Don’t Discount What Seems Small

A glimpse inside the backpacks from Berkshire Hathaway
A glimpse inside the backpacks from Berkshire Hathaway

Little things make a big difference.

Recently, Precious Miller, Senior Site Coordinator at Hillside Middle School reminded us of this truth. She has been, like so many of our Communities In Schools site team members throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public School buildings, distributing school supplies to students who need them. Just the other day, she gave a student a binder. She didn’t think much more about it until she saw that same student moments later in the hallway. “Thank you again for the binder,” he said. “I feel perfect!” Precious noticed he had “the biggest smile on his face and seemed to be walking with pride.” Precious again told him, “You’re welcome” and wished him a good day. Later, she overheard him saying to a teacher, “I finally got a binder!” and noticed he continued to brag about his new item for school.

“In the day to day,” she says, “it’s good to remember how big of a difference we can make in a student’s self-esteem. Even if—to us—it is ‘just’ a binder.

Whether its erasers or paper, crayons and markers, scissors, glue, and backpacks, the list goes on. these ‘little’ supplies fuel our kids’ success. When our CIS staff hand out a school supply, the student knows the community cares, that you are behind them, cheering them on.

Thank you for helping our kids get off to a great start!

Berkshire Hathaway

Borgess Nurse Council

Bronco Express

Costco

Fetzer Institute

First United Methodist Church

Flynn Thiel Boutell & Tanis

Harding’s

Hiemstra Optical

Junior League of Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo County Association of Retired School Personnel

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Kalamazoo Public Library

Kushner & Company

Miller Johnson

Old National Bank

Stryker – Tax

Stryker Instruments – CXC

The River

TowerPinkster

West Kalamazoo Christian Church

WMU Lee Honors College

Zion Lutheran Church

And numerous individuals like Pat, James, Martha, Noelle, Jennifer, Kelly, Ward, Joan, Andrea, & Katherine

We were able to catch a few of you in the act of dropping off the much needed school supplies:

Old National Bank dropping off items to CIS as part of their "Tools to Schools to Schools" initiative.
Old National Bank dropping off items to CIS as part of their “Tools for Schools” campaign.

 

img_6834s
Donation of school supplies from WMU Lee Honors College
Western students wrote notes and placed them inside the school packs.
Western students wrote notes and placed them inside the school packs.
Supplies received from Hiemstra Stuff the Bus
Supplies received from Hiemstra Stuff the Bus

 

Kushner & Company providing much needed school supplies
Thank you, Kushner & Company!
Cosco dropped off some much needed backpacks.
CIS Site Coordinator Melissa McPherson (left) is all smiles as Costco employees drop off some much needed backpacks.
Thank you all!
Thank you all for helping!

Raise Those Juice Boxes and Let’s Toast To the New School Year!

Passion led us hereSummertime has slipped away and school is back in session. Last week, as part of our annual “Back to School Launch,” Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) staff came together to prepare for the new school year. Joe Barth, Data, Tracking & Quality Coordinator for CIS, led 66 staff in an  exercise in which we learned that, together, we have 695 years of experience working with kids in schools!

Later in the day, when O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach for Loy Norrix High School stood up and read an impromptu poem he wrote, we were reminded that it is important to take breaks and nourish ourselves so that we can continue to support students and the many wonderful volunteers and partners who work with us throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools. Here’s the poem he read to us:

A Lunch Poem

I’m starving, yes, in the mood.
plain and simple: I need food.
Lunch will be ready pretty soon
and during lunch you can leave the room.
Just remember to be back by one
so we can continue the fun.

Now I say,
good bread, good meat.
Good God, let’s eat!

Thank you for adding to our 695 years of experience by donating, volunteering, partnering and working with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Working together, may our combined passion, talent, and experience help children grow more than ever this year, academically, socially, and emotionally. Cheers to a new school year!

Cheers

Thank You, Friends

Today’s post is written by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Since the regular school year has wrapped up for students and teachers, and we are gearing up for the CIS Think Summer! program and KPS Summer School, it is a natural time to reflect on the 2015-16 school year. Gratitude is the overwhelming sentiment—for you, for our community. “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it,” wrote William Arthur Ward, “is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” So this is my expression of our sincere appreciation. As part of our community, you have chosen to lift up our children and youth as part of Communities In Schools. Thank you!

The important work of helping our kids succeed in school and in life does not happen without you. Your time, energy, talent and determination are essential investments in the future of the next generation and in the future of Kalamazoo. I believe the return on your investment is both measurable and immeasurable. The measurable part—-all of the graduates will have greater earnings, pay more taxes, be more well-prepared parents, and have better health outcomes, to name just a few—inspires us all to work harder to help more kids graduate. The immeasurable part—knowing how much you cared and how much each student felt cared for, converting tears of sorrow to tears of joy, listening to that graduate proudly announce he is the first in his family to graduate from high school—these are but a few of the priceless experiences that assure you will be back next year.

Did you know you helped grateful parents “fill the gaps” for their children? As one parent put it, “I want the best for my child but I can’t give them all that they need. I’m so grateful that CIS connected my child to the services she needed.”  We were able to step in because of you.

Our kids count on you and you have been there for them, even in difficult times. It has been an especially challenging year for Kalamazoo. Our community has been rocked by unexplainable tragedy. We’ve lost giants like Charles Warfield. Chuck had much to teach us and was always interested in learning from others, particularly our kids. Ed Gordon, one of the two founding board members of this organization, passed away last year. A member of the City Commission, Ed insisted that supporting our kids is a community responsibility and opportunity.

Each time you show up for kids—whether it’s to work, to volunteer, to partner, or to donate, you add to the foundation of others and you show our kids what it means to be a part of a community that acts together and takes care of one another. So, thank you for believing that CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo are a sound and worthy investment.

Think summer, think-think summer!  The learning and caring continue…

Thank you!

 

Rosemary Gardiner: A Gifted Story Teller

This year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by Greenleaf Trust, was presented to Rosemary Gardiner. This prestigious award was established by the Communities In Schools Board back in 2010 to honor Diether’s extensive contributions to his adopted home of Kalamazoo and in particular, his service and genuine concern for the children and young people of our community. A former board member of CIS, Diether cherished teaching and learning at all levels and wanted all young people to have the gift of an excellent education and perhaps more importantly, the joy of life-long curiosity and learning.

Rosemary Gardiner (left) with Annie Johnston Henn of Greenleaf Trust.
Rosemary Gardiner (left) with Annie Henn of Greenleaf Trust.

Diether Haenicke was a man of many interests and talents.  He was equally passionate about fulfilling his responsibilities as Western Michigan University President as he was about being a mentor in the KAAAP Program. There is no doubt many of us can tell a story or two about Diether’s expectations for excellence—whether applied to himself or to those around him.  Among his highest ideals, was how we as individuals or as a community should care for our children. He would be especially proud that this award is going to this year’s recipient, Rosemary Gardiner, a devout champion of children.20160517-_DSC8177

Rosemary has served in many roles at Family & Children Services, starting as a social worker more than forty years ago. Prior to her eight-year stint as the Chief Executive Officer of the agency, she served as Public Relations Director and Development Director. She has dedicated her professional talents to Family & Children Services and has mentored and molded hundreds of young social workers. She has led the agency’s efforts in being innovative in developing or adopting new strategies for improving the lives of children while setting a high bar for stewardship. Among the areas most appreciated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, is her long-standing commitment to social-emotional support services delivered in school settings.

The common thread throughout her time and varied titles and accomplishments is one of the most cherished and valued roles she could possibly play—that of the wise and well-respected storyteller. Rosemary has created success in whatever she has taken on because she understands the stories of children and is able to tell them so skillfully to the rest of us. Whether telling us of the profound importance of being a foster parent or the sorrow of childhood trauma, Rosemary can make us understand. Whether showing us the unexpected healing that the most challenged human spirit can accomplish or the forever wound a grieving parent must survive, Rosemary can make us understand. Through imparting the critical stories of children, Rosemary can create an advocate from a casual observer. The way in which she shares these truths, changes us all.

20160517-_DSC8324
Dr. Tim Light, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board with Rosemary Gardiner.

In naming Rosemary Gardiner as the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence recipient for 2016, we have created a new category of excellence—excellence in telling the story of children and excellence in helping us to understand and to care. In native Pueblo culture, the role of the storyteller is an old and honored one. And so, as a symbol of her Diether Haenicke Award from the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board, Rosemary was given a small piece of art, entitled “The Storyteller.” It was created by a Pueblo Native American artist. These small sculptures/figurines are created by many different Pueblo artists and reflect the esteem given to the wise and respected storytellers of the culture.  She was also given a book explaining the tradition.

We thank Rosemary for her long and faithful service to the children and families of our community and for continuing to tell their stories.

Rosemary receiving a special tribute from the State of Michigan.
Rosemary receiving a special tribute from the State of Michigan.

Rosemary Gardiner and Pam Kingery sat down with Lori Moore last week on The Lori Moore Show. You can watch it here.

 

Poetry Fuels Young Minds

We can’t let April slip by without a nod to poetry. Whether a student is reading and writing poetry in April or December, poetry enhances literacy, builds community, aids in creative problem solving, and fosters social-emotional resilience. Students who have disengaged from learning because of problems outside of the classroom can often be re-engaged through poetry.

On the heels of the hugely successful Kalamazoo Poetry Festival, it’s clear poetry is alive and well throughout the city (and beyond). Here now are six reasons we know poetry is fueling the minds of some of our 12,000+ students, who are tapping into this ancient art form to learn about themselves and the world around them.

1. CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nicholas Baxter believes in the power of poetry. He shares his talent and passion for poetry within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, running a poetry workshop at Arcadia Elementary School. Every Thursday, budding poets spend their lunchtime reading, writing, and learning about poetry. Here is Nicholas with (left to right) Roziya Rustamova, Aceanna Williams, Nabaa Eyddan, and Reem Ahmed.

IMG_3007

2.  If you didn’t get the chance to read Tristan Pierce’s poem, “Time Waits 4 No Man!” then head over to CIS Connections and read it now because, as this Parkwood student reminds us, time waits for no one.

3.  As a CIS volunteer, I recently had the pleasure of stepping into Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts and offering a poetry lesson to Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third graders. I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Parlato as a literacy warrior. 

IMG_2989

Like all great teachers, she sets clear boundaries for her students while maintaining a sense of fun and fueling their desire to learn. Every one of her students actively participated in the poetry workshop and wrote at least one poem. Woods Lake’s CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill, impressed with the students’ creativity, said, “Poetry really brings home how important and enriching vocabulary can be.”                                                                   

4.  This past March, 30 Kalamazoo Public School students read their original poems at Chenery Auditorium as part of the inaugural Spoken Word Middle School Poetry event. Superintendent Michael Rice noted that, by sharing their poems that evening, students offered the audience “a sense of who they are and how they are going to have an impact on their world.” You can read more about the event and watch the performances by going here.

5.  Friends of Poetry, an almost 40-year old organization which promotes the reading and writing of poetry throughout the greater Kalamazoo area, is gobbling up poems students throughout the area sent for consideration in their annual “Poems That Ate Our Ears” contest. While winners haven’t been announced yet, we can’t help but think of what Hillside Middle School Principal McKissack said upon reflecting on Hillside’s strong showing at the second annual MLK “Courage to Create” Celebration.

Principal McKissack out at WMU with Hillside students and staff

A number of his students made it to the semi-finalist round, read their work at Western Michigan University and took a number of top prizes in the poetry competition. He was proud, “not of the winning part, but I was overjoyed by the hard work they put into getting there—the reading, studying, the questions they asked. They didn’t give up.”

Young people, through poetry, are putting their voice out into the world. That’s a brave, beautiful, and winning act in itself.

6.  Consider this group poem, written by Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third grade students:

Recipe for Success

First, take twenty dabs of sleep and let gently rest.

Then take food and water and pour it into a cup.

Add a lifetime of teachers for a heaping harvest

of education so that we can use the Promise

to get the career we love.

After a good long day, roll up in a blanket.

Dream of what we’ve accomplished.

Giving Back “Just Because”

_MG_3781-3This week, we’d like you to meet Rex. Rex turned five years old in March. He is starting t-ball this spring, loves inventing things, and when we talked to him prior to his birthday – he was hoping his birthday cake was going to be chocolate with vanilla frosting and a Star Wars theme.

While we don’t keep stats on this kind of thing, we have a hunch that Rex might be our youngest CIS donor ever. With support from his mom, Noelle, Rex decided to ask his birthday party guests to consider bringing donations to the CIS Kids’ Closet as his birthday gifts. Rex thought it would be good to help others and it seemed like a natural extension of the donation of food he made to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes at Thanksgiving.

When we asked Rex why it was good to help others, he said, “just because.” We couldn’t agree more. There doesn’t need to be any specific reason to help others – it’s good to give back “just because.” Rex has a great role model in his mom. Noelle has shared her time through CIS as a volunteer at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary.

We recently asked our staff, board, and volunteers what they have been reading lately, so we thought it would be fun to find out what Rex was reading. His latest reads: Rosie Revere the Engineer and Iggy Peck the Architect.

Thank you Rex for inspiring us to give back “just because!”

_MG_3771-1

_MG_3777-2

A Safe Place to Learn and Grow

A safe place to learn and grow. This is one of five CIS basics that we believe every child needs and deserves. Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Site Coordinator and today’s guest blogger, Emily Demorest, works closely with other CIS staff, the Kalamazoo Public Schools, volunteers, and community partners to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for all children. Here now is Emily’s open letter and reaction to a recent draft statement put forth by the Michigan State Board of Education.

 

I applaud the Michigan Department of Education for their bold step to support the rights and safety of LGBTQ youth in Michigan public schools. The State Board of Education’s Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students is a crucial step in ensuring all students in the state receive the education they deserve. We are tasked with supporting all students regardless of our personal feelings regarding individual identity issues.

Any LGBTQ students can share stories of marginalization or open hostility because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. At a time when young people are most vulnerable in their personal development, youth are experiencing issues with bullying, physical harassment, and difficulties accessing safe use of a toilet during the school day. Most are careful to share their true identities even with those they trust. As a CIS Site Coordinator, I work daily with students facing these challenges. All these young people want is to be safe and supported in their learning environment.

Students who do not feel that school is a safe and supportive environment have worse educational outcomes. According to research published by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network in 2013, LGBTQ students who perceive a hostile school climate are three times as likely to miss school and twice as likely to report a lack of interest in pursuing post high school education. Tragically, over half of students experiencing discrimination and harassment at school do not report the abuse due to feeling that exposing their identity to school staff will lead to further problems.

Do not all children deserve equal opportunities to quality education?

The full report is available by going here. Members of the public who wish to comment on the guidelines have until April 11th to express their support before the vote on May 10th.

 

 

Moses Walker

Moses Walker is a truth-teller, justice seeker, and numbers guy. He’s also a Communities In Schools board member. Featured in our upcoming CIS Connections newsletter—which is all about boys—Moses shares some of his thoughts on boys, education, and community. Here’s his response to a question you’ll only find here as we couldn’t include it in the newsletter due to space issues. Check out the rest of the story in the next issue of CIS Connections, coming soon!

Can you tell us a little about the kind of boy you once were? What or who helped shape you into the man you became?

Good question. Growing up I was always viewed as being bright. Even as a little child, I was given speeches to memorize for school and church programs. And if someone was given two verses to memorize, I was given four. There were high expectations for me. I benefited from my older cousins working with me and was well prepared when I got to school and was recognized by my teachers.

Moses Walker as a young boy.
Moses Walker as a young boy.

The Douglass Community Association shaped me and my friends, friends like Chuck Warfield. We were the Children of Douglass. We went to nursery school there. We played sports, learned how to dance, and shoot pool. Remember, this was at a time when black educators were refused jobs in the Kalamazoo Public Schools so we were the beneficiaries of Douglass youth workers like Ms. Juanita Goodwin and Mr. John Caldwell. They ended up with distinguished careers—as teachers and principals and retiring from the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

While there were no black educators when I was in school—I attended Lincoln School from kindergarten through ninth grade and then [Kalamazoo] Central High from tenth through twelfth grade—I was recognized and encouraged by my teachers. Even though I was always on the academic track, I admit, I did not always apply myself. My high school advisor Mildred McConkey was quite instrumental in my development and pointed out that I didn’t always apply myself. In fact, she was the one who said, ‘He’s smart but lazy.’ And it was true! She helped me get ready to go to college and made recommendations since I wasn’t top of my class.

High school advisor Mildred McConkey seated, bottom right.
High school advisor Mildred McConkey    (seated, bottom right).

I went to Western Michigan University, and then entered the military mid-stream. I experienced racism but it taught me a lot. Just being smart is not enough. There are a lot of smart people in the world. A lot of people have gifts. But that is not enough. What are you going to do with it? I’m not bitter about these negative experiences because they were one of the best things that happened to me. It was a wake up-shake up and the experiences got me on track. I returned to college, finished in two years, and then headed to graduate school at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University.

So yes, the encouragement and support I received throughout my schooling made me who I am but it was the negative experience of the military that brought everything home for me.

 

To find out what Moses thinks we need to do better as a community to equip our boys to become successful and fulfilled young men, and more, read the rest of our conversation in the latest issue of CIS Connections.