KEN GRABOWSKI: Innovative teachers make Manistee County schools a step above the rest

There is “magic” that takes place across this county on a daily basis, and most people don’t ever get the opportunity to see it.

The “magic” referred to is what transpires in many classrooms in Manistee County. For the last several years education from both the public and private perspective has taken a hit on funding. It is something that has prompted many area teachers to be innovative in their approach to the learning process.

What the legislature and the statewide media often use as a measuring stick is the Detroit Public School System. After seeing what transpires in that town in terms of schools, city government and even sports teams for that matter, Detroit shouldn’t be used as a measuring stick of anything.

Being the education writer here at the paper gives me the opportunity neither our state representative nor state senator have on a regular basis, which is to go into the schools to see that “magic” happen. Yes, the legislators do show up for the photo opportunity when students travel to Lansing, but do they ever get into the Northern Michigan classroom where the real learning takes place?

I don’t think so.

What I see is good, innovative teachers who have been challenged by strapped budgets and foolish over-mandated testing that has taken creative thinking and put it on the back shelf. What made this country a leader in the world in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was an educational system that encouraged teachers to think and teach outside the box.

What it produced was a country that that led the way in technology, put a man on the moon and became an industrial leader in all areas. Since that time we have continued to poke and prod at the educational system until it is left testing the kids all year to make sure they can “memorize” the right material.

Creativity has gone out the window — or has it?

What I see that the legislators don’t is educators like John Prokes at Bear Lake Schools who is motivated and excited about seeing that proverbial light bulb go on in his students when he realizes they “got it.” Prokes’ enthusiam rubs off on his students so much that more than 20 of them “volunteered” to be part of a river insect study on a Saturday.

Now that is a good teacher.

The same can be said for Manistee High School’s Kevin Postma, who doesn’t let a shortage of state funding get him down either. He works with local resources like the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians on a sturgeon project to let his students see first-hand the importance of that work.

It leaves an expression on the face of his students that is priceless to anyone who loves education like me. It is an expression that says “now I know why we study what we do.”

Then there is Tami Bonzheim and Carol Rackow, who want to teach their fifth grade students at Brethren Elementary School about how local government works. Do they spend thousands of dollars on literature and worthless other items. No. What they do instead is take those students to the Manistee City Hall and see it happen in person, with the only cost being the price of gasoline to get them to Manistee.

The same can be said for the fifth grade students of McAnn Bradford and Pam Tompke at Brethren Schools when it comes to studying science. They go five miles down the road to the Spirit of the Woods Conservation Club and get the lesson of a lifetime right in their own backyard.

Ingenuity of great teachers at work with limited resources. That is the real story in education today and not the mountains of testing, evaluations and time-wasting stuff educators are forced to be put through.

The same exciting things can be said about Jefferson Elementary School, where principal Andy Huber and his staff teach an ever so valuable lesson of peace by utilizing the peace pole located on the school grounds. The distance they had to cover was yards from their structure, but the lesson learned that day will last a lifetime.

These are just a few of the things that go on daily at the schools I mentioned above. The same type of things take place at Onekama Consolidated Schools, Manistee Catholic Central, CASMAN and Trinity Lutheran Schools. There are lots of good things taking place in education, so don’t believe everything the legislature and state media say.

And what makes it happen?

Good and dedicated teachers who aren’t afraid to think outside the box. Maybe if our legislators and statewide media would take the time to actually enter a school in Northern Michigan they would get “a lesson” in that fact.

However, I don’t think you are going to see that happen before I … see you next Wednesday.



Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at

Leave a Reply