In This Season of Thanks and Giving

As I busy myself with upcoming preparations, like menu planning and making out a grocery list, and debating if it would be best to shred or slice zucchini for a new recipe I’m going to try out, these mundane thoughts are interrupted by something much more important, wondering what Thanksgiving will be like for some of our 12,000+ kids.

A child so hungry he rummages through a garbage can, snatching and stuffing into his pockets a partially eaten sandwich, a bit of apple. He is worried about his younger sister who isn’t yet school age and wants her to have some food in her belly before the day slips away.

I think of the student who messed up big time on a homework assignment. The class was learning about sequencing and the student couldn’t figure out how to put in proper order the steps for making a bed. It seems a basic thing, something any third grader should be able to do. But, spend some time with this student and it becomes apparent that she is a bright child, one who likes to please and struggles to do her best. However, she does not have a memory of her head ever touching a pillow. She often sleeps on floors and, if lucky, the couches of friends or family. She is one of 2.5 million children (1 in 30) who is homeless in America. It’s hard to figure out the steps to making a bed when you don’t have one, when the only pillow you’ve ever seen is in a book.

And then there’s the sixth grade girl who shows up to school every day wearing shoes that are so badly worn that the soles flap up and down as she walks through the halls. She feels like a clown. Though some of her classmates tease her, one offers up a pair of their own worn, but respectable pair of shoes.

Or what about that high school student who has been missing too much school lately?

These students bring to mind a conversation I recently had with someone. She said that as a child she was thankful for school each and every day. “I didn’t want to leave it. I’d figure out strategies to stay as long as possible. Anything to not go home.” School, she said, was her haven.

For too many children, weekends, holidays, and snow days take away the haven of school, the solace that comes in knowing they will have a breakfast and a lunch, a warm and stable environment that isn’t always a given once the school bell rings at the end of the day.

What will these children—who sleep on floors and worry where their next meal will come from—what will they doing on Thanksgiving? Will they have enough to eat? Anything to eat? Where, on Thanksgiving night will they lay their heads to sleep? Unfortunately, for many children throughout our nation, Thanksgiving is no different from any other day. It will just be what every other 364 days of the year means: survival.

The good news is that in each of the above situations, CIS was able to reach out to these children because of you. We—and those students and their families—are thankful for YOU.  You give out of your abundance— your heart, financial support, resources, and time. These students, and many more, are doing well and able to focus on school because of you.

What are you thankful for? We’ll leave you with just a few things our 12,000+ kids tell us they are thankful for: school, CIS, mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers, teachers, principals, secretaries, the Kalamazoo Promise®, dogs, phones, football, shoes, glasses, clothes, food, presents of any kind, a bed to sleep in, a room of my own so that I can walk into it. Their lists go on. And it includes you.

Note: This post ran three years ago in Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Originally titled “Mis(Thanks)Giving,” it’s back by popular demand.  

Boo!

Did we scare you? No? Well then, here are a few facts about kids in America that are plenty scary.

61,423 children are incarcerated throughout the United States. It is estimated that 10,000 of those children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day. A number of these incarcerated kids don’t have a system of support. Jamal says that if it weren’t for his CIS Site Coordinator, he’d “be dead or in jail or in prison somewhere.” Listen to his story here.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. Today in the United States, 11 teens will die as a result of texting while driving. (Text while driving and you are 23 times more likely to crash.) We’re proud that two of our CIS partners—AT&T and State Farm®—have both been leaders and are at the forefront in helping combat this growing epidemic. We wrote about their effort’s in this post, It’s Never Okay.

More than 13% of children reported being physically bullied, while more than 1 in 3 said they had been emotionally bullied. Researchers have found that providing social and emotional learning programs in schools not only decreases negative behaviors like bullying, but it increases positive attitudes toward school, positive social behavior, and academic performance. At CIS, our school and community partners know this. That’s why Twelve Days of Kindness and other creative approaches to enhancing social and emotional learning often get woven into CIS after school programs throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Every day, children suffer loss that can include the death of a loved one, divorce, incarceration of a caregiver, or other separation issue. One out of every 20 children aged ­fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. This statistic doesn’t include children who lose a “parental ­figure,” such as a grandparent that provides care. (Owens, D. “Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care” Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2008; 10:1) Fortunately, for over a decade now, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. In Times of Grief and Loss, Hospice is There.

More than two million kids have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Fortunately, there are wonderful organizations like SLD Read. Our Site Coordinators love supporting this terrific partner and their exceptionally trained tutors who, through a multisensory program, help students with dyslexia, learning differences, and other reading challenges to develop lifelong language skills.

This list could go on. Our kids face challenges every day. The good news is that you can make a difference. Thank you for getting involved, whether it’s donating, partnering, or volunteering. Our 12,000+ kids need you.

Storms All Around Us

Lately, it feels as if storms are all around us. Right now, the Kalamazoo community is weathering its own tragedy of the five young people who were killed in the horrific car accident. These beautiful children, who had their whole lives before them, leave behind devastated parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, and others. As their loved ones and our community deals with these staggering losses, our hearts reach out to them.

Our care and concern also go out to those beyond our Kalamazoo borders.

Our extended CIS family is also much on our minds as they begin the recovery process from the recent hurricanes of Harvey and Irma. CIS affiliates, the CIS staff, the children and families they serve—and their school and community partners and volunteers have been impacted by these storms. In Texas alone, the Texas state office, 11 CIS affiliates, and about 335,000 students enrolled in schools served by those affiliates have been affected. Unfortunately, two young people, CIS alumni who were living out one of the Five CIS Basics—giving back to peers and community—lost their lives while rescuing people. While in service to others, their boat was caught in the flood waters, overturned, and they drowned.

We can think of no more catastrophic event than that of young lives cut short, from the two young men from over a thousand miles away to the five young people here in our midst, we hold you in our hearts.

National CIS has convened a response team at the National Office to determine how best to support students and the staff during the recovery process. If you would like to support CIS affiliates impacted by Hurricane Harvey, go here.

CIS Think Summer! Students Visited by Special Guest

When you hear the White House has a bowling alley downstairs!

Students recently welcomed Congressman Fred Upton to their CIS Think Summer! program at Arcadia Elementary School. Like CIS After School (which serves 750 students in 15 after school sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools),  CIS Think Summer! was in full swing this year (for both elementary and secondary students) thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. CIS Think Summer! served 250 students in grades 1-9 from 15 Kalamazoo Public schools. It provided 24 days (144 hours) of programming designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities.  Students participated in reading, writing and math programming, enrichment activities, college and career exploration, and experiential learning.

Congressman Upton visited the elementary summer site which was held this year at Arcadia Elementary School. Congressman Upton stepped into a fifth grade classroom and fielded a number of questions from the students. One of the highlights for students (and staff) was when one fifth grader asked “What’s fun to do there [at the White House]?” The students were amazed to learn that there is a bowling alley in the White House basement.

During his visit, the Congressman also saw Kalamazoo Kids in Tune (KKIT) in action, which is a partnership among The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and Kalamazoo Public Schools. He saw individual sectional practices and was treated to a performance by the entire KKIT orchestra.

Congressman Upton, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit and see what our kids have been learning throughout these six weeks to combat the summer slide! Our students enjoyed learning about your career and all the things you do in Washington, D.C. that are connected to their lives back in Southwest Michigan. As you and many of our readers know, the federal budget for 2017-18 (which begins October 1, 2017) proposed by the President completely eliminates funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. On behalf of our 12,000 + kids, thank you for supporting continued funding for the 21st CCLC Community Learning Centers which make critical extending learning possible for KPS students during the school year and summer. This kind of support will help them graduate, use The Kalamazoo Promise and have a great career too.

Note: Any reduction to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers would have significant impact for our kids not just here in Kalamazoo but throughout Michigan. An article that recently ran in MLive addresses this. You can read it here.

 

Welcome, Dr. Montgomery!

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo welcomes the ninth president of Western Michigan University, Dr. Edward Montgomery, who began his tenure one week ago.

Western Michigan University partners with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life. Here are just a few ways WMU has worked with CIS and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to support our 12,000+ kids:

 

 

We look forward to our continued partnership with WMU and what the future will bring with Dr. Montgomery at the helm.

Dr. Montgomery earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and both master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Harvard University. He comes to WMU from Georgetown University where he served as professor of economics and dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy since 2010. No stranger to Kalamazoo, he has coauthored research with CIS Board Member Randall Eberts of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research—not to mention that his son is a recent WMU grad!

You can learn more about WMU’s new president, Dr. Edward Montgomery, by clicking on the links below:

Official WMU biography: http://wmich.edu/president/biography

Go here for Second Wave Media’s “Nine questions about Dr. Edward B. Montgomery, WMU’s ninth president.”

WMUK’s Gordon Evans interviewed Dr. Montgomery in May and rebroadcast it last week on WestSouthwest. You can listen to it here.

Click here for “10 things to know about Western Michigan University’s new president” from MLIVE.

What is the CIS Board Reading in 2017?

 

We know it’s important for kids to read. But we shouldn’t forget, it’s also important for our 12,000+ kids that they see grownups reading too! What have you been reading this summer? A few months ago, we asked Communities In Schools board members what they are reading. Here’s what some of them said:

 

I am currently reading Centered Leadership by Joanna Barsh. I attended a Johnson and Johnson Women’s Leadership Initiative and heard Joanna speak. I loved her stories and the research she has placed into this book.

-Jen Randall

 

QBQ! The Question behind the Question by John G. Miller.

-David Maurer

 

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

-Patti Sholler-Barber

 

I am reading two books right now:  Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Never Caught by Erica Dunbar.

-Pamela C. Enslen

 

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

-Janice Brown

 

I’m actually reading the Kalamazoo Community Read: Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

-Tony McDonnell

 

Looking for more ideas for summer reads? Check out the JULY 2017 INDIE NEXT LIST, which is recommendations from independent booksellers.

 

 

Duo Helps Students Succeed Every Day

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

What happens when you bring a Knight and Giant together? You get the powerhouse team of CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett and CIS After School Coordinator Jenee McDaniel. These two graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools sat down with us to reflect on the work they do at Linden Grove Middle School to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

How do you two work together to provide cohesive, seamless support from daytime through after school to help students get and stay on track to graduation?

Tamiko: Jenee and I have open communication with each other. When we enroll students in CIS, we keep in mind whether the student would be best served with daytime or after school. It’s always about what is the best fit for the student and their family.

Jenee: We’re in constant communication, whether it’s on the phone, touching base in the morning, during the day, after school. We often re-evaluate situations and are always open to making adjustments to services or resources we have in place. To do this work well, you have to think out of the box. We do that. If we need to meet on a Sunday night to make something happen, so be it.

What qualities do you admire in each other that help you work so well together?

Tamiko: Jenee and I are opposite in so many ways and that makes us a good team. We play to each other’s strengths. Jenee is so genuine and I also admire her outspokenness. I observe, then choose my words.

What’s the easiest part about working together?

Jenee: We both have a good understanding of what needs to be done. There’s no competition between us. We can count on each other. I know that Tamiko’s not just checking off the boxes to get something done. She really cares and is knowledgeable about her job. I respect that.

What’s the most challenging aspect when it comes to collaborating?

Jenee: We’re here to do what we’re here to do. It helps that we collaborate on everything, from how we communicate, to our schedules, to how we’re going to best serve these students. We have a process that works well in this school.

Tamiko: So when we get our enrollment list—kids with a strategic needs in attendance, behavior, or academics who could possibly benefit from CIS support to become proficient in one or more of the areas—we sit down with our Principal, Craig McCane and Ms. Mahannah of the Student Services team. They know the kids and their input is invaluable. After we’ve worked out a game plan, Jenee and I lead mini “lunch & learns” with the students. We explain CIS, the various resources, and how that support looks in the day and after school. It’s not just an adult- or parent- driven process: “you’re going to do this!” but kids are involved from the beginning. Because they feel a sense of ownership from the start, they’re more invested and stick with the program. Linden Grove Middle School makes it easy to collaborate, from Principal McCane, to the teachers and staff, to the school secretaries, Heather Morrison and Linda Farrell, and the custodian, Michael Watson.

Jenee: The school has made us feel like we’re a part of their team, so it’s easy for us to be a team with each other and do our jobs. We both regularly check and monitor students’ progress and grades. Students do better when they know someone is going to supply their needs and hold them accountable. For students to graduate, a lot of pieces must come together. First off, basic needs must be met. It’s that whole Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Tamiko, in her role as Site Coordinator, provides a lot of that, tapping CIS Kids’ Closet. It’s the simplest things that can be a deal breaker and keep a student from graduating. It’s cold out and they don’t have a coat. They need a snack, a shirt, a feminine hygiene product. The students know they can come to CIS to get those things. They know that the community is providing this support, that somebody has their back and cares. They aren’t a number because they know ‘somebody is thinking about me.’

What has CIS at Linden Grove been doing to impact social emotional learning (SEL), one of six CIS program goals for the year?

Tamiko: Right now, we have Hospice doing an eight week grief and loss group. Hospice is an awesome partner. Usually, when you think of Hospice you think of someone dying, but there are many types of losses and Hospice helps our kids deal with them—separation of parents, divorce, witnessing the death of a loved one, or whatever form loss takes, period. Sometime, all our kids can think about is their loss. Cate, the therapist is helping them gain coping skills so they can focus on their academics.

Jenee: After school, we have a girls’ group, “I Am Beautiful” as well as “Young Men Overcoming Barriers.” We come up with a game plan, activities, and question starters for each of the groups. Say the activity is doing facials, then questions asked might be, What do people see in you? What do you see in yourself? Soon enough, someone asks if the group can talk about being two-faced and so friendships and other real issues like that get explored.

We help the kids do this in a safe forum. We’ve used movies and TV clips as well as correlating music with feelings. What’s your family’s song? If you had to write the sound track of your life, what would it be? The students connect with these approaches so it allows for conversations and reflections around a whole range of topics: non-traditional family situations, dating situations, who is your safe person to talk to, race, and cultural acceptance. Each day, we have a plan and an idea of what we want to accomplish and the kids roll it in a new direction and take it elsewhere. It’s real cool and that’s how it should be.

What’s Staring At You?

 

It’s poetry month and we couldn’t let it slip by without posting a poem.

Poetry isn’t afraid to handle difficult topics. Ignoring, denying, or pretending that something doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes, we must name that which stares us in the face. By giving it a name and dragging it into the light, we see it for what it is. Samantha Hoehle does just this with her brave poem, “A Constant Battle.”  A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, Samantha wrote this on the campus of Western Michigan University during a “Courage to Create” poetry workshop offered as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration.

 

A Constant Battle

Racism stares at me from across the table.
Callous, he tries to fill my head with beliefs that cut me to the core.
I do not want to live with him.
I do not want him to talk to me.
I wish he would disappear.
But he has dug his roots deep into the earth—
And while many of us try to uproot him,
Others create avalanches of hatred and ignorance
Pushing the dirt back into our holes,
Adamant he stays.
Racism reaches out his hand to “help” us,
Sneering upon rejection,
Blatantly stating he is in the right.
But no. He is wrong.
Racism tries to creep in, and I push him out, continuing to dig.
I will not let him turn me into something he would be proud to see.
I am not sorry.

Samantha Hoehle

 

And if you missed the two student poems we published back in January, you can find them here.