after that I talked with my adviser and he said that was a horrible idea.”
He didn’t listen to his advisor; his third year of medical school he went to China, mainly to learn public health, but picking up Mandarin Chinese along the way.
He also met his wife, Morgan, who is from Cincinnati and was also studying in China.
Craig completed his final year of medical school, then worked a few months in Guatemala and Costa Rica before moving to New York City, where he completed his residency in emergency medicine from 2008 to 2011.
While working in West Africa seven years ago as part of Doctors Without Borders, Craig became infected with Ebola. He returned to the U.S. for treatment.
“Thankfully I was lucky enough to survive thanks to great medical care, unlike a lot of the people I was treating in West Africa,” he said. “I am just very grateful to be here since certainly the odds were not in my favor.”
He continues to suffer from some long-term memory loss — a challenge he wrote about last year in the Washington Post, in which he shared his personal experiences, comparing it to long-term symptoms resulting from COVID-19.
While he spent most of 2014 in the hospital, in 2015 he ran the New York City marathon, setting a personal record. Overall, he considers himself “lucky to survive relatively unscathed” from the disease.
Craig currently teaches public health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in northern Manhattan and works clinically at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
For students who are interested in pursuing medicine as a career, Craig acknowledges there is rough terrain, but the job is rewarding.
“I tell people I have the best job in the world,” he added. “You never have to ask if you’re making a difference, but it really is difficult. Being an advocate for healthcare is under attack and has been under attack during the pandemic. We need help in bolstering health care or we’re going to be in trouble the next time a pandemic hits, whether it’s in a couple years or a decade.”
Craig has shared his medical expertise in a variety of forums, including in a special streaming special on Aug. 6, 2020, in which he talked with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as part of a report on “Resetting Our Response: Changes Needed in the U.S. Response to COVID-19.”
One of his biggest concerns is equitable access to healthcare.
“I don’t want to say the medical system in the U.S. is broken because you can great really great care if you have access, but it’s really inequitable.”
It was access to a good education that made all the difference for him.
“We sometimes forget this is the biggest priority for families or the biggest priority for students, but there isn’t always the access,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for North, I might not have gone to college and my trajectory would have been different. I’m grateful for that.”
Parcells Holiday Bazaar
Join us for Parcells Middle School’s 46th annual Holiday Arts and Crafts Bazaar on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 (12 and under and employees with a GPPSS badge are free). Go to www.parcellsbazaar.com for more information.
The Parcells PTO has prided itself on offering the community an all handmade holiday art and craft bazaar annually. Established in 1975, the Parcells Holiday Bazaar is the oldest running and largest arts and craft show in the Grosse Pointes.
School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email email@example.com.