WILLIAMSTON- From students and staff, to city residents and LGBTQ advocates, the Williamston Board of Education met Oct. 16 as people crowded the halls and filled nearly every seat in the room to discuss the 8011 Transgender and Non-Conforming Student Policy that will reach its final decision on Nov. 6. The meeting began promptly at 7:30 p.m. with citizens’ comments where many members of the community took a stance on the suggested proposal regarding equal protection of transgender and non-conforming students. According to the 8011 Proposal, “WCS shall accept the gender identity that each student asserts reflecting the students’ legitimately held belief once the student or his or her parent/guardian, as appropriate, notifies District administration that the student intends to assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records.”
The tension in the room began during the Pledge of Allegiance, as many members of the community did not stand up.
On Nov. 2, the seven members of the Williamston Community Schools Board of Education approved two policies related to gender identity and access to gender-segregated facilities
After several months of current and former students, as well as Williamston community members meeting at the local middle school, the school board reached a decision as to how they will assess their transgender students and gender identity concerns. The decision came after months of meetings and public comment after the school board took on the issue of gender identity in its schools. “Over the summer, the seven board members decided to draft some proposals for how the district should handle or deal with the needs of a number of gender-identity type issues,” Williamston High School Principal Jeffrey Thoenes said. “The school board went through their normal process of discussing and then voting on what is placed on their board agenda.”
Thoenes said the transgender issues were handled the same way that any other school board issue is.
Finding the thin line between expanding a community while holding on to it’s hometown environment is something Williamston has found. Through the expansion of its downtown with new apartment buildings and restaurants, the community has still managed to keep its label as a small-town neighborhood.
As the warmer seasons come to a close, the Red Cedar Garden Club is just getting started. With monthly educational meetings, and guest speakers, the group of 48 landscaping-loving individuals work towards one goal: taking their gardening abilities and bringing the art of landscaping to the town of Williamston and its residents. “The purpose of the garden club is two-fold, one is to beautify Williamston, so we maintain civic gardens,” Red Cedar Garden Club president, Catherine Ware said. “But the other one is to educate our members and the Williamston public on various topics that would be relevant to gardening.”
Ware said that while most people would believe the main purpose of the gardening club included things such as monthly meetings, that is the minority of events planned. Instead, Ware said that the main purpose of the club was the educate the members, and invite others who are interested in the specific art to come join and learn more about.
The recurring theme for the city of Williamston is its tight-knit community and the town’s eager willingness to come together and help out with anything in anyway that they can. Take the Kiwanis organization, for example, something that embodies all of what Williamston’s values and stands for as a community. Kiwanis is a global organization, entirely comprised of volunteers who are devoted to changing the world for the better, one community, and one child at a time. “Kiwanis is all about the kids. Whatever the kids need, we do for them,” Williamston Kiwanis president Teri Nelson said.
“Service Above Self” is a common phrase, but how often does action back up these three simple words? For the Williamston Sunrise Rotary Club, its goal is to put these words into action. The club hosts several events throughout the year to raise money for the community, charitable organizations and grants. “All the money we make, we turn around and give it to our community or international charities,” secretary and webmaster for the club Gene Klco said. One event is the duck race held the third week in June.
Across the country politicians are born everyday and what could better strengthen them for their future, than a model club? The Model United Nations Club is a part of many high schools in the U.S. There are conferences in different states each year that prepare students for the real world of politics, The United Nations. Williamston High School, along with its middle school, has a Model United Nations Club of its own and they’re looking forward to helping students reach their goals through the organization. Senior student and secretary general of Williamston’s Model U.N, Lia Bommarito, said their club of 40 members meet every Wednesday and they’re almost always preparing for conferences. The club travels across the U.S. to about five conferences each year and the biggest event is where they get together with other high schools to debate policy, representing different nations.
Williamston has a common theme throughout the town about their close-knit community feel and environment. Williamston High School not only serves just their students, but it also has opened itself up for business to the whole community, at the Williamston Community Pool and Fitness Center. Williamston High School used to have an outdoor pool open to the school and public, but after it started requiring more and more repairs, the school board decided it would be more costly to keep feeding funds in for repair, rather than opening a new pool. It later filled the outdoor pool and decided to build a brand new pool inside the high school. The high school’s pool, fitness center and track cater to the students, but it also opened up the facilities to the public and anyone who would like to use them.
On Sept. 5, five doctors who specialize in education gathered to discuss the future of Williamston High School’s science curriculum. Two of the doctors were research associates from Michigan State University’s Education Department. MSU is working with the University of Helsinki in Finland on a research project called PIRE. The school wants its students to enjoy learning and thanks to the PIRE program, it now has a way to measure that enjoyment.
Williamston City Councilwoman Sandy Whealton tearfully celebrated the renaming of Deer Creek Park to Howard Dahlstrom Memorial Park at the Oct. 9 council meeting. Whealton was a longtime friend of Dahlstrom, a beloved member of the community who died suddenly on Sept. 22. The park was originally named after Deer Creek that runs behind the park.
Principal Pat VanRemmen never could have imagined how positive the effect of adding STEAM to the curriculum would be at Discovery Elementary. The new elective, focused on bringing Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math together, has been a hit with both the parents and students. “I had one parent commenting about how their daughter is coming home with ideas for inventions,” VanRemmen said. The program was implemented in Discovery (young 5s through second grade) and Explorer (third through fifth grade) Elementary Schools in the fall. STEAM is an additional elective all students must take.