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 more. Today we feature Dr. Jim Zhu, Professor of Mathematics at Western Michigan University. Dr. Zhu is also a CIS volunteer who comes out to Milwood Magnet Middle School each Tuesday to tutor students as part of the new Lunchtime Homework Lab (featured in this recent blog post, “Dropping In”).
One of the students, an 8th grader who spent his lunchtime in the lab working on math said this about Dr. Zhu: “He made it easy to understand stuff. I’m coming back.”
Alright, Dr. Zhu: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Optimization is one of your research interests. Thinking about this mathematical term from an educational standpoint, how can kids optimize their academic success when it comes to math?
Practice, practice, practice. While I’ve been into math for a long time, I see that there are many fields for which this is the case. For example, learning math is not much different than learning to play piano. What’s the most important thing in learning piano? Practice, practice, practice. You can learn all the theory you want, but it is practice you want to do, that will help you succeed. Ultimately, it’s your finger hitting the key. In math, it’s when your pencil hits the paper.
How did you get involved with CIS?
One of our faculty members at Western Michigan University, Professor Nil Mackey, sent out an email saying CIS is in need of tutors. I wanted to help.
For years I have seen students who are not well prepared with math knowledge. They have not had enough practice during their high school years and they didn’t have enough practice in middle school. With my own son, I have seen this. He attended the Portage schools, and like many school systems today, the emphasis is on conceptual stuff and not enough practice. Students need to be encouraged to practice math. Practice, practice. It’s as simple as that. Practice leads to doing math well.
There are surveys indicating that two thirds of Americans are not financially literate. This adversely impacts people’s ability to manage their own financial situations as well as understand the impact of policy changes to their own lives and to the country. The lack of basic training in math is largely responsible for this undesirable situation.
What is your favorite word right now?
It’s a Chinese word from a Buddhist tradition. It roughly translates to “Let go.” Don’t try to grasp and get hold of everything. Many things are out of your control.
What is something you love about our community?
It’s quiet and peaceful, but also vibrant. There are a lot of opportunities. My son grew up here and participated in a number of activities—tennis, piano—there are good piano teachers here! There are also opportunities to attend cultural activities. Western Michigan University often offers free concerts for faculty and the community.
Also, the community spirit. I really appreciate the community leaders here and those who have the desire to contribute. You see this with the Kalamazoo Promise.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My grandparents. When I was a little guy my parents were quite busy. I am from a big family and my grandparents were very close to me. I have many dear memories.
Where did you grow up?
From China, Changchun, an area very close to North Korea. Many of my childhood friends were Korean.
Dr. Zhu, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!
Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, volunteers and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature CIS volunteers Isaiah and Dedrenna Hoskins, the mother and son team supporting students at Washington Writers’ Academy. Since 2010, they’ve been distributing Friday Food Packs which are made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. At Washington Writers’, these packs are provided thanks to Bethany Reformed Church. Each pack that the Hoskins deliver, holds enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend hours when other food options may be scarce.
We caught up with Isaiah and Dedrenna this summer, out at Arcadia Elementary. They were preparing the cart with food packs but took a short break to answer our questions. Although Isaiah is mostly nonverbal, he listened carefully to the questions. While he was patient with us, and often smiled, when it was over, he immediately jumped back into action. He knew he had a job to do and that the kids were counting on him!
Alright, you two: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What are you currently reading?
Pigs in the Parlor by Frank Hammond and Ida Mae Hammond. And Isaiah likes the Berenstain Bears books and Dr. Seuss.
What are your favorite words right now?
Roots and responsibility. Yes is one of Isaiah’s favorite words.
“Yes, yes!” pipes up Isaiah.
What is something you love about Kalamazoo?
The diversity. The openness of the place.
What has most surprised you since you began volunteering with CIS in the schools?
Just how much of a great need there is…our kids need us and I’m glad Isaiah and I can help.
It’s clear you and your family values volunteering. Why do you choose to give back through CIS?
It is just who we are. We give, and not necessarily in expectation of getting something back. But, you know, you always get something back when you volunteer.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My parents. They’ve been my foundation, a strong foundation, and wide spreading. That gets us back to my favorite words: roots and responsibility.
As Dedrenna said, “Our kids need us.” If you would like to be in the schools, helping students, volunteer with CIS today. Go here.
You can learn more about Dedrenna and Isaiah and what it means for them to be giving back in the schools to kids in this year’s CIS Annual Report.
“I’m here for the first time and I’m here to work. I want to get my C up to a B in math.”
“I’m here because my mom thinks that if I put in the extra effort during lunchtime, I’ll do better in school…I think she might be right.”
These are just what two of the more than 30 Milwood Magnet Middle School students have to say about the new Homework/Tutor Drop-In Lab in their school. Initiated this school year by CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best after “feedback from teachers, parents, and the students themselves” students may now drop in for help with homework during their Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes (from 10:41 to 1:17).
“The response has been wonderful,” says Missy. “I’ve had parents dropping in to see how things are going and encouraging their student to take advantage of the lunchtime support. Students are coming to the lab because they are stuck and want help,” says Missy. “Others come because they want a quiet space to finish up their homework.”
Missy wanted to model the drop-in support after labs that many colleges offer. “It’s a great way to meet students’ needs and address parent and teachers hopes for wanting additional support for struggling students,” she says. So she spoke to Milwood Magnet principal Mark Tobolski about the idea and “he said, ‘Let’s try it.’ The principal has been very supportive of CIS and helped us get this lab up and running. He helped with key logistics, like figuring out how to get kids through the lunch line more quickly and how to do lunchtime passes for kids wanting to drop into the lab.”
When students drop into the lab they are choosing to surround themselves with a community of support. On this Tuesday in November, CIS volunteers Dr. Jim Zhu and Lynetta Carnes are both on hand to help. [Lynette, having just finished her regular volunteer time in Mrs. April Rocco’s classroom, stopped in for the first time. “It worked out today that I could stay a little longer and help out.”]
CIS after school coordinator and former math teacher Shannon Jones is there as well, working with a small group. “How lucky are our kids?” Missy says, a big smile on her face. “Shannon is terrific with the students.”
“The kids are responding to the one-on-one immediate feedback,” he says. “Someone is at their side, able to let them know if they are doing it right or if they are on the wrong track. They can quickly adjust and that helps them get up to speed and where they need to be when they are back in the classroom.”
Later, Michael Harrison, CIS Associate Director of Site Services drops in. He pulls up a chair and start talking math with a couple of young men.
The room is humming with learning. At moments, it is quiet enough to hear pencils scribbling. At other times, snatches of conversation can be overheard. Comments made by grownups, like:
What are you working on? Can I help? I want you to find your own answer. Independent variables… If I distributed biscuits to everyone at this table and… What book are you reading? If I brought in ten cookies and… That one’s still gottcha, huh? This is definitely right! Open the bracket and….. Minus 52. Correct. You are doing a linear equation! Remember, you can only add terms that are similar….. Perfect! Yes, multiply this! You are really picking this up. Excellent!
“Today was a great day,” says Missy. “We had a lot of students but we also had grownups to help. We need more volunteers, though! Our kids keep showing up. They are asking for this academic support and we need more volunteers who are willing to show up for kids.”
Can you help out? Just an hour a week can change a life. Our kids need you at Milwood Magnet Middle School and at 19 other CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. To become a CIS volunteer, click here.
There is always a good reason not to give. We don’t have enough time or money or time. We think somebody else will step up or do a better job than us. The list goes on.
Millie Ellis has more than her fair share of reasons not to extend herself, particularly to kids in Kalamazoo. That’s because Millie lives 2,000 miles away, in Dripping Springs, Texas.
There, she is busy caring for her husband who recently suffered a stroke. She is also dealing with her own health issues. Yet, despite distance and her current struggles, Kalamazoo kids are on her radar.
She learned from her friend, Shirley Street, that during the cold Michigan winters, some kids didn’t have mittens to keep their hands warm. Shirley told her of the need and that, for the third year in a row, she was doing something about this by knitting mittens. Her mittens would go to CIS Kids’ Closet and from there, CIS staff in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools would be providing them to students who needed mittens.
Shirley knew about the need thanks to her daughter, Sue Warner, who lives in Kalamazoo. A long-time CIS friend, volunteer, and partner, Sue is Kalamazoo Public Library’s Head Librarian of Youth Services. Sue Warner is a knitter too, and has been knitting mittens and hats for Kalamazoo kids over the years.
Back to Texas. When Shirley shared with Millie how she was helping kids in Kalamazoo Public Schools, Millie was moved. She wanted to figure out a way to “help those kids in Michigan,” too. The next time the friends connected, Millie said, “I found some yarn. I’m going to knit some mittens, too.” And she did.
When a box from Texas (mailed by Millie) showed up at Sue’s door, Sue was stunned. “I thought she might have managed to knit a few pairs of mittens, but Millie had knit 52 pairs!”
Sue dropped off the load of mittens, made with love from Texas, and some of the CIS staff tried on a few.
Knitters make something beautiful—in this case mittens—by interlocking loops of one or more yarns. To knit is “to join closely and firmly, as members or parts (often followed by together).” Despite her own hardships, Millie made it her mission to make the lives of kids a bit better and a bit warmer this winter. Millie joined with Shirley, who connected with Sue who connected with CIS, who now gets these mittens into the hands of children.
Thank you, Millie. And thank you Shirley, Sue, and all you knitters (and non-knitters, too!) who join together with CIS to create a caring, loving community for our children.
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 volunteer Jennifer Swan. Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Swan’s work schedule makes it difficult for her to volunteer on a weekly, consistent basis. Yet, she wanted to help kids stay in school and succeed in life. She came up with a creative solution and developed the Swan Snack Emporium which supports CIS Kid’s Closet. True to her name, Swan is helping children connect with their inherent beauty and value by giving kids the basics they need to stay in school and learn with dignity. You can learn about this initiative in the latest CIS Connections “Back-to-School” newsletter.
Alright, Jennifer: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Since 1953, TowerPinkster, a design firm, has been creating vibrant places for people to live, work and play. As you know, TowerPinkster has received a number of awards. TP was named one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” (National Association of Business Resources). TP was also awarded “Best Firm to Work For in the Nation” (ZweigWhite). From your perspective, what makes TP the best and the brightest?
What I think makes us the best are the people. We are like a family. We have two offices, in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and although it’s a little harder these days—we’ve added quite a few new people to both offices and I don’t get up to the Grand Rapids office as much as I used—we used to know everybody and know everything that everybody is doing.
TowerPinkster is a family culture and we have a lot of fun. It’s not just coming to work. It’s coming in to work with your friends, what seems like brothers and sisters, more often than not. It’s a great environment and we have a ton of fun here.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I learn something every single day with my job. There are always new things happening in the construction industry, whether it’s new process or new people you work with. There’s not just one thing that I can give you that is something that I’ve learned because I learn every day on my job. Every single day I learn from contractors and learn from the construction managers on the project site. I learn from project managers here, even our interns that come in who know the new tech stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always learning.
What are you currently reading?
While I don’t have time to sit down and read a full book right now, I get on the internet and I read a lot of blogs and news articles.
Besides Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, what are your ‘go-to’ blogs?
The type of blogs I turn to are ones that I can learn new things related to my work and to learn how other people are doing things so I can make myself better and faster at my job.
What is your favorite word right now?
My favorite word right now is strength, not like muscle strength but strength as in being a woman in a male-dominated field. You have to have a lot of strength and tenacity to go on job sites and be with a lot of men that are very experienced in the construction industry. I don’t build stuff, but I know how stuff is supposed to go together. It’s being able to hold my own on job sites and here in the office. I mean, the guys here are great and they’re very, very easy to work with and nobody’s ever like, You’re a girl and you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important to always have an understanding of what you’re talking about.
What’s your story behind getting into this line of work?
I think I got into this line of work because of my mother. When she was growing up, she and many women of that time were taught that women could be a secretary or go into teaching. I think she always wanted to be an architect because she was always, always sketching house plans at home. My dad was in the construction industry and in the summer he sometimes would take me with him and I would get to go to a construction site. I was always very interested in the construction architectural field just being around that growing up. So when I was in high school I took some drafting classes and just fell in love with it all.
I didn’t go to be an architect because growing up my family we didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t go to U of M or any of the big colleges for that. I chose a smaller school—Baker College—as they had an architectural technical program.
What is something you love about Kalamazoo?
There’s so much to do! I come from a really, really, small town called Langston. There’s a party store, a church, and an ice cream place. So to come to Kalamazoo and there are restaurants, bars, festivals, and so many things to do and just so much to pick from…it’s wonderful!
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom is definitely 100% my caring adult. She supports me with everything I do. I grew up in a single family household. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 so my mom raised my brother and me. She had a really strong work ethic and would work late nights and weekends because she was the only income that we had. She worked really hard and I pride myself on being like my mom because, like her, I have a very strong work ethic. Her being a single mom and raising two kids by herself; it’s just always been an inspiration to me. If she can do that, then I can do anything.
Jennifer, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!
Have you read the new anthology, Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors? If not, you may want to add it to your summer reading list. Published by Celery City Books, the anthology includes the work of a number of Kalamazoo Public School students from Arcadia Elementary School. Poems by Reem Ahmed, Nour Abdullah, Hala Alhasan, Nada Alhasnawi, Faris Bukhader, Nabaa Eyddan, Lisbet Lopez, Taema Qwam-Alden, Roziya Rustamova, Abdullah Tayara, and Ritika Verma are woven throughout the anthology. These fourth and fifth graders are published alongside prominent poets and writers from Michigan and beyond.
If you want to read a book on immigration policy, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are a neighbor, have a neighbor, or are interested in exploring the theme of immigration and what kids have to say about it, this 116 page anthology is for you.
Here are nine things you may not know about this anthology project:
What readers are saying.
CIS friend and community advocate Deborah Droppers says, “I applaud the anthology of essays and poems found in Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors. The anthology uses the written word to encourage thoughtful discourse on the challenges that each of our communities face while celebrating the amazing things that happen organically when people believe in the power of conversation between neighbors that are close and beyond our picket fences.”
Retired KPS teacher Carol Hodges says this: “Opening this anthology in the middle, I find a child’s poetic love letter to the country of Iraq juxtaposed against the complex musings of an American man teaching English to Arabs in the Mideast. Then there is the story of a Nigerian woman named Rejoice who fears being deported. How different is her modern-day experience from the 1919 steerage voyage of the young British woman leaving shame and servitude behind?This volume is thin but it is far from an easy read. You’ll need time to ponder.”
The people behind the pages.
Were it not for the support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the children’s voices might not have been heard. A shout out to Arcadia Elementary School teachers Debora Gant, Holly Bishop, Erin Young, and Donna Judd for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students. Also, Donia Ali and Grace Gheen are two shining stars at Arcadia who are part of the fabulous Kalamazoo Public Schools Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. They were instrumental to the success of this project in so many ways.
It’s in the bag.
The anthology is now part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s impressive list of books available as a Book Club in a Bag. Karen Trout, Reading Together coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library says, “KPL’s 2016 social justice resolution includes the statement: KPL values compassion and champions everyone’s right to be welcome in a safe environment in the library and in the wider community. Adding this title to our Book Club in a Bag collection–and encouraging local dialogue about the issue of immigration–is a perfect way to put this institutional commitment into action.” Book Club in a Bag is open to all Kalamazoo Public Library district resident cardholders.
At a reading at the stunning sculpture gardens of Roan and Black in Saugatuck, award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl talked about the project and helped the voices of the children reach an even wider audience. Ridl contributed three of his own poems to the anthology.
Students got a lot out of this anthology project.
The Arcadia fourth and fifth graders wrote poems, some for the first time. Their work was published and they have had opportunities to read their work to others, at home, school, on the Kalamazoo College campus, and at Bookbug. They’ve read alongside well-known Michigan poets and writers like Buddy Hannah, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, Lynn Pattison, Kit Almy, Phillip Sterling, Marion Boyer, and Alison Swan. They’ve even been approached by audience members asking the students to autograph their copy of the anthology and have graciously done so. (Kudos to Arcadia Principal Greg Socha for all his support of this project, including his wise suggestion of giving students the opportunity to practice their signatures in advance of readings!)
Student are giving back to the community.
One can’t help but think that the students have given more than they have received. Like the other contributors, the children donated their work and all proceeds benefit Justice For Our Neighbors in Kalamazoo, a legal clinic for immigrants.
Also, their words make grown ups think! As one reader said, “I know immigration has been a hot topic but it didn’t really hit home until I read the children’s ‘Dear Country’ poems.” Similar sentiments have been shared by other readers. A reader who attended the June Bookbug event said, “I’m humbled by the bravery of these children. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to read before a group of people, let alone leave one’s country and then read so beautifully in a brand new language. How many of us could do that? I don’t know if I could!”
Jennifer Clark, co-editor of the anthology, works on special projects and initiatives for CIS and worked with the students on this anthology project as a CIS volunteer, offering workshops at Arcadia Elementary School. She can’t sing the praises enough of the CIS staff at Arcadia. Thanks to Caitlin Bales and Rachel DeNooyer for all their support! CIS volunteer Cindy Hadley also worked behind the scenes, escorting students to and from the poetry workshops. Go, Cindy!
Today we highlight Susan Knox, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. Her Champ award was sponsored byGreenleaf 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.
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.”
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.
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,