4 1 BASE Hikers

Harbor Country Hikers recently conducted its first session with the Class of 2021 hikers from New Buffalo Area School’s BASE after-school program. The group will meet weekly to hike the many trails surrounding the Elementary School to visit such features as the Skunk Cabbage Lane, vernal pools, Turtle Creek and the new butterfly field. Hitting the trail for the first session were (from left) fifth-graders Henry Gadiel, Grace Payne, Kai Hymes, Colten Lijewski, third-grader Dahlia Martinez-Muckey, fifth-grader Adam Dali, Hikers President Pat Fisher, fifth-graders Colt Payne and Joseph Edwards, and fourth-grader Abigail Edwards.

NEW BUFFALO — After-school activities and the district’s Transportation Department held the attention of the New Buffalo Area Schools Board of Education during its March 22 meeting.

The session began with an overview of the BASE (Bison After School Enrichment) program presented by Director Rodney Wash.

Noting that attendance numbers were “dramatically down” from previous years due to COVID, Wash described how the program has changed from offering a wide range of programs for students to chose from to an emphasis on six small cohorts for kindergarten through fifth grades that keep within social distancing guidelines and strict safety and cleaning protocols.

Wash described how each cohort is directed by staff members who develop monthly calendars of activities according to their particular strengths and holiday or seasonal themes. For example, during November students in the first grade cohort made paper plate turkeys and paper bag teepees as well as a leaf book. In December, the second grade cohort worked with snowmen, ginger bread and reindeer ornaments and wrote Dear Santa Letters. In March, the fifth grade cohort had a St. Patrick’s Day Challenge

During the third trimester, Wash said enrichment activities will include a robotics offering led taught by Robert Hauch and Noah Sharum, Girls on the Run again coached by parent Denise Chamberlain that ends with a 5K celebration, and nature hikes led by Harbor Country Hikers’ Pat Fisher.

Wash said students go outside every day except when there is extreme weather “to keep them active, keep them moving,” Wash said as he showed pictures playing in the snow as one example.

Wash also showed pictures of BASE’s new office, located in the old administrative office area, which gives a more centralized base for administration and better pick-up arrangement for parents.

Superintendent Jeff Leslie thanked Wash and his staff for “totally revamping” the program in order to keep everyone safe. He also thanked the Berrien County Health Department for its input on the COVID-related safety protocols.

After-school enrichment is important and we thank you for enabling us to still accommodate the program. The numbers may be down but the importance of enrichment is still the same,” Board President Chuck Heit said.

The board then moved its attention to the Transportation Department under Tom Whitsel, the new transportation director.

“We are the first ones they see in the morning and the last ones they see at the end of the day,” Whitsel said, adding that he learned this early in his career and now tries to it instill it in his staff.

“Our role is to get the kids where they need to go in the safest way possible no matter what the circumstances,” Whitsel said.

Every day, the department uses five buses to move 133 students more 219 miles and six vans to move six students more than 381 miles.

With COVID the biggest concern this year, Whitsel said new foggers are used to clean the buses after each use and windows are open when weather permits. He also said drivers are the first line of defense for mask use and have ample supplies for students needing them, including some cloth masks provided by Harbor Country Rotary.

Whitsel said his crew includes one driver who also serves as mechanic for large savings to the district. He said drivers undergo extensive testing from CDL licenses to drug testing as well as safety checks and on-going training.

Faced with the need for additional drivers “like very other district in Michigan,” Whitsel noted that New Buffalo trains the drivers, pays for their testing and pays more than most other districts in the area.

“I really want to thank Tom and the transportation department. We appreciate their flexibility which really is the nature of the position with weather delays and athletic schedule changes,” Leslie said.

In another March 22 matter, the board accepted with great regret the retirements this spring of three long-term district employees: Linda Magro, special education, who said she will miss the kids the most; 17-year employee Shelley Wheeler, accounting and yearbook teacher, described by Leslie as the one who “gets the kids across the finish line;” and 38-year employee Yvonne Homolka, administrative assistant to the superintendent which she described as “the best job in the district.”

The board also approved a lighting system for the outdoor tennis courts that will enable teams to finish matches and also allow for community use of the courts. Contracts were awarded to Musco Lighting System for $87,900, Custer Electric for $49,700 and Hein Electric for $7,700.

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