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.  

Pop Quiz: Hailiey From Spring Valley Center For Exploration


IMG_2192Today’s pop quiz features Hailiey Houser, a fifth grader at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. She has been involved with CIS for three years now and is featured within our latest CIS Connections newsletter which you can read 
here.  Alright, Hailiey, pencil out. Here we go!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m in Read 180 and it’s really great. Right now, we’re learning about how to stop bullies and stand up for ourselves. Some school have formed anti-bulling clubs, the kids will make posters, hang them around the school. We’re talking about what we want to do in our school when it comes to bullying.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading Writing Freedom. It’s about a girl whose parents get in an accident and they pass away. She ends up finding a horse she loves. I think this story is interesting because it’s about animals and a mystery at the same time. I also love the Percy Jackson series. I’m on The Son of Neptune, the first book in the second series.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I have the Kalamazoo Promise® so I want to go to either Michigan State University or Western Michigan University. I plan to be a writer, doctor, a vet, a singer, and a teacher. I love little kids.

What is your favorite word right now?

Fantastic. 

You said that quickly, without blinking an eye.

Well, it’s been my favorite word for the past five years.

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

Seeing my dad for my birthday. Since he lives in Tennessee I don’t get to see him often. 

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

My mom, my step-dad, and my dad…They have gotten me through really tough times. Also, my math teacher, Mr. Smith and my Read 180 teacher, Ms. Krzebietke, or “Ms. K” as us kids call her. They are both great. And Ms. Martha because she’s helped my family a lot, especially this year.  She  got me involved in College Club, Girls on the Run and the Writer’s Workshop where all the people—especially Ms. Molly, help me with writing. Ms. Molly has been with me all this year and she helped me write my first book, The Powerful Mouse which I dedicated to my family and friends! [Hailiey holds up her book.] Oh no! I just now noticed the mouse is missing a leg! [She laughs, then sets the book down.] I’m working on my second book now called The Connection. It’s about a girl who is a vet, finds a dog without a tag, and develops a relationship with him.

Thank you, Hailiey!

IMG_2196While you can read ”All the Write Moves” in the current CIS Connections newsletter, in which Hailiey and her CIS Site Coordinator reflect on the academic success Hailiey is experiencing at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, we’ll end today’s post with a portion of the interview that you’ll only find here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids… 

Hailiey is keenly aware that she must work hard now to prepare herself not just forLinden Grove Middle School come fall, but for college. “Going to college is important,” she points out. “That way, you can have a good life and get a good job. Since Ms. Martha got me involved in the College Club I have written a letter to Michigan State. They wrote back and sent me a banner, a packet of things I need to know to prepare for college. Did you know that you have to stay in college for a certain amount of time, depending upon what type of job you are looking to do? I also learned that you also have to write well to do well in college. Every Wednesday at recess time I do the Writer’s Workshop. I work closely with Ms. Molly. I do the work but she has been there all this year to help me. I’m also doing Girls on the Run again. I first did it in 3rdgrade and I have a medal at home for running the 5K we do at the end of the program. Girls on the Run is about running but it’s also about meeting new people and making new friends. I did a good job with that, so I’m looking forward to it again. Ms. Martha also helped me get to Pretty Lake Camp last year and I’ll also be going there again this summer. Last year, a turtle peed on my shoes and luckily I made some good friends because one of them had an extra pair of tennis shoes I could wear. That was good because my shoes smelled something awful.”

The Madness Of The March To Graduation

Bball HoopIn my house, “March Madness” means the excitement of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It’s great to see KPS grads Devin Oliver (University of Dayton) and Von Washington, III (Western Michigan University) getting recognition on the biggest stage in their sport. I don’t want to brag, but my bracket is in the 96th percentile out of more than 10 million entered at ESPN’s Tournament Challenge. How’s yours?

Away from basketball, this is a March that maddens. It is maddening that public education in our country struggles to obtain the stable and adequate funding it needs to educate our youth. It is sheer madness to expect teachers—no matter how skilled they are—to teach students who are hungry, suffering from untreated tooth decay, having difficulty seeing the blackboard, are worried where they will sleep tonight. The list goes on.

At the same time, it is heartening to know that this madness may be melting. This week, for the first time ever, the White House has scheduled a forum to discuss the role of Integrated Student Services in America’s public schools. But just what is thisIntegrated Student Services model? Child Trends defines Integrated Student Services (ISS) as “a school-based approach to promoting students’ academic success by securing and coordinating supports that target academic and non-academic barriers to achievement.” President of National Communities In Schools, Inc, Dan Cardinali, points out in his recent Huffington Post blog post that Communities In Schools (CIS) has been advocating this model for over 30 years. CIS affiliates—along with several other organizations—are actively carrying out this approach in some 5,000 schools across the country, serving at least 1.4 million students.

Here’s another way to think of it. Imagine turning on the television and seeing a basketball court. (No leap of imagination needed in my family. We are still flying high from our trip to Cleveland to witness the WMU Broncos men’s team win the MAC Tournament in Cleveland!)

The game is about to start. It’s one-on-one. The announcer offers stats on each player. They are the same age and size. Both are loved by their parents and both have fabulous coaches who have the skills and knowledge to teach them all they need to know to be successful players. Both have the home court advantage. It should, the announcer predicts, be a close game.

From one end of the court, out jogs a smiling young child, sporting a crisp uniform and shoes so bright they dazzle. Under the watchful eye of her supportive team members, she begins to warm up. She appears healthy, rested. The camera pans to her bench, which is quite deep. There to support and assist her are her pediatrician, eye doctor, and dentist. Squeezed next to her parents are the grocery store clerk, her piano teacher, someone holding juice and healthy snacks, and someone else holding a duffle bag of extra uniforms, shoes, and other sundry items.

The cameras then pan to the bench across the way. In contrast, it is quite sparse, just a tired looking woman on the bench—the player’s mother.

The game is about to begin but the second player is nowhere to be…oh, wait, here she comes. She’s late. Unlike the first player, she doesn’t have an alarm clock or a bed. She and her mother have been sleeping on the couches and floors of friends for the last few months. Because she’s arrived late, she hasn’t had a chance to warm up. In worn shoes and ill-fitting jeans and shirt, she heads directly to center court. She isn’t moving comfortably, but given that this is the only outfit she has, she must make do.

The game begins. Within seconds, the first child scores. And then scores again. Each time the second child has possession of the ball, she turns it over. By half-time, the game is a blowout. As both players head to the locker room, the second child’s coach is asked, “What is wrong with your player? Why aren’t you coaching h
er better?”

“Unless something dramatically changes in the second half of the game,” the announcer intones, “she will never catch up.” Cut to commercial.

The second half begins. It feels like an entirely different game. It looks that way, too. The second child is running up and down the court in new shoes and a pair of shorts. She’s taking shots and making many of them. The coach and mother who have been constants at her side are now joined on the bench by others. What is going on?

During halftime, when the fans in the bleachers realized that cheering was no longer enough, they turned to each other and said, “We need to deepen that child’s bench to keep her in the game. We can see she needs things like shoes and clothes, but what else? What can we do to ensure her love of the game continues?”

play-at-own-riskThe second player finished the game that evening. It’s a long season, though, and she has other needs to be addressed. But, with help from her community, her bench will deepen and she will receive the resources and support she needs, just like the first child, to play the rest of the games to the best of her ability.  

Communities In School’s model of Integrated Student Services (ISS) is basically a community’s way of saying, “Hey, wait a minute; we need to do something differently for all of our children. Let’s join forces with the schools and assure that resources and supports are available to students so they can stay in school and be prepared to learn all they can from their teachers.”

I feel tremendous pride—and you should too—that the ISS model is, in fact, the way in which our community has been choosing for over a decade to support our children within the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Individuals, nonprofit organizations, businesses, higher learning and faith based institutions are deepening the bench for students every time they make the decision to volunteer, partner, and/or donate to CIS, doing what it takes to ensure they stay in school and achieve in life. Integrated Student Services, paired with adequate and stable public school funding, is a game changer. Once policy makers recognize this and make decisions that reflect this as a priority for our children, we all win.

Unlike basketball, the beauty of integrated student services is that both “teams” can win and move on when their needs are being met. With their communities’ help, each can make it to the “Sweet 16” and the “Final Four.” Every student can win the sweetest prize of all: a high school diploma.

We Can’t Have a Strong America with Weak Kids

Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. When a child is hungry, it impacts that child’s ability to learn. It’s harder to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, it’s difficult to focus on reading, and to regulate behavior. A chronically hungry child is worried when and where their next meal will come from.

I had written the above words and then met Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. Actually, we didn’t really meet and Mr. Shore has no clue who I am. I was just one in the crowd when he stepped out to the podium the day after the Awards of Excellence celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s just that he was so engaging, funny, and thoughtful that I felt like we met. He said a lot of important things in his speech but what has stuck with me is this: “We can’t have a strong America with weak kids.”

In America, there are 11 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade who live in poverty. That is, as Mr. Shore pointed out, a lot of children coming to school in a state of distress, sitting at their desks “fundamentally compromised in their learning…plopping them in front of a great teacher” does not solve the problem. If anything, it is, in the eyes of Mr. Shore “setting children up to fail.”

Since 2003, here in Kalamazoo we have learned that if we can send kids home with food on Fridays, they return to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn.

Thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Friday Foodpacks have been one of the “tools” CIS Site Coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help. Just last school year, 750 elementary students received a weekly foodpack while food pantries served students in El Sol Elementary and all six secondary schools.

As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Anne Lipsey, the entire KLF staff and their board that our Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers can get Friday Foodpacks into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children. For students like Charles (not his real name), it can make all the difference.

Identified this year by his CIS Site Coordinator as someone who could benefit fromFriday Foodpacks, Charles was looking forward to receiving his pack. At the same time, it so happened his school, like many schools, was engaged in a food drive. So when Friday arrived and his Site Coordinator gave him his first ever foodpack, he informed her he was going to donate all of it to the food drive. After all, he knows what it feels like to be hungry. He is hungry a lot. Weekends especially.

She looked into eager eyes and in her wisdom said, “How about this time you pick one thing from your bag to donate? Just this one time, okay?”

He loved the idea. So, he parted with one item and then went home, with dignity and food still in his pack.

Upon hearing this story, CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery replied, “Loaves & Fishes is about feeding hungry people, but it is also about dignity.” How true. One of the hunger stories noted on the KLF website quotes someone as saying, “KLF volunteers always made me feel like somebody instead of nothing.” Our Site Coordinators and community volunteers are doing the same thing within the schools. Providing both access to food and embodying the KLF values: respect, diversity & inclusion, stewardship & accountability, integrity, collaboration, urgency, and service.

By working through us within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes taps into the heart of one of our values or what we refer to as a “CIS basic”:  that all children deserve a healthy start in life. And, for one little boy, who, according to the Site Coordinator is now eating every last crumb in his pack, it spoke to another CIS basic, the opportunity to give back to peers and community.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who make it possible for our children to arrive to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn. Milwood Christian Reformed Church (MRC helped pilot this program back in 2003) both carry out the foodpack distribution at Milwood Elementary and financially support this program. And when MCR volunteers Helen Anderson and Thelma Vantill go on vacation they find people from the church to step in while they’re gone. Mt. Zion financially supports the foodpacks at Northglade. Workers who are part of the MRC Industries sheltered workshop pack food into bags for Edison and Spring Valley each week. Out at other KPS schools, our kids rely on CIS volunteers like Allison Leonard (Parkwood Upjohn), Rose Blackwood (Prairie Ridge), and Cortney Afton (Lincoln) to make sure the packs get to kids in time for the weekend.

CIS Site Coordinator Leslie Poucher Pratt refers to these foodpack volunteers as “All Stars.” We couldn’t agree more.

Director of Volunteer Services, Abby Nappier, says we still need a number of volunteers to help deliver foodpacks to children within several schools. So, if you or someone you know may want to volunteer, click here.

There is, Mr. Shore reminds us, much work to be done when it comes to eradicating child hunger. Until then, we will only be as strong as our weakest child.

A version of Charles’ story first ran in Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes newsletter. You can find it here.

Silent Giants In The Schools

Today’s post is written by Lauren Longwell. She is venturing into her second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA with us. (VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America. VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level. In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools.) 

Lauren working in food pantry at El Sol Elementary School
Lauren working in food pantry at El Sol Elementary School

In thinking what I would like to do in retirement it came to me that education seemed to be getting short changed. I began to think about who had influenced me and where my life changing experiences had occurred. I immediately thought back on my seventh grade teacher and how she supported and guided me, cared about who I was, and saw potential in me. I wanted to be able to assist and support a child in some way so that they too would have a chance at their potential. CIS is a way the community supports our schools, providing wrap around care for Kazoo’s kids. I like that.

Becoming a VISTA went hand-in-hand with being a volunteer with CIS. AmeriCorps VISTA has many volunteer opportunities, making it possible to be a part of a community, work with people in need, and assist others in realizing a dream. For me this dream is our kids, our cities, our communities, our homes, and on the larger scale, our country. Thus, my opportunity to become a VISTA and work with CIS came to fruition.

I have the wonderful opportunity of being a VISTA within two Kalamazoo Public Schools: El Sol Elementary School and Hillside Middle School. I do a variety of tasks within the schools. El Sol Elementary rings with the sounds of two languages, Spanish and English. Although I don’t speak Spanish, I am able to get along just fine and this experience has prompted me to enroll in a Beginning Spanish Class. I assist the CIS Site Coordinator with the El Sol Food Pantry. The Food Pantry provides a wide range of foods for families in need who have children attending El Sol. Shelves are stocked weekly with food from Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each week I pick up a load of food supplies and stock the El Sol Food Pantry shelves. I’d always played pretend “grocery store” as a kid and, gosh, my wish has come true. I now stock a food pantry that provides food to others.

One of my other VISTA roles is to promote a “College Going Culture” within my assigned schools. I have the pleasure of working with students in setting up College Awareness bulletin boards. Students in the CIS After School Program meet as a group and help design College Awareness posters which they then hang up throughout the school. The Middle School kids are aware of how important grades, study time, attendance and completion of homework all are in their journey to College. As a VISTA, my task is to assist, guide, support and honor the students’ potential for college. This requires care, belief in students’ abilities and assisting them to know that they can succeed.

At Hillside Middle School I have helped to promote, develop and present the idea of recycling at the school. A team of students from the CIS After School Program (and me) go to each classroom weekly to empty the recycling bins. The kids have developed a team approach which gets the job done and allows them to help keep Hillside Middle School clean as well as environmentally aware.

During my year as a VISTA I have learned much about the importance of volunteers in the school setting. I have also seen other VISTAs who are much younger than myself step forward and give back to our community and this country. It has been a humbling experience for me to step aside from a professional career to a less visible one. Having said this, I must say with a loud and clear voice that, without volunteers and the silent helpers of our community, we would be at a loss. The gifts, passion, experience and care of volunteers and VISTAs in Kalamazoo are the silent giants who give of themselves to help our community fulfill its Promise…. Thank you CIS for allowing me to be a VISTA with you and the kids of Kalamazoo!

And thank you, Lauren, for being one of those silent giants! We are grateful to have you, and the passion, wisdom, and experience you bring to benefit our children. Know a young person, a retired person, someone who is passionate about youth and may want to explore the possibility of being a VISTA with us? Share Lauren’s post with them.