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 Article of Interest - Wayne-Westland (Michigan)

State schools chief finds positive things happening in Wayne-Westland
by Sue Mason, HomeTown Communications Network, January 30, 2003
For more articles visit www.bridges4kids.org


Tom Watkins may want to keep a date open on his calendar this spring.

From the looks on Pat Colligan's third-graders, he'll be buying the pizza for a party for their 100 percent mastering of multiplication tables through the number nine.

That was the deal the state's top educator made with the Schweitzer Elementary students during his visit to the Wayne-Westland Community Schools Monday.

Watkins was in the district to see the "positive things happening in neighborhood schools."

"Part of my job is to datafy excellence and export it to other areas," he said. "The teachers I saw today are a testimony to the high quality of education in this district. They are touching our future today."

Touching the future was a message he delivered to teachers throughout his visit which started with lunch, prepared by Chef Tony Paquette's culinary arts students at the William D. Ford Career-Technical Center.

Several of Paquette's students as well as representatives of Steven Paulsen's graphic design and Zachary MacLean's electronics classes joined Watkins for lunch, sharing their experiences and reasons for attending the center.

He heard from student chef Becky Baker about preparing 30,000 appetizers and French pastries for the recent North American International Auto Show charity preview.

"It's great to have small sections and have an instructor for each," Baker said of the culinary arts program. "You get a lot of one-on-one."

With the students and instructors gathered around him, Watkins praised the food they prepared and its presentation, saying, "I've been in the finest hotels and this compares with what I've had. I'm very proud of what you're doing here."

He also quizzed students Donell Hall, Hiram Robinson and David Dahlberg who, in their red Vocational International Clubs of America blazers, praised MacLean, and Christina Ensign who talked about using a computer to create her best in show digital poster for the auto show.

"Mr. MacLean is like a second father. If you're absent, he calls you at home to see what's wrong," said Robinson, adding that "we don't consider this a vo-tech school, it's a fun school."

Robinson is hoping to parlay his Career-Tech experience into one of 200 five-year apprenticeships with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"It's going to help us more in the job field," said senior Donell Hall. We'll come out of here with more skills than the average student."

He had thought about taking construction at the center until electronics "caught my eye," and now the high school senior is planning to attend Hampton University in Virginia and get a degree in electrical engineering.

"Vo-tech is the transition between high school and college where you do what you have a passion for," Watkins told the students."

At Schweitzer, the district's latest Golden Apple school, Watkins talked social studies with Colligan's class which was using computers to study black history.

"I was about your age when I lived in Washington, D.C., there was a movie theater that allowed only whites in or only white people," Watkins told the students after they figured out why Washington, D.C., isn't a state.

Students agreed with the state school superintendent that their teacher is special.

"She's fun," said Myles Smith. "She reads really funny books to us."

A beaming Colligan pointed out that she and Myles "have a very special relationship."

"We live on the same street," she said. "If he doesn't do his homework, I bring it to him and knock on his door."

Watkins also watched fourth-graders do hands-on exploration of electrical circuits by dismantling VCRs, telephones, mixers and juice makers and took a seat on the floor with even younger students as a media information teacher integrated technology with learning in the school library.

After the visit, Watkins praised the work being done by teachers, saying that "our neighborhood schools are truly our statues of liberty in this country."

"I believe education by far is the best investment we can make," said Watkins. "The smiles on the kids' faces, they're proud of what they're doing. And the high quality of our schools is what makes Michigan great."
 

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