Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring

Today we highlight Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Their award was sponsored by BASIC and CIS board member James Ritsema presented the award.

BASIC & BBBS
From BBBS, accepting their Champ Award, right to left): Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, Carmen James, Match Support Specialist, and Ann Woolley, President-elect. They are joined (right to left) by Fritz Teutsch, President of BASIC, Mike Stoddard, Executive Vice President/Principal of BASIC and James Ritsema, Kalamazoo City Manager and CIS board member.

Strategic partnerships strengthen Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s ability to meet the needs of the over 9,000 young people we serve. To have the biggest impact on learning, CIS aligns with those who offer evidence-based approaches. Over a decade ago, when CIS Site Coordinators positioned within the Kalamazoo Public Schools began identifying students in need of mentoring, the choice was clear. CIS turned to Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring.

Partnership, like a healthy marriage, demands commitment and energy. It’s an adventure that can take you further than going it alone. Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters says, “CIS is critical to us. We have a powerful partnership and are able to provide services directly to the kids that need them. CIS is the link that makes sure we are able to reach the kids who are in the greatest need of our services.”

Those services, whether it’s school-based mentoring, Bigs on Campus, or Bigs in Business, require a planned, coordinated effort to magnify outcomes for students. Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites says, “Big Brothers Big Sisters staff are always available to work with us on barriers and challenges that naturally arise when implementing and expanding any program. We work together,” she says, “to improve processes to ensure students are being served at fullest capacity. Right now, we’re discussing how we can expand Bigs in Business to more schools next year.”

Local businesses, brought under the Bigs in Business umbrella, help reach more students than ever before. Big Brothers Big Sisters works in concert with CIS so that, twice a month, Kalamazoo Central High School students can take a van to Stryker, Loy Norrix High School students head to Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Stryker, while middle school students from Maple Street go to National Flavors. Students make connections beyond themselves, working one on one and in small groups with the employees-mentors. It widens their world. As CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough puts it, “It’s highly motivating for students; we’re seeing them take more initiative and responsibility—whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.” CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider agrees. At the start of the school year, she consulted with Deborah on a student who was failing school and at-risk of dropping out. “We connected him to Big Brothers Big Sisters and that,” says Jenna, “was his turning point. Today, he’s not just passing all of his classes, he’s getting A’s and B’s!”

CIS site teams throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools engage in similar conversations for students. For those needing one of the CIS basics: a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult or a marketable skill to use upon graduation, they know they can count on Big Brothers Big Sisters to deliver.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Representing Big Brothers Big Sisters at Champs (left to right) Cindy Schrauben, Communications Manager, Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, and Ann Woolley, President-elect.
Representing Big Brothers Big Sisters at Champs (left to right) Cindy Schrauben, Communications Manager, Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, and Ann Woolley, President-elect.

We are an open book

Today begins National Reading Month. In anticipation of all the fabulous literacy activities kicking off throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) staff once again prepare by asking each other: What are you reading?

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick.

-Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Site Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

 

I am reading the Mindful Manifesto by Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell and I love it!

-Missy Best, Site Coach & Mentor 

 

I am currently reading From Babylon to Timbuktu- A History of Ancient Black Races Including The Black Hebrews, written by Rudolph R. Windsor.

-Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator, Loy Norrix High School

 

I just finished Memory For Forgetfulness, by Mahmoud Darwish, which is a poetic account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut. I’m now reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and How The Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev.

-Kaitlin Martin, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I just finished Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, which is a case study and research summarization of how people are dating now that technology is involved. I laughed out loud on every page. Everyone on my flight on Tuesday morning thought I was crazy. Now I am going to start reading Sick In The Head by Judd Apatow.

-Elyse Brey, Director of Elementary Sites

 

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel.

-Keely Novotny, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading the first volume of a collection of graphic novels by Jaime Hernandez entitled Love and Rockets. Very fun!

-Katherine Williams, CIS After School Coordinator, Hillside Middle School

 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

-Stephen Brewer, AmeriCorps VISTA, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading…Tales of a Female Nomad  Living at Large in the World by Rita Gelman and We Need New Names by No Violet Bulawayo. Here’s to Good Reads….

-Lauren Longwell, AmeriCorps VISTA Lead

 

I am reading In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt. It’s about Gail’s volunteer experience at my uncles orphanage in Cambodia.

-Terra Mosqueda, AmeriCorps VISTA, Loy Norrix High School & Hillside Middle School

 

I just finished M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A. Through narratively linked poems, A. Van Jordan tells the story of MacNolia Cox. She won the 1936 Akron, Ohio Spelling Bee and then became the first African American to reach the final rounds in the national competition. It’s beautifully written and reads like a play. Now onto reading Nora Webster by Colm Tóibin.

-Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I am currently reading The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Stacy Schiff. It is a psychologically thrilling nonfiction account that is rather dense with facts and light on sensationalism. In other words, readers really have to commit, but the payoff has been well worth it.

-Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

The book I currently started dissecting again is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness written by Michelle Alexander; a former director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California and past director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. The New Jim Crow is about the US prison system, its rise to have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and how, when systems are created, the social views those systems are predicated on can play a huge role in the systems operation.

Sure to polarize people to one side or another of an already controversial topic, this book is great at inspiring critical reflection on one of Modern America’s major topics!

-Nathaniel Wolfe Easlick, CIS After School Program Coordinator, Milwood Elementary

 

I’m currently reading and listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. This book details Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, which in many ways, forms the foundation of mindfulness practices in the United States. I’m also reading The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Siegel, which offers specific strategies for helping kids to integrate the various parts of their brain to help them manage socially and emotionally.

-Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives

 

I am currently reading: The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. A wonderful science fiction classic that deals with computer programming, nano-technology, and the limits of artificial intelligence.

Re-reading: Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey. A fantastic strength’s based model and, in my opinion, a great read for both those with ADHD and those who work with or love those with ADHD.

Also, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is my book club read this month. A fun read so far, it also has poignant themes about the treatment of people living in elder care communities.

-Ellie Galas, CIS Site Coordinator, Linden Grove Middle School

 

I just finished The Wright Brothers and am currently reading two books: Connection Culture by Michael Lee Stallard and Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline, the author of Orphan Train (the community read this year).

-Mary Oudsema, Special Projects

 

I’m currently reading The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 3 by Charlie Adlard and Robert Kirkman. It’s a collection of the graphic novels that the television show is based on. If you like the show, you’ll love the graphic novels – they’re amazing!

-Donielle Hetrick, CIS After School Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

I have been reading a lot of articles lately on trauma-centered approaches to working with youth as well as other research papers on program design. But, I am about to crack into two books, Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males and Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women both by Freeman A. Hrambowski, III, Kenneth L. Maton and Geoffrey L. Greif.  Mr. Hrambowski was a keynote speaker at the National Summer Learning Associations training in October in Baltimore.

My book club, The Lovely Ladies of Literature, is voting in a little over a week on our next read.

-Artrella Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites

 

I am currently reading The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield.

-Tamiko Garrett, Site Coordinator, Milwood Magnet School

 

 

Caring Adult: A Letter to Mrs. Benton

If you follow our blog, you know that CIS has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to. Today, we publish a letter written by CIS Director of Secondary Sites, Artrella Cohn. A proud graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Artrella’s poignant letter reminds us that school staff and teachers touch our lives and inspire us, stay with us even after we’ve left their classrooms and school buildings behind.

My Dear Mrs. Benton,

I want to start this letter by saying, “Thank you.” You have carved out a special place in my heart forever. I am almost certain that you have no clue the impact that you have had on my life and the endless stream of HOPE that you poured into me as an impressionable youth. You truly have no clue!

Your spirit and your smile alone has helped me through some difficult times (the image of your smile lives within my heart). Even as an adult who has carved a place in the hearts and lives of the youth of this generation, your care and concern for me remains in my thoughts.

Thank you so much!

Trella

Loy Norrix High School, Class of ‘99

Pictured below: Artrella with Mrs. Benton…back in the day when she was attending Loy Norrix. And below that, with her caring adult years all these years later! Mrs. Susan Benton is still supporting students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools as a Guidance Counselor at Loy Norrix High School.

Artrella with Mrs. Benton...back in the day!

IMG_8217

Who is your Mrs. Benton? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me, Jennifer Clark, at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Women Making Kalamazoo Better For All

20150512-DSC_5253
Pam (right) receiving her YWCA Women of Achievement Award from Carrie Pickett Erway, President and CEO of The Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Kalamazoo is bursting with strong, wonderful women.

Just last week, the 2015 award celebration for the YWCA Women of Achievement was held at the Radisson. Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo  was one of four women to receive the Women of Achievement Award.Kalamazoo Community Foundation sponsored her award and, as President and CEO, Carrie Picket Erway shared with the packed audience: In December 1999 Pam took on the challenge of developing a new organization from scratch, known as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Pam’s recipe to success was in using a national model to overcome the barriers that disrupted kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Under her leadership and vision, the organization has steadily grown to over 140 employees, serving 20 schools, reaching 1,300 students, coordinating 175,000 hours of service, and over 9,700 students receiving service through community partnerships coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Several of you have asked that we run the speech that Pam gave  that evening. We think you’ll find it straightforward and sincere, just like Pam. But, before we share it, just a few words about some of the other award winners with connections to CIS….

The YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement Award was given to Carolyn Alford. A former CIS board member, who, among many other volunteer and professional accomplishments, also served 16 years on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Trustees. She  reminded the packed audience that we can make an impact on our community “when we work together as one on behalf of others.” She definitely lives these words.

CIS and our kids have also benefited from the wisdom and expertise of former CIS board member and YWCA Woman of Achievement Sherry Thomas-Cloud. Currently, Sherry is the executive director of the Douglass Community Association.

(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn
(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn

The YWCA Young Women of Achievement Award was bestowed upon 19 young women from area high schools and organizations that show exemplary leadership through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, serving as role models, and academic achievements. Special kudos to our own Tiara Blair!

We are so proud of her and how she and all the Women of Achievement serve as role models for the next generation. In fact, later this week, Thursday, May 21st, our future women–over 2,000 3rd-5th grade girls–will pound through the streets as part of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run 5K. You go, girls!

Here now, is Pam’s speech:

I love this community!  I came here with my husband for his graduate school program, intending to stay one-two years. Now, 41 years later, I feel very blessed to be in this special place.  I have had the good fortune to have two careers here—one in mental health and one with Communities In Schools.  And in both, I have been extremely lucky to work with smart, talented colleagues who care about their work as much as I do—several have honored me with attending this evening.  A special thanks to Jennifer, Emily and Trella for nominating me for this award.  I want to thank my family—my husband, Don, my daughter Logan and my sons, Noah and JB; not only have they been very supportive of me, they embrace my work with Communities In Schools with their own time, talent and treasure. They conspired to surprise me with the special visit by Noah from Washington DC to attend this event. My very special friend, Tyreese and his mom, Renee, also enrich me every day by sharing their lives.  Thank you, Tyreese!

I so appreciate this award and the YWCA’s history of supporting and lifting up the women of Kalamazoo. To be a part of that group of women is inspiring to me.  To theKalamazoo Community Foundation for sponsoring my award, please accept my genuine gratitude. I really believe in “For good and forever”—it isn’t just a tag line—and so it is especially meaningful to have your support. Thank you.

Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.
Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.

I want every child in this community to benefit from its resources as much as I have, and as much as my children did—for the good of us all, forever for Kalamazoo and beyond.  And so my deep and profound appreciation includes in particular the Board members of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and our generous donors.  Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and taking this journey of faith and determination that together we will surround our kids with love and a community that continues to say “we believe in your ability to succeed.”

Finally, I believe my mother’s spirit is here with me.  She is the person who instilled in me a love of education, in spite of having to give up her own. Thanks, Mom—I am forever your grateful daughter.

That’s Me When I Used To Be A Grown Up

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.
Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

“That’s me when I used to be a grown up,” explained Donna Carroll’s grandson, 3 1/2 year old Malcolm, when he saw a picture of Malcolm X on the cover of a book his mom, Ursula, was reading.

How powerful when a child sees himself reflected in another, when we see ourselves in each other.

For many of our young people feeling like they’re part of a larger whole comes from a sense that they’re connected at the larger community level. But how can young people make this connection?

Volunteering is a great way to challenge ourselves and put ourselves on a path of meeting new people. For young people, it’s a chance to gain valuable experience, learn about themselves, interact with people they might not otherwise meet, and explore career interests.

Did you know that teens who volunteer are less likely to become pregnant or to use drugs, and are more likely to have positive academic, psychological, and occupational well-being?  According to Child Trends, other positive outcomes include development of greater respect for others, leadership skills, and an understanding of citizenship that can carry over into adulthood.

An opportunity for students to give back to peers and their communities is one of the five CIS basics.  Our young people are giving back every day. Here’s just one recent example.

Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.
Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.

In partnership with  the Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise® and New World Flood,  Communities In Schools hosted February’s First Saturday at the downtown Kalamazoo Public Library. Free and open to the public, the event welcomes families with their young children to enjoy stories, activities, guests, and door prizes. CIS partnered with the library last year to host one of their First Saturdays and it was a great experience for all involved. But Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites (and lead for CIS  for organizing First Saturday events) felt something was missing: our older students. “This event,” she said, “is a perfect opportunity for students in our secondary schools to give back.” So, this year, the missing piece to the puzzle was complete. With support from CIS staff, AmeriCorps VISTAs,  wonderful KPL librarians, and New World Flood’s Todd “TJ” Duckett, thirteen middle and high school students volunteered. They ran five different literacy stations throughout the library: Read to Me, Scavenger Hunt, Spelling Bee, His & Her Story Station (writing their own stories), and Fantasy Station (which involved picking an item out of a basket to help build upon a collective story).

Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.
Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.

“Seeing the middle and high school students in action truly warmed my heart,” said Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites and organizer of the First Saturday’s event. “The presence of the WMU Students added to the whole ‘reach back and give back’ message that I envisioned for this event. There were middle school students who were signing in, and with smiles on their faces asked, “There are 11th and 12th graders here to volunteer too?” I could visibly see our high school students—who are already mature young ladies—really jump into their role when they realized that there were older high school students and college students involved. Wearing WMU gear, Carmelita Foster and her team of college volunteers stood out in a real way for those of our students looking to successfully complete high school and obtain that Kalamazoo Promise®.”

“This event ran like a well-oiled machine because the youth volunteers knew where they fit. These young people took ownership of their stations,carried out fun learning activities and served as positive role models for the little ones.”

Todd Duckett, of New World Flood
Todd Duckett, of New World Flood

Colleen Marie Deswal, mother of one of those little ones wrote, “My son Teddy participated in his first story time! He volunteered and stated that the dog wiped his nose with the kleenex since that was his prop in the circle. I was shocked he understood what was going on and added to the story since he is only 2 1/2. Was an amazing moment in time. Glad you all are doing these types of events for the community. One reason I moved back to Kalamazoo is the wonderful community involvement.”

We may be stepping out of Black History Month into March, but many of our young people will continue to give back and make good choices, like choosing to give up their Saturday to volunteer. In giving back, they make history, and our future.

“I see myself in the future of these young people,” reflects Artrella. “It’s a beautiful cycle.”

Do you recognize yourself in our youth? If you do, despite what your mother told you, it’s okay* to point your finger. Point proudly at our young people and say, Yea, that’s me…when I used to be a grown up.

 

*sometimes

Pop Quiz: Dominique Edwards

2015-01-23 11.03.39 %282%29
Dominique Edwards (right) with Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites

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 Dominique Edwards, a 2014 graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School. A CIS alumni and former board member of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Dominique is currently attending Southwestern Michigan College and took time out of her busy schedule to participate in the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall in New Orleans. She made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel.

We popped this quiz on Dominique while she was in the New Orleans airport waiting for Delta 1603 to arrive and take her back to Kalamazoo. Alright, Dominique: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I’ve learned that you can have fun as long as you are responsible. You must be responsible for yourself.

What are you currently reading?

My favorite book of all time is Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m reading a lot of psychology and sociology books right now. English too.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A CIS Site Coordinator. I think I finally found my niche. I love what a site coordinator does. They are the extended family that is with you throughout your school day and they care enough to know and help you after the school day has ended.

What is your favorite word right now?

Barbados. I love the letter b. It’s so smooth and there are two b’s in Barbados. Barbados. It’s just fun to say.

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

My mom. My parent got divorced when I was six. My dad is a fantastic guy and is there when I need him. But I grew up in a single parent home and so my mom was the dominant force in my life and made sure I was taken care of. She went off to be a truck driver for a while but she made sure my brother and I were taken care of.

Another caring adult is Ms. Trella.  A lot of the doors that opened for me wouldn’t have been opened if it weren’t for her. Doors like the Leadership Conference—Ms. Trella put my name in for that—and to be part of the CIS campaign launch party to talk about my experiences. So many things, like, one-on-one tutoring, performing poetry in a talent showcase, a five session career workshop, being part of the Principal’s Bookclub with Mr. Washington. We read the Hunger Games series and we also went to King-Westwood and read to kindergarteners. Being a Literacy Buddy and a mentee with the PRO team.

That is a wide range of activities.

It was a domino effect. Once I got involved with CIS, one opportunity after another presented itself. I would have gone to college but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it that much and I would have dropped out after one semester. All those experiences CIS provided helped me in growing up. And now I get to go to a community college that has dorms and that is awesome.

Any advice you have for students?  

Hone your studying skills in high school so you can carry those with you into college. I also have to say that even though I didn’t feel like I was a leader, I was. So, don’t fight your leadership quality. Go for it. And don’t be afraid to put yourself outside of the box.

That’s exactly what you did this whole week. You were on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel and spoke from the heart before over three hundred people. That is stepping outside of the box and really putting yourself out there.

Yes. Socially, I tend to be shy. Just attending this conference was outside the box for me. I wonder what if they don’t want to talk to me. But I pushed myself. Hi, my name is Dominique, I’d say. And I shook their hand and it went from there. It all turned out great.

AmeriCorps Vista Summer Associates: Memory Makers

teamsecCIS Think Summer! ran for six weeks this summer and served over 150 first through ninth graders and also included the Kids in Tune participants. Fifteen AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates were hired and supported the students throughout their summer academic/enrichment program.  Many of these AmeriCorps VISTA Associates—or “coaches” as the kids called them—hailed from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and one of the key ingredients to a successful summer experience for the students. Thank you AmeriCorps VISTAs for your support of our students!

Some of the AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates took a few moments to reflect on CIS Think Summer! and they are our guest bloggers today.

Between the elementary  and secondary staff, there was a wide variety of coaches working for CIS Think Summer! Each day brought new challenges and everyone worked hard to make sure that all of the students were safe, learning, and having fun. All of us gained wonderful memories of our time in the program, and we want to share a few words about our experiences at CIS Think Summer!

My favorite memory was watching the students explore the zoo. I loved seeing the students’ faces light up at the bird exhibit and how excited they were to point out all the colorful birds. The moment when they fed the lettuce to the giraffes was memorable, too!

-Kelsey-Ann Wessel, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Working with these kids this summer has been an amazing experience. Being able to combine an academic with an enriching environment brings fun to learning. Being able to share my own expertise with kids has also been rewarding.

-Sarah Woods, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

I had an amazing summer working with Communities In Schools. I got to meet some truly special kids and help guide them towards success. It was rewarding to work with kids who have so much potential. It’s good to be able to make a difference.

-Kira Boneff, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Elementary school-aged children do not often get the opportunity to make choices about their activities, especially in school, but the clubs at CIS Think Summer! gave them exactly this opportunity. Every afternoon, the students spilt up into their choice of clubs, which rotated every two weeks. This approach allowed students of different grades to mingle and make friends, as they were split up into 1st-2nd grade and 3rd-5th grade groups.

The clubs were split into five different topics: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Arts and Crafts, Health and Wellness, Life Skills, and Leadership. Each coach got to switch which club they were leading every two weeks as well, which allowed us, as coaches, to meet and work with many students outside of our grade levels.

I was lucky enough to meet a lot of the younger kids through clubs, an opportunity that I might not have otherwise had as a 4th grade coach. Some of the offerings included Hands-On Science, Cooking Club, Debate Club, and Let’s Move Sports Club.

In addition to allowing the kids to have a say in their schedule, the clubs provided an opportunity to help them grow through non-classroom experiences. The kids learned about chemistry and plants in Hands-On Science, about healthy eating in Cooking Club, and about public speaking skills in Debate Club. Providing all of these experiences helped us work toward one of our main summer goals: giving students educational and fun opportunities to help grow up on the track to success.

-Kira Boneff and Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates

 

One great thing about CIS Think Summer! is that every Thursday is a celebration/field trip day. One of the most memorable and favorite field trips among the elementary students was going to Binder Park Zoo. Each coach was paired with around five kids, and was free to venture wherever they wanted. Coach Sadina from the 4th grade Achieve Team had a great time with her group.

All the children in her group wanted to go to Wild Africa first so that they could see the giraffes. To get there, they all  rode in the Safari Tram. Along with giraffes, the children saw ostriches, monkeys, zebras, and a variety of birds. Toward the end of the safari the kids went on an artifact scavenger hunt where they earned their ultimate safari training.

After Wild Africa they decided to go and visit other animals such as the bears, hogs, chipmunks, wolves, flamingos, and peacocks. One student took the liberty of marking down every animal the group saw on the map so that they could try to see them all!

Another fun part of this field trip wasthat all the elementary students got to ride the train to Battle Creek. It was very exciting to see everyone in a great mood riding together as a group. It was a great day for CIS Think Summer!

-Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Honestly, if you were not a part of CIS Think Summer! you missed out on a lot of fun. I think the number one reason why it was awesome to be a part of it was because of the people involved.

Kalamazoo is a very diverse place to live. We love this because it is really hard to be “sheltered.” It makes for more dynamic ideas and creates a more comfortable atmosphere. That was easily Coach Bryce Burnette’s favorite part of being an Americorps VISTA.

He admits he is a little biased, but believes that secondary had the most fun this summer. The staff were very close and that had a huge impact on the program. It made the experience more enjoyable for the students especially because it was clear that everyone was having a good time.

Lastly, the students were fantastic. The future of KPS is very bright and CIS is doing a lot to make it an even better and more enjoyable experience.

-Bryce Burnett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

Sailing the Sea Of Success

20140506-DSC_7608Today’s guest blogger is CIS graduate and former CIS board member, Ricki Harris. Ricki graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2012, and later that year she graduated from Naval Station Great Lakes. Her former mentor, Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites, was there to celebrate with her. (Artrella shared her memories of meeting Ricki when she was just nine years old and how their lives have intersected over the years. If you haven’t read that beautiful post, you can find it here. Ricki’s “Story of Progress” was also featured in the 2010-11 Annual Report. )

Ricki, whose official title is DC3 (SW/AW) Harris, now serves as a Damage Controlman for the Navy. She has been nominated for the Blue Jacket Sailor of the Quarter and has received a Letter of Accommodation from her Commanding Officer.We are proud of Ricki and her accomplishments. We admire her perseverance, intelligence, warmth, modesty, and bravery. Not everyone can spread their wings and fly around the world. So when Ricki came back to visit us a few months back, we were so happy to see her and bombarded her with questions. Her decision to enter the Navy has given her a chance to see the world. We wondered. What were some of her favorite places? Why? How did visiting those places change (or not change) the way she sees “the place” of Kalamazoo? What exactly does she do as a Damage Controlman? What is it that sticks out for her as something that has (or is) influencing her growth as a young woman? What advice does she have for Kalamazoo Public School students? She was kind enough to write this post so we could share this with you…

DSCF8433Since graduating and leaving Kalamazoo, I’ve been to the Philippines, Jebel Ali Dubai, Jordan, Eliat Israel, Singapore twice, Bahrain, Hawaii, and Oman. My favorite places would have to be Israel, Singapore and Dubai. If you are on the fence about what you want to do, then the military may be a great choice. It doesn’t matter what branch you choose as all of them have different expertise and can offer good experiences. Whatever you do, think about the decision. Make sure it’s something you love or can grow to love.

In Israel, I got to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land and experience the different religions that were there—which was an eye-opener since I’m not too religious. Singapore was very clean and offered different religious sectors, such as “Little India” and “Chinatown.” In a sense, it was like having a little taste of India and China. The people were very friendly and spoke  English very well. Dubai is probably one of the richer countries the world has. They have one of the world’s biggest malls and their King even came on board our ship! With all the lights and night life, you would think the party never stops there. It’s a beautiful city and a nice place to vacation. Being overseas and visiting all of these places made Kalamazoo seem super small, though nothing takes away from how beautiful downtown Kalamazoo is with the older neighborhoods and big houses. Plus Kalamazoo College is so beautiful…

My role within the military is as a Damage Controlman. I’m responsible for the ship’s integrity. This means fighting fires, and combating casualties on the ship. We are the first responders to any casualty on board a ship. We teach people how to do our job and we also work with chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) warfare equipment just in case there was ever a CBR attack. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but I love it.

Being in the military has greatly influenced me. I have received training that would cost a fortune in the real world. It has given me endless possibilities that I would not have had otherwise, especially right out of high school.

My experience with the military has also shown me how to deal with people. The military is a melting pot. Befriending the people I meet has helped me learn and understand other cultures. Altogether, it is a learning experience. People may like you or just down right hate you. That will happen where ever you go in life. As long as you put your mind to it and do what’s right, you will succeed. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you will get recognized.

I would encourage any student who is in school to continue with school. Work hard and make the best of it. Thanks to the Promise, you have your education paid for. I came to KPS in fourth grade so I still received a large amount of the Kalamazoo Promise®. I would also encourage high school students to attend AP Courses. I took roughly about six, and I even tested out of Economics and Algebra.

You’ll be surprised what you can do if you put your mind to it. YOU have to want to do it, though.

DSCF8434