Graduate Reflects on his Experience with CIS

Curt Johnson will soon start college. Having graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Curt reflected on his CIS experience at the 10th Annual Champ Celebration held this past April. Since then, a number of guests in attendance have asked us to publish it. Curt has graciously given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

While Curt gave the speech that follows, he did add additional comments at times. For instance, when he noticed Angelita Aguilar (a 2016 Champ—you can read about her here) in the sea of almost 400 people, he called her out and thanked her for her support through the years.

PNC was the Student Showcase Sponsor and when Curt finished his speech, Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Curt with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar

Curt presented with PNC gift from Steve Powell.

Here’s Curt’s speech:

I’m happy to be able to share my story with you and my experience with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. CIS has helped me a lot. I first became involved with the CIS when I was in sixth grade at Milwood Magnet Middle School. During conferences, one of my teachers recommended CIS to my mom and me. For that, I am grateful. Ever since then, CIS has been like a home base for me throughout my education.

One of the reasons I thought CIS was a good fit for me was because moving into a new school would be a way to make friends and meet new people and find out more about myself. I’d recently moved to a new neighborhood, having been adopted into a new family when I was going into fifth grade.

The CIS After School program kept me busy after school. Staying busy is important for kids and teenagers; without extra-curricular activities kids begin to look for things to do that aren’t good for them and could end up getting them into trouble. We always did fun activities. I especially enjoyed going to the gym and eating snacks. We also did homework while we ate our snacks.

I gained a lot of new experiences through CIS. For instance, as part of the after school program, we had an opportunity to sign up for various activities throughout the week, so I was always busy. I was introduced to different cultures, various forms of dance, music, and even food. I also found my passion for music through CIS. This was during seventh and eighth grade and it was thanks to CIS partner Bangtown Productions. We probably made around 20 songs throughout the two-year span. I still have the CD’s we made.

Over the years, CIS has helped me with school. That help is especially fresh in my mind this year, as I’m a senior preparing to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise. I’ve appreciated the tutoring opportunities and the really helpful tutors that CIS has provided. It’s been great having WMU students help me with chemistry. These college students are going to school for engineering so they explain things, and get me through it.

Throughout my high school years at Kalamazoo Central, my CIS Site Coordinator, Ms. Yarbrough has taken me under her wing. She checks up with me regularly, making sure I’m staying on top of my academics. She also helps resolve problems and situations. Those situations can range from serious issues to just needing a granola bar so I can focus and get through the day. I want to give my site coordinator a shout out for always keeping my best interest in mind. She makes it clear what I need to do, what I should do, and if anything is wrong—let the problem be known—so we can fix it.

Curt, at Champs with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough.

I know that some kids have a hard time talking to adults, so having a CIS person like Ms. Yarbrough in their school—whose job is to be there and help you get through your school days so you can graduate—is important. As a high school student, the emotional support I’ve received from CIS helps me get through the school year. Kids deal with a lot of stress and people like Ms. Yarbrough and other CIS staff understand. This emotional support is important to so many kids—as you’ll often find many students lining up at the CIS door, waiting to talk with Ms. Yarbrough. Just like a lot of other kids, I don’t have to break down, because I have somebody I can talk to, somebody I can trust. Someone always make sure I say how I feel so it’s not affecting me during the school day.

As I reflect on my six years with CIS, I think what I’ll take away most from the experience is having gained friends, opportunities, met CIS staff and mentors and people I can turn to if I need help. Without the support and guidance from CIS, the chances of me walking the stage and receiving my diploma would have been very slim. I will be graduating this June and plan to attend Southwestern Michigan College. I’m interested in social work and theatre.

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the years I’ve spent with Communities In Schools. I would also like to thank all the people I’ve met over these years of being involved with the program—the CIS staff, the partners, the volunteers—and to all the people who I haven’t met, who have given money, time, effort, and patience to helping all of us kids.

Thank you.

Thank you, Curt! We’re excited for all that the future holds for you. You know where to find us! Stay in touch!

Did you catch Curt Johnson along with Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School, on The Lori Moore Show? You can watch it here.

 

Angelita Aguilar: The Champ You Want at Your Side

Angelita Aguilar (center) with Principal Valerie Boggan (right) and CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough (left).
Angelita Aguilar (center) with Principal Valerie Boggan (right) and CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough (left).

Today we highlight Angelita Aguilar, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Her award was sponsored by State Farm and CIS Board member Namita Sharma presented the award.

If you found yourself on a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight, encircled by hungry sharks—did I mention your boat is leaking?—this Champ is who you want at your side.20160517-_DSC8174

As Dean of Students for Kalamazoo Central High School, Angelita Aguilar is a calm, rock solid person others turn to for support and guidance. Approach her office and you just might encounter this common scenario: the phone ringing, several staff seeking her input, a parent waiting to ask a question, a student approaching, looking for guidance. Angelita is at the center of it all. You’ll recognize her by her attitude, always one of “How can I help? What more can I do?” You’ll also recognize her by her ears. They are the ones turned up full-volume to listen.

Angelita, her very name means messenger, angel. She lives up to her name.  She’s a down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of person who has shrugged off her wings and hangs with students succeeding and students struggling.

She advocates tirelessly for what works for kids. Because she understands the CIS mission, she empowers students to take full advantage of the community supports and resources CIS offers at Kalamazoo Central High School.

Too often, in this noisy world, messages aren’t always received, but when Angelita speaks, kids and grownups alike listen to what she has to say.

At a parent advisory meeting, Angelita stood up and talked about the Communities In Schools’ approach and how she couldn’t imagine a Kalamazoo Central without CIS. A parent at that meeting was so inspired that, after that, she called Kalamazoo Central’s CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “I thought I knew about CIS,” said the parent. “But, Ms. Aguilar, she really knows and connected the dots for us. She explained all the supports you bring into the school. Now I want to be part of CIS. What can I do to help?”

Deborah says, “Angelita’s office is always available to assist students I’m working with. I’ll walk into her office with a student that has given up—and when we leave, these students have an academic plan and a sense of hope. I can’t imagine Kalamazoo Public Schools or Communities In Schools without her.”

We can’t either.

Angelita Aguilar, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life. 

 

Angelita Aguilar (center) with Namita Sharma and State Farm.
Kalamazoo Central High School Dean of Students Angelita Aguilar (center) with CIS Board Member Namita Sharma and State Farm Insurance Agent Ryan Smeader.

 

 

2016 Champs Celebration

“I liked learning what businesses, teachers, your volunteers and partners are doing with you in the schools.” This was one of many comments guests made after attending Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) ninth annual Champs event at Cityscape. This year’s event was presented by PNC and Stryker. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing more about each of the eight award winners (noted below).

Another guest said, “I love how you bookend your program with kids; couldn’t think of a better way to start than with Kids in Tune—those little kids were adorable—and end with a graduating Senior talking about her experience with CIS.”

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Kid in Tune graduates who are now in middle school accompanied the younger singers.  They are living out one of the five CIS basics: an opportunity to give back.
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Performing “Yes You Can”

 

“Those little kids” the guest referred to are first and second graders who hail from Woods Lake Elementary School and are part of the Kids in Tune Fundamentals Program. Kids in Tune is a partnership among The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (a 2013 Champ), Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Communities In Schools. Conducted by Dr. Eric Barth, Kalamazoo Kids In Tune Curriculum Director, the students performed “Yes You Can” by Donnie McClurkin. The students were accompanied by Christine Mason, a Youth Development Worker for the past two years with CIS.

Closing out the evening was Doreisha Reed, graduating this year from Kalamazoo Central High School. She graciously shared her speech with us so we can share it with you in a future post.

Doreisha Reed, Kalamazoo Central High School, Class of 2016
Doreisha Reed, Kalamazoo Central High School, Class of 2016

Guests also had an opportunity to watch “Who We Are,” a music video created, produced, and performed by Milwood Magnet Middle School students in their CIS after school program, which is funded by the Michigan Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants. The students worked closely with 2012 Champ and partner, BANGTOWN Productions & Recordings.  The students received national recognition for this creation: their music video was chosen as the Video Spotlight winner of the Communities In Schools National Leadership Town Hall this year. You can watch it here.

In the weeks to come we’ll introduce you to the award winners who were in between these two marvelous “bookends,” people like Rosemary Gardiner, CEO of Family & Children Services. The CIS Board honored her with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.

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Dr. Tim Light, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board with Rosemary Gardiner, CEO of Family & Children Services.

Tune into CW7 this Friday, May 27th at 4pm, to watch Rosemary and Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, on The Lori Moore Show. Then come back here on Tuesday and learn more about Rosemary Gardiner.

Congratulations to all of this year’s Champs:

Oshtemo Area Churches (OAC), CIS Faith-based Partner

Honoré Salon, CIS Business Partner

Big Brothers Big Sisters A Community of Caring, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Angelita Aguilar, Dean of Students, Kalamazoo Central High School

WMU Medallion Scholars, CIS Higher Learning Partner

Patrick Early, CIS Volunteer

Team Trailblazers, KPS Teachers, Maple Street Magnet Middle School

We also want to give a shout out to our CIS Site Teams, the CIS Site Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work through Communities In Schools to help children throughout Kalamazoo Public School stay in school and achieve in life.