While each school year brings changes, this year feels especially different. That’s because Liza Wolfe, a Kalamazoo icon, has retired. Since 1976, Liza Wolfe has launched the success of over 1,000 children by offering high quality preschool through Mrs. Wolfe’s Preschool. She transformed the basement of her Westnedge Hill home into a preschooler’s dream, complete with books, a slide, huge building blocks, dolls, art materials, and more. For 43 years she prepared kids to be the best future students and citizens they could be by teaching them how to listen and share, how to be patient and how to participate.
Mrs. Wolfe’s Preschool has been such a part of the beautiful and whimsical fabric of Kalamazoo. Even if you don’t have a child, grandchild, niece, or nephew who attended her school, you probably know of her. Each June, you might have seen Mrs. Wolfe and her friends marching through the streets of downtown.
Since the Do Dah Parade’s inception in 1985, Mrs. Wolfe, her students, parents, and on occasion, alumni, have joined in the fun, parading through the streets in zany outfits they’ve made. When the Kalamazoo Gazette asked Mrs. Wolfe why Do Dah? she said, “We do the parade because when I was little, I never got the chance to be in one but I could play in the street,” she said. “Now, kids can’t play in the street anymore but they sure can do a parade.”
Through the years, Liza Wolfe has also taught parents important lessons. For instance, she’s helped helicopter parents set down their hovering tendencies. Parents have always been welcome to visit during their child’s morning or afternoon session under one condition. “You must be a fly on the wall,” Mrs. Wolfe instructs parents at the start of the school year. She explains that when conflict arises it’s important to give children space to solve their own problems. Rush into solving the conflict or intervening for any reason, and you rob kids of the opportunity to learn.
While early childhood is “hot” right now, Liza Wolfe embraced it long before it was “a thing.” She’s been around long enough to see trends come and go. When it comes to ideas about how preschool should be taught, the importance of play in early childhood education programming has, at times, been undervalued in favor of direct instruction. Ever the champion for children and what they truly need, Mrs. Wolfe has protected and reinforced the role of play in her students’ early childhood development.
Fred Rogers pointed out that, “Play is really the work of childhood.” Mrs. Wolfe knows this and because she recognizes that play is the foundation of learning, she takes play seriously.
As with all high-quality preschool programs, she helps students answer their own questions through exploring different options, experimenting and engaging in conversation. She focused on basic building blocks, growing young people’s social and emotional skills, language and vocabulary, imagination and creativity. Her graduates, numbering in the thousands, have learned much from her. The behaviors they practiced over and over during their preschool years (repetitive practice has a tendency to instill habits), served them well in their elementary school years and beyond. From her, they have learned:
Hang up your coat.
Wait until everyone is served before you start eating.
Take only what you need.
Learn to wait your turn.
Co-operate with others.
Listen to stories.
Imagine what the world could be like if everyone had a Mrs. Wolfe. We might all be better at listening to each other and cooperating for the better of all.
–Read The Cyberlibrarian Reads, a wonderful blog by Miriam Downey, a retired librarian who is also a proud KPS grandparent. Miriam, who also co-edited the anthology Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors, (a project we blogged about here last year and includes works by students from Arcadia Elementary School) read The Journey by Francesca Sanna at the anthology launch to the grownups and kids in attendance. In one of her more recent posts, she blogs about reading Sanna’s beautifully illustrated new book, Me and My Fear, with her granddaughter. You can read her post here.
–Ask your neighbor, your kid, your friends what they are reading! We asked a couple CIS board members and here’s what they said:
Please pull over and stop driving.
I think it’s time to let Kindness take the wheel.
Maybe Courage or Empathy could take a turn as well.
You’re frustrated, not like Rage or Fear may be.
You’re driving us forward but someday you are going
to forget to shift out of reverse.
You’re going to drive us forward, yes,
but you’re pulling out the stops as well.
I wish I had more of you. I hold my tongue for too many people, I refuse to say and do things
to please other people, but most of all, I feel like I’m not making a change because I lack you.
I find myself and others complaining about the things we go through and want to change,
but only getting as far as that, complaining about it. I don’t have the courage to speak my mind,
to fight for things I want and know are right. I wish I had more of you so I could do that.
What do each of these poems offer you? Does Lexi’s poem urge you to consider questions like, “When was the last time I let kindness take the wheel?” “What drives me?” “Do I need to pull over and take a break?” After reading Jayca’s poem, is there something you realize you should say or do, but out of fear, you don’t? What quality do you wish you had more of? Do you find yourself complaining about something, but then do nothing about it? What behavior(s) can you engage in to make a positive change?
It’s National Reading Month and a time when Kalamazoo Public Schools hosts literacy activities throughout the schools. We prepare ourselves by engaging in the annual ritual of asking: What are you reading?Here’s what some Communities In Schools (CIS) staff are reading…
-Maggie Walters, CIS Success Coach, Loy Norrix High School
I’ve just started reading The Shack by Canadian author William P. Young. This was a favorite of my Mother’s. She had me buy extra copies a few years back, before she passed, so she could share them with others who also lived at her nursing home. I saw the movie when it came out and loved it.
-Kelly Cedarquist, CIS Site Coordinator, King-Westwood Elementary
Also reading The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich. It’s that time of year to continue to educate myself, prepare, and network with other beekeepers before the first nectar becomes available. Great information.
-Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts
My book club (The Lovely Ladies of Literature) is reading The Patternist series by Octavia Butler. We are on Book 1, Wild Seed. The interesting thing about the series is that she wrote them in the opposite order that you read them in. So, the last book that she wrote is the first book that you read. Also, there was a fifth book, but she shelved it because it didn’t really flow the way she had hoped for.
-Artrella Cohn, Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment
I recently finished a fascinating, but tragic story called Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It is a fictional story but is based on a little known historical event that took place between 1854 and 1929, where over 200,000 orphan children were sent across the Midwest by train to be placed with families, often to be used as free labor. It was excellent. I am presently reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I learned of this author at Cara’s SEL [Social Emotional Learning] training and so far am really enjoying it!
–Joan Coopes, CIS Site Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary
The NarrowRoad to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. It’s historical fiction. And this, from the NYT’s book review: A finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Narrow Road to the Deeper North portrays a singular episode of manic brutality: imperial Japan’s construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in the early 1940s. The British had long investigated this route, but they deemed the jungle impenetrable. Once the Japanese captured Burma, though, its army needed a more efficient resupply route, and so the impossible became possible in just over a year by using some 300,000 people as disposable labor. Flanagan’s late father was a survivor of that atrocity, which took the lives of more than 12,000 Allied prisoners.
–Keely Novotny, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy
I am usually reading three to four books at a time. I always have one book I listen to in the car, one I can pick up and put down easily, one I read before I go to sleep, and one I can’t put down. The car book at present is The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommendby Katarina Bivald. It is the story of a young woman from Sweden who loses her job in a bookstore and decides to visit her elderly pen pal in a dying town in Iowa, and what happens next.
The pick up/put down book is often short stories or essays. Currently it is Spoiled Brats, a book of short stories by Simon Rich. The summary on the back of the book starts out with “Twenty years ago, Barney the Dinosaur told the nation’s children they were special. We’re still paying the price. From “one of the funniest writers working today (review from Rolling Stone) comes a collection of stories culled from the front lines of the millennial culture wars.” I have only read the first story in which the narrator is a guinea pig living in a second grade classroom.
My bedtime book is from the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place. Flavia is an eleven-year-old girl growing up in England in the 1950s. She is fascinated with chemistry and uses her extensive knowledge of poisons and decay to help the local inspector solve murders. This is the ninth book in the series.
And, finally, the book I can’t put down is Need to Know by Karen Cleveland. The protagonist is Vivian who works for the CIA who, while trying to find out more about a Russian handler and the agents he handles, finds information that threatens everything that matters to her. I read the first chapter of this book online in an email I get about books. The sender takes the first chapter of a book and breaks it into five segments and sends each segment daily for a week. At the end of the week, this one got me….
-Barbara Worgess, Project Manager of School Based Health Initiative
Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids and you’ll soon find out what our volunteers have been reading!
The majority of students today will be employed in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. The predictions for this range anywhere from 65-85%. So what is a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle to do? How can we prepare our kids for life and work in these increasingly uncertain and rapidly changing times?
One thing we can do is to encourage their creativity. Creativity has been linked with positive academic achievement and it can help young learners successfully navigate and thrive in this ever-changing world.
But just what is creativity? According to Paul Collard, who runs the UK-based organization Creativity, Culture & Education, creativity is “a wider ability to question, make connections and take an innovative and imaginative approach to problem solving.” Collard believes it’s important to explicitly teach creativity. “Creative skills aren’t just about good ideas, they are about having the skills to make good ideas happen.”
Those who study creativity agree. A number of organizations in Scotland worked together to look at creativity across learning environments and identified core creativity skills such as:
-Constructively inquisitive (by being curious, flexible, adaptable, and exploring multiple viewpoints).
-Harness imagination (by playing, exploring, generating and refining ideas, inventing).
-Identify and solve problems (by demonstrating initiative, persistence, and resilience).
These type of creative skills which help kids (and grown ups, too!) play with ideas, look at things with fresh eyes, learn from mistakes, adapt to changed circumstances, stay focused, meet new and unanticipated challenges, and much more, really resonate as true.
Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids interviewed two business people who also serve on the CIS board in Kalamazoo. They both touched on the importance of creative skills. When we asked Dave Maurer, President of Humphrey Products, what parents can do to help prepare their child for today’s labor force, he told us that we can help them persist. He also talked about the importance of developing new ideas. (You can read his interview here.)
Mike Stoddard, chief operating officer of BASIC, talked about the importance of being nimble. “It’s important to keep up and be flexible. In a blink of an eye, things change, particularly when it comes to technology.” (You can read his interview here.)
While there are a million ways to nurture creativity in our kids, here are two things we can easily do: One. Recognize that creativity is important to our children’s future success, both in life and in their future job, a job that may not even exist yet. Two. Help kids look for the second right answer.
A second right answer? In a classic book on creativity, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Innovation, author Roger Von Oech encourages us to shrug off what many of us have been trained to do: look for the one right answer. This approach, he says, is fine for some situations, but we shouldn’t give into the “tendency to stop looking for alternative right answers after the first one has been found. This is unfortunate because often it’s the second or third, or tenth right answer that is what we need to solve a problem in an innovative way.”
Let’s encourage our kids to wonder more and come up with different solutions to a problem. We can ask them questions. Have you thought of any alternatives? How else might this work?
We can read this article, “Tools to encourage kids’ creativity,” that says with a little nudging, kids can build creative skills by sharing stories, opinions, and their ideas. (It was this very article, passed along by CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery, that inspired today’s post!)
Remember, there is no one right answer for how to nurture our 12,000+ kids’ creativity. The important thing is to do it.
My mom and the Kalamazoo Promise.
-Nataviah, 5th grade, future doctor or nurse
-Sammie, 1st grade, future video hacker and ninja.
Playing with Legos, and my family.
-Christopher, 2nd grade, future police officer.
-Kadesha, 1st grade, future doctor.
-Liadreas, 5th grade, future singer
My mom and dad, sisters and brother.
-Ashley, 5th grade, future doctor or teacher
-Kemoni, 5th grade, future professional football player
-Ysabella, 2nd grade, future artist
-Walter, 4th grade, future basketball player
-Mariah, 4th grade, future wildlife rehabilitator
Spending time with family and friends.
-Samiya, 4th grade, future vet or makeup artist
Race cars and toys.
-Jayden, kindergarten, future police officer
Pizza, my mom and dad and brother.
-Dean, 1st grade, future cop
-Brandon, 1st grade, future cop
And just what is love?
Aaliyah, a kindergartener who loves having her own bedroom and wants to be a teacher one day, says love is “kisses and hugs.”
According to Gabriel, a 4th grader who loves his siblings and plans to be a police officer when he grows up, “Love is not something you can take.” Love is a “symbol of care and means you matter to the world.”
CIS After School is made possible thanks to the support of the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers). Special thanks to the CIS youth development workers (YDWs) at Milwood Elementary School for helping to solicit these responses: Karen Hill, Marla Sykes, Autumn Lumpkin, Marshera Ogletree, Lexi Chie, and Sam Gbadamosi. Their help not only made today’s post possible, but they, as do other youth development workers in CIS after school programs throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools, work hard to develop the strengths and talents of our youth by involving and empowering students in their own growth.
Our kids need more youth development workers, enthusiastic and energetic individuals to serve in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday). If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go here.
“When I think of Gulnar, I think of someone who hears a problem from a child or a teacher and immediately responds with, ‘Well, let’s see how we can fix this.’ Never a list of reasons why we can’t.” -Dr. Timothy Light, CIS Board member
On January 1, 2018, Kalamazoo lost a giant: Gulnar Husain. Pancreatic cancer may have taken her from us, but she has left a tremendous legacy.
Gulnar Husain worked tirelessly to unleash her fellow citizen’s own potential, encouraging others to share their gifts and talents to strengthen this community she loved. Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for over 35 years, gave joyously of her time to numerous Kalamazoo entities, such as Kalamazoo Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice, Kalamazoo Islamic Center, Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, Western Michigan University, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA), Kalamazoo Public Schools, Portage Public Schools, ISAAC, St. Augustine School, Kalamazoo Non-Violent Opponents of War, Kalamazoo County Summit on Racism, Michigan Interfaith Coalition for Peace, Kalamazoo Lend a Hand, and Fetzer Institute’s Gardens of Many Faiths. The list goes on.
For over 14 years, Gulnar worked with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS). She first served as an AmeriCorps worker and then as an AmeriCorps VISTA at both Arcadia Elementary School and King-Westwood Elementary. In the last decade of her career she was the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia. During that time she worked ceaselessly to surround a diverse population of students with whatever it takes so they could succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. For Gulnar, doing whatever it takes meant coordinating and supporting more than 30 volunteers in a given school year, as well as a host of community partners to provide in-class tutoring, mentoring, counseling, music therapy, food packs, “Literacy Buddies” (a twice a week after-school program funded through State Farm), dental clinic, vision assistance, CIS Kids’ Closet (distributing basics like clothing/hygiene items), First Day Shoe Fund, Warm Kids-Winter Gear, Friendship Circle, Lunch & Learn, Math Club, Higher Thinking Club, Girls on the Run, the Recycle Project, and more.
While it’s impossible to fully capture Gulnar’s contributions to our kids and our community we want to honor her memory by providing a few photos, quotes, and links to stories (with more photos) about her, here, in one place…
Here she is back in her AmeriCorps days (2002):
Gulnar worked closely with her principal, Greg Socha, and cherished his wisdom and support. Despite the daily demands principals have, she knew she could count on him to help identify and prioritize school needs, share what types of partnerships were necessary to meet the needs. Here’s what Principal Socha has said about Gulnar:
“Gulnar Husain has been described as the ‘heart’ of Arcadia. Through her years of CIS service to the students and staff at Arcadia, Gulnar provided clothing, food, counseling, mentoring, tutoring and lunch-and-learn programs for students. For the staff, Gulnar offered guidance, a quiet persistence of providing needed services to students, and education on the multi-cultural needs of our families. But her world did not end at Arcadia. Gulnar promoted the Literacy Buddies program at Arcadia and Kalamazoo Central High School, matching high school students with elementary students to enhance the reading and writing of both parties. When the KPS Immigrant Program needed tutors after school, Gulnar provided her expertise and time to help students improve their English and complete their homework. Through her work with CIS, Gulnar made Arcadia a national award- winning school.”
“Still, that was not enough for Gulnar. Despite an acknowledged frustration with technology, she often provided articles and websites for staff members that promoted literacy, learning, and tolerance. She completed scholarship information to help her students expand their experiences. Her community involvement with interfaith organizations often placed her on the podium to speak of inclusion, and caring, and providing services for others in our community. All of this was completed in her humble way – quiet, but persistent.”
Gulnar believed in the five CIS basics, especially that all students deserve a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. She felt such joy seeing volunteers in action with students, offering encouragement, academic support, and hope. Pam Kingery, CIS Executive Director, once noted,“In her role as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia, Gulnar has accomplished so much because she understands and values the role volunteers play in student success. Wearing that hat of ‘volunteer’ herself over many years and in a variety of settings, she knows the power of volunteers. That’s why she’s invested countless hours into supporting numerous volunteers throughout the years–she understands the potential return on that investment.”
Here’s Gulnar with just a few of the many volunteers she worked with over the years.
Gulnar was part of the Kalamazoo delegation that went to Charlotte, North Carolina when Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence in 2013. Gulnar also received national recognition for her work within Arcadia Elementary School and joined the ranks of only a handful throughout the country to receive an Honorable Mention for the prestigious Unsung Hero Award. We blogged about it here, “Gulnar Husain: No Longer Unsung”. And Julie Mack covered it in a Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article here.
When Arcadia Elementary School was one of just four sites across America honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network at the 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA, Gulnar was there. Here she is with the Kalamazoo contingent, along with Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, then President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back):
An interview with Gulnar, along with a copy of the City of Kalamazoo’s Welcoming Proclamation (she helped to craft it, along with a rabbi, a United Methodist minister, and Kalamazoo’s vice mayor) is included in the anthology, Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors. Released in April 2017, her interview begins, “Hospitality can be a radical act, particularly when one steps out of her comfort zone to indiscriminately welcome, accept, and love others. Gulnar Husain marches through her own fears and discomforts to welcome and connect with people from cultures and religions beyond her own…” Gulnar also appears in the essay, “Blueberries,” by Nicholas Baxter. More about the anthology project and where to find ithere.
Here’s Gulnar, after receiving The Good Neighbor Award at the 2017 STAR Awards. She was recognized for her efforts in uniting people in the community who share different religions and backgrounds.
Shortly after being awarded the 2017 Good Neighbor Award, Gulnar was interviewed by Public Media Network‘s Pillars of the Community. You can watch it here.
In their January 2018 newsletter, ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community) wrote about Gulnar and included some photos. Here’s that link.
Upon learning of Gulnar’s passing, Dan Cardinali, CEO of Independent Sector and former national president of Communities In Schools wrote this: “I had the honor of meeting Gulnar a number of times and visiting with her and the children with whom she worked for so many years. Her gift of love and vision for peace were contagious. Her life is a powerful example what a good life can and should be. For me she taught me that we’re all called to live courageous lives of mercy in the face of violence, tolerance in the face of intolerance, hope in the face of despair, and love in the face of hate…”
To honor Gulnar, her commitment to kids, and her special appreciation for volunteers and their impact on students’ success, her family has established the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Those wishing to make a gift to the Fund may donate online. Checks may also be sent to CIS with a note in the Memo line indicating that the gift is for the Fund.
Kalamazoo Central High School’s Assistant Principal Greg Straka was one of several Kalamazoo Public School staff who wrote alongside Kalamazoo Central, Loy Norrix, and Phoenix High School students. For today’s post, we share his lovely letter.
Dear Prayer, Hope, and Love,
I am writing this letter in deep appreciation of your groups many talents. It is your ability to work together in a life changing way that I would like to focus my attention.
In times when it seems all is lost, and there is nothing right in the world, the three of you are always there. I gain peace when I pray for my students. I see Hope shine her beautiful face in the eyes of Giants, as Hope also lives in me when I think of their future. Love is there also, as a quiet presence. A hug, high-five, handshake, and smile are evidence that my prayers are being heard and that my vision of a hopeful future in the loving, capable hands of our student leaders will eventually come to fruition.
Again, thank you.
In the months to come, we’ll publish a few works that students created during this workshop, so keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.