Duo Helps Students Succeed Every Day

This article was featured in our CIS Connections newsletter, The Double Issue. You can find the full publication here.

What happens when you bring a Knight and Giant together? You get the powerhouse team of CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett and CIS After School Coordinator Jenee McDaniel. These two graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools sat down with us to reflect on the work they do at Linden Grove Middle School to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

How do you two work together to provide cohesive, seamless support from daytime through after school to help students get and stay on track to graduation?

Tamiko: Jenee and I have open communication with each other. When we enroll students in CIS, we keep in mind whether the student would be best served with daytime or after school. It’s always about what is the best fit for the student and their family.

Jenee: We’re in constant communication, whether it’s on the phone, touching base in the morning, during the day, after school. We often re-evaluate situations and are always open to making adjustments to services or resources we have in place. To do this work well, you have to think out of the box. We do that. If we need to meet on a Sunday night to make something happen, so be it.

What qualities do you admire in each other that help you work so well together?

Tamiko: Jenee and I are opposite in so many ways and that makes us a good team. We play to each other’s strengths. Jenee is so genuine and I also admire her outspokenness. I observe, then choose my words.

What’s the easiest part about working together?

Jenee: We both have a good understanding of what needs to be done. There’s no competition between us. We can count on each other. I know that Tamiko’s not just checking off the boxes to get something done. She really cares and is knowledgeable about her job. I respect that.

What’s the most challenging aspect when it comes to collaborating?

Jenee: We’re here to do what we’re here to do. It helps that we collaborate on everything, from how we communicate, to our schedules, to how we’re going to best serve these students. We have a process that works well in this school.

Tamiko: So when we get our enrollment list—kids with a strategic needs in attendance, behavior, or academics who could possibly benefit from CIS support to become proficient in one or more of the areas—we sit down with our Principal, Craig McCane and Ms. Mahannah of the Student Services team. They know the kids and their input is invaluable. After we’ve worked out a game plan, Jenee and I lead mini “lunch & learns” with the students. We explain CIS, the various resources, and how that support looks in the day and after school. It’s not just an adult- or parent- driven process: “you’re going to do this!” but kids are involved from the beginning. Because they feel a sense of ownership from the start, they’re more invested and stick with the program. Linden Grove Middle School makes it easy to collaborate, from Principal McCane, to the teachers and staff, to the school secretaries, Heather Morrison and Linda Farrell, and the custodian, Michael Watson.

Jenee: The school has made us feel like we’re a part of their team, so it’s easy for us to be a team with each other and do our jobs. We both regularly check and monitor students’ progress and grades. Students do better when they know someone is going to supply their needs and hold them accountable. For students to graduate, a lot of pieces must come together. First off, basic needs must be met. It’s that whole Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Tamiko, in her role as Site Coordinator, provides a lot of that, tapping CIS Kids’ Closet. It’s the simplest things that can be a deal breaker and keep a student from graduating. It’s cold out and they don’t have a coat. They need a snack, a shirt, a feminine hygiene product. The students know they can come to CIS to get those things. They know that the community is providing this support, that somebody has their back and cares. They aren’t a number because they know ‘somebody is thinking about me.’

What has CIS at Linden Grove been doing to impact social emotional learning (SEL), one of six CIS program goals for the year?

Tamiko: Right now, we have Hospice doing an eight week grief and loss group. Hospice is an awesome partner. Usually, when you think of Hospice you think of someone dying, but there are many types of losses and Hospice helps our kids deal with them—separation of parents, divorce, witnessing the death of a loved one, or whatever form loss takes, period. Sometime, all our kids can think about is their loss. Cate, the therapist is helping them gain coping skills so they can focus on their academics.

Jenee: After school, we have a girls’ group, “I Am Beautiful” as well as “Young Men Overcoming Barriers.” We come up with a game plan, activities, and question starters for each of the groups. Say the activity is doing facials, then questions asked might be, What do people see in you? What do you see in yourself? Soon enough, someone asks if the group can talk about being two-faced and so friendships and other real issues like that get explored.

We help the kids do this in a safe forum. We’ve used movies and TV clips as well as correlating music with feelings. What’s your family’s song? If you had to write the sound track of your life, what would it be? The students connect with these approaches so it allows for conversations and reflections around a whole range of topics: non-traditional family situations, dating situations, who is your safe person to talk to, race, and cultural acceptance. Each day, we have a plan and an idea of what we want to accomplish and the kids roll it in a new direction and take it elsewhere. It’s real cool and that’s how it should be.

The Importance of After School Programs

This article was featured in our CIS Connections newsletter, The Double Issue. You can find the full publication here.

For the past 13 years, CIS of Kalamazoo has helped students succeed in school through 21st Century Community Learning Centers and currently serves 750 students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle school sites. CIS After School is available thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

The federal budget for 2017-18 (which begins October 1, 2017) proposed by the President completely eliminates funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. This would eliminate critical academic and social supports for our kids, families and community. 21st Century Community Learning Centers are a key part of helping students graduate from high school ready for college or a career and able to utilize the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise. Over the past 11 years, the graduation rate for KPS students has increased, in part because of the added learning readiness and learning support services afforded by the 21st Century CLC programs provided by CIS and its community partners.

Over the years, thousands of Kalamazoo Public Schools students have told this community how important it is to extend their learning day. Our children have written letters to public officials and stakeholders, visited City Hall and shared with their Mayor and City Commissioners the importance of extending the learning day through after school programs. They’ve made artwork, read essays, and held neighborhood marches to raise grown-ups’ awareness about the need for after school and summer learning opportunities.

The CIS Board has heard our children and is taking every action possible to advocate for continued funding of regular after school and summer programs through 21st Century Community Learning Centers. If you share this concern, you can speak up on behalf of the hundreds of students who benefit from approximately 440 extra hours of learning support per year. Our public officials (listed below) have an important job to consider these needs and the opinions of individuals who live in their communities. Help them understand what you think should happen.

CIS Connections: The Double Issue

This issue of CIS Connections filled with doubles as in twins, dynamic duos, day and after school support, school and community working together. Read the full issue here.

So, don’t worry if you’re seeing double, because you are seeing double. Your support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) extends our reach into 20 Kalamazoo Public School buildings, leverages the work of staff, volunteers, school and community partners, amplifying our efforts to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life.

No one organization can serve the needs of over 11,000 students. We work with you and the community to ignite hope in thousands of kids. Be on the look-out for nine of our over 70 CIS partners mentioned throughout the newsletter. Okay, so nine is more than double but we think this issue is so double-y delicious and informative, you’ll want to read it twice!

CIS Connections: The Double Issue
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: The Double Issue

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.

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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.

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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.

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?

 

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“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.