CHILDREN SEEKING RELIEF FROM THE STORM

Imagine. You are one of the lucky ones.

You are in the direct path of a devastating hurricane and yet, even though you are frightened, cold, wet, and hungry you manage to reach a designated shelter. It’s sturdy and well stocked. There is room for you. Once inside, you aren’t sent back into the storm for blankets and pillows, food and water. Your needs for clean, dry clothes, toothpaste, and other hygiene products, can be met here.

Now imagine this. Someone says, Sorry you’re hungry, but if you want something to eat you’re going to have to leave the shelter and round something up yourself. Lost your shoes in the storm? Too bad. Yea, it’s a shame your pants are soaked but if you want something dry, you won’t find it here. No reliable transportation to the six locations you need to go to get what you need? Don’t know what to tell you. Despite the struggle it took to get here, with the hurricane barreling down, you abandon the shelter. Crazy, huh?

Yet, that’s exactly the position we put children and their families in when we don’t offer needed supports in the safe haven of schools. We shouldn’t expect teachers and other school staff to coordinate resources and supports. They already have one of the most important jobs in the world: educating our kids. We can’t necessarily expect parents, despite all the love they have for their children, to handle it alone, either. As one mother put it, “There is no worse feeling I’ve had as a parent than knowing my child has needs but I’m not in a position to help meet them all.”

We can’t expect students to thrive in school while enduring the often unpredictable storms of life, all the while attempting to navigate the adult-sized challenges blown into their path. They can’t turn on the Kid Channel, the one with someone standing in front of a fancy map and be expected to figure out how to seek refuge from Hurricane Poverty, Category 4 Homelessness, Tropical Storm Depression, or the rumbling shock waves felt for years from the Food Insecurity Earthquake.

Fortunately, for kids throughout 2,300 schools across the country—20 of those schools within the Kalamazoo Public School district—CIS is in the schools, standing with teachers, catching students in their time of need, and along with parents, a host of community partners and volunteers, lifting them up with a net of integrated student supports we’ve woven together (and continue to weave).

Just as planning and coordination is a vital part of any emergency response, so it is for CIS work. Thanks to Kalamazoo’s commitment to integrated student services, we work closely with Kalamazoo Public Schools and our community partners so that we can deliver the right resources, to the right kids, at the right times, right in the schools. It’s this collaborative preparedness that not only provides students and their families relief from the storm, but allows students to focus and learn from their teachers.

When our most vulnerable students succeed, we all do.

Four ways you can provide relief to Kalamazoo children today:

  1. Become a volunteer.
  2. Join the CIS team. We’re hiring for a number of positions!
  3. Donate to CIS of Kalamazoo.
  4. To those of you who have advocated for a restoration of full funding for 21st Century After School Programs, thank you! Your efforts have made a significant difference. A bi-partisan measure in the House restores a portion of the 2016-17 funding levels. Congress has until December 8, 2017 to adopt a compromise funding bill between the House and the Senate for 21st Century CLC’s. Your continued advocacy for the importance of federal funding to extend the learning day for our kids is needed until there is a final adopted budget. For more information and for information on public officials to contact, go here, to the first page of the 2017 Spring issue of CIS Connections.

If you missed our post a few weeks back on the recent storms our community and CIS family has been weathering, you can read it by going here.  

Students Shine Light On After School In Kalamazoo

100_6497Did you know that throughout our nation, 15.1 million school-age children are alone and unsupervised in the hours after school? I knew it. But only because Melissa Holman shared that statistic with me. As the CIS Coordinator of Extended Learning, Melissa works behind the scenes with licensing, programming, and basically doing all-things-after-school for CIS. She says after school programming “gives kids a safe and supervised environment in which they have exposure to a broad range of things they might otherwise not have. It can be spending some time with a caring adult, a member of the community who provides academic support, or participating in an enrichment activity like karate or dance. It can be the safe space they need to complete homework, to make friends, to learn more about their strengths and talents.”

In conjunction with Lights On Afterschool events across the nation, Kalamazoo Public School students who participate in CIS afterschool programming—a resource available thanks to the support of the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers)—have once again been coming up with their own unique ways to shine the spotlight on quality, after school programming. Students have been busy researching and posting after school facts, creating public service announcements, working on posters, creating chants, a movie, and preparing to march through downtown.

20131021-_DSC4061Last year, more than eighty student representatives filled the Chamber of City Hall and shared with their commissioners the importance of extending the school day. “The afterschool program provides us with food, clothes, and other things we need,” said one fifth grader. “The afterschool program helps us stay away from drugs and off the streets. The staff help us with our homework and any issues we struggle with. The staff will do anything to make sure we are respectful, responsible, and safe so we can grow up to be anything we want to be and are treated equally. This helps us so we can do the same for others who need help and think they can’t find it.”

100_6490This year, through a variety of creative approaches—speech, dance, poetry—students are sharing the importance of having after school support in their lives and how they think it impacts the community. Thanks to the talented Ja’male Jordan, former CIS Youth Development Worker turned CIS Volunteer, some of their messages have been made into a short movie. Students, along with their parents will soon have a chance to watch Afterschool: The Movie on the big screen, downtown at the Alamo. In preparing for the project, students emphasized different aspects of after school which Melissa didn’t find surprising “because every child is special and has their own unique strengths and needs, so the benefits resonate differently for each student.”

One Woods Lake student who participates in the Kalamazoo Kids in Tune program (a joint partnership between the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools and Kalamazoo Public Schools) recognizes how “fortunate I am to be learning an instrument, a skill that will be with me the rest of my life.”

100_6491For many middle school students at Maple Street it’s the opportunity to get their homework completed. “Ms. Emily and her staff make sure I get my homework completed. No excuses!”

For an Arcadia student, after school is a chance to develop friendships. “You love your family but sometimes you just need to see your friends.”

Melissa says students “attend programming because they appreciate the support and supervision as well as the range of activities they get to do every day after school.” What keeps Melissa showing up day after day? ”Just seeing the impact,” she says with a smile. “We are literally changing lives. As a child, I had that happen for me when a caring adult changed my life. I want that for all of our kids in Kalamazoo.”

#LightsOnAfterschool

 

Students Tell Kalamazoo: “Keep the Lights On!”

20131021-_DSC4027Over 1,000 children throughout ten Kalamazoo Public School buildings benefited in the 2012/2013 school year from after school programming through Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. This resource has been available thanks to the support of the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers). CIS is in the fifth year of this five year federal grant.

“Afterschool programs are vital to creating healthy outlets for students during this critical time of day, says Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites. “We cannot expect young people to make healthy decisions in life such as attending school regularly and improving their academics when we are not willing to invest our time and resources to support them.”

In conjunction with Lights On Afterschool 2013 events across the nation, Kalamazoo Public School students who participate in CIS afterschool programming have been coming up with their own unique ways to shine the spotlight on quality, afterschool programming. Throughout October, students have been posting facts and research regarding afterschool programming, creating public service announcements, working on special projects with school personnel, and more.

20131021-_DSC3968And just this past Monday evening, close to 80 students, parents and CIS staff filled the Chamber of City Hall. The students present were representing all students from CIS afterschool sites: Edison Environmental Science Academy, Lincoln International Studies School, Milwood Elementary School, Washington Writers’ Academy, Woods Lake Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, Linden Grove Middle School, Hillside Middle School and Loy Norrix High School. They came together at city hall to share with the Kalamazoo City Commission the importance of extending the learning day through afterschool programming. Commissioner Don Cooney, on behalf of the Kalamazoo City Commission and Mayor Bobby Hopewell, read aloud a proclamation announcing October as “Lights On Afterschool Month” in Kalamazoo and committed to engaging in activities that ensure that the lights stay on and the doors stay open for all children after school.

Surrounded by children and parents, Melissa Holman, the CIS Afterschool Program Coordinator accepted the proclamation. Reflecting upon the experience, Melissa says, “I was extremely proud of our students for having the courage to advocate for their after school programs to our public officials. I believe that we are helping to develop world changers, who will first start by creating a better community through after school programs.”

Sure enough, one by one, students stepped up to the microphone to speak to their elected officials.

“The afterschool program provides us with food, clothes, and other things we need,” fifth grader Antonio said before a packed audience. “The afterschool program helps us stay away from drugs and off the streets. The staff help us with our homework and any issues we struggle with. The staff will do anything to make sure we are respectful, responsible, and safe so we can grow up to be anything we want to be and treated equally. This helps us so we can do the same for others who need help and think they can’t find it.”

Leasia Posey, a 7th grader at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, said, “I have been in Communities In Schools afterschool program since elementary school at Washington Writers Academy.  I think the afterschool program is amazing because of the staff, the clubs, and the transportation home.” Leasia told Commissioners that her favorite clubs are art, drama, and gardening.

Tiara Blair
Tiara Blair

Loy Norrix High School student Tiara Blair spoke up as well, “Communities In School has made a huge difference in my life. It has helped me to maintain my grade point average at a 3.7 average.” [Applause errupted in the chamber.] “Not only has it helped me with my academic studies but also with community building and networking. Communities In Schools connects me with a lot of resources, such as dental, vision, and food pack services. Also, because of CIS, I am provided a room with materials and the needed space to complete my homework. I appreciate the team staff that are hired here, they really take the time to help me succeed in my education.”

Rather than citing a bunch of research demonstrating that students who regularly attend afterschool programs are more likely to improve their grades, tests scores and overall academic behavior (there is a lot of it!), we’ll let Shediah, a fifth grader from Milwood Elementary School wrap up this post. Here, in her own words:

What Does the CIS Afterschool Program Mean to Me?

To me, afterschool program means to always be loved and helped. Afterschool program is a place that I can let my feelings go and be myself. I will always be safe and cared about.

To me, afterschool program is a place I can go to and calm down. I know I can always go the CIS staff when I need help. I can always be comforted when I’m going through a hard time.

When my [Site Coordinator] Ms. Abby left, I was very sad. After a while she came upstairs and comforted me. So did all of my classmates and my teachers.

I still miss Ms. Abby but Ms. Korrine who has taken her place is really nice. CIS is still fun.

Check out the inspiring City Hall photos (taken by Don Kingery) on our facebook album.

If you missed any of the WWMT coverage that aired on these recent events, not to worry. Just check out the following links:

What CIS Executive Director, Pam Kingery says about afterschool programming can be found here.

Students speaking out for afterschool programming during city commission meeting can be found here.

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