Sailing the Sea Of Success

20140506-DSC_7608Today’s guest blogger is CIS graduate and former CIS board member, Ricki Harris. Ricki graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2012, and later that year she graduated from Naval Station Great Lakes. Her former mentor, Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites, was there to celebrate with her. (Artrella shared her memories of meeting Ricki when she was just nine years old and how their lives have intersected over the years. If you haven’t read that beautiful post, you can find it here. Ricki’s “Story of Progress” was also featured in the 2010-11 Annual Report. )

Ricki, whose official title is DC3 (SW/AW) Harris, now serves as a Damage Controlman for the Navy. She has been nominated for the Blue Jacket Sailor of the Quarter and has received a Letter of Accommodation from her Commanding Officer.We are proud of Ricki and her accomplishments. We admire her perseverance, intelligence, warmth, modesty, and bravery. Not everyone can spread their wings and fly around the world. So when Ricki came back to visit us a few months back, we were so happy to see her and bombarded her with questions. Her decision to enter the Navy has given her a chance to see the world. We wondered. What were some of her favorite places? Why? How did visiting those places change (or not change) the way she sees “the place” of Kalamazoo? What exactly does she do as a Damage Controlman? What is it that sticks out for her as something that has (or is) influencing her growth as a young woman? What advice does she have for Kalamazoo Public School students? She was kind enough to write this post so we could share this with you…

DSCF8433Since graduating and leaving Kalamazoo, I’ve been to the Philippines, Jebel Ali Dubai, Jordan, Eliat Israel, Singapore twice, Bahrain, Hawaii, and Oman. My favorite places would have to be Israel, Singapore and Dubai. If you are on the fence about what you want to do, then the military may be a great choice. It doesn’t matter what branch you choose as all of them have different expertise and can offer good experiences. Whatever you do, think about the decision. Make sure it’s something you love or can grow to love.

In Israel, I got to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land and experience the different religions that were there—which was an eye-opener since I’m not too religious. Singapore was very clean and offered different religious sectors, such as “Little India” and “Chinatown.” In a sense, it was like having a little taste of India and China. The people were very friendly and spoke  English very well. Dubai is probably one of the richer countries the world has. They have one of the world’s biggest malls and their King even came on board our ship! With all the lights and night life, you would think the party never stops there. It’s a beautiful city and a nice place to vacation. Being overseas and visiting all of these places made Kalamazoo seem super small, though nothing takes away from how beautiful downtown Kalamazoo is with the older neighborhoods and big houses. Plus Kalamazoo College is so beautiful…

My role within the military is as a Damage Controlman. I’m responsible for the ship’s integrity. This means fighting fires, and combating casualties on the ship. We are the first responders to any casualty on board a ship. We teach people how to do our job and we also work with chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) warfare equipment just in case there was ever a CBR attack. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but I love it.

Being in the military has greatly influenced me. I have received training that would cost a fortune in the real world. It has given me endless possibilities that I would not have had otherwise, especially right out of high school.

My experience with the military has also shown me how to deal with people. The military is a melting pot. Befriending the people I meet has helped me learn and understand other cultures. Altogether, it is a learning experience. People may like you or just down right hate you. That will happen where ever you go in life. As long as you put your mind to it and do what’s right, you will succeed. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you will get recognized.

I would encourage any student who is in school to continue with school. Work hard and make the best of it. Thanks to the Promise, you have your education paid for. I came to KPS in fourth grade so I still received a large amount of the Kalamazoo Promise®. I would also encourage high school students to attend AP Courses. I took roughly about six, and I even tested out of Economics and Algebra.

You’ll be surprised what you can do if you put your mind to it. YOU have to want to do it, though.

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Paying It Forward At An Early Age

20140506-DSC_7712 - CopyToday we celebrate the work of Kawyie Cooper who was honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jen Randall along with Stephanie Walther, CIS Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary School, presented the award. Following the award, Kawyie gave a speech.

If you saw our youngest Champ of all time coming down the hallway at King-Westwood Elementary School, you’d first be struck by her gigantic smile and bright eyes. As you’d get to know her a bit better, like her CIS Site Coordinator Laura Kaiser has, you’d find out what a caring, outgoing, friendly and hard working student Kawyie Cooper is. Over the past year, this fifth grader has embraced the CIS mission, empowering herself to take full advantage of the CIS resources Laura has connected her with to stay in school and achieve in life. Over a matter of months she made huge improvements in her reading, math, and behavior. How many grownups can boast that?

When AmeriCorps VISTA Maggie Orlieb started an Environmental Club, Kawyie enthusiastically got on board, serving as a positive leader within the group, full of ideas. “She really helped set the tone for the other kids,” says Laura. “She is a real leader.” This young leader is flourishing with the support of her parents, KPS teachers, and the efforts of yet another Champ, her tutor and mentor,Rosalie Novara. Funny, how that works, isn’t it?

20140506-DSC_7628Kawyie’s literacy teacher and 2010 Champ recipient, Ms. Killen, says this: “Kawyie has also made improvements in systems of organization and management.  She is able to arbitrate for herself, respectfully, when she disagrees with someone, and her classmates respect and admire her.” Ms. Cruz-Davis, her homeroom teacher, says this: “She is more responsible for her homework since the beginning of the year. Academically she has made improvements in allareas… “

It’s clear that Kawyie’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. When, during a school team meeting, the CIS Site Coordinator recommended that Kawyie serve as a mentor for a young student, the school team unanimously agreed.

20140506-DSC_7714Surrounded by a community of support, Kawyie is living out that CIS basic: an opportunity to give back peers and her community. She mentors a second grader, reviewing a daily checklist created by the CIS Site Coordinator to keep her young charge on track. Turns out, Kawyie is just what this second grade student needs: a caring, older student who is looking out for her, and always with that beautiful smile. With Kawyie’s support, this student is improving her own academics and behavior.

At the end of the day, the Site Coordinator will often catch a glimpse of Kawyie, taking her mentee’s hand, walking down the hall and out to the same bus they ride together.

Kawyie Cooper, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

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Kawyie’s Speech

The following is the acceptance speech read by Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ Recipient, at the 2014 7th annual Champ Celebration, help at Cityscape. 

20140506-DSC_7716Hi, my name is Kawyie Cooper.  I am in the 5th grade at King-Westwood Elementary.  I am so proud to be honored tonight as the first elementary school Champ!

In my school planner, I wrote down this quote that my mom told me:  “Birds soar with other birds because you can’t fly without wings!”  I like this quote because it reminds me that my friends and I need to work hard in school in order to achieve our goals.

School can be a big challenge for me, but I have made huge improvements this year with the help of my parents, my teachers, and all the support I get from Communities In Schools.

My parents have high expectations of me.  My mom inspires me with positive talks about staying on track with my grades and behavior. She makes sure I have food, clothes, and a safe place to live.  My mom has a rule that we do homework first and no TV on school nights. My dad sets a good example for me by going to work every day at the Old Peninsula.  I know if he’s doing his job, I should be doing my job by doing my best in school.

I am also lucky to have awesome teachers.  Ms. Killen is special because if I make a mistake, she always gives me the chance to turn my behavior around.  She understands how hard I am working this year and helps me keep a positive attitude.  Ms. Cruz-Davis is a big help when I don’t understand my math.  She reminds me not to worry and is patient when she helps me work through the problems that frustrate me.

I am also really thankful for my tutor and mentor, Miss Rosalie.  We have lunch and recess together once a week and she helps me to understand my school work.  We also learned how to give each other feedback – both positive and negative! When she compliments me on things she notices, I feel proud.

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Each day I look forward to being a mentor to my 2nd grade friend, Nevaeh!   At the end of the day, I help Nevaeh get ready to go home.  Together, we gather her things and walk to the bus.  Working with Nevaeh has taught me to appreciate how hard my teachers, parents, and tutor work to help me!  It calms me down at the end of the day to know that I am helping Nevaeh end her day on a positive note.

[CIS Site Coordinator] Miss Laura and {VISTA] Miss Maggie have helped me improve my school year, too!  When I have problems with my friends I come talk to Miss Laura and she helps me learn to solve problems through positive communication.  Miss Maggie is the leader of our Fuel Up Play 60 group.  She helped me learn that kids have the power to come up with our own ideas and make them happen in our school!

Also, this is my first year participating in Girls On The Run.   It’s really exciting to practice for the 5k and learn how to motivate ourselves to keep going if we get tired during the race!

Today, I am so proud of myself and how hard I’ve worked to earn this Champs award and I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me soar in school!  Thank you so much.

Pop Quiz: Hailiey From Spring Valley Center For Exploration


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

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

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

What are you currently reading?

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

What do you want to be when you grow up?

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

What is your favorite word right now?

Fantastic. 

You said that quickly, without blinking an eye.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Hailiey!

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

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

A Parent Reflects on Key to Daughter’s Success

20131017-_DSC3900As a parent of a Kalamazoo Public School student, Mr. Weston couldn’t be prouder of his ten year old daughter Lacey. “I am so proud of her accomplishments and good grades. She works hard for them.”

A fifth grader at Arcadia Elementary School, Lacey became involved with CIS when, as a first grader she was struggling in reading and math. Mr. Weston noticed that, when it came to doing homework, “she would struggle and just give up. There was a point she wouldn’t even do it. As a parent, it’s hard to see your child go through that.”

Lacey’s involvement with CIS changed all that. “The Literacy Buddies program benefited her,” says Mr. Weston. “It increased her academic abilities but she has confidence in herself now. She is perfectly content to be herself. CIS made her proud to be her. Lacey really enjoys being a part of the programming she has experienced through CIS. I would love for her to stay involved with it as she grows. Maybe should could even be a literacy buddy herself when she is older. Tutor and give back, you know?”

“My daughter still struggles,” points out Mr. Weston. “Even now, I can see the frustration in her face at times when she’s trying to work on homework, but she keeps plugging away. That’s a credit to my daughter and CIS and the programs she has been supported by at Arcadia. But what is different now is that she pushes herself. I don’t try and deter her from this. I want her to have that initiative and drive to better herself. I’m just really proud of her.”

Lacey is featured in our annual report that recently came out. She talks about how she has been inspired to succeed by people who have helped her through Western Michigan University, Literacy Buddies (funded through State Farm), and Girls on the Run.

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Mentoring Magic: One Mentor’s Perspective

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”  Winston Churchill

It’s National Mentoring Month. Here’s a heartfelt piece from a mentor among us, Artrella Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

It was almost ten years ago. I was an eager, determined, yet green, Kalamazoo Communities In Schools Foundation (KCISF) social work intern at Milwood Elementary School. I was a fresh face, a newbie amongst more seasoned professionals (mostly from the field of Education). I knew my life’s purpose was to positively impact the lives of young people. How exactly I would fulfill this purpose was still unclear to me. But it was time to get started. It was time to meet my first student-client.

Then we met. A quiet, impressionable 9 year old in the fourth grade.  According to her teacher and others in the building, this young lady could benefit from one-on-one guidance. I was not convinced I could make a difference, but I can appreciate a challenge.

The relationship grew quickly and my fourth grade student-client became more like the younger sister that I never had, but sometimes longed for. We met multiple times a week and worked on coping skills, managing her feelings, self-image, and goal setting. I shared my experience as a college student and plans to apply to grad schools. She was as interested in my world as I was in hers. Neither of which were picture perfect. But the two of us together were truly a perfect match.

Grad school and a blossoming career away from Kalamazoo would keep us physically apart over six years. But, I would often speak with my friends in Kalamazoo and get an update and send messages to her from me through them.  I would never forget the young lady who represented my first opportunity to fulfill my life’s purpose.

As fate would have it, I decided to move back to Kalamazoo in late 2009 and take a Senior Site Coordinator position with the organization that gave me my first real experience as a future Social Worker, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (yes, there was a slight name change or two since I had been gone). My site would be Kalamazoo Central High School, a building of just under 1700 students.

Many months into my new experience at Kalamazoo Central, I found myself rushing from my office, trying to leave the building for a meeting without getting intercepted by a teacher, staff or student. Thankfully, I made it to the door.

But WAIT… Am I seeing who I think I am seeing?

Ricki: Ms. Trella?!?!

Me:  Oh my goodness!!! I cannot believe my eyes right now.

We give one another a tight hug and laugh about how I have been in the building for months and our paths have not (to our knowledge) crossed.  I promised to follow up with her the next day.

It is now three years later and it feels like a lifetime. As a mentor, I have been able to have difficult conversations, help to prepare her for prom, help with college applications, chat about her desires to go into the Navy, lose my voice screaming at her high school graduation as she finishes with honors, watch and record (with tears of joy) as she graduates from Navy Boot Camp, be on the other end of the call when she shares that she is being stationed in California, have breakfast with her the morning she headed to the airport for California and have lunch together and spend quality time with her during her visit back home for the holidays.

It is apparent to me that this young lady looked at her circumstances over the years as stepping stones to reaching her full potential. While CIS and other people have played a role in encouraging her and supporting her in many ways, she has done much of the work on her own. She is the optimal example of a resilient child.

I know that she has played an integral part and helped to shape the path of my career in the field of Social Work. I am now the Director of Secondary Sites for CIS of Kalamazoo and am therefore able to work with many more students who have difficult and often similar challenges that she has faced. But, I will admit, this one student has truly been the glimmer of hope that will forever positively impact my life’s purpose. I am thankful for having her in my life more than she will probably ever know.

My plea to the community at large, but especially the young adults and college students, is to consider committing your time to mentoring a young person. It will likely do more for you than you’d expect.

Got CIS?

As a parent of a Kalamazoo Public School student, James Spencer has love, luck, and courage on his side. He also has Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS).

“I have a high opinion of CIS,” says Mr. Spencer. “It’s outstanding and I’m glad to see that this support is continuing yet another year for my son. Due to the positive attention Kal-El has gotten—particularly within the afterschool program—he’s seeing that what I’m saying has validity.” Since Kal-El’s involvement with CIS at Linden Grove Middle School, Mr. Spencer has noticed that homework time has vastly improved. “Before, it was a struggle to even get him to bring it home. Now it’s is much easier. It’s no longer uncool to do homework.”

“What you say as a parent doesn’t always resonate,” points out Mr. Spencer. “Kids need that little extra push. I appreciate that what my son is hearing at home—the importance of grades and good study habits—is being reinforced at school by teachers and CIS. Sometimes it just helps that kids are hearing the same things repeated and that it’s not coming from your face!”

Mr. Spencer’s son, Kal-El, is featured in our annual report that recently came out. Kal-El talks about how he is motivated to do his best by his parents, CIS Site Coordinator Donyll Lewis and Youth Development Coach and Western Michigan University student Ples Wyatt, III.