Monthly Archives: April 2014

Mock Crash Delivers High Impact Warning Before Prom & Graduation

This past Saturday marked Allendale High School’s Senior Prom: a night of dancing and new dresses, polished shoes and dinner out.

But local police officers know that for some, prom means pushing boundaries and making choices that have lasting consequences. That’s why they used Friday afternoon to host a “mock crash” at AHS to demonstrate to students the real effects of drinking and driving — and the devastation of the aftermath.

crashScene, Allendale High School

Jake Mucha, Allendale’s school resource officer organized the event long with four students who acted in the crash.

  • 1 girl [driver] pretended to die in the crash
  • 1 girl [driver] pretended to be an intoxicated driver, causing the crash
  • 1 boy [passenger] was “injured” and fled the scene, eventually tracked down by the police K-9 unit
  • 1 boy [passenger] had to be extricated from the car


Allendale High School

With the help of the Allendale Fire Department and the generosity of Allendale Towing who donated the cars, the police department brought in two vehicles, already crashed, and staged them to resemble a head-on collision. Officer Mucha welcomed all upperclassmen outside and set the scene for them:

“Kaileigh and Sam were on their way to prom after attending a pre-prom party where they were drinking. Coupled with Kaileigh’s intoxicated state and being distracted by her passenger, she crossed the center line on Lake Michigan Drive and ran head-on into the other students. One of the passengers was able to call 911 before passing out.

Police arrived at the scene, quickly followed by an ambulance and the fire department. Just prior to the police arriving, Sam, Kaileigh’s passenger, fled the scene and ran to hide in a nearby porta-john.The police called for the K-9 unit and the dog soon picked up Sam’s scent and led the officer to the porta-john where Sam was hiding.

Of the students hit in oncoming traffic, Aaron was injured and had to be extricated from the car. Officers performed drunk driving tests on Kaileigh before arresting her.”

Allendale High School

stretcher, Allendale High School

Officer Mucha explained that the crash, which is demonstrated every-other year, is designed to raise awareness for “any bad decisions that tend to take place, especially this time of year. Specifically, we’ve got prom tomorrow and graduation coming up. We just remind them that accidents can happen, and especially when you couple it with bad decisions or distracted driving, people can get really hurt. People can die.”

To bring home this reality, Allendale’s social worker had also organized the “Every 15 Minutes” program that same day. Throughout the day, a student dressed as the Grim Reaper walked through school, pointing to one student at a time who is “killed.” That student is brought into the hallway, given a black “Every 15 Minutes” t-shirt and had their face painted white. With white faces increasing in numbers throughout the day, the idea was to remind students of the very real impact of drunk driving on young people.

drunk driving, Allendale Public Schools

Kaileigh Baia, a junior who participated as a crash actor and pictured above, has taken part in the mock crash before and is passionate about reminding her classmates of the dangers that come with distracted driving and driving under the influence.

“We don’t ever think about the future, of what could happen, we just think ‘Oh, that could never happen to me,’ but it could happen to anybody,” she said.

Officer Mucha is passionate about attacking the issue head on in a pro-active manner rather than merely hoping students will make wise decisions:

“Thank God Allendale has been very fortunate that we have not had any students killed in a car crash since I’ve been here, but we have had crashes and injuries. Occasionally we have drunk driving incidents, but whenever possible we want to get out in front of it and be preventative.  Hopefully, we have some sort of impact.”


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Allendale LINKS Program Connects Kids, Makes Friends

For students with disabilities, particularly those on the Autism Spectrum, making friends isn’t always easy.  Social norms and cultural cues can be lost or misinterpreted, leaving both sides confused and discouraged. Thankfully, now there is a program to help build friendships and offer the guidance of a mentor, too.


Thanks in large part to the efforts of Grand Valley State University, the LINKS program has been successfully integrated into several schools in Michigan, “linking” general education “mentor” students with special education “mentees.” Currently, Allendale Middle School has 20 mentor students working with four mentees. The goal is two-pronged: to give special education students a buddy to eat lunch with, as well as provide those students with an academic coach. General education students who participate in LINKS attend class with their mentee and offer assistance as needed.

Program director Kathy Kohl pairs students and monitors schedules to provide a comfortable fit. She explains, “We try to offer assistance during electives just because when [mentors] are in a science or social studies class, we don’t want them to miss the instruction that they need. But everybody here has stepped up and they recognize what they can do to assist another student or help get them back on track.”

Ms. Kohl points out that student mentors are particularly helpful in calming their mentees during class and helping them to not feel overwhelmed. They provide a second set of eyes, ears and hands to help ensure that due dates and other critical information is recorded accurately and remains organized.


LINKS teacher Molly Carpenter adds, “The hallways are a big thing. When they are walking through the crowded hallways it’s reasurring for them to know they’ve got that familiar face. It’s a nice place to have those connections; they know that every-so-often there’s going to be someone that’s going to be passing them to help get them where they need to go.”

General education students are beginning to see the value in offering help and friendship, too. 8th grader Hannah DeMott got involved because she wanted to be able to give other students a friend. Since the program began, Hannah has seen a change in the way that autistic students are treated, saying, “People are nicer to them and a lot more people have joined LINKS this year.” Ms. Kohl points out that her core group of mentors have led by example and have set the bar high among the student body.

Fellow 8th grade mentor George Berridge wanted to “help other kids if they were having trouble,” and Evelyn Plaggemeyer, another 8th grader, explained that she would like to work in special education or become a social worker someday, so she is thankful that she has had this hands-on experience.

But arguably the most valuable take-away is a shift in thinking and an expanding sense of compassion at Allendale Middle School. Hannah reminds us all, “Don’t judge these students before you get to know them.”

Making friends, offering academic assistance and reducing stereotypes and biases? Sounds like this program LINKS a multitude of wonderful things together for the kids at Allendale Middle.


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Allendale Middle School Band Heads to State Competition

When asked for his reflections on his 7th and 8th grade band classes, teacher Kevin Langejans glowed, saying, “It’s been a really special year.” That’s because this group has pleasantly surprised their teacher and even themselves, landing a spot at the upcoming Michigan State Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) competition.

allendale middle school band

With competition slated for April 24, students have been practicing all year long, giving special focus to their songs since the end of the holiday season. GVSU student teacher Richard Grooters explained that band directors must choose to perform at least one song from a list provided by the MSBOA. While a cursory glance may deem this an easy task, Mr. Grooters outlined the delicate balance demanded of Mr. Langejans in choosing just the right song.

“You really have to understand the ability level of the kids and choose something that’s going to challenge them.  If the teacher chooses a song that’s too easy, students get bored. Yet, if it’s too hard, you go into Festival and you don’t score very well.”


At the state competition, students will perform a total of three songs and face stiff competition from other West Michigan schools in their band district. But Mr. Grooters has high hopes based on a successful year with an extraordinary group of young musicians.

“These two groups have exceeded my expectations coming in. I did not expect to hear this level of musicality or to work on the kind of music that these middle school students are playing. I didn’t expect it at all. The 8th graders are preparing right now for their Spring Concert and are performing a piece that [Mr. Langejans] did previously with high school students. They really are a notch or two above what you’d expect from a middle school band.”

allendale middle school band

Mr. Langejans says the growth he’s seeing in the Allendale music program may have many factors, but the fact that students have to choose either choir or band as a 6th grader has helped give them a strong musical foundation and aid in retention. “Every year there is momentum and the excitement factor goes up,” he said.

allendale middle school band

7th grade students Celeste Lopez-Keranen and Claire Emmert are enthusiastic and optimistic about their prospects:

“I think it’s really cool that we get to go to this competition.  I think Allendale’s music program is really growing and the talent is getting better and better and I think Mr Langejans will lead us in the right direction to become successful,” said Celeste.

Claire added, “We have some difficult music but I think we can definitely accomplish it.”

Mr. Langejans smiled, keeping everything in perspective. “No matter what they’re going to be great. The fact that they’re going to state is what I’m happy about, no matter what happens.  I know they’re going to do well. If they don’t get perfect scores, that’s ok too. The work that they do throughout the year is WHY they’re going to State, it’s not just their preparation on those specific pieces of music, it’s half of the year–all the boring stuff–the scales, all the work that they’ve done the first half of the year that’s why they’re having success. That’s more important to me than getting good scores at state.”

allendale middle school band

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Enjoy Your Vacation…


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Robotics Teams Learn “Gracious Professionalism” Alongside Programming

When it comes to robotics, Allendale’s FIRST is a leader for young engineers and scientists across Ottawa county. FIRST, for inspiration and recognition of science and technology, was founded in 1989 and has ushered in scores of young men and women whose eye for detail and passion for “making things work” has driven competition for more than two decades.

FIRST’s goal is to equip students to design “accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.” And coaches Chad Potinsky and David Austin are doing just that with the students involved in their program.

Allendale Public Schools, Robotics

With teams for even the youngest to join, various robotics groups in Allendale (like Jr. FIRST Lego League, FIRST Lego LeagueFIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), open the door to not only the science of programming, but also opportunities for kids to solve real world problems that impact communities in real, tangible ways.

“People often think of scientists as people who walk around with calculators, out of touch with others. We want to give people a new view of science as being very hands-on and as a field that can positively impact others. For example, our robotics competitions always include solving real-world problems like how we can use technology to help manage natural disasters,” said Coach Austin.

Allendale Public Schools, Robotics

But equally as important as what happens on the competition floor, say Coaches Potinsky and Austin, are the life skills that young robotics engineers learn while working within their various teams. Aside from learning to work together, they must listen to a variety of opinions, weighing each and coming to a unified group decision; during and after competition they must be able to share what they’ve learned and do so while treating everyone with respect.

Dovetailing perfectly with these life skills is the cornerstone of the FIRST Community: gracious professionalism. FIRST’s website explains this motto perfectly:

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.

In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

Coach Austin shared an experience during a recent competition in the Gull Lake area where Allendale students had the opportunity to put this into practice with an opposing team. “That team ended up doing well, but it was worth it for our kids to go out of their way to help,” he said. “If we’re going to win, we want to win because we’re better — not because someone had a faulty wire.”


It’s with this mindset and focus on integrity that students face robotics challenges throughout the winter and into the spring. Coach Potinsky is passionate about Allendale’s program, which he credits with offering unique experiences for the next generation of engineers:

“The kids get a real world perspective  of science and engineering and it’s a little different than what they’d get in the classroom. They get to design a robot and take it from concept to prototype. They are able to practice their design skills, build something, program it and strategize its use. It’s pretty cool to be able to see that kind of growth and development in our students.”

We applaud the young men and women who are making great strides with robotics and personal integrity under the leadership of Allendale’s terrific coaches!


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