Signing On For Life

Today we celebrate the work of Rosalie Novara who was honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Stephen Denenfeld along with Stacy Salters, CIS Site Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy, presented the award.

Kawyie Cooper (left) and Rosalie Novara (Right)
Kawyie Cooper (left) and Rosalie Novara (Right)

Rosalie Novara began her extensive volunteer commitment by signing on to become a mentor with the KAAAP initiative—the Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program—when it was still part of the Chamber of Commerce. When Rosalie signs on, Rosalie signs on!  Not only did she embrace her role as a KAAAP mentor for the girl to whom she was assigned, she also became a key support person for the sister. Rosalie took seriously the importance of staying with her mentee from the beginning of the relationship at 4th grade throughout high school to graduation and entry to college.

When we say that there is a role for everyone in the community in improving the lives of our children and helping the whole community thrive, Rosalie sings our song. She began her volunteer stint while she was still a busy CEO of a large non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. She could have easily been given a “pass” on volunteering. She now has six grandchildren in Chicago and Denver, another reason to be given a “pass” on a regular volunteer stint. Rosalie’s KAAAP mentee and sister are now adults and have their own children. Rosalie even served as a labor and delivery coach for one.  She has more than fulfilled her KAAAP obligation—and qualified to retire.

20140506-DSC_7635Fortunately for CIS, Rosalie is definitely not in retirement mode. Like Star Trek, the Next Generation, Rosalie has begun her commitment to another generation of children by tutoring in a kindergarten classroom at King Westwood Elementary School and serving as a mentor/tutor for two students. According to CIS Site Coordinator, Laura Keiser, Rosalie advocates for them relentlessly, implementing behavior and academic interventions. Rosalie connects easily to a variety of students, finding out what motivates them and what they are passionate about.

Whether it’s tutoring, mentoring, attending student conferences, stopping by to touch base with the CIS Site Coordinator, Rosalie understands and embraces the critical role that volunteers play in students’ lives and in the quality of life of an entire community.  In addition to volunteering with Communities In Schools, Rosalie serves a key role in the Great Start Early Childhood Action Network.

Rosalie Novara, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

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Every Site Coordinator Needs A Site Coordinator

Today, we highlight the work of Jay Gross.  Jay was honored this past May at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jim Ritsema, along with Derek Miller, CIS Site Coordinator at Northglade Montessori Magnet School, presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7627We’ll let you in on a saying we have at CIS. Every Site Coordinator needs a Site Coordinator. And Emily Demorest, CIS Site Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, has hers in this next Champ.

“We wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we have out at Maple Street if it wasn’t for Jay Gross,” she says. “Last year, when I was a new Site Coordinator, he took me under his wing. He oriented me to the building, took time he didn’t have to help me learn who was who, who did what, and suggested the best avenues for getting things done.”

As the Home School Community Liaison for Kalamazoo Public Schools at Maple Street, Jay embodies the spirit of collaboration, showing what we can accomplish when we work together. So when Communities In Schools proposed doing a College Night last year as a way to promote a College Going Culture at the middle school—it was Jay who was one of the first to step up, supporting not just with words, but actions. “If Jay had not been in the picture,” points out Emily, “this event would not have been the success it was, nor would we have considered doing it again this year. Both times, Jay helped handle communications, advertising and promotion of the event internally and externally.” It took CIS and KPS, working in concert, to host the sixteen representatives from higher learning institutions.

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From Left: Jim Ritsema, Derek Miller, Jay Gross

Jay’s low key and calm-under-pressure approach can be counted on when it comes to our kids. When a student reached out to the Site Coordinator and she realized immediate care was required and that, for safety reasons, it would take more than one adult, Emily did not hesitate to turn to Jay. He jumped into action, providing the transportation necessary, allowing the CIS Site Coordinator to focus her attention fully on the student.

Jay can be counted on, whether it is as an ambassador for CIS, successfully implementing a college night, or joining with us in a student’s moment of need.

Jay Gross, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

One Fabulous CIS Cheerleader

Today, we highlight the work of KPS Principal Carol Steiner.  She was recently honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. Retired Judge and CIS Board President, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

 

Carol SteinerCIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema describes this Champ’s presence as “positively contagious.” Carol Steiner’s enthusiasm, zest for life, and positive leadership set the tone at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School for students, parents, and staff alike. As the school’s principal, Carol embraces EVERY opportunity to reinforce a college going culture. Whether in the hallway, on the playground, or before a large school assembly, she will remind the children and their parents that because they are in theKalamazoo Public Schools, each child has the, now what is it? She’ll cup her ear and smile as the crowd shouts out: THE KALAMAZOO PROMISE!

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being at Parkwood during the morning announcements, you will hear this Principal reminding everyone to “Choose to make it a good day!” Carol is one of those rare creatures who heeds her own advice. For the past 29 years, Carol has chosen to make every day a good day as she serves well the children in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the last ten of those as principal and chief cheerleader at Parkwood Upjohn. In a school of 530 students, she knows practically everybody’s name. Rain or shine, she is out greeting the children, welcoming them or sending them home safely.

Carol “gets” CIS. She is the cheerleader for integrated student services. Because she knows what her kids need, she takes full advantage of the community resources CIS leverages for the school. When parents reach out to Carol for support and she sees that their need for their child can be addressed through CIS—such as therapy, tutoring, basic needs—she links that parent to the CIS Site Coordinator. Principals are busy people. Yet, she makes a point of welcoming volunteers and partners so that they feel a part of the school family.

Because of the high standards she sets, the model she upholds, Carol Steiner inspires us all not only to do the work needed for our kids, but to do it better. Call her unconventional, a free spirit, these are parts of Carol we love and cherish. You may be retiring, Carol, but you have taught us well. Like you, we choose to make it a good day for all our kids.

Carol Steiner, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Carol Steiner

Barbara Witzak: A Blue Ribbon Woman

Over the next few months we will be introducing you to our nine award winners honored at our recent annual Champ Celebration. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. Hopefully, you got a chance to read last week’s post which featured Kawyie’s speech. Today, we officially kick this series off with the winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Retired Judge and CIS Board President, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7737The late President Emeritus of Western Michigan University demanded excellence of himself and inspired and cajoled others to achieve excellence. Whether reflecting on his experiences as a 6th grade teacher, getting donations of winter clothing for Western Michigan University students from the Middle East or questioning what Communities In Schools was doing to support boys, Diether Haenicke was always in pursuit of ways in which the lives of young people could be improved so that they could demonstrate their own excellence.  That trait of straightforward sense of determination is shared by this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Barbara Witzak.

A native of Kalamazoo, Barbara has served the children who attend the Kalamazoo Public Schools for more than four decades.  Among the many attributes for which she is known, is a work ethic reflected in regular fourteen-hour days that often begin in her office at 5:00 a.m. and end well after dark. She has sustained an intense level of commitment to her profession, to the school district, to her educator team and to the children in KPS, whether as Principal of Oakwood Elementary and Washington Writers’ Academy over a 14-year period or in her subsequent administrative positions including the most recent, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning.  Among her most noteworthy accomplishments was the selection of Washington Writers’ Academy as a “Blue Ribbon School.”

Ms. Witzak consistently reflects the behavior of a servant-leader, always willing to jump in with her sleeves rolled up to enhance support for others or to fill in for someone attending to other needs.  According to her nominators, Superintendent Michael Rice and School Board Trustees, “In her leadership roles, Barbara has been integrally involved in every major instructional reform of the last several years in the district.” The nomination goes on to indicate,  “As Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Services, Barbara has been instrumental in helping to establish and build community partnerships in support of an urban literacy community and a growing college culture.”

Please join me in saluting the 2014 outstanding winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Barbara Witzak.

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Kawyie’s Speech

The following is the acceptance speech read by Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ Recipient, at the 2014 7th annual Champ Celebration, help at Cityscape. 

20140506-DSC_7716Hi, my name is Kawyie Cooper.  I am in the 5th grade at King-Westwood Elementary.  I am so proud to be honored tonight as the first elementary school Champ!

In my school planner, I wrote down this quote that my mom told me:  “Birds soar with other birds because you can’t fly without wings!”  I like this quote because it reminds me that my friends and I need to work hard in school in order to achieve our goals.

School can be a big challenge for me, but I have made huge improvements this year with the help of my parents, my teachers, and all the support I get from Communities In Schools.

My parents have high expectations of me.  My mom inspires me with positive talks about staying on track with my grades and behavior. She makes sure I have food, clothes, and a safe place to live.  My mom has a rule that we do homework first and no TV on school nights. My dad sets a good example for me by going to work every day at the Old Peninsula.  I know if he’s doing his job, I should be doing my job by doing my best in school.

I am also lucky to have awesome teachers.  Ms. Killen is special because if I make a mistake, she always gives me the chance to turn my behavior around.  She understands how hard I am working this year and helps me keep a positive attitude.  Ms. Cruz-Davis is a big help when I don’t understand my math.  She reminds me not to worry and is patient when she helps me work through the problems that frustrate me.

I am also really thankful for my tutor and mentor, Miss Rosalie.  We have lunch and recess together once a week and she helps me to understand my school work.  We also learned how to give each other feedback – both positive and negative! When she compliments me on things she notices, I feel proud.

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Each day I look forward to being a mentor to my 2nd grade friend, Nevaeh!   At the end of the day, I help Nevaeh get ready to go home.  Together, we gather her things and walk to the bus.  Working with Nevaeh has taught me to appreciate how hard my teachers, parents, and tutor work to help me!  It calms me down at the end of the day to know that I am helping Nevaeh end her day on a positive note.

[CIS Site Coordinator] Miss Laura and {VISTA] Miss Maggie have helped me improve my school year, too!  When I have problems with my friends I come talk to Miss Laura and she helps me learn to solve problems through positive communication.  Miss Maggie is the leader of our Fuel Up Play 60 group.  She helped me learn that kids have the power to come up with our own ideas and make them happen in our school!

Also, this is my first year participating in Girls On The Run.   It’s really exciting to practice for the 5k and learn how to motivate ourselves to keep going if we get tired during the race!

Today, I am so proud of myself and how hard I’ve worked to earn this Champs award and I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me soar in school!  Thank you so much.

Champs Among Us

(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell
(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell

Upon leaving our seventh annual Champ Celebration, held last week at Cityscape, one of our almost 200 guests said, “Everybody in town should experience Champs!”

We agree. Our CIS board and staff had a great time hosting the event and we want to share with everyone what these nine individuals and organizations are doing to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

So, in the weeks and months to come we’ll introduce you to each of them. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools
Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools

And, because we’ve had numerous requests to publish the speech given by our youngest Champ ever—fifth grader Kawyie Cooper—we’ll post her speech next Tuesday. According to Kathy Jennings, editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave, Kawyie “stole the show with her words of what being named a Champ meant to her.” You can read the entire article here. And, if we can convince some of our other Champs to guest blog for us, we’ll publish their reflections here as well.

Today, though, we’ll leave you with a list of our award winners. And then, take a moment to click on the “Dear Kalamazoo” video below that first aired during the event. This video was created because throughout the 19 KPS schools that CIS is currently in, we have a number of grateful students (not to mention parents and teachers) who wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks and give shouts out to their own Champs.

Special thanks to all of our CIS Site Coordinators and CIS Site Team members (Assistant Site Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns) who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work with Communities In Schools and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Our 2014 Champs:

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Terri Aman, KPS Executive Supervisor for Transportation

RSVP through Senior Services Southwest Michigan, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Jay Gross, KPS Home School Community Liaison, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

Consumers Credit Union, CIS Nonprofit Business Partner

Rosalie Novara, CIS Volunteer Tutor, King-Westwood Elementary School

Radiant Church, CIS Emerging Faith-Based Partner

Kawyie Cooper, CIS Student, King-Westwood Elementary School

Carol Steiner, KPS Principal, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

And this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award:

Barbara Witzak, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools

So, please, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board
Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board