Capitalizing on Your Investment

CIS Seniors at Board Meeting

This article was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections. Read the full issue here.

Five graduating seniors, Quinntonia, Zion, Arrion, LaStarra, and Dorian participated in a panel discussion at the CIS Board Meeting in June. All five Kalamazoo Public School students are headed to college. Here are a few insights and hard-earned wisdom they shared.

“What am I most proud of? Accepting help. I like to be independent, and I couldn’t be because of my situation. I’m proud I could accept help from CIS.”

“I liked being able to run down to [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Yarbrough. She always let me know where I was and what I needed to do to stay on track. Working with CIS and all my teachers, I was able to turn myself around.”

“Without CIS, school would have been way, way harder. All the support you receive makes you feel good and want to graduate and be something in life.”

“I’m looking forward to college and putting to use what [CIS Site Coordinator] Mr. Baker and [CIS Success Coach] Mr. Ollie taught me—and making my own success plan.”

What would be your advice to help students succeed in school and use the Kalamazoo Promise?

“Find a support system and keep believing in yourself.”

Seniors at CIS Board Meeting“Talk more about possible futures and careers. By having a better understanding of what the future could look like, it helps students set their goals.”

What barriers did you encounter to attending school and performing academically?

“I’m a last-minute kind of person… and I’d forget to turn stuff in. CIS helped get me organized.”

“I talked too much and got distracted. I was terrible my first year. Mr. Ollie helped me get it together.”

Students shared how the decision to focus in on school impacted friendships.

“I lost friends. But you only need a few good friends, even just one friend who strives for the same success.”

“When you get serious about school, you can end up bringing your friends along. They start thinking, ‘Maybe I should start getting serious, too’ and you can get on track together and get your diploma.”

“I lost friends too, but I gained new friends and we helped each other in class. Also, losing a friendship doesn’t mean you can’t gain it back.”

How can CIS be better?

“Help more students who are struggling.” –Resounding response from all panel members.

KPS seniors and CIS staff after the CIS Board panel discussion.
KPS seniors and CIS staff after the CIS Board panel discussion.


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.

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.


CIS Connections: Graduation

Graduation: Beginning with the End in Mind

“1.2 million students drop out of school every year. These students will cost taxpayers roughly $292,000 each, as they’re more likely to need community assistance.” -Communities In Schools 2016 National Impact Report

Keeping students in school and on track for graduation is serious business. Researchers Katherine Larson and Russell Rumberger have found that for students who are struggling and at risk of dropping out “interventions must be intensive, comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained. Anything less is naïve and will sow only marginal results.”

With your support, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo surrounds students in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools with whatever it takes so they can start strong and keep moving forward. In Kalamazoo Public Schools, things are moving in the right direction. The four-year district-wide graduation rate for 2015 was 71%. It was 69% in 2014 and 65% in 2013. For the four years ending in 2015, the dropout rate was 12.7%, the lowest rate since 2008. We still have work to do and with your continued support, CIS will overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life.

So as we embark on a new school year, let’s take to heart the words of Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and “begin with the end in mind.”

Read more in our latest issue of CIS Connections here. If you are not signed up to receive our newsletter, you can do so on our contact page.

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


Photo of Students at Arcadia
Twelve 5th graders celebrate their Arcadia Elementary School graduation in CIS-style. They wore CIS sashes and caps, and received certificates for their successful involvement in CIS. They also received a CIS bag with school supplies to use during the summer as well as the book, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Middle School by David Borgenicht, Ben Winters, and Robin Epstein. The book has some great tips for helping with the transition to middle school, such as how to survive the first day as well as navigating homework overload and handling bullies and cliques.

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.


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. 


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.

CIS Connections: Why Boys?

These days, the road to becoming a man is fraught with peril. Throughout our nation:

  • Boys are suspended at roughly twice the rate of girls.
  • Two-thirds of the D’s and F’s given out in school go to boys.
  • Boys are one-third more likely to drop out before finishing high school.
  • African-American males are particularly vulnerable; one in five receives out-of-school suspension compared with one in ten white males.

These are just a handful of the somber statistics when it comes to boys and education. So, why a newsletter devoted to boys? It’s a good reminder to keep our eyes and hearts open to boys so that we can close the achievement gaps that exist. At CIS, we believe that when we take time to reflect on boys we all benefit.

For example, when reviewing the CIS After School Program data from 2012-13 and 2013-14, we noticed a trend that female participants outnumbered their male counterparts. To meet the needs of boys, we must connect with them. By setting goals of enrolling more boys to reflect the overall population of the school and offering services directed at their interests, we have made significant progress in engaging young male students. In the 2014-15 school year, a majority of the CIS After School Programs have met their goals in increasing male students. There is still more work to be done, but CIS will continue to look at ways to make a difference for boys including engaging our community to join with us.

Thank you for showing you care for all kids by supporting CIS with your time, talent, and resources.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?


2015-11-25 23.44.27
“A chance to give back to peers and community” is one of Communities In Schools’ Five Basics. That is what these young men from Loy Norrix High School did. Together, they helped to distribute over 300 Thanksgiving meals to community family members as part of the Community Feast at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School. This event is held in partnership with New World Flood. Pictured from left to right: CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie, Loy Norrix students: DeAndre Buchanan, Xavier Gillon and Quay Evans & CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker.

The Promises You Keep: CIS Connections

20150815-DSC_6724On Saturday, August 15th in beautiful downtown Bronson Park, this community celebrated the ten year anniversary of The Kalamazoo Promise®. At our CIS station we heard a mantra of thanks offered throughout the day:

“I wouldn’t be in college right now if it wasn’t for The Promise.”

“I still can’t believe we have this awesome gift in our community.”

“How can I help support The Promise through CIS? Can I volunteer? What can my business/organization do?”

But, it was what happened before the event, even before the park filled with people, that underscored the beauty of this tremendous gift.
While attempting to put up the tent, we were approached by a stooped, old man in dingy clothes. After explaining the event, the man replied: “I’m just a street person,” as if to apologize for his presence. “I don’t have kids in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Am I even allowed to come to this event?”

“You are a part of this community,” we told him. “That means that you are also a part of The Promise. Help us celebrate!” His face lit up. He seemed to stand a little straighter. Before he left, he gave us the one gift he had—he generously blessed us.

There were a variety of community volunteers working together and our tent would not have been set up without their help. The recent words of Von Washington Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations for The Kalamazoo Promise® came to mind. He said, “The celebration in the park is designed for everyone in the community to come out, have some fun and revel in being a part of a city that enjoys this wonderful asset.”

No city, like no person, is perfect. We need each other to lift the tents that separate us from each other. The Promise is a wonderful reminder that we too, must be generous and give, however and whenever we can. We are responsible for each other and for making sure all of our kids can take advantage of the profound gift of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

So many of you work together with us to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them the hope and belief that they can succeed in school, graduate, and be prepared for life.

We thank you!

If you are reading this newsletter, you are a part of The Promise. Want to play a bigger role in helping Kalamazoo Public School students stay in school, graduate and be prepared to take advantage of the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise®? Volunteer, donate, or, partner with CIS today! Help us keep our promise.

Download the full version here:

Fall 2015

Nourish: CIS Connections 14-15 Vol III

IMG_3700-editShow me a nourished student and I will show you a student who, because of a healthy appetite for learning, lives each day to their fullest potential. Students, just like any of us, must have their basic needs met (ie. food, shelter, sense of emotional and physical safety) before they are motivated to a higher level of need. Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. An emotionally or physically hungry student, worried about where they will sleep, if or where they will get their next meal, can’t fully be present in the classroom. Survival, not learning, is utmost on their mind. As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes that CIS Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers, can get Friday food packs into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children.

CIS staff find that physical hunger is all too real for many of our children. Just as real is emotional hunger, which can, research has shown, leave students feeling depressed, confused, and physically sick more often and longer than emotionally fulfilled students. There is no better emotional food for students than the belief that adults in their school care about their learning and about them as individuals. This emotional satisfaction helps them academically engage and feel an increased sense of connectedness to their school. This is a good thing because connected students are more likely to have higher attendance rates and stay in school longer, increasing the likelihood of academic, occupational, and life success (Battin-Pearson et al., 2000).

Because CIS focuses on the whole child, our partners and volunteers are feeding our children in many ways. By both their caring presence and resources offered, they dish up hope, often offering students a taste of opportunities they might not otherwise have. Some (including CIS Kids’ Closet donors) are making sure staple ingredients, like underwear, shoes, food, glasses, coats and more are on the menu.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who, in their roles as teacher, educator, parent, partner, volunteer, or donor, make it possible for our children to arrive each day to school more focused and hungry to learn.

Read more:

CIS Connections: 14-15 II