Making Sure Kids Finish Strong

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

The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).
The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).

CIS Senior Site Coordinator Montrell Baker and CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie sat down with us to reflect on the work they do at Loy Norrix High School to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

What obstacles most threaten a student’s path to graduating on-time or at all?

Montrell: A lack of support systems. If they don’t have support at home, haven’t identified an adult that can guide them, it’s hard to be successful. They need support, an outlet. That’s what we are for those kids, and not just for school work. They also come to us about their home and life situations. We guide them in their decision-making process. We are there for them.

O’Neal: I’d agree. Students need a support system that allows them to be a student. This makes me think of a student we wanted to connect to after school supports but every time we pursued it, she refused. “I just can’t,” she said. Eventually, she told us, “I have to get home after school and open the door for my little brother and sister. I have to make sure they do their homework and cook them dinner.” Coming from a single-parent household, the student has significant responsibilities as her mom works long hours and doesn’t get home until evening.

So you’ve identified resources to support this young lady and yet, she’s busy being a support system for her younger siblings. How do you go about helping a student in this type of situation?

O’Neal: We come up with another game plan. We work around the student’s reality and put other supports in place. I’d also say that another barrier to graduation is normal stuff, like peer pressure. Students from both Norrix and Central spoke quite eloquently about this to our CIS board back in June.

Montrell: Yes, and sometimes it’s the lack of basic needs, like pencils and backpacks. Students will come down to CIS and say, “My teacher sent me here because I don’t have a notebook.”

O’Neal: Or clothing. Some kids will tell you, “I need a shirt.” But other students—you know they have a need—but we can’t always come right out and say, “Hey, I know you need clean clothes.”

So how do you handle those situations?

Montrell: I usually start with conversation. [O’Neal nods.] Let them know all we have to offer. Towards the end of our conversation, I’ll say something like, “So then, you got everything you need?” It opens the door for them and often the student will say, “You got clothes, right? Can I get a sweatshirt, because I’m cold coming to school in the morning?” After that, they feel more open to coming for assistance.

O’Neal: It’s all about developing those relationships.

O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).

In your experience, how do CIS and the school work together to help students get and stay on track to graduation?

O’Neal: CIS connects the services, and in some cases the actual materials, that allow students to focus on being a student and learn from their teachers. My job description is to remove the barriers to graduation.

Montrell: That is a lot of it. Touching on what we just discussed—about the basics—teachers should not be expected to, nor do they have the budgets to, provide everything students need. They don’t have an abundance of notebooks and other class supplies lying around. With CIS in the school, when they see a student with a need, whatever it is, they can say, “Go to CIS.” Teachers are great at referring. Who better to know that a student is struggling in reading or doing poorly in class because they can’t see? Teachers know when students need glasses and that we have a vision fund. They reach out to us all the time for a wide range of needs. I tell them to send the student to me. Then, I explain the process to the student and get them glasses, a tutor, or help meet whatever needs he or she has.

O’Neal: Administration also plays an important role. Our Principal, Mr. Rodney Prewitt, is well aware of CIS and that we can connect students to what they need, whether it’s dental support, glasses, clothes, tutors, you name it. Assistant Principal Kelly Hinga provides great support as well. She is knowledgeable about CIS, a terrific advocate, and supports us so we can be successful for kids.

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.

Dearest Ms. Dodge

What better way to start the New Year than to reflect on that special person, that, even after all these years, you still carry within your heart? If you follow our blog, you know that Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo 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 share a touching letter written by Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator and one member of the passionate and dedicated team at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Carly Denny began her career as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS last school year, using her creative talents to support the college going culture within Northeastern Elementary School and Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In her new role as a Site Coordinator, she says this: “We have amazing partners and volunteers—most of the volunteers come from the surrounding Oshtemo churches. They are pro-active and often reach out to CIS and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ The Prairie Ridge community, the teachers, and staff all support each other in every decision they make. It’s very obvious they care about each and every student here.”

Here’s Carly’s letter.

Dearest Ms. Dodge,

Even though it has been a long time since I have seen you, I still think about you often. As my very first teacher, you are the one that I have compared all future educators to. I was only two and a half when I  enrolled into preschool, much younger than my fellow classmates, yet you made me feel safe in an undiscovered environment and just as capable as the other students. Throughout my preschool experience you cultivated my curiosity and challenged me to be my best little self. Most importantly, you gave me my first taste of learning, which is something I continue to crave, even as I journey my way through grad school. I am not sure I will ever be able to properly thank you for being such an inspirational teacher and special person in my life. You helped shape the person I have become and for that I am forever grateful.

Love,

Carly Denny

Future CIS Site Coordinator Carla Denny with her inspirational teacher Ms. Dodge
Future CIS Site Coordinator Carla Denny with her inspirational teacher Ms. Dodge

 

Carly on her first day of preschool.
Carly on her first day of preschool.

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

To My Dear CIS Family

Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015
Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015

To My Dear CIS Family,

One of the highlights at our recent Champs event: the closing remarks offered by Antasia Fareed. On behalf of students served by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), Antasia thanked everyone for their support. “Whether you know it or not,” she told the audience, “you are part of my CIS family.” She spoke from her heart, moving the crowd to tears and receiving a standing ovation. A number of you who were present requested we print her speech here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Antasia spoke without a written script but she agreed to try and capture the essence of what she shared with the audience.  Indeed, we all felt embraced by this daughter of CIS and hope you will too when you read what she has to say.

Dear CIS Family,

Hi. My name is Antasia Fareed. I am a Loy Norrix High School student. I am an 11thgrader, soon to be a senior. I have been working with CIS for about 11 years. What would I do without them?

When I needed clothes, they provided them. When I needed food, they gave that to me as well. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to have a second family. Like family, they provide for me. They give me a smile when I’m not confident in myself. I have been in this program since second grade and look what came out—a beautiful, confident woman.Antasia-at-podium-241x300

I never thought I could get this far but CIShas pushed me. When my grades slipped, they helped me bring them back up. That’s the main reason why I’m standing here before you with a 3.2 GPA. I never believed I could do it, but I did.

CIS means a lot to me. CIS grows children and I’m proof. To me, the “C” in CIS means carry, the “I” is improvement, and the “S” is society. As students, we want to carry ourselves with dignity. We should be prepared to help improve things when they are messed up, and I believe we will become equals as a society.

CIS has made me powerful and helped me become a leader. That’s why I will be an ambassador for Kalamazoo as I have been awarded a scholarship that will allow me to travel to our sister city in Japan for ten days this summer. That’s a great leadership opportunity. Mrs. Elnora, my CIS Site Coordinator, pushed me to get my stuff in as she believed that I could get the scholarship. And I did. I may have only known her for just one year, but it feels like forever. We always see eye to eye. I’m her helper and she’s mine. I always tell her to stop and breathe.

I’m just so glad that CIS was there for me and will continue to be there for me.

Thank you.

Antasia

Elnora-Antasia-JCO-300x200

Pop Quiz: Dominique Edwards

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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.

Singing Loudly And Proudly Of Unsung Heroes

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Kalamazoo at 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA. Also pictured, Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back).

Question: What does Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and California have in common with Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Answer: They have CIS Site Coordinators and public schools who have just received the prestigious Unsung Heroes Awards.

The Unsung Heroes Awards annually honor CIS site coordinators, and schools and communities that partner with Communities In Schools to change the picture of education in America. CIS site coordinators work in more than 2,200 K-12 public schools serving 1.3 million young people and their families every year. Together, site coordinators, schools and communities keep kids in school, and this award recognizes those that are doing whatever it takes to eliminate barriers and never giving up, on anyone.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

Last year, you may recall, Kalamazoo was one of four communities in the country given a “Community of Excellence” award by National CIS. This year, Kalamazoo won in two areas!

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

“I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award,” said Serio. “I love being a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I am able to connect students with over 40 fabulous volunteers and community partners they need to succeed because of the support I receive from my Principal, Mr. William Hawkins and the Spring Valley teachers, staff, parents, and CIS staff. Here at Spring Valley, we are all a team.”Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

Arcadia Elementary School, committed to the CIS model for more than 13 years, was one of four sites honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network. The award highlights successful implementation of the proven site coordinator model in a partner school.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

“Arcadia Elementary School is a shining example of what can happen when we work together for kids. This award is shared by all of us—The Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, our volunteers, partners, and donors—all dedicated to meeting students’ needs,” said Pam Kingery executive director, CIS of Kalamazoo. “Along with the talented KPS teachers, staff, and administrators, we will continue working with the community to serve the students at Arcadia as well as students in the nineteen additional KPS schools that CIS is in.”  You can watch the Arcadia video by clicking here.

In addition, Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall and also made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel. Keep reading Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and you’ll learn what she is up to. (We had a chance to pop our “pop quiz” on her as she waited in the New Orleans airport for her flight home.)

Count Thanks, Not Sheep

Kids SunsetWhen you find yourself having trouble falling asleep: count thanks. I tried it the other night and it worked. I drifted off somewhere around 124. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that I awakened the next morning feeling exceptionally refreshed and hopeful. In fact, researchers have found a connection between gratitude and a whole bunch of good stuff, like better health, improved relationships, and dealing with adversity. It helps to recognize that goodness is not just in us but all around us.

Two tips to keep in mind should you try this. One. When counting thanks, don’t critique your thoughts. There is no right or wrong, good or bad counting. When ordinary things like cinnamon flavored toothpicks, small brown stones, and dental floss come to mind, don’t shrink from their common-ness; just embrace it. Two. When you hit the 70 mark, don’t give up. This is when things will start to surprise you. People long forgotten may rise to the surface, like the crossing guard you haven’t seen since you were ten, but with a hello, a smile, and a stop sign, saw you safely across the intersection at Inkster and Westnedge.

Here, in no particular order, are just twelve of the things that I counted in my list of thanks:

1. For this moment.

2. For the Kalamazoo Public Schools that open their doors to all of our children. For the teachers, secretaries, janitors, principals, para-pros, administrators and bus drivers who tend our most precious resources: children.

3. Discovering “Starfish.” A poem by Eleanor Lerman, “Starfish” begins:

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to

the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a

stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have

your eggs, your coffee….

This poem not only spoke to my cruddy knees, it swept me away with the common voice of gratitude. You can read the whole thing here.

4. For that fourth grader who told me she was most thankful for having shelter.

5. For my cruddy knees that help me move through this world.

6. For the children among us who had no Thanksgiving meal.

7. For the big hearted among us, like TJ Duckett and his New World Flood and all the folks at Hands Up Project, who made lovely meals and memories possible for hundreds of children and their families this Thanksgiving.

8. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with sheer joy.

9. For the mother who accepted the donated meal with downcast eyes.

10. For students like Chris Boes whose steadfast pursuit of education brings to mind the quote, “Adversity does not build character. It reveals it.”

11. For partners like Western Michigan University who surround and celebrate students and make us proud to be a part of this community.

12. For efforts to reclaim this season and infuse it with true giving. #GivingTuesday(which is today!) does just that by generating conversations about ways to give more, give smarter, and put personal philanthropy back into the giving season.

Speaking of #GivingTuesday, Kalamazoo Fifth Third Bank branches celebrated by giving a generous donation of Thanksgiving food baskets, winter coats, clothing, and personal care items for our CIS Site Coordinators to distribute from Kids’ Closet.

Are you giving back in ways that matter to you? Have you taken a moment to support the Promise Me Campaign? Encouraged others to do so? What are you thankful for? Start counting