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.

Pop Quiz: O’Neal Ollie  

O'Neal Ollie
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

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 O’Neal Ollie who is the CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School. CIS Success Coaches allow Communities In Schools to have a larger footprint in larger schools. CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows CIS to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. For students who need a moderate degree of support, having that one-on-one coaching support from O’Neal Ollie can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal then headed to school in Riverside, California and later returned to Kalamazoo, graduating in Sports Management from Western Michigan University. Today, O’Neal and his wife Terri are proud KPS parents of son Bass, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School who is also enrolled in college, and daughter, Symphony, who graduated from Kalamazoo Central, was honored by the YWCA in 2014 as a Young Women of Achievement, and is now in her third year at Michigan State University. O’Neal notes that “it’s my wife Terri who keeps all of us on track.”

Alright, Coach Ollie: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

O'Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni
O’Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Oh, my goodness. I learn so much stuff. For a person that thinks he knows everything, well, that is a tough one. Okay, I learned about dual enrollment. That is the process of enrolling a student in college while they are still completing high school with eligibility to play high school sports. My son is a senior at Kalamazoo Central and plays three sports.

Favorite word?

At this time of the year, it is football because my son is in his senior year.

What are you currently reading?

Sports Illustrated, because of the Olympics, which were so good with swimming, gymnastics, and track.

You graduated from Kalamazoo Central. Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Vern Davis and Clarence Gardener. Also, Coach Don Jackson. He taught PE, probably one of my biggest mentors in school. Mr. Davis was a math teacher and Mr. Gardner was general business & accounting. Both coached as well.

My counselor was Nelson Stevenson and he was my main man. He enrolled me in Upward Bound. That was my introduction to college. We stayed on Western’s campus-in Bigelow Hall-for eight weeks. I learned the social aspects of college and thought, this is going to be great! I have life-long friends that I made from attending Outward Bound.

Mr. Davis made you feel so good about yourself. He made it easy to learn. It probably helped that he was a former NFL player. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles and was All-American. I had his class fourth hour. “Don’t ever make me come look for you,” he’d say.

Coach Gardiner’s business and accounting was the most useful class I’ve ever taken. I still write my checks the way he taught me in school. When I went to college, I majored in accounting until I changed to sports management.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve always been interested in school and sports administration. But, regardless of all I’m doing work-wise, I can’t forget I’m a dad. I learn a lot from my son and daughter.

Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O'Neal
Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O’Neal

Like what?

Things I never expected to learn, like, what it means to go prom dress shopping. That is a whole process and it’s a family event.

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

My mom, my second mom, and my third mom. I have eight older siblings and my oldest sister, Ida Buchanan, was a secretary in my building when I was in high school. I would much rather my mother than my sister Ida get a hold of me. She did not play. Still doesn’t. She still works, going between Hillside and Linden Grove Middle School.

My mom, I always appreciated how hard she worked and the way she had a way of breaking things down to make us understand things. One of my favorite quotes she said was when I came home crying one day. “You’re crying because folks are talking about you?” she said. “You start crying when folks stop talking about you.”

Thank you, Coach Ollie!

We continue to talk about O’Neal Ollie in our soon to be released newsletter, CIS Connections. O’Neal and his CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker, share their insights about helping students get on track to graduation. And if you missed Montrell’s interview with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, you can read it here.