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 Stephanie Walther, the former CIS site coordinator of El Sol Elementary School. Prior to her work with us, Stephanie served as a Peace Corp volunteer in El Salvador and taught in Honduras. Stephanie may have left Kalamazoo, but she continues to be all in for kids, having joined the Sante Fe CIS team in 2014 as the site coordinator at Aspen Community Magnet School in New Mexico.
Alright, Stephanie: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Stephanie, you left your position as CIS site coordinator at El Sol Elementary School in 2014 and we still miss you. However, we feel good knowing you are still all in for kids and doing the same work at CIS of New Mexico. What drew you to New Mexico as well as continuing your work as a CIS site coordinator?
I was at a transitional point in my personal life and realized that staying in Kalamazoo wasn’t going to work out for me. It was very difficult for me to leave El Sol and CIS of Kalamazoo. I was surrounded by a community of support and I still miss everybody that I met out there.
While I was figuring out where I wanted to go next in my career, I often browsed the CIS National website to see if anything was available since I had had such a positive experience with CIS of Kalamazoo. It all still feels like a dream. I sent in my resume and heard back the same day. I instantly felt the same feeling of support from my phone conversations with the administrative staff here in Santa Fe. I knew we shared the goal of helping students achieve in life and succeed. I moved out here less than two weeks after accepting the job and I haven’t regretted one moment. Everybody I have met that works with CIS has such a good heart and I’m so happy to be able to continue to work with the organization and with people that share my vision for the youth in our country. As a site coordinator, I’ve realized the level of support needed in our public schools and the level of potential our students have. I feel lucky to be able to work with such amazing kids every day.
We couldn’t help but notice on CIS of New Mexico’s website that there is a quote from your Gary De Sanctis, Principal at Aspen Community Magnet School who says “So much of Stephanie’s work focuses on the social/emotional needs of our students and as a result so many more of our Aspen kids are able to focus and learn.” As you know, social and emotional needs are a big part of what CIS site coordinators in Kalamazoo work to meet. Can you talk about the social emotional needs your students face and what strategies and supports you are finding helpful to meet those needs?
As we all know, families go through their ups and downs. A lot of times parents and students are coming to a site coordinator during a difficult time in their lives. Difficult times happen to everybody.
Our job is to support the students and help them succeed in life. It seems very simple, but I find the most important part of doing my job is looking at each person as an individual human being that is going through life’s experiences. What works for one person doesn’t exactly work for another. Children also have different ways of taking on experiences and different supports in their homes. Working with the individual students and getting to know them is a big part. In Kalamazoo and in Santa Fe I’ve been lucky to work with several community partners to fulfill the social emotional needs of the students. Getting to know the community and the resources available has been a lifesaver. We have been able to work on fulfilling the various social emotional needs of the students while they are at school and in a safe and caring environment.
Partnering with school staff to ensure we are working together to care of children’s social emotional needs is also key. It benefits the entire school community.
In your seven years as a CIS site coordinator–in both Kalamazoo and New Mexico–we know you’ve learned a lot about what it takes to helps kids succeed. If you could go back in time, what advice would you, now a seasoned Site Coordinator, give yourself starting out in this position.
I would have given myself more time to let my caseload grow naturally. I was focused more on reaching a certain number of caseload students while I should have been focused on the individual needs of the students and the school. You cannot add a student to your caseload based on a test score or looking at their attendance. It is important to talk to them and the people in their lives. Each year I find that building relationships with students and their families becomes more natural and I’m able to really gain trust with them.
What do you miss most about Kalamazoo?
I miss the access we had to wonderful mentors and tutors we had from Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. I know how much they impacted the lives of my students and acted as great role models. We just don’t have access to college students in Santa Fe. I miss the energy they brought to our students.
I also miss everybody at CIS of Kalamazoo and El Sol. There was such a great community feeling in the school and I always felt very supported by the staff members at the CIS main office.
We’re curious, what are you reading right now?
I’m reading The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. She has always been my favorite author and storyteller.
Stephanie, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!