WSD Voice - Season 1

WSD Voice - PodcastWSD Voice is a Waterford School District podcast that focuses on topics geared toward inspiring, educating and empowering our students, staff, alumni and community.

The goal of WSD Voice is to inform our audience about our district’s positive news while showcasing our successes. Listen below to learn more about all the exciting and innovative work going on behind the scenes in Waterford School District.

Season 1

Episode 3: Celebrating the 2021-2022 School Year
Published: May 2022

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In this episode, we focus on some of the amazing accomplishments both staff and students achieved during the 2021-2022 school year. First, we meet Sue Case, our 2022 Waterford Foundation Teacher of the Year. Next, we talk to three of our Waterford School District 2022 graduates to learn their plans for the future. 

Guests for the 2022 Waterford Foundation Teacher of the Year discussion:
Sue Case, Teacher, Grayson Elementary
Samantha Lam, Principal, Grayson Elementary
Rick West, Nominator/Father of Grayson student

Guests for the 2022 graduates discussion:
Abby Stauber, Senior student, Mott High School
Alexander Salazar, Senior student, Durant High School
Noah Khanuja, Senior student, Kettering High School 

Sarah Davis, Director of Communications and Community Relations
Scott Lindberg, Superintendent
Jane Tekiele, Video Production Coordinator

- Welcome to WSD Voice, a podcast focused on positive and informative news in Waterford School District. I am your host, Sarah Davis, the director of communications and community relations. And I am here with Waterford School District Superintendent, Scott Lindberg. This is going to be our last podcast episode for the 2021-2022 school year. And so we're going to focus on some of the amazing accomplishments both staff and students have achieved the past several months. But before we bring our guests on, Scott, what are some of your thoughts about this past school year? You wanna give us a synopsis of how you think things have gone?

- Sure, how long do I have? An hour? No, it's been a great year, but just to top it off, we launched our five-year district strategic plan, so we're excited about that. We've made well over $2 million of investment in new teaching curriculum, and we have just recently had a groundbreaking for our new early childhood center, our first new building in over 50 years. And so that's certainly a historical opportunity for us. We expect to open in at the fall of '24. So, Sarah, as you can see, we are really laying a strong foundation for the future for Waterford schools, and all of our students and families.

- Yeah, a lot of positive news. So, like I mentioned before, today we're gonna talk about this year's successes. First, we're going to meet our 2022 Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Sue Case as well as Rick West, the dad of the family who nominated Sue for the award, and Samantha Lam, the principal at the school that Sue teaches at, Grayson Elementary.

- Yes, and then we will meet three of our own students, one from each high school to talk about their time at Waterford as well as their plans for their future.

- Okay, let's first start with our 2022 Waterford Foundation Teacher of the Year winner Sue Case. Hi Sue, welcome to the program. There's just one thing I know, and that is, we are only on our third episode of the podcast this season and you've already been on here twice. So, you must be a pretty special person to have done that already.

- Hi, Sarah, Scott, thank you so much for having me on the show again. It's wonderful to be here, maybe this is my next career if I retire in 30 years or so. So thank you for having me again.

- Yeah, absolutely. And along with Sue, we have Grayson Elementary Principal, Samantha Lam, and Rick from the West family. So welcome too both of you. Yeah, so for those of you who don't know, the Teacher of the Year presentation is a surprise to the winner, and this was my first time experiencing it as well. And it really was an awesome event. On April 14th, the Waterford Foundation met and announced the winner. Then headed over to Grayson, along with our Communications team, Samantha and Scott, to go to Sue's classroom and surprise her. And I would say she was surprised. So Sue, congratulations for winning the award. Talk to us about how you felt when you learned that you had won Teacher of the Year.

- It was such a shock. I was ready that morning to congratulate someone else. I found out my husband is a very good actor. He asked me the night before, we were playing pickleball, which is fun, check it out. And we were just in between games, and so he said to me, "Was I supposed to get a call if you won?" And I was like, "Yes, we're supposed to get a call, but you're not supposed to tell me." So that now I had to go check my phone. And he went to go check his phone and came back and he said, "No, no call. There's always the next year. And you were in with so many great people, so you should feel good about it." And so I did, so I was ready to congratulate someone else. I just dressed in very casual clothes, just comfortable clothes. And I even saw while I was teaching my two grandbabies, walk by - they're in fourth and fifth grade ones that live nearby, actually fifth and sixth now. And I didn't even think that they were them. I wasn't expecting anyone to come. And then when everyone walked in the door, I was like, "oh, you were walking by a second ago, and I didn't even register." So my husband is just a great actor, and it was amazing to see everyone walk in, and the camera crew, and like 26 more people coming in, and friends and family and my daughter, and my future son-in-law and friends. So, it was quite a shock.

- Yeah, there were a lot of people there and kudos to your husband for keeping that a secret so well like that. Sam, what did you think when the Foundation told you that Sue was the winner, and that the winner was a teacher from your building?

- Well, I remember coming to work that day, and there was a message for me from Sue Austin. And I was really nervous. It was almost like it was my award. Like that's how nervous I was. And I took a few minutes and I thought about it and I was like, "It's gotta be her, it's gotta be her." So I called and the first thing she said was, "Sam congrats. Sue's the winner." And I lost it. And I quickly went up and shut my door, so no one could hear me, and was just over the moon excited because although we had just a phenomenal pool this year, Sue is the one, she's just amazing. So it was an awesome phone call, but then afterward I couldn't tell anybody, not even could I not tell Sue, I didn't wanna tell anybody else because out of fear of them slipping and saying something, and so many things I kind of had to do cryptically, like I had a meeting on my calendar the day that the foundation was coming. So I had to cancel that and the person asked me why? And I said, " What, I have something going on, I'm sorry." I had to arrange a sub for the classroom. Well, I couldn't tell the sub where she was going if she'd have lesson plans, I said, "Don't worry, just trust me." And just little things like I brought Sue in flowers that day, while if I would've carried the flowers in the building, she would've known. So I put them in a huge trash bag. I didn't wanna dress too fancy, didn't wanna dress too casual. So, there was a lot going on behind the scenes to keep it a secret and surprise Sue, but I'm really excited that we were able to do that.

- Yeah, and it sounds like you thought of every detail too, hiding the flowers in the trash bag. That's a pretty good trick there. Rick, why did you nominate Sue for teacher of the year?

- Well, thanks for having me on, yeah, my wife and I received the myriad of emails from the district regarding the nomination process, and it took us about three seconds to say, we have to do this. We have to nominate Mrs. Case. We have been blessed to experience her now, this is our third year in her classroom. Our oldest son who's in fifth grade, Grant had her for the two, three multi-age, and got to experience her for two years. And then Seth, our middle son, is experiencing her teaching this year. And we have just been so impressed from day one when we met her with Grant, and it carried over to this year. The thing that hit us probably the most was this year, and when the meet and greet she went up to Seth, and she just simply said that the simple words of hi, Seth, I'm so happy to meet you. I'm so happy you're here or something to that effect. And instantly knowing kids and especially knowing my kids, how much that has impacted Seth, and how much it has affected his whole entire year. He knew that he was safe in her class, he knew that he had somebody who cared. So when we actually read the application packet, and it's the vision of Waterford of inspire, educate, and empower, I mean, she exemplifies it in every single way through the way that she instructs, the structure of her classroom. It's kind of a governance structure that she has set up, the problem based learning projects that we may have an opportunity to discuss in the connections that she makes with families and with students is just phenomenal. And we couldn't think of anybody more deserving. And in May I say the whole Grayson staff is just absolutely fantastic, but Mrs. Case certainly stands out to us. And we are just so honored to experience her. And I think one of the best compliments you can give a teacher is, we wanna experience that again. And we have we fortunately have a third child that's in second grade. And if we're blessed enough, maybe we go three for three.

- Right, and speaking of that problem based learning you touched on, Sue has implemented that in her classroom this year. And that's actually why she was on the podcast before to talk about that. How has your son engaged with our Project Based Learning here at Waterford?

- So, he's been engaged in this really cool project of designing the actual playground that it sounds like we were informed last year. That's maybe going to come to fruition at Grayson. And Mrs. Case's class has had the opportunity to design it from ground up really. And Seth has just what a powerful project where he gets to engage. I think he got to engage from the design standpoint, from the finance standpoint, the budget, and then to see that work come to life. Additionally, I mentioned the governance structure that she had. Everybody in the class has a role. They know they belong. They know they have a role in the classroom. And Grant, I forget what his role was. I think it was line leader or something like that. Seth was elected lieutenant governor this year. So, it comes with the myriad of responsibilities throughout the week. And it's just so powerful because as I mentioned, the connection that they make, the feeling that they're involved, the applicability of the learning, I just saw one of Seth's spreadsheets the other day. And it was created or worksheets rather it was created, and it was using relevant. I think you use Skittles or something and problem solving a math problem using I think your own name, and some relevant facts within the classroom. So created out a scratch. And I think it really has helped, especially knowing my son has just helped him connect on a daily basis to the learning process.

- That's awesome, Rick, we enjoy hearing that feedback too about those new initiatives when they're implemented. Sam, what is it that makes you such a great teacher?

- This is a very easy question to answer, but also a very hard one because there's just so much, and it's hard to even put into words when you come across a teacher like Sue, exactly what they mean, not only to the students, but to the community. Something that strikes me about Sue is she always wants to be better. And sometimes I'm like, I don't know how you can be any better. Like, she's just the best. And it's funny as a principal, I'm tasked with evaluating teachers, and I put this in her evaluation every year. Your evaluation's easy for me to do, but so hard because I have a hard time giving her feedback because she's so incredible. She wants to always be on the cutting edge of what's new, what are best practices? She's on every Facebook group there is known to man for third grade, for envision, for HMH, she will come in my office and go, "You know what? I woke up at 2:00 AM last night, and I was thinking about so and so, and this is what I did." I'm like, "Okay, Sue, I want you to get some sleep, but that's awesome." That's just who she is. She's always striving to be better. She's always preaching to her kids that we can always do better, we can always learn more. The love and admiration that she has for her students, you just can't beat it. I think Mr. West mentioned how on day one she said to Seth, "Welcome, and you have a place here. I'm happy. You're here." She's always using language like that. How much she cares for you, or I want you to hold that thought because your thought is important to me. And I'm really busy right now, but I'm gonna get back to it. Just the way she communicates with children it's absolutely incredible. She is also just an incredible resource for her colleagues, always willing to share her resources, and help out somebody else. So, again, I can't say enough about who she is as a learner, as a teacher, a mother figure in the classroom. She's a lot of things to a lot of us, and Grayson would not be the same place without her. So, she's never retiring, ever. Not allowing it.

- Thank you for that, Sam. Sue, let's hear from you. What is it that you love about teaching?

- Everything. I just love coming in and hearing their stories, and the way they phrase things. And I love watching them struggle too. Like they stick out their tongues or just kind of look up in the sky for a minute and have to struggle through something. And then just to watch just kind of like their eyes get wide and open and smile like, I got it now, and just to hear, like, I didn't know this before, but I know it now. And one of my boys said, "Reading's hard for me. It's really hard for me." Sorry, I always makes me cry, but he's like, "Reading is hard, but I'm gonna come back and tell you when I have my good job, I did it." And so I just, I love that.

- Yeah. That's very heartwarming. Now an exciting part about winning is that you get to pick out a lease from Suburban Ford of Waterford. So big shout out to Suburban for helping us show appreciation to our winner. So Sue, what car did you pick out?

- Yeah, it was hard. I ended up getting an Explorer because I do like to ride bicycles and I like to baby my bike. I don't want it on the back getting laddered dirty. So, I got the Explorer because it will fit in the back. And also the interesting thing is the night that I picked it up, which was a Saturday after I broke my toe in the middle of the night. I went to get like a drink of water and I broke my toe. Well, the Explorer has an auto hold, so you don't have to keep your broken toe holding down the brake. You can actually just hit the brake and take your foot off. And it has an auto hold, so that worked out very timely for me. It is a great car. My grandpa worked for GM, and this is the first Ford that I've ever had. And I'll tell you, I love it. And their dealership makes you feel like home, like everyone there. And every employee that we met with was wonderful. And I would say go there, go see them.

- Yeah, good endorsement. And it works with your broken toes. So I'm glad that all of that is working out as well. So I hope you enjoy that car. You've certainly earned it. Thank you to all of you for being on the show, and congrats again to Sue. I do wanna mention that there are nine total nominations for Teacher of the Year and that the focus this year was on elementary level teachers. So I'm gonna read the names of the other nominees, just so we have them out there as well. Stacey Isbell, fourth grade teacher from Cooley, Ann Wilson, fifth grade teacher from Schoolcraft, Elizabeth Robertson, fourth grade teacher from Schoolcraft, Corey Wholehan, music teacher at Schoolcraft. Meagan McGrath, second grade teacher from Beaumont, Jennifer Janczarek,fourth grade teacher from Donelson Hills, Angelo Redick, second second grade teacher from Knudsen, and Rachel Bryce, kindergarten teacher from Schoolcraft. Congrats again to all of our nominees. And Scott, what do you have to say about Sue, and this group of educators?

- Well, one of the things that Sue said about a student coming back someday to tell him about his job and how he is reading made me think about how important teachers are in our lives. And just a couple years ago when I became superintendent, I reached out, I was able to connect with my first grade teacher, and took her to lunch. My mom joined us and my youngest daughter at the time. I think she was 10. And it was such a wonderful opportunity. I am here because of teachers like Sue, and like so many of our nominees. So, thank you again for working with our kids like you do, Sue. Sarah, these exceptional nine teachers that you mentioned are just simply examples of the quality water for school district professionals we have leading our students every day in every school and in every classroom. They inspire hope, ignite imaginations, and instill the love of learning in their students. These teachers awaken the joy of learning by emphasizing with their students, respecting them, and believing that each one, each one has potential to reach their personal best. And I know Sue is a great example on that. On behalf of our grateful community, I want to thank Sue, Stacy, and Elizabeth, Corey, Megan, Jennifer, Angela, and Rachel, all of our nominees for their continued commitment toward empowering students to thrive.

- All right, thank you, Scott. Well said, and thank you again to all of our guests. Everyone stay tuned, up next we're going to talk to three of our Waterford School District students about their time at WSD as well as their plans for the future.

- Hello, Scott Lindberg here, superintendent of Waterford School District. It's time to start thinking about where your child should attend school for the 2022 and 2023 school year. At Waterford School District, we aim to create today's student to become tomorrow's leader, and we are uniquely prepared to build your child's future. We offer many dynamic learning opportunities, such as an innovative STEM academy, and we recently invested $2 million in cutting-edge curriculum. Enroll at, that's Come join us here at Waterford School District where your child will be inspired, educated, and empowered to thrive.

- All right, so great to hear from Sue, and everyone else involved in Teacher of the Year. It's a really great program through our Waterford Foundation, who we hope to have represented on an upcoming episode of WSD voice, but now we're gonna talk to some of our students.

- That's right, and keeping in line with the theme of this episode, we are gonna talk to three of our Waterford School District students about their time at WSD as well as their plans for the future. So I have the privilege and I'm just excited to welcome to the show, Abby Stauber our Mott representative, Alexander Salazar from Durant High School, and Noah Khanuja representing Kettering High School today.

- Excellent, thank you for all of you for being here today. Let's start with Noah. Noah, your mom actually works for the district, correct?

- So, yeah, she mainly teaches seventh and eighth graders over at Pierce, and I've actually been a student here at Waterford School District all my life. I've been in Waterford school since preschool starting next to Stepanski, and then I moved over to Haviland for elementary school, and then I went to Pierce with my mom. And now I'm here at Kettering where I've been at for the last four years. So it's been pretty fun.

- All right, awesome. That's great that you're a lifelong WSD student. I was looking through a list of who our scholarship recipients are and saw that you've been awarded a scholarship. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and where you plan to attend school in the fall?

- Yeah, so I got the presidential scholarship over at Alma, which covers about maybe 90% of my tuition there. And I'm gonna be gonna there to play football, and major in sports management, and probably minor in either communications or business.

- Okay, awesome. I'm told that you're the first Kettering student to go to Alma. What do you plan to do while you're there?

- So, what I really plan to do is, like I said, I'm just gonna major in sports management, and hopefully try to keep my grades up, and then I'll play football in my off time, and hopefully we can get some wins over there too.

- Yeah, absolutely. That's very exciting, Noah. And I'm gonna ask this of all the guests here on the podcast, what are some things that you learned during your time as a student at Waterford?

- Definitely some things that I've learned and cherished is like how to make lasting friendships over four years, the friends that I've had have like increased and especially, I still have friends from my elementary school. So it's really cool that like being able to move up with all my friends into the same district, and keep in touch is something that I definitely liked.

- Yeah, for sure. Especially being a lifelong student of the district. So, now we'll move on to Alexander. Alexander, you're currently a Durant student. What are your plans for the future?

- Well, after I plan on graduating, I plan to like keep going with my music career, keep playing with my band. I do wanna go to Texas. I plan on moving to Texas to do my music out there, not this year, but hopefully in the next couple of years. And yeah, I think I'm just gonna stick with the music for a while. Do a lot of music stuff. Get out, try to put my name out there a lot.

- Can you talk a little bit more about the music stuff? What band are you in? And I think you had mentioned earlier that your dad's in the band and all of that, but.

- Yeah, yeah. It's a family band. It's my dad, my grandpa and my uncle, and the guitar player is our friend, but we all just play together, and the name is Group Illusion. It's spelled illusion, but it they say illusion, but yeah, it's pretty fun. I think it's been a band for like 25 years now. And I joined like three years ago, so I've been playing, I'm finally playing full time with them now, like the whole night, 'cause I started off playing at least like three songs for one night, and I didn't get paid or nothing. So now I actually get paid for playing too. So, yeah.

- That's exciting. What first got you into music?

- I grew up with the band in my family, my aunts, my uncles, everybody. Just my whole family is musically inclined. So, they didn't force it outta me, but I kind of like, they were like bought me the instruments, and I learned it, so.

- Yeah. Very cool.

- It's been pretty cool though.

- All right, and then you were telling me about a day job. You were thinking about going into the mortgage business as well once you graduate.

- Oh, yeah. Yeah, my aunt, she works at United Wholesale Mortgage, and she told me about a year ago that she could get me in there, and I've been sticking with it. So I'm probably just gonna go there. It seems like a good job. If my aunt can stay there, I think I could stay there too. So, it's pretty cool. It seems like a cool job.

- Yeah, well, good luck to you for that. Thank you. Thank you.

- And just like I asked Noah, what are some things that you learned during your time as a student at Waterford?

- Well, I did get a lot of new friends when I came into Waterford School, and then that I came in fifth grade at Grayson, and then I went to Mason, and Kettering and then now Durant. But within all those years I've got so many friends, and I still have all those friends too. Waterford School District's pretty cool. I like it. It's a good district. Durant too. Durant's a real good school. They helped me out with a lot of my work here. Is real nice here.

- Good, I'm glad to hear that you've had a great experience in the school district, and Durant specifically. So, thank you Alexander- You're welcome.

- ...for being on the show. Last but not least we have Abigail representing Mott, well, sorry, Abby, can you give us a quick rundown of some of what you were involved in during your time at Mott?

- Some of the clubs I've been in at Mott are ADL, which is the Anti-Defamation League. It's just a club that brings insight on problems in the school and bringing things up to date with current issues and just how us as a student body can help our peers and people around us. I have also been in the band and here at Mott, I was a percussionist. I didn't get to do it this year sadly because of how scheduling worked out. But for the last three years I was a percussionist and I've also been in Link crew, which is a freshman senior, well, freshman and upperclassmen pairing that introduces the freshman into high school, and what it's gonna be like for the next four years, basically.

- Very nice. And on top of that, I hear you are a tremendous athlete. You even broke a record previously held since 2011. Can you tell us a little bit about your athletic career at Waterford?

- The record that I broke is the pole vault record. It was nine feet, eight inches. And at the meat that I broke it at, I just wanted to make sure that I could do it. So I jumped nine, nine, just one up a bit, but then ended up jumping 10, six. So almost a foot over it.

- Wow, and how did you get into pole vaulting? Like to me that's kind of a unique sport kind of a niche to get into.

- I was a gymnast most of my life growing up. So one of my gymnastics friends who had already been at Mott on the track team as a high jumper wanted to try pole vaulting, and she told me she didn't wanna go alone, and that I didn't have to keep doing it, but to just be there for the first practice. So I said, why not? And I ended up really liking it and continued to do it.

- Very cool. And on top of setting athletic records, you have also been offered multiple scholarships. From what I counted, you received offers from seven different universities totalling over $320,000. Can you tell us about some of those offers and where you ultimately decided you will go and why?

- I got most presidential scholarships from the colleges that I applied to, and just regular like grants and stuff that I applied for, but I ultimately decided to go to Siena Heights University for pole vaults, and to study environmental science. And it shouldn't be too much in debt afterwards because of the scholarship, so that's nice.

- Yeah, absolutely. Something to consider when you're looking at all of that. That's a great story, Abby. And like our two other guests, what are some things that you learned during your time as a student at Waterford?

- Probably I'd like to cherish all the people and the staff members and teachers that I've met along the way, going to Pierce for middle school most kids go to Kettering instead of Mott. So, you kind of lose most of your friends and it's kinda hard. So, being able to make new friends freshman year with people that already knew each other could be kind of difficult. So, it's nice to know that there are a lot of nice people that were ready to welcome me, and be here for people who might not know as many people.

- Yeah. Good. I'm glad that was your experience. Such amazing stories, and plans for our students, Scott, as superintendent you must feel proud of these young adults.

- Yeah, these are examples of well rounded experiences that have brought these three students here today, different pathways lead to different opportunities. And it's so good to hear each one of these students, the three that we've talked with today, have strong post high school plans, and visions for their life. It reminds me of what we're all about here in Waterford, and that's inspired, educated, and empowered to thrive. And here's an example of athletics here, and the arts and certainly the academics that have gotten them to this point today. So, we're proud of all three of you, and we certainly thank you for joining us, and representing Waterford as you go out beyond the Waterford boundaries to show the world what you're all about.

- Yeah, thanks for being on the show Abby, Noah and Alexander. And to Scott and the rest of our guests earlier in the show, thank you also for being on. Good luck to everyone. You all have very bright futures ahead. This podcast was brought to you by Waterford School District Department of School and Community Services, and is produced by Video Production Coordinator Jane Tekiele. I am the host of this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find all episodes of WSD Voice on our website at, or you can tune in to 89.5 WAHS, or Radio Centro Multicultural. We so appreciate you listening today, and encourage you to continue to tune in to future episodes of WSD Voice as we discuss topics geared toward inspiring, educating, and empowering our students, staff and alumni to thrive.

Episode 2: Food and Nutrition Services/Music and Theater in our Schools
Published: March 2022


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In honor of National School Breakfast Week (March 7-11, 2022) and National Nutrition Month, the first segment of this episode focuses on our Food and Nutrition Services Department. Then, in recognition of March as Music in our Schools and Theater in our Schools month, we highlight WSD's music and theater programming. 

Guests for Food and Nutrition Services discussion:
Michael Williams, Director, Food and Nutrition Services 
Tina Rompa, Assistant Cook, Pierce Middle School
Kristen Woods-Helms, Principal, Durant High School 

Guests for Music/Theater in our Schools discussion:
Jason Pratt, Theater Teacher and Performing Arts Center Coordinator, Kettering High School
Cory Wholehan, Music Teacher, Schoolcraft, Riverside, Grayson elementaries; Mott High School Marching Band
Jaylin Thompson, Sophmore student, Kettering High School
Bella Ziegler, Senior student, Mott High School

Waterford School District Food and Nutrition Services 

Sarah Davis, Director of Communications and Community Relations
Scott Lindberg, Superintendent
Jane Tekiele, Video Production Coordinator

- Welcome to "WSD Voice," a podcast focused on positive and informative news in Waterford School District. We have a great program lined up for you today. I am your host, Sarah Davis, the Director of Communications and Community Relations. And I am here with Waterford School District's Superintendent, Scott Lindberg, who is making a return appearance as co-host. Scott said he had such a fun time in our first episode that he asked to participate again. So welcome back, Scott.

- Hi, Sarah. Yes, I really enjoyed being on "WSD Voice" and I found it was a great way to engage with parents and students. And so I'm gonna try to make myself available to be on all of the episodes whenever possible.

- Awesome, I'm happy to hear that. This really is a more the merrier type of scenario where the more people we can get engaged in learning about the positive news of Waterford School District, the better. And before we dive into our episode topics, I'd like to take a minute to let our audience know that our podcast has been syndicated on two radio stations, shout out to 89.5 WAHS Avondale Community Radio and Radio Central Multicultural for helping us promote the good news of Waterford School District. I just love partnering with our community organizations because a strong community connection is truly the backbone for a successful school district. And we're blessed to have that here in Waterford.

- Yeah, I couldn't agree more, Sarah and I think of this saying, "As go the school, so goes the community." And so these strong, purposeful partnerships are so critically important because all of us working together build and make a stronger community. And I always like to think about together, we can, anything is possible.

- So we're in the month of March now, and I'm sure you're aware that there's a lot of school-related national celebrations that are recognized in March. For example, did you know March is also Food Nutrition Month and more specifically, March 7th through 14th is National School Breakfast Week.

- Yes, and March is also music in our school's month and theater in our school's month, which are topics that we will be focusing on later in this episode. Waterford School District has a deep commitment to all of our art related programs. And I'm excited to highlight those in this episode.

- Me too, but first, let's start with our food service portion of our program. I'd like to welcome today Michael Williams, Director of Waterford School District's Food Service Department, Tina Rompa, Assistant Cook for Pierce Middle School, and Kristen Woods-Helms, Principal at Durant High School to talk about the integral role Food Service plays in our school district. Thank you to all of you for being here. Michael, we'll begin with you. Can you first give us a brief overview of the Food Service program we have here at Waterford School District?

- Well, first and foremost, thank you for having me on the show today. Just a brief overview of what we do as the Food Service Department in the district. First and foremost, we make sure that all the students in our district are fed, right? Nutritional meals, breakfast, and lunch. And I'm speaking for myself and my staff, we have fun doing it. We love coming to work every day. Everything that we do is key and pivotal to making sure that our students start off with a great day and are ready to learn. And during lunch, we make sure that they're provided a nutritional meal to continue that wanting and that thirst for learning. So, yeah, so the students are glad to come in for breakfast and lunch every morning. And we serve a lot of students every day. On a daily basis, we serve close to 6,000 meals, on a weekly basis that gives it up when we serve about 30,000 meals. And on average month, we serve about 130,000 meals a day, a month, sorry.

- Wow, that's a lot. Tina, can you talk a little bit about what a day in the life of a lunch lady looks like?

- Certainly, first of all, thank you for having me on the show as well. The day in the life of a lunch lady, my day starts at 6:15 in the morning. I come in, we review the menu in the morning to discuss what's on the menu. I start prepping for breakfast in the morning, get breakfast cooked and handled, and I'm ready to go for when another girl's come in to serve it, check the menu, start prepping for the next day's menu, 'cause we're always a day ahead. So I look and see what's on the menu for if it's Monday, for Tuesday, pull everything out of the freezer, start getting that ready to go. And then I'm watching the clock constantly, watching the clock, 'cause at about 8:30, 8:45, I've gotta start cooking. So in getting things cooking and rolling so that my girls can start wrapping cheeseburgers and chicken patties and whatever else the main menu might have as well as the main entree, serving, helping serve the food, getting that prepared. And we cook in batches. So like I'll get the first part of the day ready to go for the first lunch line. And then after that's over with, put more food in the oven, so I'm cooking more for the next line. So everything's always fresh and then preparing, getting the breakfast ready for the next day as well. So when I come in in the morning, all I gotta do is pull it outta the refrigerator and get it going. Production records, counting food at the end of the day, seeing how much we prepared, how much we used, trying to eliminate as much waste as possible. So I don't like throwing food away, and record keeping at the end of the day, so lots and lots of record keeping.

- Right, which might be a part of a job that most people might not think about when they think, that's something else.

- There's a lot of stuff in the back of the office that people don't think about doing such as ordering and with the food charges that we've had throughout the pandemic. So we're always looking ahead on the menu, what's next week. So we can order, we're always try to keep our order a week ahead. So like my food that was coming in this week was for next week and the following week, because sometimes, all the chicken nuggets didn't come in, so now I can order 'em again and hopefully have 'em by the time chicken nuggets are on the menu again. So there's that. And there's the keeping track of the ordering and also just paying attention to what the kids like. So sometimes they'll be like, I'll see something pop up on the menu and I'm like, they really don't like that, or they don't care for it as much, I have some kids that might like it. So then we try to add something else in there so they have lots of options. So again, because you always wanna make sure that there's something that Johnny's gonna like, if they don't like this, they might like that. You know what I'm saying? So there's that as well.

- Yeah, absolutely. What would you say is your favorite part of the job?

- The kids, over, I've been a lunch lady for 22 years, so I've seen them come go. And I let them call me by my first name. I like to call them by their first name. I like to get them know them. They come in in sixth grade, I get 'em sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade. So by the time they're in eighth grade, I'll see, 'em come in, "Hey, what's going on?" They'll be like, "Hi, Tina, how's it going?" You know, this and that. Now I see some of my kids after 22 years out in the real world as adults and I ran into one not too long ago at the hospital, that was a nurse. And he recognized me. He said used to be my lunch lady. And I see them out in restaurants as waitresses or waiters, or I see them all over the place. And they remember me and they grow up, they were in sixth and seventh and eighth grade when I seen them. Now they're adults. They don't look the same as they did back then. So they'll gimme their name and I'll remember their name. Sometimes their face is still look the same, but it's cool to see them become productive adults in the world. So I do love the kids though.

- Yeah, absolutely. And Kristen, from the building level perspective, what have you witnessed in terms of that relationship that Tina is touching on right now talking between lunch staff and students.

- Before I get to your question, Sarah, I would like to like Michael and Tina, thank you for having me on the show to today, prior to addressing that, I think it's important to lift up what Durant is all about because our unique culture is what drives the relationship between food service staff and our students and staff as well. We are the third high school in Waterford. We offer an identical curriculum to that that is offered at both Kettering and Matt with a couple of unique electives thrown in there. Right now we have a population of about 134 students. Our students come in having to have at least two years of high school and ranging age from 15 to 19 years old. Our school runs on terms and we have four, 10 week terms in a calendar year. So, relationship is very key 'cause we're such a small community. So when you think about the relationship between the Food Service staff and teachers is almost synonymous because they see Food Service staff every day, they're coming in for breakfast, they're coming in for lunch. We want our Food Service team to be a part of our culture. So they have participated in trainings. When we have staff celebrations, if their schedules permit, they are always included. We communicate if there are any issues in terms of students having concerns about food, I wanna give a huge shout out to Mr. Williams, who visits classrooms, who takes the voices of our students seriously. And it's very important that that happens because our students are some who have either fallen behind in credits or prefer a smaller setting. So in big schools, they didn't necessarily have their voices heard, but that's something that they really respect and value, something as simple as getting a different type of sauce for a taco, it changes the game. So I appreciate him for doing that. So we really, really impress upon our students and staff, the importance of mutual respect. And I think that food service and our students would say that they feel that they each are a part of our family and that we have a unique bond here at Durant in that regard.

- Awesome, thanks for that perspective, Kristen.

- You're welcome.

- Michael, I know things have gotten a little more difficult in the food service industry during COVID. What are some of the challenges your department is facing?

- So right now, as far as challenges are concerned, along with everyone, that's in the food service department and business, we're dealing with shortages and we're dealing with staff shortages as well. So shortages with the food as far as productivity is concerned because like everyone is dealing with, we just can't seem to get the food in when we need it, right? So we have to be two or three weeks ahead of the game to make sure that we have the initial product we need to make sure that our menu is complete with all the components that are in addition to it. So what we do my team from our lunch ladies, all the way up myself and my office team, my secretary and my assistant, we are going through asking all of our vendors to make sure that we have things that are ready to be ordered. We're ordering ahead of time. And when things aren't able to be ordered, we try to substitute things as they come in. So it's a daily process, it's a hourly process. And sometimes it's right down to the minute, as far as the food product.

- Yeah, absolutely. I know today we were getting some video footage and it was quite busy in there, we heard. Despite all of these challenges, you are continuing to persevere and provide food for our students. Why is it so important for students to have food available to them during the course of the school day?

- Well, I touched on it a little bit in my opening comments, but it's just so pivotal to make sure that the children have something nutritionist to eat in the morning to start their day, right? So it kick starts the brain, it kick starts really the body to make sure that you have that energy. And when the kids come in, they're ready to learn. Their heart upbeat, their brain's working. So it's like an engine or a car when you put gas into it, right? And that food is the gas to make the body go, to make the brain start turning that engine to have all that energy, to start that learning process, and the same thing that happens with lunch, right? So we all have that certain middle day crash with that lunch being provided, again with the nutrients that they need to continue to learn. It's pivotal for them to have that. So while they're in the classrooms, they're still attendant and it's pivotal that they have that to continue to learn on a regular basis.

- All right, and Kristen, what do you think about what Michael is saying in regard to the importance of food for our students?

- I totally agree. And when I think about Durant specifically, our students have so many different challenges outside of the classroom that they're worried about. They're worried about contributing financially to their households. Some of them are parents themselves. Some of them have responsibilities that are greater than you can imagine. So for people who may say, oh, I really would like to not have this type of item every day on the menu, some kids bank on that, This is the only food that they have. So a lot of times when there are snow days, when there are days that are outta school, when we have to pivot to online learning, I often wonder about how my students eat, because some of them, they count on that so much so that we brainstormed with Michael and his team to talk about for students who have issues with transportation in the morning, getting here, what can we do? And we offered an alternate lunch from the hot lunch so the kids are still able to eat, even if they're getting here later in the day. And so it, like he said, it's very important for them to be able to have one less thing to worry about for them to think, like, instead of stopping by and having to worry about getting snacks or something unhealthy, you can get something nutritious here. If students don't want items in their lunch, we encourage them. We have a table in the back, that's set up where this is for extras or things you don't want. And initially that table was filled with again because I think kids didn't have the courage to go there, but now if you go back and see, it's empty, other than a apple that might have been bruised. So I think it's very, very important for our students to continue to get the nutrition that they need. And I think that we don't give credit enough to that team for what it is that they do, because they may just be thinking they're coming in and working a shift. But for some of these kids, this is all the food that they may get that's balanced throughout their day, weeks, and on the weekend as well when they take it home. So, thank you.

- Yeah, absolutely. Michael, can you talk about some exciting things that your department has on the horizon?

- Yes, but first I wanted to double back on what Kristen mentioned, and it is just so pivotal and I love the saying, it takes a village because I believe that in the district, we're all a family, a working family. And our main objective is to make sure that our students leave here with the best experience, whether that's on an educational level with us dealing with food service, that's just a nutritional level, with it, we all have intricate parts in this to make sure that our students thrive. And we are called upon to make decisions and come up with plans to make sure that we live out that mission. One of the things that we do, do as far as when we are called to pivot and go into learning virtually is we offer a drive up service so that our kids do not miss any meals on account of not being able to come into schools. And that's been one of the great programs we've integrated into our meal service that is thriving because like Kristen said and mentioned, some of our students, the only time they're able to eat is when they're at school, right? So we didn't want to break that pattern up and we'll continue to do so as we're needed. But as far as what we're looking to integrate, as far as new ideas or continue in within food services, we're looking to add a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables in our salad bars. Once things start to open up, as far as the restrictions on COVID, we're looking to really get back into having fresh fruit and salad bars, starting with our secondaries, our high schools, and our middle schools, and trickling down to our elementaries. We're looking in to, me, I visit the schools on a daily basis, but what I'm looking to do is to bring more fun and more education as far as Food Service is concerned. So we're looking into purchasing a mobile kitchen to go throughout the schools and teach kids and inform them on more healthy way of eating and having fun with it, right? And just educating them on the importance of eating healthy and staying healthy. So those are things that we're looking down later in the pipeline that we're looking and we're excited to bring to the district.

- All right, and what are some other items you've implemented to help our student in peer and population become more engaged with Food Service?

- I would like to say, number one is our interactive menu we have posted on the school website, that's really the direct pipeline that the parents can actually check and make sure that when they know what their kids are eating on a daily basis. And it holds us accountable because it shows what we're serving and if there's no drop off in communication, right? So the reason I love it so much is because it's interactive, the parents can click on the link and it shows was the menu for the whole month. And just by hovering over menu items in the day, the week or the month, it breaks everything down into the carb counts, the fat content, sugar content, all the information that the parents need just in case they have a student or a child with a special diet. It gives them all the information, just in case their kid needs to take some type of insulin or anything connected to their health. We have all that information on the website for them.

- That menu sounds super helpful. I'll have to check it out, yeah. Where can our audience find that menu as well as any other information about Food Service?

- So the menu is on the Waterford School District website, and you can scroll down at the bottom of that page and click on the food and nutrition tab. And as soon as you click on that, you pick the school that your student goes to. And I think that's like three clicks, once you do that, you'll be able to follow through. And the interactive menu will pop up and all you have to do is just pick a day a week or a month, and all that information, nutritional information will be there for you.

- All right, awesome. Thanks each of you for being on the show. Scott, any food for thought about WSD's Food Service Department?

- Yeah, coming to mind that thinking about, we think about the three Rs, relationships, relevance, and rigor. And so what we've heard today, and Tina was talking about having relationships with our kids and making sure that they have the needed nutrition to be successful throughout the day. And it takes me back to some experiences I had in elementary. I was one of those kids that received a reduced lunch, I think it was a dime back then. And I had a relationship with those ladies. In fact, the custodian I came to find out would pay extra money so I could have extra ravioli. That was the best meal I had in that day. But I had a relationship with the lunch ladies and that food that I had was so important. And I know it's so important to our students. Kristen talked about that over at Durant. So we want to close the gap and help our kids, our students be successful, and nutrition is a key way about that. And I'm so pleased we're doing breakfast because breakfast sets the day off and some might say, well, they should eat breakfast at home. Well, should have, would, or could have, we know that kids need to have that nutrition. Maybe they've been on the bus, maybe they had something at 6:30 in the morning, but come 7:30, eight o'clock, they're ready to have something again. So set the day off where they're gonna be most successful and focused on their learning.

- Yep, absolutely, Scott. Thank you again to Michael, Tina, and Kristen for being on the show. Kristen, your insight into the importance of having your students connect with Food Service staff, I think is very innovative. And Michael and Tina, you provide our students with nutritious food, which is such an important piece of the academic success and engagement puzzle. And we thank you for all that you do. What a great conversation with our Food Service staff, Scott. I really think that's a sector of any school district that students and families frequently interact with yet rarely understand how they operate. So I'm glad we were able to get them on the show.

- Yeah, I completely agree, Sarah. And so who do we have next on our "WSD Voice?"

- So next we're gonna feature some of our students and staff from our music and theater programs. When I was starting to put this show together, I soon realized what an animal this was because there is quite simply a lot of talent in the arts here at Waterford School District. So I fully acknowledge that this episode is only a small peak into the inside of some of the art programming we have here at Waterford, but we have to start somewhere and I promise to include more guests in programs on later episodes.

- Oh, absolutely, Sarah. WSD has a longstanding history providing amazing art opportunities to students and we continue to make it a priority. So, let's get started. For this discussion, I'd like to welcome Jason Pratt, the theater teacher and Performing Art Center Coordinator at Kettering High School. Corey Wholehan, a 14-year music teacher who currently works in three of our elementaries, School Craft, Riverside, and Grayson, plus assists with the high school marching band. And we have two of our students with us today. Jaylin Thompson, a sophomore studying music at Kettering, and Bella Ziegler, a senior at Matt studying theater.

- Awesome, quite the lineup of guests. Welcome to the show, everyone. And before we begin real quick, Scott, were you ever involved in music or theater?

- Yeah, I actually a little bit on both back in elementary, middle school, I played the cornett. And so those were some good times. Also I've been involved in my church choir in the past when I had a little bit more time. And karaoke, does karaoke count? Maybe not.

- I don't think so.

- Maybe not.

- And I took piano lessons when I was a young girl and I still remember the day when my parents had saved up for a piano and rolled it into our living room. It was a really big deal to get that. Ultimately, I didn't continue with the piano, which may be a life regret, but in high school, I did some clarinet music as well in the concert band. We will first start with Jason Pratt who just told me the other day that he has been elected to serve as the Chair Director for the Michigan Educational Theater Association. So congrats to you, Jason. I know you've done a lot of advocacy work for theater in the state, can you talk a little bit about that?

- Yeah, thanks for having me on the show. I've done quite a bit of advocacy in terms of theater education around the state. And I teach workshops, I teach other educators how to advocate for their students and their programs. And I teach a lot of different things. I've testified on committees in the Michigan State House of Representatives and I've reached out and worked with the Governor's Office on a few occasions to have reclaim March, both Theater in our School's month and Music in our School's month in the State of Michigan, which has been pretty exciting. So why is it so important to establish these month recognitions?

- Well, I think it's important for them to be recognized on a higher level because it keeps the topics of arts and arts and education important and relevant to our communities and the public.

- Absolutely, so now let's talk a little bit about the successes of our music in theater programs here at home at Waterford. Can you name a few highlights stemming from those programs?

- Sure, well, I was just actually talking to you about this the other day. We've had several of our students fairly recently competing at the State Solo Ensemble Events where numerous students earned the highest ratings, superior or division one ratings, and numerous also earned the second highest rating, of excellent or division two, they did a fantastic job. We're really proud of them for that. We've had some students have really good successes this year. You're gonna meet a couple of them later and I'll let them talk about those successes. We've seen the reimagining and return of live per performances happening at all of the Waterford School District schools, which is really great to see Waterford, Kettering specific, something I'm proud of as the director there, the musical, the sound of music was nominated for best high school musical in the State of Michigan at the Sutton Foster Ovation Awards. And two of my actors, Naomi Black was nominated for best actress in the musical and Holden Svacha was nominated for best actor in a musical for their roles in the Sound of Music.

- And I see Bella clapping as she hears that news. Those accomplishments are amazing and such a testament to the programs offered at Waterford School District. From a teacher's point of view, why would you recommend arts for students?

- Yeah, and arts education and arts in our schools is really an important to envision that well-rounded student aspect of education. When you think about what arts education does, it's very closely linked to everything we as a nation ask of our children and the schools that they attend, it has shown that the involvement of the arts is associated with an increase in reading comprehension and cognitive ability and critical thinking and verbalization skills. There've been studies done that show that they also improve student motivation, makes them want to be in school and makes them want to be an active a member of their community. It helps their concentration. It helps confidence. And I've seen that on several occasions personally, in the arts programming we have in Waterford. And it's really great to see arts education, able to provide students with a foundation of social bonding and community cohesion and engagements that is really difficult to get in many other places.

- Absolutely, and speaking of well-rounded student, we're gonna talk to Bella now. Like Scott mentioned before, Bella is a theater student at Matt High School, who recently played the role of Rona Lisa Peretti in Matt's Fall Production of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Bella, thanks again for being on the show. We love having our students on, can you talk a bit about how you got started in theater?

- Thank you for having me. Yeah, so I started performing in fifth grade, my elementary school put on Christmas Carol and I played the ghost of Christmas present. I was really shy and awkward as a kid. So this was a really big jump for me, but my parents and family can attest that it threw me out of my shell and they saw a spark light within me. And that you could see that I got hooked and they knew this was something I was gonna do for a very long time.

- Yeah, absolutely. What is it that you love about performing?

- I just love the energy that it gives me. I grew up around music and I was exposed to theater at a very young age. I would always go see the middle school productions. So I always knew that this was something I was really interested in, but I love the feeling it gives me, I love going up on stage and being able to pour my heart out into a song or a monologue or something. It gives me this rush that nothing else can give me.

- That's awesome. And you mentioned to me earlier that you have received a very prestigious scholarship for your work in theater. Can you tell us about that?

- Yeah, so recently, I just went to the Michigan Thespian Festival back in December and I received the Michigan Thespian Scholarship, which was huge and insane. I was not expecting to receive the award, I was one of 10 students in the entire state who received it, which was crazy, that eye of a million different thespians and not well, like thousands of thespians. I got that above everyone else. It was just so surreal. It just shows how much passion and work all these kids have put into their craft. And I'm forever grateful for the experiences that I've received at that festival, in particular, it was so surreal. It was so amazing to be able to receive that.

- Thanks, Bella. I'm really, really happy for you. That sounds like an amazing opportunity and good for you. Now, let's talk about music a little bit. Up next on the program, we have Corey who is in charge of the instrument closet for all students in the district. Now, what is the instrument closet you may ask? I had the same reaction when someone first mentioned it to me, but as soon as I learned what it was, I knew it was something we needed to talk about on this episode. So Corey, can you tell us what the instrument closet is?

- Yes, thanks for having me. The instrument closet is an actual closet full of instruments we have available to lend out to students to use while they are in band or orchestra in Waterford. we currently have about 15 instruments in the closet ready to lend out. We have lots of beginning band instruments, so that's flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and we have a few violins. These instruments are available for any Waterford School District student who cannot afford to get their own instrument. Once an in instrument is leased out to a student, it is theirs to use until they graduate or stop participating in school band orchestra, or if they move out of Waterford, if anyone would like help getting an instrument for their child, all they need to do is ask a music teacher at their school and the music teacher will contact me to connect you with an instrument.

- Okay, and why is it important to have a closet like this?

- Yeah, we believe all students should have access to participate in school band or orchestra if they want to. Sometimes the hardest part is the cost of getting the instrument. This instrument closet provides one more way for families to get an instrument for their child. We really wanna make sure our current fifth graders know about this option. Sixth grade is when we begin band orchestra in school and we wanna help them set them up for success so they can hopefully be members of our high school ensembles in the future.

- Yeah, absolutely, allowing access to music for all students is so important. How can the community help out with the instrument closet?

- A local music store, the MQUT's music is already helping by providing repairs for a small cost. This helps get the instruments in the best condition before we lend them out to students. If anyone is listening and has an old instrument in a closet at home or in the attic gathering dust, you can donate it to the instrument closet and it will provide more Waterford students with the chance to participate in band or orchestra. Again, you can contact any music teacher in the district and they will make sure that I get the instrument for the closet.

- All right, thank you for overseeing such a wonderful asset in our district, Corey. Continuing on with our music discussion, let's talk to Jaylin. Jaylin, I became aware of you when your teacher sent me some of the music you had been creating in your piano class at Kettering. And he said you were making all of the music yourself, which is pretty unique. What first got you into music, and more specifically piano?

- So firstly, thank you for having me on the show. And what started me off was being surrounded by all different types of music from a young age, from old school rock to hip hop, R&B, from grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties. If you can think of it, you can name it. And what specifically got me into piano playing was my church choir that I attended as a child. I would always hear the one person on the piano playing all different masterpiece that just grabbed my attention. And then from there, my curiosity just grew.

- All right, can you talk a little bit about how you create your own music and who your influencers are?

- So the way that I create my own music is like I do a little bit of research on different websites that have, what's the word I'm looking for? Platforms that I can create these beats with. So one of them that I use is right on my phone, is downloadable for iOS is called GarageBand. Basically it's started off there, me sampling stuff from songs that I've heard and creating other stuff based off of that. And what really got me into creating my own stuff like this would be DJ Khaled. He is also a DJ and producer, and Kanye West who back in his old days actually sampled songs and made his own beats too, which got me into all this.

- All right, what is it that you enjoy about music?

- It helps me get my creative side out and express myself in a meaningful way to me. And not only just to me, but to other students who have a creative side, but are scared to bring it out for everyone else to see. So I'm a influence that you have a creative side, you can get it out of there and let this be heard to everyone else around you.

- All right, thank you so much Jaylin for being on the show. In fact, for our listeners, we're going to use Jaylin's composition as the closing music for this podcast. So, when y'all hear the music come in at the end, please know that is composed by one of our very own students, by Jaylin. Jason, if you're a parent and wanna find out more about the art programming we offer at Waterford, how can you do so?

- Well, I think a great way. Number one is to reach out to any of the arts educators through email in the district and you can find all of our email addresses if you don't know what they are right on a Waterford School District's website, which is, or you can even phone any of the buildings and ask to be connected to the teachers somehow. And they will make sure that we get in contact with you.

- All right, thank you, Jason. Scott, what do you think about this discussion? We had Jason and Corey really leading the charge as teachers in these fields. And we have two wonderful students here, Bella and Jaylin. And I know they're just two of the many, very talented students we have in the district. How important is it to have music and theater in our schools?

- Well, I think about years ago when we had black and white television and now we have color, and I'm going back many decades, but music and the arts bring color to life. And so, listening to Jaylin and Bella today, just reminds me that, that color and that excitement and that vibrant experience that it brings our students. And so this board and this community, and this district is committed to a AAA district where we are always having opportunities in academics, athletics, and the arts. And we find that students are engaged and connected. And as we find with our students today, they have futures beyond high school. We're preparing kids for what those futures may hold. And certainly, Bella and Jaylin have shown that they hold a lot of promise for the future in the arts.

- Yep, thank you for the insights, Scott, and thank you to all of our guests for being here today. We will continue to highlight our music theater and art programs in future episodes for sure. This podcast was brought to you by Waterford School District's Department of School and Community Services. It is produced by Media Production Coordinator, Jane Tekiele. I am the host of this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find all episodes of "WSD Voice" on our website at, or like I mentioned earlier, you can tune in to 89.5 WAHS or Radio Central Multicultural. We so appreciate you listening today and encourage you to continue to tune in to future episodes of "WSD Voice," as we discuss topics geared toward inspiring, educating, and empowering our students, staff, alumni, and community to thrive.

Episode 1: Student and Family Engagement Department/Problem-Based Learning
Published: January 2022

Download Episode 1

This is the first episode of WSD Voice, a Waterford School District podcast that focuses on topics geared toward inspiring, educating and empowering our students, staff, alumni and community. 

In the first segment of this episode, we interview members of our Student and Family Engagement Department (SAFE) and in the second segment, we talk to teachers and students participating in Waterford's new Problem-Based Learning (PBL) K-8 teaching initiative. 

Guests for SAFE discussion:
Scott Lindberg, Superintendent
Ashley Gray, Coordinator for SAFE
Alison Upleger, Behavior Support Specialist for SAFE
Nichelle Clark, Behavior Support Specialist for SAFE 

Guests for PBL discussion:
Scott Lindberg, Superintendent
Elizabeth Kutchey, Assessment Coordinator
Susan Case, 3rd Grade Teacher at Grayson Elementary
Klara Cavali, 7th Grade Student at Pierce Middle School 

SAFE office: 248.257.6952
Problem-Based Learning website

Sarah Davis, Director of Communications and Community Relations
Jane Tekiele, Video Production Coordinator

- Welcome to the first ever episode of WSD Voice. My name is Sarah Davis and I am the Director of Communications and Community Relations for Waterford School District and the host of this podcast. I also have with me today, the Superintendent of Waterford School District, Scott Lindberg. Hello to you, Scott.

- Hello, Sarah, good to be here.

- We're so happy to have you on today. Typically it will just be me hosting the show, but I wanted to bring you on as a special guest to talk about why we're launching this podcast as well as to have you be part of our first conversation here. So I appreciate you being on. Why don't you give us a little insight as to why Waterford School District has decided to start this podcast?

- Sure, thank you so much again, for having me on here Sarah. It is such an honor to be on the very first episode of Waterford's new podcast. So our goal with the WSD Voice is to utilize the podcast, to reach anyone in our community who has an interest in better connecting with Waterford School District. My hope is that we can utilize WSD Voice to blast through the negativity out there and to showcase all the great work going on in the Waterford School District. Because let me assure you there's plenty of it.

- And like you said, it really could be anyone that would have an interest in tuning in, correct?

- Oh, absolutely. We know that it takes an entire village to help support our school district. We're lucky that our Waterford community has always been very generous to our students by supporting bonds and other initiatives that provide the best educational opportunities for our students. And with this in mind, we decided to create this podcast to keep their communication open. And I encourage our students, our parents, and our community organizations to tune in as often as they're able.

- And yeah, I'm really excited for this. So let's get to it. For this first episode, we're gonna feature two really important initiatives, taking place inside Waterford School District. First, we're gonna interview members of our Student and Family Engagement department, otherwise known as SAFE. Then after that we'll hear from teachers and students participating in Waterford's new problem-based learning, K through eight teaching initiative. So first we will start with SAFE and I'd like to welcome to the program, Ashley Gray, Coordinator for SAFE and Allison Upleger and Nichelle Clark, both behavior support specialists for SAFE. Thank you to all of you for being here today. Ashley, we'll start with you. Can you first give us a brief overview of what exactly the SAFE team is and what it is that safe does for Waterford School District?

- Definitely. Thank you for having us on the show today, especially your first guest, this marks history right here. But we have eight people on our team and we're ever growing, the concept of the SAFE team was student family engagement. We really want to stand in the gap of student behavior in the classroom. You want to specialize our services to help students with social, emotional issues that impact the classroom achievement as a whole.

- Excellent. Can you also talk about your team's secret source? I know you and I have met before, and you brought this up the secret source in particular and touch on why family engagement is so important for the SAFE team.

- Definitely. We coined that term secret source because we really believe that our department stands in the gap again, of just the needs for students, because we have great teachers in Waterford who are teaching classrooms. And then we come in as a behavior team to work on individual sessions, which we try to uncover the stresses that impact kids in the classroom, because every kid from K through 12 comes into the school with a lot of stress as good or bad, they just come into the classroom with specialized needs. So we try to develop that relationship individually with students one-on-one sessions, where we can try to support students and bring that back to classroom. Then we have group sessions. Our goal is to create a positive environment, to push students, to encourage them because we know how important peers are for them to have an impactful outcome. We're making thoughtful decisions. The whole concept of our group sessions are making thoughtful decisions as it relates to peer environment and making decisions that show them in the best light. And then we do our family piece. I really am big on family engagement because I believe families at peace, we can pour into great kids in the school day, but they go back home to the family. So we want to build families up, support them, encourage them and talk to them about the educational system. So how can they support their kid at home? Because every family has challenges, every family has gifts. And how can we support that and really highlight that for that student to be successful because ultimately when the student's successful, the families are successful. So those are our three key pieces that we feel like are the secret sauce to making our program great.

- Absolutely, thanks Ashley. Allison, what are some examples of how the SAFE team works with our elementary students?

- Yeah, thank you so much for having me on the show. So in the elementary settings, like Ashley mentioned, we provide some one-on-one sessions to students that require more of that individualized care. These would be students in elementary that are struggling behaviorally, whose behaviors affect either theirs or others learning. They have unstable parent family dynamics or are lacking important coping skills that are good to have in elementary. This could look like kids that are leaving their seat consistently in class, physical aggression, unstable emotions, a lack of interest in their learning or friendships, stealing. These are some of the students that we would also include in our group sessions. Small groups would usually be about three to five upper elementary students that are struggling with behaviors or some of those coping skills that I mentioned. We meet once a week for about six weeks to discuss things like anger, conflict resolution, self-control communication, some of the other skills. Groups give students the opportunity to discuss these skills with their peers, with the kids that are their age, and to discuss how it's affecting those that are like them. It's less intimidating than meeting one-on-one for some of those kids that don't have that confidence. So they work to improve their ability to make connections with those other students, understand the differing views of them, stimulate appropriate communication skills. And then we also have like Ashley mentioned the parent meetings, which are extremely important when trying to understand the full scope of the child's behaviors. Especially through this recent pandemic, it's become really difficult for teachers to meet with and effectively communicate with the families. So having that outside, outside resource, the best behavior, the support specialists allows for more flexibility and availability when meeting and talking with the parents, and it allows the teachers to place more emphasis on their academics and their learning, as opposed to focusing mainly on those behaviors.

- All right, thank you Allison. Nichelle, you work more at the secondary level, implementing safety practices with families. What are some examples of safe and action at the secondary level?

- Thank you for having me on the show. And at the secondary level, we really look to support students with skills and techniques that students can use when transitioning out of high school, we do group sessions that focus on various topics, such as substance abuse, leadership, and transitions, along with individual sessions, where we can really spend time with each student and provide more customized support. Students that would receive individualized sessions would be students who are acting out in class unengaged, skipping, abusing substances, have a lack of healthy relationships and or negative peer groups, social isolation, et cetera. Our group sessions give the students the opportunity to interact with their peers, along with leading the direction of discussion for each group session. We also hold family sessions with our students' guardians to discuss home dynamics, behaviors they have noticed, and to get an idea of the underlying reasons their behaviors are occurring in school. We're also looking to provide the best practices and interventions, but also want the students' contributions to what sessions look like and what they're needing in terms of support for the week. We're also working on bringing new initiatives to our students and schools, that family engagement, peer to peer engagement and support, along with social activities where we can really see our students shine.

- Yeah, and one of those that you recently had was the very successful Spelling Bee. Ashley, can you kind of talk about some of those initiatives that your group has started?

- Yeah, so it's crazy how I think our department is so fluent. We really try to stand in the gap of any needs. So we create a... We have staff meetings monthly, or even weekly, sometimes even daily to say, "Hey, there's a need, how can our team fill that need?" This as recent as yesterday, we understand that we shifted to online learning. So we decided as a team, how can we have a study hall for all high school students? And that's just what we do because we really feel like, and it just leader of this department, wherever there's a gap, where can we as a body of staff step in and try and support? So some of our initiatives are the Spelling Bee, where we worked with elementary students, trying to do to do in heightened and highlight different spelling words. And we had parents come out and participate. We do the rising star, which is our highlighting behaviors. And it's not really those kids who always do well, it's those kids who really have made great improvements where they can see that they changed their behaviors around. Then we have a kickball and that's really fun for all of our fifth graders. We just do a kickball tournament where the staff at each school, so they're playing against some of their teachers doing kickball. And it's really a fun opportunity where staff can come in and just help out and have a fun time. And then we have the basketball program for all nine of our elementary schools, but we try to support there. And it is a fun just, we have kids for fourth and fifth grade who've never played basketball before, but they out there just trying to be positive and trying to score basket in front of their parents. So there's fun opportunity. And all of these initiatives are really just to provide support to students, provide where they can really shine as students and build positive interactions with each other.

- Right, and you touch on this next question by answering that, but SAFE can't do this all on your own. How can the community come together to support your team?

- Yeah, we're always looking for ways to communicate support, sponsor dinners. We have a lot of families who struggle financially, how can they help out with sponsoring dinners? Allison is really big in the community. She has gone out and found different sponsorships for the rising star. And then when we had a teacher award, she found just gift cards to say, "Here's a reward for you, thank you." So we're always looking for sponsors for dinners, student gifts, when kids make great improvement donations. We had an issue with some kids who needed some gym shoes. We're always looking for donations for clothing or shoes. Or even just being of support to make a phone call and say, "Hey, I'm the owner of such and such business. I heard you've done really great job." I think just outside people just calling to support students is always helpful. So any support, we will not turn down from the community where community has any ideas that they will say, "Hey, this is my talent. I would like to offer this up." We're always open to come up with creative solutions.

- Okay, and if anyone is looking to find out more info about SAFE or wants to contact the SAFE team, how can they go about it?

- Yeah, they can call our office at 2482576952 or they can just ask around, we're at every school in the district. They can just say, "Hey, where's a SAFE team member?" And literally somebody will be there to support.

- All right, perfect, thank you, Ashley. So, Scott, what do you think of the SAFE team? What value are they bringing to the Waterford School District?

- I think this team is just awesome. The fact that they step into the gap for so many of our kids. If you think about, this is really what education and finding success for our kids is about. We all have gaps. I think every one of us, whether we were in the classroom ourselves, or even today. But the fact that these staff members wanna step in and fill in the gap, whether it's shoes, or recognition, or programs to connect them to their school community is simply awesome. But SAFE standing for Student and Family Engagement. If we know that if we don't have kids engaged in what we're doing in our schools, the academics are never gonna come. And so that is what is so fantastic about this. I know this team is very passionate about that. And in fact, during this time of pandemic, we've added to this team this year, because we know this is really where the rubber meets the road, and that is engaging our kids, and, as Ashley talked about engaging our family. So that connection happens beyond our school walls, but also in our homes as well. That makes a strong community. So I'm just very proud of this team.

- Absolutely. Thank you again to Ashley, Allison and Nichelle for making yourselves available, and being the first guest on WSD Voice. I appreciate your willingness to come here, and talk about your amazing program. And I sure hope we can have you on the show again soon. So Scott, up next on WSD Voice, we have some members of the problem-based learning team here, to talk about their amazing work. I'd like to welcome to the show Elizabeth Kutchey, Assessment Coordinator for Waterford School District, Sue Case, third grade teacher at Grayson Elementary, and Klara Cavali, a seventh grader at Pierce Middle School. Welcome all of you to WSD Voice. Elizabeth will start with you. Can you begin by informing our audience as to what problem-based learning is?

- Yeah, thanks for having me. So problem-based learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time, to investigate and respond to authentic, engaging, and complex questions, problems or a challenge within their classroom. Typically those PBL, problems or challenges, are presented to the public or to a group within the building so that they can celebrate as well as get feedback based on that problem that they've been researching and working on.

- And why did Waterford School District want to add PBL to it's curriculum?

- So we wanted to add PBL. We saw it as a really adventurous opportunity for our students. We saw that it had an opportunity to add that student voice and choice, growing that authentic learning for our students. We noticed that students who really engross in the problem-based learning, it moves that learning forward for lifelong and as well as for them academically throughout their careers.

- All right, great. So Sue, I know you're one of the leads for implementing PBL at the elementary level. Can you talk about how that's been going?

- Sure, thanks for having me too. It is going really well. It's amazing what the kids are able to do when they're given the opportunity, and how much they really love doing real things. So it started out with our principal coming in and we set it up that she wanted some help with designing our new playground. So we're using the bond dollars to do that. And I love that she wanted the kids to design it, because the playground is for the children. So she asked for our help, and our class realized that it wasn't just for our class. So we started off with surveying the school, and we found out what their priorities were, what they really wanted. So the kids were thinking beyond themselves. We even interviewed one of our students who's blind, and another student who is quadriplegic. So we found out the priorities of the principal. One thing she wanted to do was to get rid of that P gravel. It's dusty and sometimes they get put in places. The gravel is put in places that maybe aren't the best choices. So, the kids were given choices for which pieces of equipment, they might be able to choose from. They were given a real budget that they had to stay in. They read articles about playground, safety, inclusion, different learning styles and playing styles. So we wanted to have a playground, not just for our very athletic kids, but also for the artistic kids. They measured the area of the P gravel to be replaced and used Google maps. to measure the area for the larger areas of P gravel. They critiqued each other's designs, and we even met with a professional playground designer who critiqued ours and amazingly, we critiqued his back too, because he was wanting to put a piece of equipment by classrooms, and we realized that that would be very distracting. So it was happening both ways. The playground professional took some of our advice and made sure that he was going to be including swings for handicapped kids and thinking about placements more now than he knows, really how our school would be using it.

- That's awesome, Sue. I love the idea of providing feedback to the person that was helping out with the project, as well as considering all aspects of the playground that would make it useful for all students, not just certain ones. What are some of the lessons you think the students have learned from this project?

- Well, at first I was thinking mostly of the academic learning, which a lot of that took place. They learned in real life, how area is used. They also wrote a lot of persuasive letters, trying to persuade our superintendent, who by the way we got to present to as well, and other people that were our decision makers. So they were writing these persuasive pieces to have the kids choose their design, or they have the decision makers choose their designs. And we also learned about social studies, goods and services. Kids learned also very important social skills. They learned how to collaborate, how to compromise, and how to take a different point of view. So kids learn not only academically, but PBL helps them socially as well.

- All right, awesome. Thank you for the insight into how PBL works at the elementary level. We have our student ,Klara here, to talk to us about how PBL works at the secondary level. Klara, can you touch on a little bit about the project that your class did?

- Yeah, of course. In the masks we wear project, we were required to make a cardboard mask that represented ourselves in either the topic of beauty protection, power, or paint. We needed to have some 3D parts that stood out and made in a mask that was fully paper shade and painted. We were then required to create a few minutes-long slideshow about the process of our mask, our inspiration behind it and what we learned.

- All right, that sounds like a great project. How has this type of project been different from some of the other learning that you've done at school?

- Well, this project was more open to people and how they're more than what they seem at school. Other lessons could teach you about math, history, or language arts, but this project really got deeper into your personal self image, and it really expressed that you are behind someone.

- And what are some of the lessons you gathered from the project-based way of learning versus maybe some more traditional learning that you've taken part in?

- I learned that sometimes you don't always know people as well as you think you do. And masks make a very good hiding place. You shouldn't always be so quick to assume you know someone because in reality, there's always so much more to learn. Masks really have such a great importance because they can come off as a whole different person when you're wearing a mask.

- That's really great, Klara. Thank you for your insight. Nothing like hearing straight from a student about how effective PBL is. Elizabeth, where can people find out more information about PBL at Waterford?

- So we actually have a page directly on our district website. So if you're on our website and you click on the academic tab, there is a dropdown that says, "Problem-based learning." And when you go there, you can visit a world of sites, especially with our partnership with PBL works. And you can see everything that we could be working on, the possibilities are endless within this.

- Sounds like it. All right, thank you. Scott, what do you think about this conversation about PBL, especially given Klara's insight as a student, experiencing this type of learning at Waterford?

- Well, I think one of the things Klara talked about and what I saw the students present with Sue's class over at Grayson is, this makes learning fun when we're learning by doing and when kids have voice, and when kids have choice. Actually that's the same thing as adults. When we have voice and choice in what we're doing, whether that's a project or some new learning, that just breeds ownership and leadership. And so this is a higher order thinking and an opportunity for our kids. And the playground design that the kids presented to me and a couple of my colleagues over at Grayson was so well done. It was a higher order. They talked about all of the kids that they evolved in this project. It was amazing. And some people would say, "Well, superintendent, what about all of the benchmarks?" Well, those were all a part of it. The writing, the math, the interviewing, the insightful work that they did. It was just really great. So the relationship between learning and real life problem-solving is just simply authentic and excellent.

- Thank you, Scott, I agree with you. And I think it's safe to say that PBL has been very successful here at Waterford, and with much more to come. Thank you to all of you, again for being here, Klara, Elizabeth, and Sue. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from all of you as your PBL plans continue to develop. Well, I think that's a wrap on our first episode of WSD Voice. A special shout out to all of the guests who are here in the show today. And Scott, appreciate you stopping in to join us, to launch the show.

- Well, great, Sarah. Thank you for having me on the show. I truly enjoyed myself and I just love the opportunity to talk about the good news of our district, and the good news of what our students are learning and how they're learning, and being engaged in all the things going on in the classrooms. I'm excited to see what other episodes you have in store.

- Absolutely, we're working on some great topics, and we'll want you back for sure.

- Great.

- Thank you to our new audience for listening. We hope you enjoyed this first episode of WSD Voice. This podcast was brought to you by Waterford School District, Department of School and Community Services, and is produced by Video Production Coordinator, Jane Tekiele. I am the host of this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find all episodes of WSD Voice on our website at We encourage you to continue to tune in as we discuss topics geared toward inspiring, educating and empowering our students, staff, alumni, and community.