Susan Knox: Doing Her Part to Create a Community of Hope

Today we highlight Susan Knox, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. Her Champ award was sponsored by Greenleaf Trust. CIS Board member and Kalamazoo Promise Board Member Dr. Janice M. Brown presented the award.

A child’s success in school and life often hinges on the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. It’s one of the five CIS basics, something every child needs and deserves. This relationship can make the difference between a student staying in school or becoming one of the 1.2 million students who drop out of school each year. Since the Fall of 2010, Susan Knox has been that caring adult for many of our high school students, particularly those struggling academically.

When Susan, a chemical engineer, retired from Pfizer, she sold her house and car, and moved downtown. “I wanted to start volunteering,” she said, “to contribute to something I felt passionate about. I picked up a pamphlet about volunteering and circled the ones I thought I could do.” We’re forever thankful she circled Communities In Schools.

Susan, on right, with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough.

She has been a CIS volunteer at Kalamazoo Central for seven years now. Regardless of the weather, she catches the city bus and week after week, year after year, shows up consistently for our kids. “Suzie’s passion to serve students goes far beyond what is expected of any volunteer,” says CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough. “She’s willing to adjust her schedule to accommodate the needs of both our students and staff.

Her flexibility has allowed CIS to connect her with the students who need her most. She provides academic support to student one-on-one and in small groups. She’s worked with students during study hall, after school, and during the lunch hour. While she primarily focuses on math, she’s willing to tutor in other subjects. “No French or Spanish,” she says, “but I’ll give everything else a try.”

Susan and Kalamazoo Cental student taking a break from tutoring to smile.

Smart, compassionate and humble, Susan credits her success with students to the support she’s received along the way. “CIS gave me the training I needed to be successful. I learned how to do things and just as importantly, what not to do.” She refers to CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough and CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider as her “CIS bosses…They aren’t bossy, though,” she says. “Because they know the students so well, they give me insight into what the students need from me. They’re role models. I watch their interactions and it helps me figure out what I should do, what I should tolerate or not tolerate when it comes to behaviors. They coordinate with each other and give me the support I need so I can support the student.”

“Volunteering,” someone once said, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Through her rock solid and steady support, Susan is creating a community of hope, one in which all children can fulfill their promise.

Susan Knox, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Doubling Down to Make a Difference

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

Congratulations to CIS volunteer Mary Aldrich who, along with her husband, Scott, has recently been awarded the prestigious Andrus Award for Community Service. Given annually, this award is named for AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus. Mary has volunteered with CIS for the past four years as a Senior Services RSVP member. In addition to her fine volunteer work at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, she and her husband are involved in many other volunteer efforts throughout the community. They’ve clearly doubled up to extend their reach and make a difference in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and elsewhere.

“Mary has become a part of the Spring Valley family,” notes Spring Valley’s CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio. “She not only tutors our students, but she is there for them when they need a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear.”

KPS Teacher Jaime Hall says that “Ms. Mary has not only improved students’ confidence in themselves, but in their learning as well. She has worked with students in both math and reading. Many students have shown an improvement in their reading and math abilities after receiving one-on-one time with her. Ms. Mary is very thorough; she does her “homework” and comes in each week with new ideas and tools to help kids learn to the best of their ability…Ms. Mary is amazing. I am grateful for her each and every day, and I know that my students are as well.”

You can change the life of a young person by volunteering. To find out more, visit our website,
www.ciskalamazoo.org.

Mary-Aldrich
Mary Aldrich with students from Spring Valley Center for Exploration.
Photo by Kathleen Kelleher of Senior Services of Kalamazoo

Volunteers In Service To America

Today is Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service. Some of you might recall helping Mayor Bobby Hopewell kick off the first ever day of recognition back on April 9, 2013. That morning, as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo staff and AmeriCorps VISTA gathered on the steps of City Hall, we were excited to partner with Mayor Hopewell, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), The Spirit of Kalamazoo, and New World Flood and its founder, Todd “TJ” Duckett. We celebrated college spirit and gathered college gear for students in Kalamazoo Public Schools. A friendly competition quickly ensued to see which Michigan public college or university could offer up the largest number of contributions during this one hour only event. As community members and downtown business folks like Jen Ward, owner of The Station, visited City Hall to drop off donations, the excitement grew.

We can’t recall which college or university won that day. It doesn’t matter as the real winner that day was our kids. And our 12,000+ kids continue to be the ultimate beneficiaries of VISTA support throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

As the nation’s mayors and county officials increasingly turn to national service as a cost-effective strategy to address local challenges, it’s worrying that the the President’s budget proposal calls for the elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers AmeriCorps. It’s distressing that this vital federal agency that helps millions of Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service is on the chopping block. (In 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service leveraged an additional $1.26 billion dollars in outside resources to increase their nationwide impact. That’s even more than the federal investment.)

(Some of our current and former VISTAs, from left to right) Pamela Tate, Brenda Morris, Nicholas Baxter, Katie Pearson, Abby Schulze, Terra Mosqueda, Donielle Hetrick, Stephen Brewer, Stacy Salters, Samantha Pennington, and David Hamilton.

Kalamazoo AmeriCorps VISTA members, past and present, we thank you for helping expand CIS’s capacity to meet student and school needs. Thank you for being part of the solution to help students stay in school and achieve in life!

Did you know that VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level? In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools. CIS is grateful to those past and present VISTAs who have chosen to serve their country through AmeriCorps. Currently, CIS has five citizens serving as Volunteers In Service To America (VISTAS) throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. If you see them, take a minute and thank them for their service:

Pamela Tate, Brenda Morris, Samantha Pennington, Stephen Brewer, and David Hamilton.

Over the years, our VISTA’s have worked closely with their CIS Site teams in a variety of ways. Click on the links below to find out how VISTAS working with CIS make a difference in the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Our VISTAS…

are silent giants in the school. Former VISTA Laura Longwell reflected on her service at El Sol Elementary School and Hillside Middle School. You can read it here.

work with CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes to keep food pantries stocked and support Friday Food Backpacks.

help organize CIS Kids’ Closet to make sure kids have the basics like clothing, hygiene, and school supplies, so they can focus on learning.

promote a college-going culture throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

make memories, working through the summer months with CIS Think Summer to prevent summer slide and assure that students have a safe summer filled with fun and learning.

share talents and passions. Nicholas Baxter, who recently completed his AmeriCorps VISTA service, spent his Thursday lunchtime supporting Arcadia students interested in reading, writing, and learning about poetry.

get kids off to a great start. VISTAS helping CIS organize the pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and many supplies local businesses, faith-based groups, service organizations, and community members generously donate so kids start the school year with the basics they need to succeed.

…and more.

Thank you VISTAS (past and present) and thank you, Corporation for National and Community Service, for your support!

(And if you’d like to check out some fun photos and news coverage from Kalamazoo’s 2013 Recognition Day for National Service, click here.)

 

What are CIS volunteers reading in 2017?

 

National Reading Month has us wondering, what are Communities In Schools (CIS) volunteers reading? Here’s what a few of these wonderful volunteers who share their time and talents to benefit students throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools told us. (We note what school they volunteer at within the Kalamazoo Public Schools.)

 

 

Troublemaker by Leah Remini and Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg (and often Little Blue Truck and a Llama Llama with my littles at bedtime).

Theresa Hazard, Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

I have recently finished reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and James Madison by Lynne Cheney. I am currently working through The Federalist Papers by Hamilton and Madison as well as Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. I say ‘working through’ because these latter two are not easy reads due to somewhat archaic prose and the fact that, as a scientist, I am not a traditional reader of political history!

-Paul Runnels, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I just finished, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter. It was a very interesting read about the Kennedy family. The book was about Rosemary’s disability and how the family dealt with it. Her disability eventually led the family to seek out medical advice. Unfortunately, the wrong medical advice.

-Sherry Garrett, Hillside Middle School

 

I am reading Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. It is about his unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show that began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison.

More about the book: “[A] compelling new memoir . . . By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah’s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah’s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid. . . . Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author’s remarkable mother.”Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

-Nanette Keiser, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

I just finished True South:  Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement (2017). The book is by Jon Else, a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer who writes about both his experiences as a young man working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South in the 1960s, and his roles in making the famous documentary Eyes on the Prize in the 1980s.

-Denise Hartsough, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

I just finished reading Margaret Verble’s Maud’s Line and Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm XI’m now reading Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Writings on the Wall, this year’s Reading Together book with lots of special programs in Kalamazoo and an author visit coming up in March.

Like crime fiction? Read my son’s book, Dodgers, by Bill Beverly. It’s winning lots of awards and is available at local libraries and bookstores.

-Martha Beverly, Lincoln International Elementary School

 

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben

-Sherry Brodock, Spring Valley Elementary School

 

I have just finished reading Simon Winchester’s Map That Changed The World, the story of William Smith and the birth of modern geology. A very interesting account of one man’s curiosity about the landscape of England and what was under it in terms of geological strata. I have just started Desert God by historical novelist Wilbur Smith.  It is a fictional story of ancient Egypt and it’s too early yet to know where it is going but the characters and historical setting are interesting.

-Bob Spradling, Woods Lake Elementary School

 

I am currently reading Inside the O’Briens and Wonder, which the fifth graders I work with turned me onto!

-Katie Weirick, Lincoln International Elementary School

 

Thank you all for sharing!

Keep checking in with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids as, in the weeks to come, we’ll find out what some of our CIS partners, staff and board members are reading.

Mr. Sindoni Responds!

Remember the November post written by CIS volunteer Shirley Freeman? The one that began:

Dear Mr. Sindoni,

I often tell the story of my 7th grade year. How I was kicked off every field trip that year – generally for being sassy and talking too much….(You can read the entire post here.)

Well, we are happy to report that the very teacher that Shirley credits with helping to turn her around is still out there. He read her post! Moved by what she had written, he reached out and shares the following:

Hi Shirley,

This was a pleasant surprise as I never thought that I’d be remembered 45 years after an incident. Anyway, this had to have occurred during my second or third year of teaching. We young and inexperienced teachers tried whatever seemed to work to correct student “bad habits” and/or “behavior problems.” One of my favorite things to do was to elevate the person or people into a responsible position (this works with grandkids too), and hope (sometimes guide) they do the task to the best of their ability. If it doesn’t succeed, shake hands and try something different at a later date, but what does succeed is the building of the relationship. Everybody wins in that case.

I’m pleased to have been a very tiny part of your life. I’ve always thought that Schalmont was good to me and I to Schalmont. After 33 years in the classroom, and about 25 of that in 7th grade, the school district for the first time in its history, offered a financial incentive for Tier I teachers, and the money people told me to take the offer.

My wife (of 45 years) and I presently split our living between New York and Florida, and I’m sure you can guess the seasons at each place.

Again, thank you for allowing me to be just that very tiny bit of your life. I guesstimate that I was there for about 5,000-6,000 others as well, and with a few I still remain in contact.

Ed Sindoni

What a great way to end our 2016 posts here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids! It is good to know that your efforts make a difference. It may take 45 years to find out that the seeds you are planting now will take hold some day. Hang in there!

We thank you for hanging out with us here at the CIS blog. Stay warm and come on back and join us for a whole new year of posts, beginning Tuesday, January 10th, 2017.

A Letter to Mr. Sindoni

Shirley FreemanToday, we hear from CIS volunteer and Bookbug staff extraordinare, Shirley Freeman. As part of the Chapel Hill/Portage United Methodist Church initiative to help students attain the Kalamazoo Promise, Shirley began tutoring at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School. Ten years later, she’s still at it. Two years into her volunteer service, she received specialized training from SLD Read, a nonprofit community resource serving West Michigan. Through SLD Read’s training and on-going support, Shirley is able to provide individualized, one-to-one multisensory instruction in reading, writing and spelling for at-risk readers in first, second and third grades. 

Dear Mr. Sindoni,

I often tell the story of my 7th grade year. How I was kicked off every field trip that year – generally for being sassy and talking too much. I know part of it was that we had a new boy in school, Dave Tobey, and he was a bit older and more physically mature than most boys in my class. He was a bit of an instigator and I certainly didn’t resist going along. No one who knows me now can believe I was kicked off any field trip, let alone every one.

I always think of you when telling the story because at some point toward the end of 7th grade, you called me in and talked to me about my behavior. You said that I was “going off the deep end.” I’ll never forget it. And then, the best part – at the beginning of 8th grade, you asked Dawn and me to help with something. You trusted us with a position of responsibility. Thank you. I will always be grateful for your intervention and your trust.

Shirley Freeman

Shirley Freeman with studentimg_3245

Who is your Mr. Sindoni? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Finding His Voice

LennyThis article about Lenny was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation Beginning with the End in Mind. You can read the full issue here.

Lenny Williams has always been soft spoken. “He’s wasn’t disruptive,” Gulnar Husain explains. “In fact, he was quite the opposite. Quiet and introverted, he had a habit of shutting down and being off-task. He didn’t listen or follow directions. His academics suffered because he just wasn’t applying himself. He is a very sweet boy but he just wasn’t living up to his potential.”

So when Lenny’s then kindergarten teacher, Michelle Hiller, referred him to CIS, one of the first things Gulnar Husain did was connect him with a tutor.

Lenny believes tutoring as well as a number of other supports have helped him move in a positive direction during his time at Arcadia Elementary School. “Ms. Gulnar gives me things that have helped me be better in school, things I need, like foodpacks, coats, shoes, boots, and gloves.” It’s these basic supports, along with tutoring, that have allowed Lenny to be ready to learn every day from the dedicated teachers he’s had throughout his elementary years.

Ask Lenny who his favorite teacher is and he can’t pick just one. He’ll tick them off one by one, from kindergarten to fifth grade, but try and nail him down to one or two and he can’t do it. “Arcadia just has really good teachers,” he explains.

Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.
Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.

A loving family and great teachers, along with community support funneled through CIS is helping Lenny realize his potential. “He’s really blossomed and he has confidence now,” says Cindy Kesterke, Lenny’s former America Reads tutor. “It’s great to see and I’m excited for his future.”

“You think I’m persistent?” Gulnar laughs. “Lenny is one of the most persistent people I know. That’s because he’s anxious to learn. Always polite with his requests, this persistence extends beyond himself. He’ll even stop by the CIS office and advocate for his younger brothers to also receive CIS support. Because of the tremendous support he’s received from the school and the community, Lenny came to the decision that he needed to turn things around. Once he decided he wanted to do better, things naturally began to fall into place.”

Lenny describes it this way: “I just thought I should get better grades, so I started behaving myself. I used to always get referrals for not listening. I decided for myself to work hard and get good grades.”

Lenny’s looking forward to attending middle school and building on what he learned at Arcadia. “I’m going to do good and them I’m going to college,” he says.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

 

Gracias, Pat Early

Pat Early Champ Presentation 5-31-16s (15 of 29)
Larry Lueth, CEO of First National Bank of Michigan (right) presenting CIS volunteer Pat Early with his Champ Award. CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser (left) and several MLK students are all smiles.

Today we highlight Pat Early, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. His award was sponsored by First National Bank of Michigan and CIS Board member Carol McGlinn announced his award at the Champ event. Since Pat was unable to attend the celebration as he was out of the country, upon his return he was presented with his Champ award at King-Westwood Elementary School.

MLK student congratulates Pat Early on his award as First National Bank of Michigan's CEO Larry Lueth and CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser look on.
MLK student congratulates Pat Early on his award as another MLK student, First National Bank of Michigan’s CEO Larry Lueth and CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser look on.

For the past three years, Pat Early has been volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at King-Westwood Elementary. A retired Chemical Production Coordinator for Pfizer, he tutors several hours a week. “He’s such a valuable member of our team,” says CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser. “I can connect him with all different kinds of kids who have various academic needs. He doesn’t back away from a challenge, and trust me, some of the kids have tested him!”

Because the students know their tutor genuinely enjoys and cares about them, they look forward to learning with Pat each week. Pat also hosts a monthly science club with fourth graders. His goal is to make science fun and hands-on. Recently, the students made lava lamps using Alka-Seltzer tablets. His demonstrations spark questions that naturally emerge as the students experience wonder.

It should come, then, as no surprise that CIS Volunteer Coordinator Kaitlin Martin turned to Pat for help with piloting Water Wizards—a collaboration between the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner’s OfficeKalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, and Communities In Schools. Pat immediately hopped on board. Using the portable model Drain Commissioner Patricia Crowley purchased, Pat teaches students about water cycles and conservation.

Most recently, Pat has worked to bring in the “Birds of Prey show and tell” from the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It’s no wonder Site Coordinator Laura Keiser and her King-Westwood team are thrilled to have Pat Early on their team!

Pat couldn’t attend the celebration so we’ll close with a letter he wrote:

Buenas Noches,

Missing the Champs celebration disappoints me. Celebrating the work done by volunteers, staff and teachers reminds us to strive for the ultimate reward:  successful students. Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood School, gives me strategies and support to be a more effective CIS volunteer. Thank you, Laura.

I look forward to working with the students so that they learn their lessons and grow as individuals.

I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina celebrating with my daughter. She is completing a five month study abroad program through Western Michigan University. She plans to continue on to medical school. Her journey started with a curiosity to learn. She has added hours of hard work to the curiosity to be successful.

I look forward to returning to King-Westwood next week to help other students on their journey.

Gracias por el reconocimiento, (thanks for the recognition).

Adios,

Pat

Pat Early, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Checking out Pat's Champ Award! The Champ statues are created by local artist, Jon Reeves.
Checking out Pat’s Champ Award! The Champ statues are created by local artist, Jon Reeves.