Education

SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN 1840, THE BERKLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS ENJOYED REMARKABLE SUPPORT from the community, including businesses and families outside of the District.

“The incredible success Berkley students experience is possible in part because of the overwhelming community support provided at every level to ensure they are provided with a state-of-the-art educational experience,” explains Director of Communications, Jessica Stilger.

SUPERINTENDENT DENNIS MCDAVID BEAMS ABOUT HIS STAFF. “WE ARE NOW WELL UNDERWAY into our 2020-21 school year. The year has started out with remote learning, and I am incredibly proud of all our students for their perseverance. I am also deeply proud of our educators for their willingness to try new things and be nimble during this online learning time. They have stretched themselves to make sure they can deliver content with fidelity and form meaningful relationships with their students. I have never been more proud of our team for putting students first and thinking of all the ways we can support our learners while learning remotely.

“While this school year does look and feel differently, some things are still the same. Over the Summer of 2020, we had quite a lot of Sinking Fund work completed. Roof work was completed at Rogers, BHS, Anderson, Building Blocks and Burton. Parking lots were re-paved and repaired at Norup and BHS. Media Center carpet was replaced at Angell, Burton, Rogers, Anderson and Norup. We have many more projects in the works for this coming year. We are grateful for the community’s ongoing support and investment in our schools.

“We prepare our students to be creative, curious, confident, and critical thinkers. This year, we will reinforce these principals with the notion of being flexible and adaptable to ever changing situations. We know our students are up to the challenge because they are always impressing us with their knowledge, growth mindset and their ability to adapt to ever changing situations.

“Our students enjoy the multitude of experiences and successes because of the overwhelming community support, the fantastic work of their great teachers and administrators and the rich and vibrant environments that parents create. We believe we are all in this together for the benefit of all our children.”

THERE ARE SEVERAL WAYS ONE CAN BECOME A PART of the Berkley School District. Residents who live within the District’s boundaries are welcome to register directly with the enrollment office. If a family is uncertain whether their residence is within the boundaries, there is a map available online or at the enrollment office.

Each year, the Board of Education also has the opportunity to approve School of Choice slots for a limited number of students in grades TK-5, and there are a set number of openings in 9th grade for the Berkley High School (BHS) Scholars program. Although the Board has approved the School of Choice slots the last several years, availability is reassessed on an annual basis and the continuation of this program is not guaranteed. Additionally, if the number of applications for School of Choice received after the program is approved exceed the number of openings, a lottery is held to place students. If a student’s name is drawn, they will be allowed into the District.

According to the District, Berkley students “are prepared to be creative, curious, confident, and well-rounded critical thinkers who are kind and caring and have a global perspective while understanding their communities.” The District has been named one of the state’s recipients of the Best Community for Music Education award nine years in a row.

BHS was named a Best High School by the U.S. News & World Report in 2020, among the top eight percent of high schools in the nation. In 2018, it was one of 175 schools in Michigan to be honored with the GreatShools.org College Success award, demonstrating the District’s commitment to preparing its students for continued success after graduation. BHS was also named to the Washington Post’s 2017 Most Challenging High Schools list, ranking 21st in Michigan and 1,575 in the nation.

“Berkley School District is known for being dedicated to creating pathways for students to achieve their individual best, whatever that looks like for each student,” says Stilger. And Superintendent McDavid is leading the charge, ensuring students are supported not only while achieving their educational goals, but also while reaching their career goals after they move forward in their journey.

BHS CURRENTLY OFFERS 26 ADVANCED PLACEMENT COURSES and students are able to attend courses at the Oakland Schools Technical Centers. Outside-of-the-box courses include zoology, forensics, Encore! show choir, creative writing, film studies, history of the Holocaust, marketing, computer programming and many more. Students can also participate in the school’s newspaper, or learn robotics, foreign languages or video production while still in middle school. Many middle school students complete high school credits while attending Anderson or Norup.

Berkley’s elementary schools offer opportunities for children to excel at their own level and pace by utilizing the Cultures of Thinking & Writing Workshop models. This allows administrators to gage each student’s individual needs for furthering their academic growth.

Berkley offers a wealth of opportunities for middle school and high school students to join clubs and sports. Middle school sports include softball, base-ball, football, basketball, track and field, cross country, wrestling, swimming, volleyball, golf, tennis, and clubs include yearbook, robotics, and art and drama. BHS offers football, basketball, swimming, soccer, wrestling, and cheerleading, among others, as well as club sports including hockey, figure skating, the dance team, and rugby. At BHS, students can join over 60 clubs, including unique offerings such as the vine-and-cheese club, drama, and the future teachers club.

Berkley’s students have been named All-State and Academic All-State honorary recipients for activities such as swimming, track and field, baseball, golf, hockey, and soccer. Twelve student athletes signed with colleges and universities during the 2018-19 school year. The BHS Orchestra was also one of three high school orchestras nationwide invited to play at Carnegie Hall in 2019 for the World Stride Music Festival and Berkley High School was the first school in the state to adopt Sources of Strength, a peer-led wellness program that benefits all students.

By Brandon Jiles

THE OAK PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT BOASTS AN ABUNDANCE OF EDUCATIONAL and co/extra-curricular programs to meet the needs of a vast array of learners from Pre-K through twelfth grade. We encourage students to challenge themselves academically, explore comprehensive course offerings and take risks to discover their individual gifts.

We are dedicated to providing an intellectually challenging educational experience in safe, nurturing school environments that thrive on cultivating and empowering students to be their authentic selves. In addition, our academic and co/extra-curricular opportunities provide agency and shape self-identity, which are critical components to the adolescent development process.

Oak Park School District’s nearly 4,500 students are served at Einstein, Key, and Pepper elementary schools (grades PreK-5), the Oak Park Preparatory Academy (grades 6-8), Oak Park High School (grades 9-12), NOVA (grades 3-12) the Oak Park Alternative Education Center (ages 16-19 years old) and My Virtual Academy of Oak Park (grades 5-12), in Oak Park, a suburban community with approximately 30,000 residents. Our District consists of over 450 staff members, including 250 teachers and 11 building administrators.

The Oak Park advantage is a holistic approach to education that not only prepares students academically but also fosters a sense of belonging and creates long-lasting connections to the Oak Park community. While attending Oak Park Schools, students develop a confidence that is woven throughout their post-secondary, professional, and social emotional well-being years after they graduate.

“We take pride in our commitment to fostering a diverse teaching staff that is inclusive of everyone. It’s integral to our culture as we aim to empower our students to bring their best self, unique perspectives, and talents to the classroom every day,” said Brandon Jiles, Communications Coordinator.

Commitment to student growth and emphasis on athletics and the arts are just a handful of the many Oak Park advantages. The Wade McCree Incentive Scholarship Program offers four-year scholarships to attend Oakland University for Oak Park High School students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA and score at least 1060 on the SAT. Our comprehensive educational and enrichment programs allow us to distinctively meet the needs of all learners in Oak Park.

IN ADDITION TO THE MAJOR ACADEMIC AREAS, COURSES ARE OFFERED in art, music, physical education, computer science, foreign language, bilingual education, alternative education, advanced placement, co-op, work-study, special education and college prep, advanced placement courses at the Center for Advanced Studies and Arts (CASA). Special facilities include the state-of-the-art Hoffman planetarium, a TV studio, multi-lingual studies, and computer labs.

Despite the COVID 19 pandemic, Oak Park Schools had an award-winning 2020. Oak Park High School teacher Owen Bondono was named the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year (MTOY). Bondono will be entering his sixth year of teaching English language arts in the fall. Prior to teaching, he worked as a para-professional in the classroom for four years. Bondono’s selection as the 2020-21 MTOY began with the nomination of more than 400 teachers last fall.

“Ultimately, teaching is an expression of my love for humanity. My way of making my mark on the world is making the next generation better. I know that growing the next generation of humanity is a community effort, so I will create that community wherever I find it,” Bondono said.

In addition to our educational programs, a wide variety of extra-curricular activities keeps students involved after school as well. We have robotics teams, a national honor society, and an outstanding athletic department, including a championship football program led by Hall of Fame Coach Greg Carter, and MHSAA Division 1 State Champions the last five out of six years in girls track and field. And we are home of 2020 Gatorade Michigan girls track and field athlete of the year, Aasia Laurencin, and an award-winning marching band known all over the country.

By Mary Meldrum

IT ALL BEGAN WHEN THE OAK PARK LIBRARY ADMINISTRATION CALLED AND ASKED IF SHE WOULD LIKE TO INTERVIEW FOR THE JOB OF DIRECTOR. At the time, for Dr. Karen White-Owens, it seemed like a good change from her job as director at the Lennox Twp. Library in Macomb, not to mention being closer to home.

SHE BEGAN HER POSITION IN OAK PARK ON MARCH 2, AND ALMOST IMMEDIATELY the Library was forced to shut down because of the pandemic. She is happy that the Oak Park Public Library is one of the few that are now open – or, kind-of, anyway. They are only open for grab-and-go, 30-minute visits. You can come in, get what you need and leave. White-Owens explained that people can come and talk to a reference librarian.

White-Owens is an administrator; her role is to make sure that the Library runs properly and that people get in and get the service they need. She performs the scheduling and programming. White-Owens is passionate about programming, and wants to launch a parking-lot-decorating program for example.

“People think libraries are stiff and boring. We give them chalk and other things and they can draw or paint their parking space to reflect what they want to see in their library.” Karen is creative with programming.

She likes for the staff to enjoy programming too. “If you have job satisfaction you will enjoy your work. One member loved science, and we were able to offer many learning experiences around science. We called her “Kathy the Science Lassie,” and she loved it.”

WHITE-OWENS IS A WRITER AND HAS WRITTEN 15 fiction and one nonfiction book. You can find them on Amazon and Overdrive (eBooks).

I asked her if she had a favorite from her creations and she said, “I wrote one that earned a lot of awards; a story about a woman who was really a foster child. The lead character finds her family but they reject her. That book is called Circles of Love.

“When I started writing, I had a goal: First, a paperback, then a hardcover, then a movie deal. I came close to the movie deal. Lifetime Movie Network came calling once, but it didn’t work out.”

White-Owens shared, “I started writing when my mom was sick. Sadly, she passed and never saw any of my books. Writing gives me a place to go. You read to write and write to read. I used to love to read the Detroit Free Press.”

Spare time: “I like to read and go to the movies. October is anti-bullying month. I love to watch the original Karate Kid movie. I love movies; everything but horror. Suspense or thriller, I love that kind of stuff.”

“EVERY WEEK I HAVE A TOPIC RELATED TO WRITING your first novel. There are also stories for children. In November, we will have the children read to the Director of the Children’s Library.”

“We are all navigating this very unusual time. When it is over, I have plans for all types of fun things I want to do with the community.”

Karen encouraged me to go to the website for the Oak Park Public Library. There are many new things to do posted on the site. The Library is open for business! Make time for a visit.

www.oakparkmi.gov/departments/library

By Sarah Teller
Photos by Bill Gemmell

JOYFUL TOTS CHILDCARE & LEARNING CENTER originally began as an in-home service for school-aged children in 1999.

Four years later, in 2003, when Director Tamara Jefferson decided to expand services to families with babies and toddlers, the business grew quickly and before long it was time to find a new space.

“I was living in Oak Park and knew I had to find a place that was close to home,” Jefferson explained. “We opened our first building in 2007 and a second in 2008. Now we have Joyful Babies, Joyful Tots and Joyful Scholars for children ages 3-5, all in separate buildings.”

Over the past 21 years the company has continued to grow, and most recently Jefferson opened Ology on W. 9 Mile in Oak Park, offering tutoring services and activities for home-schooled, unschooled, private and public school-aged children. Joyful Tots is also set to expand to Roseville in the near future.

WHAT TRULY MAKES THE COMPANY STAND OUT is the staff’s commitment to promoting health and wellness.

“I am a naturopathic doctor,” Jefferson said. “And what I’ve found is that eating a healthy diet really cuts down on illness. In the beginning, we were taking in children with a lot of health issues – everything from thyroid problems to pre-diabetes, some on dialysis. I wanted to do something to help.”

She fondly remembers one child who had significant thyroid problems. The staff gave him avocados and iodine, which he loved, and gradually the dosage of medication he was on was reduced until eventually eliminated altogether. “That was just amazing,” Jefferson recalled, and she credits her dedicated staff for standing behind her efforts.

“We adore our children,” she said. “When parents call and say, ‘We are so grateful to you for what you have taught our children,’ there’s no way to describe that feeling. Brain development, and social and emotional connection is so important. We work to help them become great compassionate leaders. They will one day be in charge of our food supply, our water, our agriculture. We really want to help develop bright young children who are compassionate givers, and we cater to the mind, body and spirit of every child. We even have a karate program here that teaches responsibility and discipline.”

JOYFUL TOTS IS A MEMBER OF THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE and supports many local activities and events through the year.

“We buy and donate gifts to families at the holidays, and the children love it,” Jefferson said. “We do a lot with the City of Oak Park. We help sponsor the Winterfest and Summerfest, daddy/ daughter dances and the BooFest. We were the 2018 Grand Marshal for the business district at the 4th of July parade, and we just sponsored a reading program with the Farmer’s Market.

She added, “We had our annual graduation ceremony this year at Shepherd Park where families are able to decorate and fly kites. It was a really great turn out.”

THE OUTDOOR CEREMONY ALLOWED FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING, which Joyful Tots has voluntarily instituted within the center as well in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Temperatures are now taken at the door and a virus vaporizer service cleanses the interior once a week. Jefferson said the facility is focusing on everyone’s safety while ensuring not to instill fear in the children.

Above all, she said the staff is dedicated to the carrying out the center’s mission statement, which is, in part, to “develop life-long learners by offering innovative, full day, year-round, educational early learning and primary programs that address the whole child…as providers of a creative learning environment, we help to instill confidence, self-worth, a healthy lifestyle and good morals.”

For more information on all of Joyful Tots’ programs, please visit joyfultots.com or ologyforkids.com, email joyful@joyfultots.com or call 248.399.4569.