Introduction To Mindfulness: How It Helps Students

Today’s guest blogger is Jessica Smith, Western Michigan University MSW Intern at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. 

Jessica-300x300My name is Jessica Smith, I am an MSW (Masters of Social Work) intern at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary through Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I graduated from Ferris State University in May 2014 with a Bachelor of Social Work and a Bachelor of Science in Technical and Professional Communication. I am pursuing my School of Social Work certificate and I will be graduating with my MSW in April 2016.

Since I began my internship with CIS, I was invited by Deb Faling of CIS to help run a mindfulness group at Woods Lake Elementary School, which hosts the after school program, Kids In Tune.

Prior to helping run the mindfulness groups, I was not aware of just how useful mindfulness can be in helping with concentration, focus, managing emotions and creating a more peaceful environment. I’ve practiced it myself and have noticed it has a positive effect on my thoughts and feelings.

What exactly is mindfulness and how does it help students?

Mindfulness is defined as, “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” (Source: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition)

Many students in the mindfulness group have expressed positive feelings about the activity. Students have said they feel more “calm” and “relaxed” as a result of practicing mindful behaviors and mindfulness-oriented activities.

I’ve observed that students in the mindfulness group are indeed calmer, more aware of their feelings, their environment and demonstrate compassion towards themselves and others. They have demonstrated more patience and appear to be more “present” in the exact moment they are in.

I will be writing a series on mindful activities the students of the mindfulness group at Kids In Tune have been doing all year long:

Upcoming topics of mindful activities:

• Mindful breathing
• Mindful seeing
• Mindful hearing
• Mindful walking
• Mindful eating

My first post in the series will be about mindful breathing, which will be published in the upcoming weeks. Check out “Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids” for the latest on CIS news and events.

Pop Quiz: Dominique Edwards

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Dominique Edwards (right) with Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Dominique Edwards, a 2014 graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School. A CIS alumni and former board member of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Dominique is currently attending Southwestern Michigan College and took time out of her busy schedule to participate in the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall in New Orleans. She made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel.

We popped this quiz on Dominique while she was in the New Orleans airport waiting for Delta 1603 to arrive and take her back to Kalamazoo. Alright, Dominique: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I’ve learned that you can have fun as long as you are responsible. You must be responsible for yourself.

What are you currently reading?

My favorite book of all time is Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m reading a lot of psychology and sociology books right now. English too.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A CIS Site Coordinator. I think I finally found my niche. I love what a site coordinator does. They are the extended family that is with you throughout your school day and they care enough to know and help you after the school day has ended.

What is your favorite word right now?

Barbados. I love the letter b. It’s so smooth and there are two b’s in Barbados. Barbados. It’s just fun to say.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My mom. My parent got divorced when I was six. My dad is a fantastic guy and is there when I need him. But I grew up in a single parent home and so my mom was the dominant force in my life and made sure I was taken care of. She went off to be a truck driver for a while but she made sure my brother and I were taken care of.

Another caring adult is Ms. Trella.  A lot of the doors that opened for me wouldn’t have been opened if it weren’t for her. Doors like the Leadership Conference—Ms. Trella put my name in for that—and to be part of the CIS campaign launch party to talk about my experiences. So many things, like, one-on-one tutoring, performing poetry in a talent showcase, a five session career workshop, being part of the Principal’s Bookclub with Mr. Washington. We read the Hunger Games series and we also went to King-Westwood and read to kindergarteners. Being a Literacy Buddy and a mentee with the PRO team.

That is a wide range of activities.

It was a domino effect. Once I got involved with CIS, one opportunity after another presented itself. I would have gone to college but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it that much and I would have dropped out after one semester. All those experiences CIS provided helped me in growing up. And now I get to go to a community college that has dorms and that is awesome.

Any advice you have for students?  

Hone your studying skills in high school so you can carry those with you into college. I also have to say that even though I didn’t feel like I was a leader, I was. So, don’t fight your leadership quality. Go for it. And don’t be afraid to put yourself outside of the box.

That’s exactly what you did this whole week. You were on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel and spoke from the heart before over three hundred people. That is stepping outside of the box and really putting yourself out there.

Yes. Socially, I tend to be shy. Just attending this conference was outside the box for me. I wonder what if they don’t want to talk to me. But I pushed myself. Hi, my name is Dominique, I’d say. And I shook their hand and it went from there. It all turned out great.

Singing Loudly And Proudly Of Unsung Heroes

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Kalamazoo at 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA. Also pictured, Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back).

Question: What does Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and California have in common with Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Answer: They have CIS Site Coordinators and public schools who have just received the prestigious Unsung Heroes Awards.

The Unsung Heroes Awards annually honor CIS site coordinators, and schools and communities that partner with Communities In Schools to change the picture of education in America. CIS site coordinators work in more than 2,200 K-12 public schools serving 1.3 million young people and their families every year. Together, site coordinators, schools and communities keep kids in school, and this award recognizes those that are doing whatever it takes to eliminate barriers and never giving up, on anyone.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

Last year, you may recall, Kalamazoo was one of four communities in the country given a “Community of Excellence” award by National CIS. This year, Kalamazoo won in two areas!

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

“I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award,” said Serio. “I love being a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I am able to connect students with over 40 fabulous volunteers and community partners they need to succeed because of the support I receive from my Principal, Mr. William Hawkins and the Spring Valley teachers, staff, parents, and CIS staff. Here at Spring Valley, we are all a team.”Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

Arcadia Elementary School, committed to the CIS model for more than 13 years, was one of four sites honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network. The award highlights successful implementation of the proven site coordinator model in a partner school.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

“Arcadia Elementary School is a shining example of what can happen when we work together for kids. This award is shared by all of us—The Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, our volunteers, partners, and donors—all dedicated to meeting students’ needs,” said Pam Kingery executive director, CIS of Kalamazoo. “Along with the talented KPS teachers, staff, and administrators, we will continue working with the community to serve the students at Arcadia as well as students in the nineteen additional KPS schools that CIS is in.”  You can watch the Arcadia video by clicking here.

In addition, Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall and also made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel. Keep reading Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and you’ll learn what she is up to. (We had a chance to pop our “pop quiz” on her as she waited in the New Orleans airport for her flight home.)

In Times of Grief And Loss, Hospice Is There

boy-984313Genuine, compassionate, and flexible. These words only begin to capture our partner, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Thanks to its work with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, hundreds and hundreds of Kalamazoo Public School students have benefited from its school-based grief groups. Since 2006, Hospice Board members, administrators and therapists have been committed to providing students with a grief counselor who is highly skilled at engaging students from diverse backgrounds who are grieving due to terminal illness or death of a loved one, loss of their home, divorce, incarceration or foster care.

This school-based service, which will touch almost 100 students this school year, offers hope and better ways of coping with the losses they have experienced. One student, struggling with the death of her mother, saw her grades drop to the point she felt paralyzed with grief and hopelessness. “I didn’t care about anything,” she said. “I gave up easily…I wasn’t doing my work and was behind on credits.” She took what she saw as her only available option and dropped out of high school. She almost became a statistic. Almost.

KPS staff did a great job of convincing this young woman to return to school and to get connected with CIS. The school’s CIS Site Coordinator connected her with a grief & loss group offered by Hospice. The student credited the work she did in the weekly groups with therapist Cate Jarvis with helping her get back on track to graduate. As the oldest child in a parentless family, she recognized that the best way to honor her mother’s memory is to make sure that her little brothers and sisters attend school regularly and do their homework so they too can graduate and take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

It’s a fact: healthier children make better students—including emotional health as well as physical health. Research proves that addressing children’s health needs is associated with positive school outcomes. When students’ health needs are met, studies find increases in academic achievement, decreases in incidence of problem behaviors, improvement in the relationships that surround each child, and positive changes in school and classroom climates.

lonely-928656But access to these needed services is often an obstacle. When it comes to the delivery of health services—or any of the critical resources our partners provide—location matters. Transportation is often a barrier for many of the students served through CIS. Keeping appointments outside of the school setting can pose a hardship for families. School-based health services are a growing trend throughout the country. Approximately 75% of children who receive some type of mental health service receive it in schools.

We are grateful to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and to all of our partners who work with us, investing their time, expertise, and resources to change the landscape of healthcare delivery for our children.

We continue to be thankful for the Kalamazoo Public Schools. It is through their home and heart that many of these vital student needs are identified.

Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan guides and supports individuals (and their caregivers) coping with illness, aging, dying, and loss by providing an array of supports and services, grief support like Journeys, a free program for children and teens which is offered at their Oakland Centre facility (2255 West Centre Avenue in Portage). If you know a child or a teenager who is hurting because of the death of a loved one, Journeys can help. To find out more, go here.

Oh Say Can She See?

dogglassesWhat if, right now, you could do one thing that would positively impact a student’s academic performance? Would you do it? What is that one thing, you ask? It’s helping students get the eye exams and glasses they need so they can focus on schoolwork, see the board and be able to read their textbooks. Vision problems are a huge barrier to learning. If you can’t see well, it’s hard to be a good student. Undiagnosed or untreated vision problems may result in delayed reading and poorer school performance. That’s understandable as these students can rapidly grow frustrated, bored, develop behavior problems, and feel isolated from their classmates.

Children’s vision health in the United
States is considered by many to be a public health emergency. According to the National Vision Commission on Vision and Health, only 17% of children with families earning less than 200% of FPL (Family Poverty Level) have seen an eye care provider (compared to 23% from more affluent families); uninsured children are three times as likely to go without eyeglasses when needed; 24% of parents did not follow up for a vision exam due to lack of financial resources; and 15% of Asian, 19% of black, and 16% of Hispanic children have visited an eye care provider compared to 23% of white children.

blurredboardHere in Kalamazoo, almost 1 in 5 children failed a school vision screening last year. So what does this mean? The child needs a follow up vision exam with an optometrist to determine why they failed. It may be that they had glasses but weren’t wearing them that day, perhaps because they were lost or broken. Or, the child is experiencing a change in vision that is common in the elementary years. This means the child needs glasses to read. Or perhaps there are other eye problems that need to be addressed.

When it comes to vision care, CIS’s goal is to follow up with all families of children who failed the vision screening to ensure that they get an exam and, if needed, glasses. Why is this help even needed? Frequently, a family may have Medicaid or My Child insurance which pays for glasses but if the child has broken or lost two pairs in a year, they may have to wait many months before the glasses can be replaced. For some of our children, this could mean losing half a year of focused, productive learning. For other families with private health insurance, large deductibles can pose a barrier. For uninsured families, the cost is insurmountable.  CIS is able to assist families in all of these instances, whether it’s working with the family to navigate through the health care maze, determine which optometrists accepts their insurance, or assisting with scheduling and assuring students get to their appointments. In cases of financial need, CIS is able to tap the Bernard Palchick Vision Fund, and pay for exams and glasses. Last year, CIS funded exams and eyeglasses for 221 students in Kalamazoo Public Schools.

glasses1Over the years, CIS has created a system for eye care, assuring that students who fail the vision screening get the follow up and resources they need. Last year, CIS site teams followed up with over 625 students who failed their vision screening. This coordination is, as you might imagine, a tremendous undertaking of human/financial resources—following up with teachers and students, calling parents, assisting with paperwork, and doing what it takes to bridge the gap between an identified need—in this case, vision care—and ultimately connecting the student to the right vision care provider.

It’s worth it, because students receive the vision care they need to be successful. Last school year, a fourth grade student who received glasses as a result of the work of her CIS Site Coordinator, jumped three reading levels. Glasses are no small thing. For this child or any child.

We are grateful to our CIS friends who support the vision fund and have allowed CIS to build and sustain a system of care for kids who need it most by putting the Jen DeWaeles, Derek Millers, Stacy Salters, Gulnar Husains, Deborah Yarbroughs, and other dedicated site coordinators  into the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Because of you, a clearer, better vision of the world awaits.

Know The ABCs Of School Attendance

ABCsAttendance research is discovering what schools have known all along: Our teachers can teach our children….if the children show up. Turns out, attendance is a significant predictor of student performance. Kids who are absent early and often are at greater risk for dropping out of school as well as a whole host of economic, marital, social, and psychiatric problems in adulthood. What’s more, researchers are finding that even students with good attendance suffer academically in environments where absenteeism is a problem.

While attendance is important at all levels of education, attendance in early grades is critical. Much of the work (not to mention money) that helps a child gain school readiness skills in preschool or Head Start programs is negated if that child is chronically absent during kindergarten and first grade. They may have entered kindergarten with the same level of readiness skills as their peers, but by third grade they are woefully behind. In one study, students with poor attendance in their kindergarten and first grades scored an average of 60 points below similar students with good attendance on third-grade reading tests. In math, the gap was nearly 100 points.

September is National Attendance month. However, just because September is slipping away doesn’t mean attendance goes on the back burner. Far from it. Every school day counts, whether it’s in September, March, or May.

According to the National Center for Student Engagement, achieving high attendance rates occurs when parents, schools, and the community work together to get kids to attend and stay in school.

Thank you school and community partners, donors, and volunteers. Together, we are encircling our children and singing the ABCs of attendance…

Alarm Clocks & After-School Coordinators

Boots & Backpacks

Clean Clothes

Deodorant

Eyeglasses

Food in the belly

Gloves & Good night sleeps

Hats

Interns

Jackets

Kindness

Love

Mittens

Nurse Practitioners

Opportunities

Parents & Principals

Quality Programming

Respect

Site Coordinators, Socks & Shoes, Success Coaches

Teachers & Tutors

Underwear

Volunteers & VISTAs

Warm clothes

Xtra support

Youth Development Workers

Zippers that Work on Coats

A terrific op-ed piece written by Dan Cardinali, president of Communities In Schools recently ran in the New York Times.  You can read  ”How to Get Kids to Class” here.

Pop Quiz: Jen Dewaele

PhilHegwood-dk-m_7Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Jen DeWaele, CIS Site Coordinator at Woodward School for Technology and Research. Her Principal, Mr. Frank Rocco, was interviewed a few months back by Daquayveon Edmonson and you can read that post here.

An interesting fact about Jen is that she is one of four individuals who founded Peace House, an intentional community in the Eastside Neighborhood of Kalamazoo dedicated to nurturing the next generation of peacemakers.

Alright, Jen: pencils out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve recently learned about elephant memory. Elephants can remember where water has been decades later when there is a drought or areas have been planted over. Each elephant has a personal greeting that they recognize each other with, and they can remember these long after an individual has passed.

WhatisthewhatWhat are you currently reading?

What is the What by Dave Eggers. It is the story of one of the lost boys from Sudan.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Patient.

What is your favorite word right now?

Community. I believe that we are all better when we can work together. When we have our shared wisdom and experience, we can go further and deeper towards more creative ideas and solutions.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

I’ve been noticing lately that there’s a lot of anger in our culture. I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I can, and should try to, be a part of changing that in a positive way, even if it seems small.

Behind every successful student– and grownup–is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?

My husband. We take on each day together as a team. He is my sounding board and support for everything. I’m daily grateful for his wisdom.

Jen D reading with a friend
CIS Site Coordinator Jen DeWaele (right) with friend, Jordan Martin

 

Thank You For Being Mashed Potatoes

Today’s post is written by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Her words can also be found on the front page of our latest CIS Connections.

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo
Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

No one orders gravy without the mashed potatoes. No one buys a set of special tires without owning a car to put them on. You don’t buy an extra gig of memory when you don’t possess a computer. Likewise, Communities In Schools wouldn’t seek after school grants if it didn’t have basic core services within the schools—whole-child, integrated student support.

Communities In Schools was recently notified that ALL THREE after school grants for which it applied have been selected for funding by the Michigan Department of Educationbeginning the 2014-15 school year. Those grants, funded for five years, will provide significant extra learning support in fifteen schools—nine out of its ten current after school sites and six new elementary sites.  And, yes, the grants do represent a substantial dollar amount—more than ten million over the five year period. Of course, this is a huge accomplishment for CIS, Kalamazoo Public Schools and the partners who collaborate with us. We couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity!

BUT, after school services are not the CIS core integrated student support strategy that is basic to our mission—to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.  After school services are an example of a very important, narrow but intensive strategy for providing critical academic support to a targeted group of students within each selected school. It does give us a critical opportunity for daily contact with students to support homework completion, provide tutoring and practice for key academic skills and a safe, supervised setting while parents are working. It makes a substantial impact on the students who participate.

Core to a whole-child, coordinated service strategy, is a site coordinator who is available to organize and connect the community’s resources to a wider group of students within a school, students who have needs beyond academics, and who most often have very limited socio-economic means to meet those needs—dental, vision, food, clothing, school supplies, mental health, etc.  Why do I point this out? Because it is our KALAMAZOO FUNDERS and DONORS who make possible the core of what Communities In Schools is and does. If you are one of those funders and donors, your support is essential in allowing us to leverage other resources—the gravy if you will—to provide critical extra support to some students, while maintaining the basics to greater numbers of children.

Yes, ten million dollars, even over five years, is a lot of money.  But it goes to a very specific and narrow purpose—the special set of tires—and cannot be used to support our core services.  For that core set of services, we are continuing our Promise Me Campaign.  For that core, we are dependent on you, Kalamazoo.  For that, we thank you for being the mashed potatoes.