Student Award Winners

Allendale Robotics Team Members Reflect on a Winning Year

Robotics Competition, Trisonic, Allendale High School, Zach Holmes, Zach Jones

(L to R): Zach Jones and Zach Holmes are sad to see their season end.

For Allendale High School Robotics Team members, success in their spring competition was gravy on top of a season of friendship and intense bonding. Senior Zach Jones and Junior Zach Holmes were teammates who say that working closely together for hundreds of hours did more than create a winning robot: it created family.

This was Zach Holmes’ first year of robotics, getting involved only because he convinced his best friend to join him. He soon realized that there were new friends to be made over a table of math problems and engineering dilemmas.

“We worked in small groups during the season — we had a “design” group, a “build” group, and a “programming” group. But even though we were clustered with specific classmates, by the end of the season we were locking arms because we had gotten so close,” said Mr. Holmes who plans to join the Marines after his 2014 graduation. He intends to study mechanical engineering.

Unique to this team is the fact that it operates in partnership with other local high schools. This year students from Jenison High School joined, forming a team of fourteen young men: 9 from APS and 5 from Jenison.

Their goal, aside from crafting a winning robot, was to branch out into the community to garner support. By including local businesses, these students were able to make solid real-world connections to their work. For instance, this year’s robot frame was built by Laser Dynamics in Allendale. They also received sponsorships from numerous others.

In no less than six weeks, the team had their robot designed, assembled, and programmed to win. They spent over seventy hours of their mid-winter break perfecting the device, and said those long days solidified their personal connections.

“We really are one big family,” said Zach Jones, who also intends to study engineering after graduation. “We try to include everyone. At all times when we were working on something, we had at least five sets of hands inside the robot … it can be chaotic, but we all held it together.”

After an initial competition in Traverse City, the 2013 Allendale Jenison TriSonics team played “Ultimate Ascent” at the fieldhouse on Grand Valley State University’s campus in late March. In “Ultimate Ascent,” robots were challenged with collecting discs resembling frisbees, and then scoring goals with them. During the first 15 seconds of the game robots functioned in autonomous mode, relying on the students’ expert programming completed over weeks of preparation time.

Allendale Public Schools, TriSonics, Allendale Robotics Team

The next 15 seconds allowed for the robot to be driven by teleoperators. Finally, in the final 30 seconds of the game, robots actually had to climb a pyramid! Points were allotted based on how high the robot climbed.

We are proud of this group for being named a Finalist and receiving the Team Spirit Award at the West Michigan District Event. But more than anything, we celebrate with them that academics and extra-curricular passions have led to wonderful friendships and a determination to pursue excellence far beyond the TriSonics competitions of high school.

Categories: Allendale High School, Allendale Public Schools, APS Celebrations, Student Award Winners | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Senior Kali Smolen Defies the Odds and Soars to Success

Allendale Public Schools, Allendale High School, Kali Smolen, Valedictorian

2013 Valedictorian Kali Smolen

When senior Kali Smolen first reported to her elementary kindergarten class, she never imagined that she would never miss even a single day of school in her entire educational career.


And she certainly could not have dreamed that her pursuit of excellence would eventually pave the way for a perfect GPA and the title “Valedictorian.”  

But in fact, that is precisely what happened.

Kali is currently taking all three advance-placement (AP) courses offered at Allendale High School: AP Calculus, AP English, and AP Biology. In addition, she is enrolled in Spanish V, Wind Ensemble, and is taking Spanish 202 at Grand Valley State University. She is additionally involved in Science Olympiad and the Equestrian Team.

 “I have been involved with equestrian and MIHA throughout high school.  At the state competition of my senior year, I was the only member on the team.  The team was one horse, one rider.  I rode in all but two events.  I rode in 15 events and placed in the top five overall in division D at state.  The sheer fact that I made it to state was amazing.” 

Kali explained that her work ethic, intrinsic motivation, and the encouragement she’s received from staff members have propelled her through her difficult class load.

“I’ve truly adored all of my teachers — they’ve been willing to help and nice to talk to. Allendale teachers really support their students,” said Kali.

Though her senior year has been the most challenging by far, Kali has no regrets, even stating that she wishes she “…would’ve taken a harder curriculum from the get-go. I’m a pretty good time manager and I think I would’ve loved the challenge!”

Ms. Smolen has plans to attend Grand Valley’s Frederik Meijer Honors College next year to study Bio-Medical Sciences and Spanish. She dreams of interning at the Van Andel Institute and diving into the world of stem cell research to get to the heart of the issues.

“I attended the Sam Rhines genetic conference with my anatomy class during my junior and senior years.  Each time, I became intrigued with genetic sciences.  These conferences interested me in stem cell research.  I proceeded to do my capstone research paper on stem cell research.  I now want to go into medicine, with research as a high possibility. Instead of just treating the disease, I’d like to find the mechanism behind it.”

Kali’s mother, Colleen, points out that while there exists a scholarship for couples going to prom in a clothes made of duct tape, there is not a scholarship for perfect attendance. Still, her pride is obvious and we join her in congratulating Kali for her amazing accomplishments!

“I am proud of Kali’s academic success, but I’m even more proud of her good personal character.” she said.

Congratulations to Kali Smolen for an unbelievable school career!! You make us “Falcon Proud”!

Categories: Allendale High School, Student Award Winners, Students in the Spotlight! | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Allendale Seniors Take Scholastic Art Awards By Storm

APS, Allendale High School, Scholastic Art & Writing Award

(L to R) Kendra DeVrou, Rachel LaBrecque, Lauren Niergarth, Rebekah Van Slooten

For ninety years, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have been recognizing and rewarding creativity in students across the United States. With Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates, and Andy Warhol among a litany of Scholastic “alumni”, these young women are in good company!

“The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards continues to be the longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in the U.S., and the largest source of scholarships for young artists and writers.” (see link for quote credit)

Despite the clear display of talent from all four artists, each of them opened up to the fact that they didn’t expect to win! Even after submitting amazing works of art (as displayed in January’s Falcon Flier), these seniors exhibited humility and surprise. Their teacher, Erin Overmeyer, explained her difficult role in selecting pieces for consideration:

“I choose the work that I think is the strongest work thus far. I have to pay $5 per entry, so I have to act as juror here and only enter the work that I think is the strongest.”  

Besides her Silver Key and Honorable Mention, Rebekah Van Slooten was awarded two Gold Keys, which means her work will travel on to be judged nationally! For the time being, however, you can view her work and that of our other Silver Key winner Rachel LaBrecque at Kendall College of Art and Design.

In pondering the significance of this recognition, Rachel, who plans to study graphic design at Ferris State University, shared that “[It] means a lot… School and family will be proud no matter what, but it’s really nice to hear that you do good work from people outside that close group.”

Both Lauren and Kendra experimented with mediums unlike those used by their classmates: Lauren with photography and Kendra with typography. Lauren remarked that although it came as a surprise, it was the first competition she’d ever won, and that gave her great satisfaction.

Each of the artists praised the personal attention they receive in Allendale and the freedom they enjoy to create. The joy they experience while holding a paintbrush, charcoal pencil, or camera is a reminder that, while not quantifiable on a multiple choice test, these talents do have the power to change lives.

“The APS art program has been a big part of my life as long as I can remember. To me, art classes are fun, refreshing, and a great place to challenge myself and learn new skills. This love of art made me want to dual-enroll at Kendall. In those classes,  Ms. O helped me learn the techniques I used in my winning artwork,” Rachel said.

For her part, Ms. Overmeyer is proud of the success of her students and noted that these young women are attentive to more than just the canvas in front of them. They are leaders in every sense of the word.

“What really stands out with this year’s group of award winners is their dedication to their school and community.  All four of these young women are talented artists, athletes, accomplished students, class leaders, and active volunteers in their community,” said Ms. Overmeyer.

Congratulations to this year’s winners!

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Honoring AHS Football & Academic All-State Honorable Mention Aaron Wickstrom

APS, Aaron Wickstom, Allendale High School footballCoach Ben Burk couldn’t be more proud of his 2012 varsity football team. Their dedication on the field (finishing 8-2 this season), and their dedication to character, integrity, and hard work off the field has gained the attention of an audience much larger than any that could fit into Allendale High School Stadium on a Friday night.

The team has been honored with the top position on the list of  Division 4 teams awarded the MHSFCA Academic All-State Award (Michigan High School Football Coaches Association). This means that their team GPA, averaged from Allendale’s eleven highest academic-achieving players, was 3.9!

As if this one award wasn’t exciting enough, senior Aaron Wickstrom (pictured left) added to the celebration with his Academic All-State Honorable Mention award.

Aaron, who plans to attend Grand Valley State University next fall to study Business & Finance, currently has a whopping 4.02 GPA thanks in part to his pursuit of AP class credits.  He shared that many of his teammates are also taking AP classes, adding that the entire group of young men under Coach Burk have a healthy respect for classroom achievement.

“Coach Burk always tells us to be leaders in the classroom and on the field. He says, ‘Do your work; school comes first because you’re student-athletes.’ I think it’s cool to be mentioned for an award that combines football and work in the classroom.”

Coach Burk returned the kind words when he was asked to describe what makes Aaron a stand out young man:

“His intelligence, personal high standards, work ethic, kind heart, team focus, the quality parenting that he received, intrinsic motivation, desire to do more, willingness to push himself, character, understanding that preparation is important, are just some of the things makes Aaron a stand-out.”

When asked about his 2012 varsity team as a whole, Coach Burk beamed:

“I am extremely impressed with the young men here at Allendale High School.  Our student-athletes are among the top in the state of Michigan for sure.  We make academics important here as a coaching staff, as a teaching staff, and as a district from k – 12th grades, and most all our students and athletes respond.  It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to work in a community like this.  GO FALCONS!!”

Congratulations to Aaron and the entire Falcon football team! We applaud your dedication to excellence!

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Allendale High School Students Excel in TESA

TESA, Grand Valley State University, GVSU, entrepreneurship, Hanna Ebeling, George Ebeling, Allendale Public Schools, Allendale High SchoolWhen Hanna and George Ebeling submitted their applications to TESA, they never anticipated the experience that awaited them.

The Grand Rapids Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy invites students to learn about business models and create a viable one of their own as they compete for award money and recognition from members of the local business community.

“During the five day academy, teams of three to four students from different schools will manufacture an original business pitch from the idea stage to a developed concept. They will participate in lectures and hands-on learning sessions along with creative problem solving tasks. On the final day, each team will present their idea to a panel of local business professionals for a chance to win cash prizes totaling $1,000!”  (source)

Held this past July in conjunction with Grand Valley State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Hanna (AHS Senior) and George (AHS Freshman) were challenged with creating a business that would spur urban development and encourage people to make purchases locally.

After being placed in groups of 4-5 students from all over Michigan, Hanna’s team settled on creating a “green” coffee shop for GVSU that would feature a multicultural menu, organic food, and an internet café. Working together, her group created a powerpoint that earned them a spot in the competition finals.

George was placed in a team that decided to showcase produce from local farmers. Named “Urban Organics,” his group came up with a business model that would allow people to buy crops from area farms and have them delivered to to their home or place of employment. This idea won their team a spot in the finals, and in the end, the $1,000 cash prize to be shared among group members!

George shared that his biggest takeaway from the competition was learning about something completely new that had such practical real-world applications. He enjoyed pitching the team’s idea to the judges, working with mentors, meeting other students, and using tools like Prezzi to create a winning presentation.

For Hanna, the joy and the learning came not as much from the program itself, but from meeting so many other interesting people.

“It was actually a challenge to get to know people who were quite different from me–especially being in a very diverse setting that is unlike anything I’m used to. Getting the courage to approach someone who you do not know and may not clearly understand was hard for me, but it was definitely a good thing!”

We congratulate both Hanna and George for stretching themselves, for taking new risks, and for their success in TESA this summer!

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Allendale Students Win Big at “I Challenge U”

Over the summer, forty-five students from fourteen schools in the Ottawa County area were invited to participate in the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s (OAISD) first ever “I Challenge U” competition.

“I Challenge U” partnered area businesses with student groups and mentor teachers, inviting them to tackle real-life problems faced by business owners and suggest creative solutions that could actually be implemented.

After weeks of hard work, Justice Jones’ and Chance Storm’s work for the Ottawa County United Way garnered them (and their team) first place in the competition! Each team member was awarded $750 in scholarship money as well as $250 for their high school!Justice Jones, Chance Storm, Allendale Public Schools, Allendale High School, I Challenge U, OAISD

Justice Jones and Chance Storm discuss their winning idea.

Justice and Chance’s group began by examining the challenge of getting food to those in need in Ottawa County. Justice noted that working in a group with new voices had its hurdles. “It was definitely challenging to learn how to work with others on a team. Many people had very strong opinions.”

The group visited food pantries, soup kitchens, and the Holland Rescue Mission to gather ideas and information about what was already being done to help those in need of food. Interacting with community members opened their eyes to the realities many face. Yet despite hardships, Justice commented, “It’s amazing to see how people with very little still found a way to stay happy.” 

The team decided that perhaps it was time for a new approach, but …“Finding data that could be helpful was difficult. It’s hard for people to open up about their needs. They don’t want to ask for help or admit that they need help feeding their families,” Chance explained.

Their creative thinking produced an award-winning idea for centralized “depots” or “superstores” like Meijer that would sell discounted food. Bridge card holders would receive a monetary allotment to shop at the depots based on income. The notion of shopping for food and making choices rather than merely accepting what was put before them, they reasoned, would create ownership and renew pride in the shopper. Their suggestion to the United Way included first opening a depot in Holland, where needs are greatest, and then following with a second store in Muskegon.

Passata explained the benefits of I Challenge U this way: “Project-based learning like I Challenge U gives kids exposure to real world, real business problems. Working this way helps students develop 21st century skills and spurs them to think critically about problem solving.”

This year six local businesses were involved in I Challenge U, but OAISD project coordinator Jason Pasatta is hoping to expand to twelve businesses and 100 students next year to give more incoming juniors and seniors a glimpse into real-world problems.

If you are a local business owner open to the idea of inviting students to participate in real-world problem solving with your business, please contact Mr. Pasatta at for details of how you might get involved next year.

Congratulations again to Justice and Chance for your success in I Challenge U! We are Falcon proud!

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Summer Essay Series: Patrick Adams, 2nd Grade

The Greatest School Ever!

I love my school because I have the best teacher ever.  Evergreen Elementary school is awesome!  We learn many new things. I learned how to regroup in Math and work with big numbers. We do lots of reading.  We have a sweet library! There are many books to choose from.  I like the Michigan Chiller books.

Outside there are lots of playgrounds and spaces to run and play.  There is a huge soccer field and basketball courts.  We even have a baseball field.  There is also lots of playground equipment like swings and slides.

In my classroom there are many things to do.  We have Alpha Smarts, two computers and a smart board.  I like the Alpha Smart because we can write stories.  My teacher prints our stories on the computer and we get to draw illustrations for them.

We work in different groups in the classroom.  We have the window group, the middle, the computers and the back group.  When we work in our groups, one person gets to be the teacher for the day. I like to be the teacher.

We do lots of crafts and fun things.  We read a book about how different birds make their nests.  Then we colored birds and glued them on a nest that was on colored paper.  I made a cardinal.

These are the things I like about my school.

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Summer Essay Series: TJ Meyer, 3rd Grade

Our school is the best, smartest, and the most outstanding school on the planet Earth. The reasons why are:

Our school has fantastic teachers. Next, our school has a cool lunch program. And then, our school has an awesome gym. Last, our school has an awesome library!

The first reason why our school is awesome is that it has fantastic teachers. Mrs. Elliott is very kind, nice, and awesome. Mrs. Burkhour likes science and has wacky science experiments. Mrs. Suhy likes to paint and likes helping kids.

The second reason why our school is fantastic is that it has an awesome lunch. We get to have a choice between “a” and “b” lunch. “A” is soup, pizza, chicken alfredo, and stuff that is cooked. “B” has ham subs and yogurt with string cheese. No matter what, this school has an awesome lunch choice.

Our school has an outstanding gym. First, we get to play fun games like spider in the web, freeze tag, blob tag, and many more. Next, we get to play prisoners base where you have to get both flags — but watch out! You’ll be tagged! I also like that we get to ride scooters in gym and climb on the rock wall!

The last reason why we have an awesome school is our library!!!! We get to have historical fiction books like Anne Frank. Next, we get Magic Tree House books and Harry Potter and magic books. They teach you to love reading!

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Summer Essay Series: Kaylyn Whitten, 4th Grade

My teachers and school make learning fun by doing different things every week and challenge us to do the best we can do.

One reason is the enrichment classes. I think it is a good thing we have enrichment because then you can go at your own level and learn what’s right for you. In 5th grade math you get to meet new friends and you get to learn new ways to do normal math while having fun. One of my teachers, Mrs. Luban, was teaching us a decimal problem and to help us to remember it, she taught us a song. One other enrichment class is the Explorers. They teach you techniques on how to make a good paper, and they do fun research projects like the bird report, and they read plays. I think the enrichment programs are good for anyone that is at a level higher than their grade.

Another reason is the after-school clubs. One of them is called OSTP. I am in this club and it teaches you about the earth and how to save our planet and gives new techniques on how to recycle and be green. Another club we have at our school is Singing Falcons. In this club you get to perform at different events, sing some songs, be with friends, and warm up your voices in the morning. I think the after-school clubs help you learn, be with friends, and have fun.

In addition, there are extra rewards. You have the chance to win prizes in other contests like the wallpaper contest. If you won the contest, then your wallpaper was displayed on all of the laptops in the whole school. We also do class stores where we can buy things with our Oakwood bucks like passes and toys, or we can do something else. Oakwood bucks is the class bank where if you do a certain job you get paid for it in Oakwood bucks. I think extra rewards push you to be respectful, responsible, and ready to learn.

Also, we have incentives at our school. If you clean, you can win a prize or get a pizza party for your class. We also do punch cards so that if you hit your goal, you get a punch in your card. When you fill your card, it gets put into a drawing and you have the chance to win a free lunch. We also do writing contests like this essay contest. If you win, you get interviewed, get a free pizza, and a Walgreen’s gift card. I hope they keep doing the extra rewards into next year so that the younger kids get to do it, too.

In conclusion, I think that my school is awesome in so many ways like the enrichment and after-school classes, because they help you learn while having fun. I also think that if we didn’t have the extra rewards and the incentives, the kids would not try as hard as they do now.

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Summer Essay Series: Matt Terpstra, 5th Grade

Oakwood is the best school I’ve ever been to! It has great teachers that are always exciting to work with and that adjust to understand each and every student. Here are some reasons why I love Oakwood:

First, I’ll explain the teachers. There are many teachers, a great principal, and every class is a blast! Each teacher helps us in the way we need. Everyone is different, so some students might need to be taught a certain way. Some kids might need a less strict discussion, some might need a more understandable explanation, and some kids might just need help. The teachers all give them these things.

Next, let’s find out about the lessons. The lessons they teach here at Oakwood Intermediate are understandable and make sense. The teachers make sure that what they teach stays with the kids. At some schools people forget what they learned after a month or two. But here at Oakwood, that’s not how it goes.

Finally, I’ll tell you about the supplies. Here at Oakwood Intermediate, we have tons of supplies. We have pencils, laptops, SmartBoards, scissors, glue, crayons, colored pencils, markers, white board markers, folders, and more!

Oakwood is great!



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