Kenwood Trail Middle School helps give its students things they need year-round through special projects known as passion projects. Beckie Holland-Bierman, a dean at Kenwood Trail, has been helping to lead these passion projects for several years. These include school supply donations, snack packs for students, Thanksgiving meal kits and more. Now she wants to revive one passion project, and expand on others.
The very first passion project came about seven years ago. LivingWaters Church had held events at Kenwood Trail and reached out to give back to the school. Holland-Bierman worked with them to take in brand new backpacks and school supplies to give to students in need. She’s kept up that relationship over the years. This year there were more than 25 backpacks stuffed with school supplies for students who need them. The students pick them up in August before the start of the school year. “They walk down this hall and they get to pick out the coolest backpack ever and it’s stocked. It’s amazing,” said Holland-Bierman. Left-over supplies are donated to the elementary and high schools. A couple backpacks are kept for any students who may join in the middle of the school year.
The backpacks stemmed Holland-Bierman’s second passion project, Kenwood Trail Snack Packs. She borrowed the idea from Hosanna Church, which donates goodie bags to elementary students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. At Kenwood Trail, any student can go to the office to get a snack pack on Fridays to take home for the weekend. The project not only gives to students, but also gives students a positive reason to visit the school office. LivingWaters, Berean Baptist Church, the Lakeville Optimist Club, and staff members all contribute to the snack packs.
Holland-Bierman’s third passion project was inspired by something that happened during her time at McGuire Middle School. One day 360 Communities came to them saying they had an extra Thanksgiving meal that they wanted to donate to the school. Now at Kenwood Trail, Holland-Bierman creates a list of Thanksgiving meal ingredients for staff to donate. They bundle it all together to create a take-home meal. This past Thanksgiving, Holland-Bierman said 11 meals were given away. In order to get one of these donated meals, students have to fill out an entry form explaining why they want to win a Thanksgiving meal for their families. “It’s lovely what they write. We hang the winning messages up on the staff dining room door so everyone can see who won,” said Holland-Bierman.
Another project that’s in just its second year is the Kenwood Trail Closet. The school already accepts donations of new and gently used clothes. Last year the AVID 8th grade students went through those clothes and picked out the best of the best to be put into a community closet in the building. Students can then go into the closet and take what they need. The AVID 8th grade students are also in charge of promoting the closet to other students in the school. “You have kids telling each other like, ‘oh my gosh you don’t have leggings? You need some leggings? You need socks? Let me help you out. This is where you go,” said Holland-Bierman. She said students and parents are grateful for the Kenwood Trail Closet.
One project Holland-Bierman wants to expand upon is the school’s Homework Bus. Every Monday, the Homework Bus runs later in the afternoon to allow kids to be part of clubs and activities or to get help from teachers after school. The bus makes 12 to 15 stops, bringing students home afterwards. “Our dream is to have a Wednesday bus. That’s our next goal, but we need to find funding,” said Holland-Bierman. She said having a Homework Bus twice a week would open more opportunities for students to stay after school for extra help.
Despite all these sustained passion projects, Holland-Bierman is showing no signs of slowing down. Right now she is trying to find ways to get funding to revive a project that just ended after three years. Kenwood Trail has a large number of Spanish speaking students. Holland-Bierman recognized that even though these students may speak Spanish at home, they weren’t likely to take Spanish 1 in high school because it might be too slow or easy for them. She also recognized those students still need to understand the basics of writing and reading in their native language. So, she helped set up a system where a small group of students would be bussed to Lakeville South High School to be taught Spanish 1. The teacher, Heidi Demo, accelerated the course for these students so they could finish in one semester while only going once a week. Then they take the same final exam as the high schoolers at the end of the semester. “I would say the majority, probably 12 out of 15, start in Spanish Honors 2 when they get to high school,” said Holland-Bierman. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough funding for workbooks, the teacher, and bussing to keep this program going. Holland-Bierman is currently looking at ways to bring this program back. “Once I figure out the cost of those three things, I’m going to put it out there to as many groups as I can because I’ve got it all in motion. I have all the permission slips. I have the kids selected. It’s ready to go. We just need the funding,” explained Holland-Bierman.
Looking to the future, Holland-Bierman said she’d love to be able to make sure every student has internet capability and a device to do work from home on a FLEX Day, which is a day where the weather may close schools but students keep learning from home. “We find there’s many Kenwood Trail students who have no devices at home. You cannot do Schoology and FLEX learning on a phone,” explained Holland-Bierman. What she’d like to see happen is the ability to give those students a device and a personal hotspot to connect to the internet. “I would like to collect donated devices like used tablets and laptops. To be able to put something in a child’s hands who is going to use it and appreciate it; it gets me all giddy!” While it’s still just in the early brainstorming stages, Holland-Bierman is looking forward to and hoping to one day see Kenwood-refurbished devices for students to have all year.
“I am eternally grateful to the community clubs and organizations that donate and think of us. This is the time to make sure that every student has an equal playing field so they can achieve,” said Holland-Bierman. “We just want to make our school office a place where kids and their families want to come and feel comfortable enough to ask the adults for what they need.
If you would like to help with any of these passion projects, you can reach Beckie Holland-Bierman by email at Beckie.Bierman@isd194.org.