What is it like being an online student or teacher

By: Abby Glazer

We all know school has changed this year, but it affects all of us in different ways. Have you ever wondered what other students and teachers were thinking about this new way of learning? Well, if you have here is your answer. I decided to ask teachers and students what the pros and cons have been to going online, and here is what they said.

Mrs. Pierre the 6th-8th choir teacher says that there have been pros and cons, it’s been easier because students can share screens to help solve problems and provide resources, but the harder part is not being able to sing as a group or do any group performances.

Ella Stybel, a 6th grader says her con is being on Via Zoom, because it doesn’t always work, making school more stressful. She said her pro definitely has to be sleeping in a bit. I also asked what her transition to middle was like, she said it was different because she doesn’t switch classes, and as a 6th grader many kids get excited to switch classrooms and teachers.

Hannah Becker, a 6th grader, said she likes being able to wear comfy clothes. She also has a bit more freedom and can grab a snack, and do other things when she wants. She dislikes the fact that the internet doesn’t always work. Hananh thought her middle school journey would have started differently, she thought she would be in person and with her friends.

6th grader, Sophia Choukourian, said, “I like to sleep in later than I usually would, but I don’t like that I don’t get to see some of my friends.” 

Mrs. Lynch, our 6th grade math teacher, said the pros of online learning are that, “Students can learn anywhere as long as you have a computer/device, could wear pajamas all day, get to be around my family all day, and later start to the day.” She said her cons are  “problems with technology; limited interaction with each other, stuck at your house- no change of scenery, different distractions, difficulty really seeing how students think about math questions, and difficulty really helping the students that don’t understand a new math concept. 

So there you have it, that is what people are thinking about going online! Could you relate to any of these pros and cons?

Principal Durecka Retires After a Lifetime of Service

By: Kathryn Ho, Katiana Kostoff, Jaymie Miller

2021 has brought new changes to West Hills. As 2020 concluded, we wished our beloved principal, Rob Durecka, our heartfelt best wishes as he celebrates his retirement. 

Since 2013, Principal Durecka has served as the principal of West Hills Middle School. Before joining West Hills, his first job during college was at the United Parcel Service. He even drove a UPS truck! Afterward, he held numerous roles in teaching, education, and administration over the past several decades.

Mr. Durecka became principal because he loves working with kids. “I think it is true that our future depends on how we educate our youth because they will soon be the leaders in a very short time,” remarked Durecka.

The current Interim Principal, Andy Gignac, has known Durecka for 12 years. “He is such a lovable guy. He has a really good heart, and he is such a caring person,” declared Mr. Gignac.

Some of Principal Durecka’s favorite memories have been participating in the dunk tank event during the fifth-grade carnivals, going to concerts, and singing ‘Hound Dog’ with the band. 

Mr. Durecka is proud of the Warrior Fund and the Washington DC trip. He is also proud of standards-based grading. “The whole notion of, it’s not where you begin, it’s where you end is something I am proud of,” he asserts.

His favorite part of being principal is celebrating the successes of teachers and students. Mr. Durecka loves watching the fourth graders come into the classroom for the first time, eyes wide open, looking at West Hills like a castle. He also loves watching the spelling bees, school concerts, and seeing students change and grow.

When Principal Durecka first started in administration, a lot of his work was on building schedules, discipline, and managing the facility. “It has moved a whole lot more to instructional leadership and providing the best teaching and learning,” reports Durecka. He is happy to be a part of that evolution.

We have all learned so much from Principal Durecka, but he has gained a lot of experience and knowledge. “I have learned that I try to listen first,” Durecka shares. “I learned over time that I want to reserve my ‘no.'”

“He is a really, really good listener,” Principal Gignac says. “Which I think is a huge skill to have as a good communicator. He really wants to see the best for everyone.”

Leah Abel, former PTO President and mother of three students who attended West Hills, shares, “Principal Rob Durecka was a trailblazer in many ways. He established the Warrior Fund, which supports students who may not have resources such as field trip money, to ensure that every student within West Hills has equitable opportunities.”

“He consistently supported PTO events with his time, energy, and presence, demonstrating his dedication to a strong sense of community. Most of all, Principal Durecka always had a smile and a kind word to share with every member of the community, from staff to students, to family members,” observes Abel. “He made every person feel seen and heard.” 

Principal Durecka was initially considering retiring last year, but with the numerous changes due to the COVID pandemic and new virtual learning platform, Durecka wanted to stay to help with the transition. He is looking forward to the next phase of his life and wants to explore new opportunities and interests. 

“I want to try some new stuff,” he says. “I have this thirst to see and go and do and explore a little bit more, and this will give me the time to do that.”

“I am looking forward to some new challenges,” Durecka adds. “I want to read more for pleasure.” He also wants to take part in new experiences like learning a new language.  

Mr. Durecka is looking forward to playing golf. He likes to enjoy himself and has a sense of humor. “He is a funny guy. I really enjoyed laughing alongside him,” Gignac shares.

He also enjoys spending time with family. Principal Durecka is looking forward to traveling with them. He is still going to be engaged in our community by potentially helping out with anti-bullying programs. He still wants to be involved and a contributor to society even in retirement.

“I am going to miss the energy that comes from being in a school,” Durecka reports. “Students see the world as something they can change, and that is right, they can change it.” He loves to watch kids interact with their teachers and listen to students play their instruments and sing.

Principal Durecka is very confident that he will return to West Hills. He would love to visit students and teachers. He also plans to try and visit during events, like spelling bees, concerts, and plays. “I will be here again at some point, for sure,” he says. “I will come and check-in on concerts and school events. I am not dying; I am just retiring,” he jokes.

Mr. Durecka has contributed so much to our school. He has helped our school and taught us so much. “He is such a good person,” observes Mr. Gignac. He is there for you if you need advice or any help.” 

“I would like to be remembered as someone approachable and who cared a lot about kids, education, the staff, and the community,” shares Principal Durecka. “And that you could depend on me.”

West Hills will miss Principal Durecka, and we hope he has a safe and healthy retirement. We will celebrate his impact and legacy at West Hills for years to come.

Ways to Stay Fit in Winter – COVID Edition

By: Alyssa Greenhut and Abby Glazer

Many active activities are made to be played outside or inside a gym,  but with the winter season here for the next few months, during the pandemic, we need to make sure we stay fit and keep ourselves healthy. We are here to help you find fun ways to stay active with help from a few West Hills Warriors!                                                                            

6th grader, Emily Berris says that she has been staying active by running on the treadmill and lifting weights. “I enjoy doing these activities because they are very good for you and burn a lot of calories.”  Those take hard work but definitely pay off over time.

Mr. Grippo, says a few months ago he started a routine of doing push-ups and planks to start his day. “I choose these exercises because I like to do them, so I am more likely to keep the routine going every day.” We think this is a good tip and a great way to stay motivated. 

Sloane Jaffe, an 8th-grade student, said her favorite activities are definitely going on walks, and doing winter sports like skiing. These activities sound super fun and are great ways to stay active.

6th grade Language Arts teacher, Mr. Purdy still goes to the gym, with new rules and restrictions. He wears his mask and sanitizes the equipment before and after usage. His outside winter activity is skiing.

Mrs. Parsell told us she stays fit and healthy with her at-home equipment and lots of running. She makes sure that also drinks plenty of water. “Believe it or not you can get very dehydrated in the winter because it’s so dry.”

Hopefully you found an activity or workout that you want to try! In case you didn’t, a few more options that we thought of are Fitness Gaming, like Just Dance, Wii Fit, Wii Sports, etc.  Another option is stretching, which may not seem like a huge workout, but it actually burns a lot of calories!  You also don’t need equipment at home for this and you can participate in follow along stretching routines off the internet. Stretching is very important to do. 

We hope that this winter you stay fit and use some of our workout recommendations, but be balanced and don’t push yourself too hard. Pump it up West Hills Warriors!

WHMS Welcomes a Familiar Face as Principal

By: Jaymie Miller

Following the retirement of our previous principal, Mr. Durecka, some roles have changed at West Hills. Mr. Gignac, our former associate principal, has stepped up to take over as principal. Ms. Palmeri, who previously worked at International Academy, has taken his place as associate principal.

This is Mr. Gignac’s fifteenth year teaching at West Hills. Before being vice principal, he worked as a teacher at Lone Pine. He taught third and fifth grade there. Teaching was the first job he had after graduating from college.

He attended college at the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Western Michigan. Right after he graduated, he was hired to teach at Lone Pine. “It’s been my whole life, really,” he says. “Almost half of my life, I’ve been working in Bloomfield Hills.”

Mr. Gignac has loved building relationships with people throughout his years as vice principal. “My favorite part has been able to build relationships with students, staff and families over the 11 years that I’ve been associate principal,” he says. “When they understood who I was as a person, and I got to understand who they are as people—that builds trust. I’m most proud of that trust that is built from working with everyone, and always trying to find a good outcome in any given situation.” Mr. Gignac is excited to continue building relationships with our community as principal.

While he was vice principal, he has learned to listen to people as much as he can and to always try to help them learn. “I’ve learned to be a good communicator, listen to people and always try to help them learn from a situation,” he says. “That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned, building strong relationships and understanding that in most situations, there’s learning that can occur.”

Mr. Gignac is very excited that he is becoming the new principal. This is especially because in the future, our schools will change and all of the students will be shifted around. West Hills and East Hills will become elementary schools for grades K-5. Middle schoolers will be moved to either Bloomfield Hills Middle School North or Bloomfield Hills Middle School South. Mr. Gignac is excited to have a prominent role when that change will take place.

He is also very grateful to be able to work with our community. “I think we have an awesome staff at West Hills and amazing families and students. I feel very lucky to be able to work with the people that I do, with students, staff and families.” He says.

He also believes that when students are harmed, it’s more important to listen to the victim of the situation than to address the attacker. “When a student does something that harms another student, it’s how you respond to that,” he says. “Historically, schools have said something like, ‘you’re suspended’, or ‘you’re in trouble’. There very well could be a consequence, but I feel like what’s more important is what is done to hear from the victim. I’ve done a lot of work in that and that’s the thing I’m most proud of.” 

Mr. Gignac believes that West Hills teaches students to be good people as well as teaching academics. He thinks that the teachers educate students on treating people with kindness and that is something he loves about West Hills.

His visions for West Hills are to continue to develop Learner Profile traits in students. “Having some of the components, like to be critical thinkers, to be knowledgeable, to be open-minded, to be caring, to be balanced. The vision I have is to continue to strive to attain that, and to make sure that we’re all working collectively to give that experience to kids.”

As principal, Mr. Gignac can have more of a voice when discussing the new middle schools. They have been working on construction and planning out the designs. He is happy that he gets to help with that work. He wouldn’t have been able to assist in that if he was vice principal.

He encourages students to keep working hard and stay positive. “I can’t wait until students are back in the classrooms at West Hills every day, and where I can interact with people more often,” he says. I just want to say, keep working hard. This is a temporary thing. This will not be the rest of your school career. Try as best as you can to stay positive, to keep working hard. If you’re having a tough time, talk to a trusted adult. And know that we’re here for you.”

The Gignac Family