Allendale Middle School

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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Falcons Fly High at Science Olympiad Practice Invitational

How successful would you be if you were responsible for maneuvering a small car with an egg attached to its front, for an undetermined distance, then parking it next to a wall… without cracking the egg?

Or bungee dropping a weighted, plastic water bottle in the attempt to lower it as close to the ground as possible without having it touch?

Students attempting these feats lie at the heart of Science Olympiad.

Rotating between test-taking stations and activities called “constructions,” hundreds of Science Olympians from 15 area schools spent this past Saturday, Feb. 22, at Allendale High School and Middle School working on events with fundamentals based in biology, chemistry, physics and earth science. With about 1200 people in attendance, including event coaches, supervisors and parents, this practice invitational was preparation for the March 29 Regionals which will take place at GVSU.



High School coach Brian Brethauer, in his 24th year in this role, praises Science Olympiad for what it offers students:

“This is a great program and from a science standpoint, this is one of the best programs out there. It covers all areas, any kid can participate and there’s a lot of cool stuff going on. A lot of these kids go on to college, a lot of them go into science because of this, a lot of them come back and help coach — and I want people to be aware that this goes one.”



For the past several years the invitational has been directed by Mrs. Candice Cooper-Greinke, who has been involved since her own children participated, and her husband Paul. The two are passionate about the opportunity that Science Olympiad provides students who may not find the field, court or pool to be a good fit.

“The Science Olympiad program is a really great way for kids who aren’t necessarily sports-oriented to have an extracurricular activity they can participate in. It’s really fun and educational,” Candice said.

051 copy

This years’ constructions at the invitational were Scrambler, Elastic Launch Glider, Boomilever, Magnetic Levitation Vehicle Test, Bungee Drop and Mission Possible. And with the possibility of state competition, and then nationals, these students know that scholarship money could be on the line, especially for engineering events.

“Science Olympiad provides opportunities for every kind of kid — from the brightest academically to the kids that are talented with hands-on skills. It’s a good chance for them to become state champions at something,” Paul added.

If you’d like to become involved in this exciting activity, the Falcon Science Olympiad team is in need of event coaches in the fields of engineering, medicine, machination and geology. Please contact Dave Erdmans at the middle school or Brian Brethauer at the high school for more information.

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Middle School Thespians Prepare for Opening Night

The incessant snow has not only produced dangerous driving conditions this winter but world class levels of cabin fever among kids and parents alike. If your family is looking for a fun activity, you’ll agree that the timing of this year’s middle school play couldn’t be more perfect!

Beginning this Thursday evening at the Ceglarek Fine Arts Center, under the direction of Shawn McMasters, 46 middle school thespians will be presenting a combination of one act plays based around these children’s stories:

  • Three Fairy Skits and a Tale
  • The Golden Goose
  • Through the Looking Glass
Allendale Fine Arts Center, Ceglarek Fine Arts Center

photo of the CFAC courtesy of Building Schools; click for link.

Mr. McMasters shared his enthusiasm for this group and what they bring to the stage. “The students always  bring wonderful ideas that add so much humor. We really try to put on shows to make people laugh, and I really think we have achieved that with this. Not a single rehearsal has gone by where I haven’t laughed right out loud with the students.  They are a talented group of young people. It is truly a delight to watch them have fun.”

While some might assume that snow or canceled practices have proved the most challenging hurdle for this team of actors, Mr. McMasters says that keeping involvement levels fair was even more difficult. In fact, making sure that everybody who wanted to be involved was able to participate was one of his reasons for selecting multiple one-act shows. Mr. McMasters said that this approach divides up the roles a bit more, allowing some students to have one larger part and others to balance out their time with two smaller roles.

photo of the CFAC courtesy of Building Schools; click for link.

The cast this year is a mix of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, with the 6th grade class representing the majority at about twenty students participating. You’ll see most of the 6th graders bringing energy and excitement to Three Fairy Skits and a Tale. The 7th graders, about nine total, will be supporting Through the Looking Glass. Mr. McMasters notes that they have grown a lot in the past year and have enjoyed sharing their ideas during practice. The 8th graders round out the troupe, bringing strong skills, “particularly with comedic ability,” said Mr. McMasters. You’ll see many of AMS 8th graders in Through the Looking Glass and  The Golden Goose.

As we know, no production would be complete without the many helping hands of those on the crew. Their dedication to sets, props and keeping things running smoothly cannot be underestimated. “The crew has been absolutely wonderful about set design and getting things together.  They deserve so much credit, and they have a lot of talent, as well.”

The group will offer three performances for the community. We hope you’ll come out and join us!

  • Thursday, Feb. 6th at 7:00 p.m.
  • Friday, Feb 7th at 7:00 p.m.  
  • Saturday, Feb. 9th  at 12:00 noon.  

Tickets are $3.00 at the door; children under 5 are free.

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AMS Students Hit All The Right Notes

The Michigan School Vocal Music Association has been inspiring young musicians and helping to strengthen music education since 1937. Aside from the important work of providing a baseline for music philosophy and a standard of excellence for music educators in Michigan, this group also presents singers in grades 6 through 12 with the unique opportunity to perform at the state level with the best of the best.

We are pleased to share that Allendale Middle School, under the coaching guidance of Mr. Adam Wurst, prepared twelve choir students for this exciting challenge which took place in Owosso, Michigan, on Saturday, October 19.

Allendale Middle School, State Honors Choir

We’re so proud of our twelve auditioning students!

Much like athletes striving for a title, students who wish to compete for the honor of a state title must first audition by singing a piece that is “thoroughly prepared in advance of the audition day. The audition piece is to be memorized.” (source). But the audition doesn’t stop there — because not just one, but two pieces of music must be prepared, and they must be pitch perfect. Mr. Adam Wurst, AMS choir teacher, worked independently with each student for three weeks to them prepare for this unique opportunity.

Mr. Wurst explained the structure of this audition:

“Students sang in a trio of 3 singers, each performing their own part. They were then given a score based on their level of preparation and other musical factors, such as accuracy of rhythm, pitch, dynamics, and memorization.”

It is our pleasure to announce that nine Allendale Middle School students were given the nod and will be performing in the SSA and TTB State Honors Choirs for middle school on Thursday, January 16! These performances will take place in DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Allendale Middle School, State Honors Choir

We offer our sincere congratulations to ALL of our students who auditioned — for tireless practice and dedication to excellence. And we applaud the achievements of those who will be lifting the rafters in Grand Rapids in January:

SSA (Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto) Honors Choir:
Kate Mahaffy, 7th grade
Kelsey Inman-Carter, 8th grade
Alaina White, 8th grade
TTB (Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Bass) Honors Choir:
Jonah DeZwaan, 7th grade
Sean Schmidt, 7th grade
Howard Barnes, 8th grade
Isaac Cameron, 8th grade
Jacob Doornbos, 8th grade
Jeff Secord, 8th grade
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AMS Students Rally to Keep Their School Bully-Free

Just like their Falcon counterparts in the high school, these middle schoolers are learning to Speak Up and Stand Out in their building, too. With the help of guidance counselor Rhonda Wilson, students spent a week learning to celebrate the characteristics that make them unique — and learning how to accept and celebrate the unique qualities in others, too.

Allendale Middle School, Anti-Bully

Students were invited to add a post-it note of things they like about themselves during the middle school’s anti-bully week.

With statistics indicating that bullying peaks in middle school and that relational aggression among girls is at its highest in 8th grade, Allendale believes that attacking the issue of bullying is critical. To do so, Mrs. Wilson explained that one of the first steps they take is defining it clearly and explaining the difference between “an intentional, repeated imbalance of power” and mean behavior or normal conflict.

Another anti-bullying technique that Allendale Middle School continues to use gives students an anonymous way to report problems. It is called the “bully box.” The bully box offers students a way to submit reports of bullying to school administrators by merely dropping a note into the box — no name required.

Echoing the spirit of Elie Wiesel who once famously said, “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander,” one AMS student commented, “The bully box gives bystanders an outlet to say something.”

The school has also instituted an open invitation for students to put notes in their teachers’ mailboxes if they prefer. This, combined with other anti-bullying training that each grade receives, is helping to continue a safe learning environment at school.

“All students in the middle school were trained in anti-bullying techniques last year, and the 6th grade was trained and will continue to be trained each year.  It allows for common language and skills for sticking up for yourself and others,” said Mrs. Wilson.

The “Sit by Someone New” initiative at lunch is yet a third way students can build bridges and foster understanding with classmates. On this day, students were given color-coded cards that they matched up with another person holding the same color card. Once they found a partner, they had the opportunity to sit by someone they didn’t know or usually sit with.  The hope here is that walls will be broken down when students talk with those who seem “different” or are unfamiliar to them.

Finally, one of the new things Allendale Middle School will be trying this year is an online mediation forum between a school counselor and students struggling with relationships at school.  Mrs. Wilson shared that the school is working with the technology department to pursue options for this new platform.

For all the students who have made the commitment to be kind and be a friend, thank you! Our hallways are safer because you’ve pledged to work against bullying!

Allendale Middle School, Anti-Bully

Mrs. Wilson joins a group of students for a lunchtime discussion.

Allendale Middle School, Anti-Bully

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Meet Your Principal: Rocky Thompson

Rocky Thompson, Allendale Public Schools, Allendale Middle School1. Tell us about your career journey in education, including how long you’ve been in your current role at Allendale.

I started in education at the age of 29. I taught middle school students for a total of ten years and have been the middle school principal since then.

2. What makes you love coming to work each day?

I get excited to come to work everyday because of the energy that the students bring with them. I see them and know how good of a job I have.

3. What is something you do each day that people probably don’t realize principals have to do?

I have to fill a number of roles, but one that is surprising is I am the person that students are referred to when they have been injured in some way.

4. Name something you personally look forward to each school year.

The return of the students! It livens things up when they get here.

5. If you had an unlimited financial and/or volunteer reserve, what would you do to improve your educational environment?

I would hire a number of school counselors to go into the community to offer support for parents.

6. What was the best part of your summer vacation?

I didn’t take a summer vacation.

7. What is your favorite book? (Can be a kid’s book or an adult book)

The Poet by Connelly

8. What is one piece of advice you’d like to pass along to the students in your school?

If you want something that is important to you, put your heart and soul into working for it.

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AMS Students Celebrate Reading with Posters and Publications

Fact: according to estimates, some 81% of Americans say they would like to write a book, but few of them ever will.

With mounting costs associated with traditional publishing, competition between paper books and digital formats heating up, and the need for high-profile authors to garner sales, the publishing industry has hurdles at every turn.

Unless, of course, you’re a sixth-grader at Allendale Middle School.

Allendale Middle School, book publications, Allendale Public Schools

This semester, in honor of March is Reading Month, Mrs. Norine Fox made a way for each of her 170 students to write, illustrate, and publish their own book.

The process began in February, on a calendar dotted with snow days and late starts. Students read and listened to adventure stories to learn the components of successful storytelling. From zombie tales to kidnapping mysteries, Mrs. Fox’s readers paid attention to sensory images and the use of hooks to engage readers from the beginning.

Allendale Middle School, book publications, Allendale Public Schools

Drawing from this fresh well of examples, students let their imaginations loose by penning their own adventure stories. Working diligently on the craft of incorporating quality, realistic dialog, sixth graders brainstormed, wrote and re-wrote their stories with the help of peer editors and the collaboration that happens in writer’s workshop.

After their stories were solid, students moved to their school computers to type, format, and print them. They added illustrations, came up with cover designs, and handed their newly completed masterpieces to their teacher.

Using the services provided by “Student Treasures” (.com), Mrs. Fox sent each completed manuscript to be professionally published in a bound, hardcover book. Student Treasures offers one book per student for free, with the option to purchase additional copies if desired. The Allendale PTO graciously covered the cost of shipping and handling for the project.

Students like Mason Felicioni held their books with reverence and awe:

“I learned how the process of making a book works. We had to go through all the steps. I had three different beginning and I kept re-working them. I made them all a part of the story. It was very fun and very rewarding. Now I have a book! We learned a bunch!”

Allendale Middle School, book publications, Allendale Public Schools

Sixth grader Mason Felioni dives in to his shark attack tale.

In addition to all the publishing excitement in sixth grade, Mrs. Fox and Mrs. Bagley also sponsored the annual March is Reading Month poster contest for all students in grades 6-8. The goal of each poster must be to celebrate reading or to encourage others to read.

Mrs. Fox and Mrs. Bagley display all submitted posters in the library windows without names so that the entire student body could vote impartially. The first place artist’s work is framed and displayed in the school library for one year, and all three top finishers also receive a $5 gift certificate for use at the spring book fair.

Congratulations to this year’s winners, Jessica Chojnaki: 1st place, Taylor Adams: 2nd place, and Jarrad Guerrero: 3rd place!

Allendale Middle School, book publications, Allendale Public Schools

Pictured from L to R: Taylor Adams (6th grade), Jessica Chojnaki (8th grade), Jarrad Guerrero (6th grade).

We applaud the way these young readers have passionately embraced the power of the written word. To borrow Jessica’s winning poster title, life is magical “when books come to life!”

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AMS Marathon Club Racks Up Miles and Good Health

Most of us look forward to our lunch break as being a relaxing mid-point in our day: an opportunity to step away from work at hand, turn off our phones, and breathe a little deeper.

Ironically, this group of determined Allendale Middle School kids have found a way to breathe a little deeper, too, but it’s not because they’re sitting down and relaxing. Instead, they’re spending their lunch hours running laps in the hallway the minute they’ve finished their lunches.

photo of the Allendale Middle School Marathon Club

Pictured above: the entire group of marathon hopefuls. The pack has now slimmed to 27 dedicated runners.

The Allendale Marathon Club is currently open only to sixth-graders who are willing to sacrifice a portion of their lunchtime in order to meet a lofty goal: running enough laps over the course of several weeks to complete those elusive 26.2 miles.

Started by Mrs. Shelley Jourden in 2008, she said what motivated her to get kids running was the fact that she began competing in 5Ks herself. She notes that oftentimes her students begin with ambitious goals and then soon thereafter, fall away when the work becomes too difficult.

But this year has been different.

“I currently have 27 students running.  This is a first to have that many stick with it!  I truly enjoy seeing the students set a goal and achieve it.  Many think it is impossible to run a total of 26.2 miles, but it’s not!  It also brings joy to see them encourage others to finish,” she said.

Allendale Middle School, Marathon Club, Allendale Public Schools

(pictured L to R) Sixth graders Chloe Williams and Heather Koenig

Mrs. Jourden spends her lunch hour standing in the hallway with popcicle sticks used to keep track of laps completed. Each time students run past her, they collect another stick and then turn in their pile before heading off to afternoon classes. Mrs. Jourden keeps track of how many times they run the loop.

While some students are intrigued by the 26.2 mile goal, just as many are encouraged by the idea of getting healthy and feeling better. Chloe Williams and Heather Koenig both note that since most of the winter is spent indoors, the opportunity to get moving was appealing. Though they haven’t been runners in the past, they say that Mrs. Jourden’s Marathon Club has given them the push they’ve needed to begin.

The club will keep running all spring, finally wrapping up the same week as the 6th grade award ceremony. At that time, students will be recognized with a certificate of completion, a gift, and will see their names added to the AMS Marathon Club plaque that hangs proudly in the hallway by Mrs. Jourden’s classroom.

We applaud the efforts of these young athletes! They inspire us all!

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AMS Encourages Kindness Through Anti-Bullying Week

For students at Allendale Middle School, bullying is more than an eight-letter word: it’s a problem to be taken seriously and an issue that demands education.

According to research conducted by the Allendale Middle School Leadership Team, 160,000 U.S. kids are bullied every day. However, middle school students on our campus say that while statistics may be grim across the nation, they insist that bullying in Allendale is improving thanks to initiatives like this one run under the guidance of school counselor, Mrs. Rhonda Wilson.

Middle school students work together to end bullying

Eighth graders Brock Bardwell and John Huistra encourage their classmates to sign the bullying pledge.

8th grader Brock Bardwell shared that, “Bullying has gotten better since we’ve started the anti-bullying campaign,” and Leadership Team member Lexy Wilson agreed, saying, “…kids in our school have really hit on this as something to change, and we’re already seeing a difference.”

Brook Modderman and Lexy Wilson helped coordinate Anti-Bullying Week activities at AMS.

Brook Modderman and Lexy Wilson helped coordinate Anti-Bullying Week activities at AMS.

The team members first met several weeks ago to begin planning for Anti-Bullying Week, voting on this year’s motto, “Be the Change.” To kick things off, a poster contest around the theme was promoted, with Samantha Brovant winning 1st place, Lydia Terpstra coming in 2nd, and Lindzi Gritters snagging 3rd place. Winners were voted on by teachers and were announced on Wednesday, March 27.

Students design posters to encourage classmates to stop bullying

Other activities included sharing bullying statistics during school announcements, organizing a “sit by someone new at lunch” day, encouraging students to sign a “Bullying Pledge”, and participating in a “Post-it Poster” which gave students the opportunity to use Post-it notes to add positive thoughts to a large school-sized poster.

how to stop bullying

Students reported that “sitting by someone new at lunch” was a great experience. To help everyone strike out of their comfort zones and encourage true mixing, each student was given a colored card upon entering the cafeteria. They were then instructed to find the table where other students were seated with the same color cards. Doing so meant that lunch tables were random, fresh, and full of new friends to meet!

8th grader John Huistra revealed that, “1 in 7 students has witnessed bullying or has been bullied.” But then came the words that define the week: “Our school wants to change that.”

And changing they are: through education and activities and raising awareness. What begins as a tiny seed planted, a small kindness shown, a grace given when undeserved, hearts and minds are softened, and slowly, transformation occurs.

Margaret Mead said it best long ago: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Thank you to Mrs. Wilson and the entire AMS Leadership Team for your diligent work to change the world, one student at a time!

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