Doubling Down to Make a Difference

This article was featured in our CIS Connections newsletter, The Double Issue. You can find the full publication here.

Congratulations to CIS volunteer Mary Aldrich who, along with her husband, Scott, has recently been awarded the prestigious Andrus Award for Community Service. Given annually, this award is named for AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus. Mary has volunteered with CIS for the past four years as a Senior Services RSVP member. In addition to her fine volunteer work at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, she and her husband are involved in many other volunteer efforts throughout the community. They’ve clearly doubled up to extend their reach and make a difference in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and elsewhere.

“Mary has become a part of the Spring Valley family,” notes Spring Valley’s CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio. “She not only tutors our students, but she is there for them when they need a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear.”

KPS Teacher Jaime Hall says that “Ms. Mary has not only improved students’ confidence in themselves, but in their learning as well. She has worked with students in both math and reading. Many students have shown an improvement in their reading and math abilities after receiving one-on-one time with her. Ms. Mary is very thorough; she does her “homework” and comes in each week with new ideas and tools to help kids learn to the best of their ability…Ms. Mary is amazing. I am grateful for her each and every day, and I know that my students are as well.”

You can change the life of a young person by volunteering. To find out more, visit our website,
www.ciskalamazoo.org.

Mary-Aldrich
Mary Aldrich with students from Spring Valley Center for Exploration.
Photo by Kathleen Kelleher of Senior Services of Kalamazoo

Dear Mrs. Dalton

Thank you!

What better way to kick off 2017 than with a thank you letter shared with us by a CIS volunteer who is participating in our “caring adult” series (and has asked that their name be withheld).  To all the Mrs. Daltons out there who show up each day and help our children grow into the best students and people they can be, thank you!

Dear Mrs. Dalton,

I am where I am today because of your teachings, your guidance, and the love you showed to all your students.

I will never forget how you taught me about chivalry, or how to appropriately shake someone’s hand. You taught me to believe in myself and showed me my potential as a student. You gave me an opportunity to excel in this world. Most importantly, you showed me the immense unconditional love you had for all your students.

I don’t know if I ever emphasized how thankful and grateful I am to have had you as a teacher during my most critical years of growing up. My morals, principles, and values that I carry with me, the understanding of what it means to be human, was instilled in me during my years as your student. For that, I am blessed to have had you in my life.

Thank you for being my educator and mentor. Thank you for everything. God bless you, Mrs. Dalton. I miss you very much.

Who is your Mrs. Dalton? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Mr. Sindoni Responds!

Remember the November post written by CIS volunteer Shirley Freeman? The one that began:

Dear Mr. Sindoni,

I often tell the story of my 7th grade year. How I was kicked off every field trip that year – generally for being sassy and talking too much….(You can read the entire post here.)

Well, we are happy to report that the very teacher that Shirley credits with helping to turn her around is still out there. He read her post! Moved by what she had written, he reached out and shares the following:

Hi Shirley,

This was a pleasant surprise as I never thought that I’d be remembered 45 years after an incident. Anyway, this had to have occurred during my second or third year of teaching. We young and inexperienced teachers tried whatever seemed to work to correct student “bad habits” and/or “behavior problems.” One of my favorite things to do was to elevate the person or people into a responsible position (this works with grandkids too), and hope (sometimes guide) they do the task to the best of their ability. If it doesn’t succeed, shake hands and try something different at a later date, but what does succeed is the building of the relationship. Everybody wins in that case.

I’m pleased to have been a very tiny part of your life. I’ve always thought that Schalmont was good to me and I to Schalmont. After 33 years in the classroom, and about 25 of that in 7th grade, the school district for the first time in its history, offered a financial incentive for Tier I teachers, and the money people told me to take the offer.

My wife (of 45 years) and I presently split our living between New York and Florida, and I’m sure you can guess the seasons at each place.

Again, thank you for allowing me to be just that very tiny bit of your life. I guesstimate that I was there for about 5,000-6,000 others as well, and with a few I still remain in contact.

Ed Sindoni

What a great way to end our 2016 posts here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids! It is good to know that your efforts make a difference. It may take 45 years to find out that the seeds you are planting now will take hold some day. Hang in there!

We thank you for hanging out with us here at the CIS blog. Stay warm and come on back and join us for a whole new year of posts, beginning Tuesday, January 10th, 2017.

A Letter to Mr. Sindoni

Shirley FreemanToday, we hear from CIS volunteer and Bookbug staff extraordinare, Shirley Freeman. As part of the Chapel Hill/Portage United Methodist Church initiative to help students attain the Kalamazoo Promise, Shirley began tutoring at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School. Ten years later, she’s still at it. Two years into her volunteer service, she received specialized training from SLD Read, a nonprofit community resource serving West Michigan. Through SLD Read’s training and on-going support, Shirley is able to provide individualized, one-to-one multisensory instruction in reading, writing and spelling for at-risk readers in first, second and third grades. 

Dear Mr. Sindoni,

I often tell the story of my 7th grade year. How I was kicked off every field trip that year – generally for being sassy and talking too much. I know part of it was that we had a new boy in school, Dave Tobey, and he was a bit older and more physically mature than most boys in my class. He was a bit of an instigator and I certainly didn’t resist going along. No one who knows me now can believe I was kicked off any field trip, let alone every one.

I always think of you when telling the story because at some point toward the end of 7th grade, you called me in and talked to me about my behavior. You said that I was “going off the deep end.” I’ll never forget it. And then, the best part – at the beginning of 8th grade, you asked Dawn and me to help with something. You trusted us with a position of responsibility. Thank you. I will always be grateful for your intervention and your trust.

Shirley Freeman

Shirley Freeman with studentimg_3245

Who is your Mr. Sindoni? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Finding His Voice

LennyThis article about Lenny was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation Beginning with the End in Mind. You can read the full issue here.

Lenny Williams has always been soft spoken. “He’s wasn’t disruptive,” Gulnar Husain explains. “In fact, he was quite the opposite. Quiet and introverted, he had a habit of shutting down and being off-task. He didn’t listen or follow directions. His academics suffered because he just wasn’t applying himself. He is a very sweet boy but he just wasn’t living up to his potential.”

So when Lenny’s then kindergarten teacher, Michelle Hiller, referred him to CIS, one of the first things Gulnar Husain did was connect him with a tutor.

Lenny believes tutoring as well as a number of other supports have helped him move in a positive direction during his time at Arcadia Elementary School. “Ms. Gulnar gives me things that have helped me be better in school, things I need, like foodpacks, coats, shoes, boots, and gloves.” It’s these basic supports, along with tutoring, that have allowed Lenny to be ready to learn every day from the dedicated teachers he’s had throughout his elementary years.

Ask Lenny who his favorite teacher is and he can’t pick just one. He’ll tick them off one by one, from kindergarten to fifth grade, but try and nail him down to one or two and he can’t do it. “Arcadia just has really good teachers,” he explains.

Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.
Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.

A loving family and great teachers, along with community support funneled through CIS is helping Lenny realize his potential. “He’s really blossomed and he has confidence now,” says Cindy Kesterke, Lenny’s former America Reads tutor. “It’s great to see and I’m excited for his future.”

“You think I’m persistent?” Gulnar laughs. “Lenny is one of the most persistent people I know. That’s because he’s anxious to learn. Always polite with his requests, this persistence extends beyond himself. He’ll even stop by the CIS office and advocate for his younger brothers to also receive CIS support. Because of the tremendous support he’s received from the school and the community, Lenny came to the decision that he needed to turn things around. Once he decided he wanted to do better, things naturally began to fall into place.”

Lenny describes it this way: “I just thought I should get better grades, so I started behaving myself. I used to always get referrals for not listening. I decided for myself to work hard and get good grades.”

Lenny’s looking forward to attending middle school and building on what he learned at Arcadia. “I’m going to do good and them I’m going to college,” he says.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

 

Caring Adult: A Letter to Mrs. Benton

If you follow our blog, you know that CIS has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to. Today, we publish a letter written by CIS Director of Secondary Sites, Artrella Cohn. A proud graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Artrella’s poignant letter reminds us that school staff and teachers touch our lives and inspire us, stay with us even after we’ve left their classrooms and school buildings behind.

My Dear Mrs. Benton,

I want to start this letter by saying, “Thank you.” You have carved out a special place in my heart forever. I am almost certain that you have no clue the impact that you have had on my life and the endless stream of HOPE that you poured into me as an impressionable youth. You truly have no clue!

Your spirit and your smile alone has helped me through some difficult times (the image of your smile lives within my heart). Even as an adult who has carved a place in the hearts and lives of the youth of this generation, your care and concern for me remains in my thoughts.

Thank you so much!

Trella

Loy Norrix High School, Class of ‘99

Pictured below: Artrella with Mrs. Benton…back in the day when she was attending Loy Norrix. And below that, with her caring adult years all these years later! Mrs. Susan Benton is still supporting students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools as a Guidance Counselor at Loy Norrix High School.

Artrella with Mrs. Benton...back in the day!

IMG_8217

Who is your Mrs. Benton? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me, Jennifer Clark, at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Dearest Ms. Dodge

What better way to start the New Year than to reflect on that special person, that, even after all these years, you still carry within your heart? If you follow our blog, you know that Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to.

Today, we share a touching letter written by Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator and one member of the passionate and dedicated team at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Carly Denny began her career as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS last school year, using her creative talents to support the college going culture within Northeastern Elementary School and Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In her new role as a Site Coordinator, she says this: “We have amazing partners and volunteers—most of the volunteers come from the surrounding Oshtemo churches. They are pro-active and often reach out to CIS and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ The Prairie Ridge community, the teachers, and staff all support each other in every decision they make. It’s very obvious they care about each and every student here.”

Here’s Carly’s letter.

Dearest Ms. Dodge,

Even though it has been a long time since I have seen you, I still think about you often. As my very first teacher, you are the one that I have compared all future educators to. I was only two and a half when I  enrolled into preschool, much younger than my fellow classmates, yet you made me feel safe in an undiscovered environment and just as capable as the other students. Throughout my preschool experience you cultivated my curiosity and challenged me to be my best little self. Most importantly, you gave me my first taste of learning, which is something I continue to crave, even as I journey my way through grad school. I am not sure I will ever be able to properly thank you for being such an inspirational teacher and special person in my life. You helped shape the person I have become and for that I am forever grateful.

Love,

Carly Denny

Future CIS Site Coordinator Carla Denny with her inspirational teacher Ms. Dodge
Future CIS Site Coordinator Carla Denny with her inspirational teacher Ms. Dodge

 

Carly on her first day of preschool.
Carly on her first day of preschool.

Who is your Ms. Dodge? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Doing What It Takes To Get Her Promise Back

IMG_2959When JacQuese Steele graduated from Loy Norrix High School in 2008, she headed off to Michigan State University, fully intending to use the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise® to obtain a degree.

Bonnie Terrentine, CIS After School Coordinator for Lincoln International Studies and former Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program (KAAAP) staff  knew JacQuese as a young student at Chime Elementary, then Milwood Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, and then Loy Norrix High School. “She was extremely bright,” recalls Bonnie. “Talented, too. Even when she faced obstacles, she kept on going. She’s very resilient, a pioneer, really, as she was the first in her family to head off to college. I remember she had really supportive grandparents. She was just a great kid.”

JacQuese recalls Ms. Terrentine fondly and says that when she was in fourth grade, the KAAAP mentor she was connected to, Carol McGlinn, changed her future. (Initiated in 1992 by the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, KAAAP was later absorbed by CIS. It matched elementary students to a mentor committed to seeing the young person through high school graduation.)

JacQuese started doing better in school thanks to the tutoring support she received from her mentor. “I wouldn’t be able to read if it wasn’t for her [Ms. McGlinn]. She saved my reading life. She saved me.”

Yet, the transition from high school to college was challenging. “Going off to college was hard for me,” recalls JacQuese. “My family loved me. They were in support of me going and said, ‘Do it!’ but that was it. I needed someone to guide me. I needed help with the how. I realize nobody has a blueprint for you but when you go to college you need a game plan. I felt like I just got dropped off. ‘Do good,’ they told me. Okay, but how? What are the steps I need to take to get through college?”

A talented woman with a variety of interests, JacQuese found herself changing direction frequently and switching majors. While at Michigan State, she studied Communications, Interdisciplinary Arts and Humanities, Religious Studies, Social Work, and Theater.

It was at the start of her fifth year of college, her degree in sight, that things began to unravel. JacQuese’s grandfather, a great ally and whom she was very close to passed away on her first day back to school. To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, JacQuese was robbed. “My bank card was stolen and my entire bank account was wiped out. I was very depressed. I couldn’t pay the rent. I didn’t know what to do.” So, when a new opportunity arose, JacQuese dropped out of college and headed to Atlanta to “chase my singer-songwriter dream.” While JacQuese experienced some success with her musical career she ultimately determined “it ended up not being the opportunity for me that I thought it would be.” As she puts it, “The music industry, well, let’s just say snakes aren’t always low in the grass.”

Recently, JacQuese decided to return to Kalamazoo. Through Facebook, she connected with her former middle school math teacher, Diane Lang. They met for lunch, caught up, and talked about JacQuese’s future. Afterwards, with JacQuese’s blessing, Diane reached out to friend and Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Pam Kingery. Was there a way for JacQuese to get her The Kalamazoo Promise back?

And before September faded into October, JacQuese, with Diane Lang at her side, met with Bob Jorth, Executive Director of The Kalamazoo Promise®. Thanks to Bob, JacQuese got the information she needed and is now doing what it takes—including making a recent trip to Michigan State University—to finish what she started.

JacQuese couldn’t ask for a better cheerleader at her side—and someone to help navigate the how questions all college students have—than Diane Lang.

“This kid has tons of talent and positive energy,” says Diane. “She just needs to finish up her degree. I’m proud of her.”

“This time, I’ll be going back to college,” says JacQuese, “just  a little wiser.”