Steve Brewer: Celebrating the Small Victories of Student Success

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Steve Brewer was barely walking when he toddled off to Tubingen, Germany with his family. (His father had been awarded the John Wesley Scholarship to live in Germany.) After several years, the family returned to Lebanon, New Jersey. Eventually, the family settled in Spring Arbor, Michigan.

A graduate of Spring Arbor University, Steve majored in sociology and minored in psychology. Steve served two years, beginning in 2015, as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Edison and Northeastern elementary schools. Last year, he began as the CIS Site Coordinator for Northglade Montessori Magnet School and was the assistant coordinator for Literacy Buddies. As a full time CIS Site Coordinator, Steve is currently supporting Northglade as well as providing daytime and after school support to Edison Environmental Science Academy. While every school has its own unique culture, Steve says both schools share a passion for helping students learn and grow.

We met up with Steve at Northglade where he was meeting and greeting students in the hallway. It was just before Thanksgiving when we popped this quiz on him.

Alright, Steve: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS site coordinator?

One of my favorite times of the day is lunchtime. That’s when I check in with the students to find out how they are doing. Sometimes, I’ll just sit with them, sometimes eat lunch with them, or we might have lunch together in the CIS space.

I really like that we are doing important work. It’s work that wouldn’t be done if we weren’t here in the schools. It’s also good to know we are making an impact. Sometimes, it may not always be noticeable because often it’s small steps being made along the way. You know the saying: progress is made in inches instead of miles. It’s important to look at the big picture and recognize the small victories.

Can you share a small victory?

One of my small victories is that a student is now bringing his back pack to school each day. He wouldn’t bring it last year.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being a site coordinator?

We still don’t have enough resources to take care of everybody. Take Northglade, for example. We have 224 students. We are not one of the higher poverty schools in the district, yet at least 70 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. By that measure, we may not have the highest need, but 70 percent is still 70 percent and that translates to a lot of needs. The community works with us to meet them, but it is still a challenge. For instance, our kids need coats and boots. Warm Kids—a great, long-time CIS partner—is providing us 20 brand new coats and 17 boots. That is wonderful. Still, we have more Northglade students who could benefit from these types of basic needs.

[As if on cue, Don Keller, a Northglade parent, enters the CIS room to donate several “Wish List” items for CIS Kids’ Closet, including some much needed coats. “I know that some of my kids’ friend’s may be in need of these items,” he says, as CIS intern Jessica Teske-Harden steps in to assist with the donation. Even though the Keller’s own children may not be the direct beneficiary of resources provided, Keller points out that his kids benefit when their classmates have their needs met. “We appreciate that CIS is in the school and that my wife and I can play a part.”]

The Kellers stopping by to support students through CIS Kids’ Closet.

You were meeting and greeting students in the hallway first thing this morning. Plus, you have had parents stopping into the CIS office. Can you give us a glimpse of what else goes on in the day of the life of a site coordinator?

I find first thing in the morning is a great way to connect with kids and get a sense of how things may be going. That’s why I’ll also stop into the cafeteria as students are eating breakfast. It gives the students the opportunity to reach out about something that may be on their mind. For instance, today two students needed CIS help. One involved a boot situation and one student just needed to connect and talk a little. Which reminds me, I have several calls to make about coats and boots and other basic needs!

Let’s see, what else is going on? I just completed the community feast spreadsheet and turned it into Trella [Artrella Cohn, CIS Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment] so that 45 of our school’s families can have a thanksgiving meal they might otherwise not have. [While CIS staff like Steve are identifying families and doing the necessary paperwork, Hands Up Foundation, a fabulous CIS partner, works hard year-round raising the funds to make sure KPS—as well as families with children in the surrounding area—have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. This year, they provided over 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners to KPS families.]

Every day is different. Like right now, I have glasses on my mind. I’m in the process of reviewing a vision list. Every school year, throughout KPS, first, third, and fifth graders are screened for vision and tested to see if they need glasses. As a site coordinator, I’m looking at results and following up with parents whose children need further follow up. I’m calling them to see if they were able to get an appointment, if they need some kind of assistance with this, or we can help in any way. I’ve already set up an appointment for one family based on one of these calls.

I’m also working on student support plans for each of the students we serve. Jessie [Teske-Harden], our CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work, has been helping with these plans. She’s a great support for our kids.

I also have a little bit of work left to do for Girls on the Run. For our school’s team, I’ve identified two Girls on the Run coaches. One is a teacher and one person is with CIS After School. Both had expressed interest in doing this so that made it easy. I just gave them our partner’s website information they needed to register. Now I need to work on finding one or two more volunteers to serve as assistant coaches.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Decaf coffee isn’t caffeine-free, it just has less caffeine.

What are you currently reading?

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Sleep. I can’t get enough.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

Shakespeare’s Pub. My band plays there a lot in their lower level, and also I like to watch comedy there.

What’s the name of your band?

I’m in two, actually. One is called Bike Tuff, and the other is Pack Sounds. I play drums in both. Both could be considered kind of punk/alternative bands.

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

My dad. He gave me the several pushes I needed to get through college when it got tough.

Thank you, Steve, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Breaking Ground on Future Home

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

Today’s post is brought to you by Pamela Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

In early August, ground was broken for a new development in downtown Kalamazoo. It will be the new home for The Kalamazoo Promise, Southwest Michigan First, and Warner Norcross and Judd, LLP, as well as the new home for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo!

Because of the exceptional generosity of Kalamazoo’s business community, we have benefited from donations of office space and equipment throughout our 15-year history. That has allowed us to allocate financial resources exclusively for the direct benefit of students. Our new space, ready in Summer 2020, will maintain that arrangement – the generous gifts you give to CIS will sustain resources and services to students and schools: CIS site coordinators, recruitment and support of volunteers, coordination of health and dental care, addressing basic needs, providing for vision exams and eyeglasses, and more.

We are honored to be part of a new space that enhances our vision of an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise. We look forward to a visible and central place for collaboration and community engagement to positively impact the lives of students we serve and their families. Bob Jorth, Executive Director of The Kalamazoo Promise, highlights the unique and important partnership between the Promise and CIS of Kalamazoo that will be enhanced by our co-location in a new space:

“The Kalamazoo Promise is dependent on the system of whole child supports that CIS uses to remove the many obstacles that can divert KPS students from being able to graduate, ready to use The Promise. The co-location of CIS and The Promise mutually enhances the missions and capacity of both organizations. We hope that the Kalamazoo community continues to increase its support for the work of CIS so that the potential of  The Kalamazoo Promise is fully realized—for both individual students and for the community overall.”

We look forward to welcoming you to our new home. And, yes, there will be parking!

Courtesy of TowerPinkster

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where will the building be located?

The building will be located at the southwest corner of Water and N. Edwards Streets, across from the Arcadia Creek Festival Site.

When will construction be completed?

Construction is scheduled to be complete in Summer 2020.

What else is in the building?

In addition to offices, there are two floors planned for residential housing that will be available at rates amenable to tenants with a broad mix of incomes. In addition to CIS, other office tenants currently include The Kalamazoo Promise, Southwest Michigan First, and Warner Norcross and Judd, LLP. There will also be a multi-level parking garage with 300+ spots.

We are also excited to share that we will have dedicated space for the CIS Kids’ Closet! Both our staff who pick up donated items for students and our generous donors of clothing, school supplies, and personal care items will have good access. We thank Kalamazoo Public Schools for housing the CIS Kids’ Closet in the interim.

Will this impact what CIS does for kids?

Yes! Among the greatest challenges we have faced is our visibility. The opportunity to be present in this exceptional space will breathe new energy into our efforts to be visible and accessible to our students, their families, our partners and volunteers. Being a part of this unique place where education and economic development come together will foster the continued collaboration and community engagement that is crucial to helping every child in our community fulfill his or her promise. What will remain the same is the continued ability to direct financial resources to students, not to office space.

At the groundbreaking ceremony

 

Giving Up Recess to Give Back

Kids deserve a chance to give back. We must create environments for young people in which everyone’s gifts are nurtured, and service to others is both expected and rewarded.

This opportunity to give back to peers and community is one of five basic principles underlying the work we do at Communities In Schools (CIS). [You can learn more about the 5 CIS Basics here.] At the end of last school year, we met up with four students doing just that, giving back. Here’s their story.

Every Tuesday this past school year, when the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes truck pulled up to Woodward School for Technology & Research, four volunteers were ready to help: Kensavion, Andrew, Dawon, and Lashaun.

Woodward students working hard and giving back.

These dedicated elementary students volunteered during their lunchtime and chose to give up recess (which they love!) to help with the food pantry.

Matthew Krieger, a Western Michigan University student working towards his Masters in Social Work, interned with CIS during the 2017/18 school year and provided the boys with guidance and direction. His favorite part of working with the boys? Seeing the look of pride that comes with mastering skills. “They have many skills now that they did not know before,” Matthew said. “Now they know to face food to the front, to place food with the same type, and to make room by consolidating items.”

These skills extend beyond organizing a pantry. “There is also a sense of group togetherness,” he noted.  “We are always working on vocalizing our needs in a clear way. I have seen improvements in their ability to express their feelings and needs to each other, which helps them to avoid conflict. I really enjoy seeing them use their words to communicate what they’re feeling.”

Ask any of the students why they volunteer and they will tell you, “Because it’s fun!”

Kensavion said he has looked forward to being part of the team that keeps the pantry up and running for his school. “Kids need food,” he said. Along with his three other peers, he has been part of the team that makes sure Woodward’s pantry is well-stocked.

“There is a lot of food that comes off the truck,” explained Andrew, “and we get to take it out of the boxes and put it in the cabinets.”

“We help put food away and people come and get it because they are hungry,” said Dawon, “and then they won’t be hungry anymore and won’t be starving and can do better in class and do a good job.”

“So they can survive,” added Lashaun. He is right. Food is a basic, human need and in living out the CIS basic of giving back to peers and the community, these students have been doing all they can to make sure hungry students and families have what they need.

To learn more about how Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes partners with CIS in the schools to combat hunger, check out this conversation we had a few months back with Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.  

 

Black Student Union: Passion for Serving Students Runs Deep

 

Today we highlight the Black Student Union at Western Michigan University. At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the Black Student Union was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Old National BankCIS Board Member Namita Sharma presented the award.

Since 1968, the Black Student Union has been

CIS Board Member Namita Sharma addressing the crowd at Champs

empowering and uniting minority students on the campus of Western Michigan University. Because they value community service, they began partnering with CIS three years ago, initiating a female empowerment group, Young Women With A Purpose, at Kalamazoo Central High School. CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough says, “Their passion for serving our students runs deep. By creating a safe place, our students can open up; they feel more connected to themselves and others in the group, and, in turn, feel more connected with school.”

In a few short years, the Black Student Union has grown their volunteer force from one to 12, expanded their programming to meet needs, and reached into Linden Grove Middle School. Linden Grove’s CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett recounts Ms. Carney, who teaches strategic math, saying, “My student has gone from hating math and being disruptive in class to looking forward to math because he knows that on Tuesdays, Autumn is going to be there to help him.”

Kalamazoo Central’s Principal Valerie Boggan says, “We talk often about giving back and the students from the Black Student Union are examples of how to give back. KC students look forward to the exchange and appreciate having relationships with students who are able to relate to their life and school experience. The passion they bring to create change and to generate enthusiasm around reading, writing and verbal expressions is phenomenal! I look forward to the continued partnership.”

Parents, too, are noticing positive changes in attendance, behavior, or academics and will stop by CIS to make sure their child continues working with these Western students. The high school students themselves have been recruiting other students they think could benefit from this Champ’s support.

Part of the Black Student Union’s success is that their passion is paired with the mindset that, in order to empower young people to succeed, we must work together. So, they’ve joined forces not just with CIS, but also some of our other partners coming into the Kalamazoo Public Schools, like WMU’s School of Social Work and Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Mt. Zion’s director of youth ministries Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks, comes out to Central each week to work with the KC Men of Change, and sees them in action. He says, “What the Black Student Union is doing is great! It’s encouraging to see them reaching out to youth. It takes a lot of energy to go to college and, in many cases, also work. This awesome group of young people is doing just that—going to school, working, and then choosing to spend time with youth. And they’re doing a phenomenal job with the students!”

We couldn’t agree more.

Black Student Union, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks: In Schools for Kids

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks.

A Kalamazoo native and proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Reverend Mo attended Northeastern Elementary School, Hillside Middle School, and “the great Kalamazoo Central High School.” He went on to graduate from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s in social psychology. A number of summers ago, he also served as a youth development worker in CIS Think Summer!

Reverend Mo is the Director of Youth Ministries at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a position he’s held for almost three years. He’s written a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You, and is working on another book, also geared to youth. And still, he makes volunteering with youth in the schools a priority. For the past two years, he’s volunteered with CIS at Kalamazoo Central High School, supporting young men in a group that meets on a weekly basis. The young men have named the group, KC Men of Change.

Alright, Reverend Mo: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

Thinking back on your years as a student in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was your favorite teacher?

I’d have to say my favorites were my English teacher, Mrs. [Sandra] Daam and Mr. [Topher] Barrett. He was a forensic coach and I was also in his drama class. Mr. Barrett was patient and challenged me to be a leader. Mrs. Daam was loving and hard. Oh, she was hard! But a loving hard. She helped me out a lot.

How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?

For me, the work is really meaningful, especially because when I was their age, I wish that I could have been a part of something like this, to have someone help me make wise decisions, and challenge me.

Last year, I was able to meet with them twice a week and this year, we’re meeting once a week. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to go back to doing the group twice a week. When we meet, I’m able to ask the hard questions of them because of my experience growing up, and we have deep conversations. I like impacting them in a positive way.

I sense a great deal of respect for our youth, whether it is here at the church, in the schools, or in the community. Kalamazoo cares about its young men and women.

CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough said one of the most impactful sessions for the students was one that had to do with self-love.

Yes, Deb wanted to have a few sessions that combined both the males and females [Young Women with a Purpose], so we did. I had them list five or more people that they love. I then asked them to name the things they do for them because they love them. They identified things like I protect them, I’m loyal to them, I make sacrifices, and so on. I asked them to list five more people they love and then asked, Now how long does the list have to be until you’re on it? It was an eye-opener for them. Too often, our young people aren’t taking care of themselves because they’re busy worrying about others. We then talked about loving ourselves and how that involves things like trusting one’s self and protecting one’s self.

When it comes to engaging our youth, what do adults often forget?

I think they forget that they were once a youth and, along with that, they forget their mistakes.

I can remember my mistakes vividly. In 2015, I wrote a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You. In it, I share my own struggles of when I was in high school, my mistakes and regrets, as well as being somebody who I wasn’t. Students often struggle with that.

Sometimes, adults do too!

Yes, and while the book is geared to youth, I’ve had adults who have read it tell me: I’ve needed this!

When it comes to working with young people and connecting with them, what’s your secret?

One, recall your own youth and know your own mistakes. Also, know that their emotions and feelings are real. Too often we can cast them aside or don’t recognize them. Youth don’t always share their feelings but just because they aren’t communicating them to the world, doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the feelings. They may be bottling them up, so offering them a safe space to bring out and express their feelings can help. When I share my story, my path, and the wrong things I’ve done, that helps get the process going. They see this guy wearing a suit and tie, and think, well, he has baggage and pain and if he can open like that, maybe I can too. And they start sharing, because now we’ve got this trust thing going on and are connecting on a deeper level, having real conversations.

Speaking of suit and ties, Deborah Yarbrough also mentioned that you implemented a “Dress for Success” day and that that too, was a huge hit and brought the group closer together, identifying even more as a team.

Actually, it wasn’t me but the young men who came up with the idea! Each week, I come wearing a suit and tie to group. We had a tie session last year and taught the young men to tie ties. Last year, the group decided to have a dress up day and it went so well we thought, why not keep this going? And so, this year we had another tie session and then another dress up day!

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading and listening to books. Right now, I’m listening to Meet Generation Z. It’s written by James Emery White. He takes a look at this next generation that follows the Millennials, or “Generation Z.” He explores the trends, how culture is shifting, how we can reach these young people, minister to them, and serve them.

What is one way, according to the book, that we can reach this next generation?

Answer their questions. With the age we are living in, young people have a lot of questions. We need to listen to those questions and have answers.

James Emery White points out that we are living in a post-Christian world, one in which the norm is that people are no longer connected to a religion. More often than not, as a minister I’ll hear, I don’t have any religion. I’m spiritual, but I don’t belong anywhere. This generation is asking, Is religion necessary? Is it relevant?

What are some of your favorite Kalamazoo places?

Home, here [church], and Sweetwater’s Donuts. That’s about it…I’m really a home body!

Favorite word?

Self-assessment.

I feel like a lot of people have the inability to self-assess. I want to know, how can I grow? What could I have done better? We live in a blame generation. So, when things go wrong, it’s easy to point the finger and blame anybody but ourselves. But if we stop and assess ourselves, recognize hey, I could do this or that better, well, when we do that, we can move forward. If everybody did that, we could really move forward. We need to self-assess.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

The importance of habits as well as practicing those habits. By training on whatever you’re working on, you can build upon good habits. While I’m always learning, that’s the big one right now: habits.

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

During my elementary years, I’d have to say it was Mr. Gary Vanstreain. He was our basketball coach at Northeastern Elementary School. He was so positive, caring, and challenging, and would give you the shirt off his back.

In middle school, there were quite a few. I’ll go with my coach at Hillside, Steve Dunning. He was a disciplinarian and made sure you were on track and what you needed to do to stay on track. Even outside of the court, outside of basketball season, he cared and was on me. He showed that tough love.

In high school, it was Pastor James Harris. I will never forget, I was in a low moment in my life and Pastor Harris came to my house, spoke with me and prayed with me. He set out on a notecard representing where I was and then set out another notecard showing me where I could be, my potential. I doubt he’d remember that, but that moment really impacted me.

Then, in my college years, it was my own pastor, Pastor Moore. He really poured into me, invested in me, mentored and disciplined me.

Thank you, Reverend Mo, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.