April Rocco: Striking The Right Balance in Teaching & Life

School is back and so is 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 April Rocco, sixth and seventh grade teacher at Milwood Magnet Middle School. She teaches strategic reading and also serves as Milwood’s Athletic Director and the WEB (Where Everybody Belongs) Coordinator. WEB, building on the belief that students can help students succeed, trains members of the 8th grade class as WEB Leaders. These student leaders serve as positive role models and mentors, supporting the younger students during their transition to middle school.

At Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we feel fortunate to work closely with talented and compassionate Kalamazoo Public School teachers like Mrs. Rocco. Also featured in the CIS Annual Report, Mrs. Rocco shares some of the benefits she sees by having CIS in her school.

Alright, Mrs. Rocco: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

How much money is made from low income rentals, just the sheer profits that are made, and the socio-economic impact of these low income rentals and evictions—how it creates a cycle of inequality.

Favorite word?

Excellent.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It’s the community read, the 2018 Reading Together title.

What do you love about Kalamazoo?

Kalamazoo is big enough for having really good restaurants. Its size allows for many opportunities and things to do, but Kalamazoo is small enough that you know your neighbors and you can know what’s going on.

What is one of your favorite things about being a teacher?

Getting to know a new group of kids every year and then being able to watch them grow and learn as they move from middle school to high school.

What is the hardest thing about being a teacher?

Being able to balance meeting students’ academic needs and balancing these needs with their emotional and social needs.

You have a wonderful sense of humor and can be quite funny. What role, if any, does humor play in your classroom?

Good advice I was once told: sarcasm is not a teaching strategy. It’s simply not. And I really try and tame down that part of me in the classroom. You might find that surprising, but I do. That said, it’s important to strike a balance. I want to model to kids, that we have learning to do but that we can laugh at things along the way. But it’s important to do it in a way that allows us to still focus in on learning.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

Lots of people. Athletics has played a big role for me, so I would say all of my coaches played that role. I went to Concord High School near Jackson, Michigan and played basketball and ran track.

Thank you, Mrs. Rocco. And a big thank you to all you teachers out there who show up every day for our 12,000+ kids.

Dropping In

“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.”

Student holding a lunchtime pass.

Missy also credits CIS volunteers like Dr. Jim Zhu, professor of mathematics at Western Michigan University with successfully implementing the Homework/Tutor Drop-In Lab. [We popped a quiz on Dr. Zhu so stay tuned to Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to see how he did. Hint: He totally passed.]

Dr. Zhu talking math.

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.”]

Lynette reviewing school work that student shares with her.

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.”

Shannon with a student.

Travis Guerrero, a CIS intern through WMU’s School of Social Work, is walking around and checking in with kids to see how they are doing.

“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.”

Missy (right) and Travis checking in with students.

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!

From left: Michael Harrison, Lynette Carnes, and Shannon Jones.

“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.