Finding His Voice

LennyThis article about Lenny was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation Beginning with the End in Mind. You can read the full issue here.

Lenny Williams has always been soft spoken. “He’s wasn’t disruptive,” Gulnar Husain explains. “In fact, he was quite the opposite. Quiet and introverted, he had a habit of shutting down and being off-task. He didn’t listen or follow directions. His academics suffered because he just wasn’t applying himself. He is a very sweet boy but he just wasn’t living up to his potential.”

So when Lenny’s then kindergarten teacher, Michelle Hiller, referred him to CIS, one of the first things Gulnar Husain did was connect him with a tutor.

Lenny believes tutoring as well as a number of other supports have helped him move in a positive direction during his time at Arcadia Elementary School. “Ms. Gulnar gives me things that have helped me be better in school, things I need, like foodpacks, coats, shoes, boots, and gloves.” It’s these basic supports, along with tutoring, that have allowed Lenny to be ready to learn every day from the dedicated teachers he’s had throughout his elementary years.

Ask Lenny who his favorite teacher is and he can’t pick just one. He’ll tick them off one by one, from kindergarten to fifth grade, but try and nail him down to one or two and he can’t do it. “Arcadia just has really good teachers,” he explains.

Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.
Cindy, America Reads Tutor, with Gulnar Husain and Lenny.

A loving family and great teachers, along with community support funneled through CIS is helping Lenny realize his potential. “He’s really blossomed and he has confidence now,” says Cindy Kesterke, Lenny’s former America Reads tutor. “It’s great to see and I’m excited for his future.”

“You think I’m persistent?” Gulnar laughs. “Lenny is one of the most persistent people I know. That’s because he’s anxious to learn. Always polite with his requests, this persistence extends beyond himself. He’ll even stop by the CIS office and advocate for his younger brothers to also receive CIS support. Because of the tremendous support he’s received from the school and the community, Lenny came to the decision that he needed to turn things around. Once he decided he wanted to do better, things naturally began to fall into place.”

Lenny describes it this way: “I just thought I should get better grades, so I started behaving myself. I used to always get referrals for not listening. I decided for myself to work hard and get good grades.”

Lenny’s looking forward to attending middle school and building on what he learned at Arcadia. “I’m going to do good and them I’m going to college,” he says.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

 

Poetry Fuels Young Minds

We can’t let April slip by without a nod to poetry. Whether a student is reading and writing poetry in April or December, poetry enhances literacy, builds community, aids in creative problem solving, and fosters social-emotional resilience. Students who have disengaged from learning because of problems outside of the classroom can often be re-engaged through poetry.

On the heels of the hugely successful Kalamazoo Poetry Festival, it’s clear poetry is alive and well throughout the city (and beyond). Here now are six reasons we know poetry is fueling the minds of some of our 12,000+ students, who are tapping into this ancient art form to learn about themselves and the world around them.

1. CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nicholas Baxter believes in the power of poetry. He shares his talent and passion for poetry within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, running a poetry workshop at Arcadia Elementary School. Every Thursday, budding poets spend their lunchtime reading, writing, and learning about poetry. Here is Nicholas with (left to right) Roziya Rustamova, Aceanna Williams, Nabaa Eyddan, and Reem Ahmed.

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2.  If you didn’t get the chance to read Tristan Pierce’s poem, “Time Waits 4 No Man!” then head over to CIS Connections and read it now because, as this Parkwood student reminds us, time waits for no one.

3.  As a CIS volunteer, I recently had the pleasure of stepping into Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts and offering a poetry lesson to Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third graders. I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Parlato as a literacy warrior. 

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Like all great teachers, she sets clear boundaries for her students while maintaining a sense of fun and fueling their desire to learn. Every one of her students actively participated in the poetry workshop and wrote at least one poem. Woods Lake’s CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill, impressed with the students’ creativity, said, “Poetry really brings home how important and enriching vocabulary can be.”                                                                   

4.  This past March, 30 Kalamazoo Public School students read their original poems at Chenery Auditorium as part of the inaugural Spoken Word Middle School Poetry event. Superintendent Michael Rice noted that, by sharing their poems that evening, students offered the audience “a sense of who they are and how they are going to have an impact on their world.” You can read more about the event and watch the performances by going here.

5.  Friends of Poetry, an almost 40-year old organization which promotes the reading and writing of poetry throughout the greater Kalamazoo area, is gobbling up poems students throughout the area sent for consideration in their annual “Poems That Ate Our Ears” contest. While winners haven’t been announced yet, we can’t help but think of what Hillside Middle School Principal McKissack said upon reflecting on Hillside’s strong showing at the second annual MLK “Courage to Create” Celebration.

Principal McKissack out at WMU with Hillside students and staff

A number of his students made it to the semi-finalist round, read their work at Western Michigan University and took a number of top prizes in the poetry competition. He was proud, “not of the winning part, but I was overjoyed by the hard work they put into getting there—the reading, studying, the questions they asked. They didn’t give up.”

Young people, through poetry, are putting their voice out into the world. That’s a brave, beautiful, and winning act in itself.

6.  Consider this group poem, written by Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third grade students:

Recipe for Success

First, take twenty dabs of sleep and let gently rest.

Then take food and water and pour it into a cup.

Add a lifetime of teachers for a heaping harvest

of education so that we can use the Promise

to get the career we love.

After a good long day, roll up in a blanket.

Dream of what we’ve accomplished.