Rian Ignasiak, an eight year old student at Lakes Elementary School, spent ten months growing out her hair in order to donate it to children suffering from hair loss. On June 13, she donated nine inches of locks. When not in school, the fourth-grader’s interests include being a member of the competitive dance team for Dance Dimensions, as well as being a member of the West Michigan Youth Ballet. She is looking forward to the Ballet’s upcoming performance of the Nutcracker in December. When Rian isn’t dancing, she loves to read, ride her bike and play with her dog, Rock-Z.
Army Private First Class (PFC) Andrew Berli, a 2006 Comstock Park High School graduate, is used to going into hostile and uncertain situations while on duty in Iraq, but when entering Lakes Elementary School in Rockford on Wednesday, May 20, Berli was nervous for a whole different reason. He was going to meet his fifth grade pen pals from Sandy Knottnerus’s class to share what his life is like in Iraq. Knotternus also was a bit on edge explaining, “As a teacher, I worry about guest speakers coming into my classroom. Will the students be polite and respectful? Will the speaker be interesting? What is the speaker’s comfort level in front of a group? Will the PowerPoint work?” PFC Berli and Knotternus quickly found out neither had reason for concern-the class full of spellbound fifth graders surrounded him with cheers, signs, decorations, hundreds of questions, and even a cake for his 21st birthday. Knotternus said, “All of my worrying was for nothing. When PFC Berli came to visit, nothing could have gone better. In fact, I think my favorite moment was when PFC Andrew Berli was telling my students about the guys on his team. Before long, kids started popping up with, ‘What about Private White? What about Sergeant Forbis? What about Cecil?’ It was then that the bond that had been forming over the year was cemented. PFC Berli knew that we knew them by name and cared deeply about each. This was the moment that I knew how powerful this experience had been for my students, for Team Bonesaw, and for me.” Knotterus’s students began writing and sending care packages to Berli’s unit last fall, when she learned her student Brennon Shupe was PFC Berli’s nephew. The entire class embraced the idea, parents got on board donating non-perishable items, and soon soldiers and students were communicating and learning about their lives separated by 7,000-plus miles. One of PFC Berli’s only requests while on leave was to spend time with his pen pals, thanking them for all the letters and care packages. He put together a slide show with photos to share with the students. As the students sat in a circle around PFC Berli, he explained whenever a care package […]
Radiant smile and sparkling greeting typical of sunny student Olivia Sobie, age 11, is the daughter of Lisa Sobie. Known by her teachers for her positive attitude, her warm smile and her willingness to lend a hand or give a kind word to a peer or teacher, Olivia is recognized by Lakes Elementary as an Example in Excellence. Olivia’s teachers sum her up as “a terrific girl.” From her kindergarten years, it has been clear that Olivia always does her personal best at all tasks set before her. Music teacher Lori Vermerris tells that Olivia radiates with joy and shows that she is a sweet, musical person. Olivia has a beautiful singing voice, but if she tries for a solo in music class and doesn’t get it, she is the first to congratulate the other student. A generous person, Olivia not only encourages her peers but her teachers as well. She shows her willingness to help others by serving as a safety and helping younger students at lunch time. She is also a computer lab helper and is trusted with the task of shutting down equipment at the end of the school day. Olivia is described as “pure sunshine” and a student who can be counted on to be a positive influence on fellow students and staff. A true friend with a compassion beyond her age, Olivia is known for giving without expectation and for looking for the best in every person and situation. One staff member said, “Olivia is an angel on earth. She always has a smile on her face, never shows any sort of discouragement, and just shines each day I see her.” Lakes Elementary applauds her as an Example in Excellence.