Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo welcomes the ninth president of Western Michigan University, Dr. Edward Montgomery, who began his tenure one week ago.
Western Michigan University partners with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life. Here are just a few ways WMU has worked with CIS and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to support our 12,000+ kids:
We look forward to our continued partnership with WMU and what the future will bring with Dr. Montgomery at the helm.
Dr. Montgomery earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and both master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Harvard University. He comes to WMU from Georgetown University where he served as professor of economics and dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy since 2010. No stranger to Kalamazoo, he has coauthored research with CIS Board Member Randall Eberts of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research—not to mention that his son is a recent WMU grad!
You can learn more about WMU’s new president, Dr. Edward Montgomery, by clicking on the links below:
Today’s blog post is brought to you by Darren Timmeney, Market Manager and Community President of Chase Bank in Southwest Michigan. Darren also serves on the board of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, recently addressed the skills gap in an article posted on LinkedIn. In it, he shares the importance of making sure that all students graduate from high school, prepared for what comes next, and the implications when too many of our students don’t. Here in Kalamazoo, we have tremendous opportunities for our high school graduates in college and career, yet, we still have students who are not in position to take advantage of those opportunities. However, through the work of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and its many partners and volunteers, as well as the investment that local donors, funders, and businesses are making in helping youth succeed, we are on the path to creating brighter futures for all students.
The path to a successful future begins at a young age. But economic opportunity is increasingly out of reach for millions of young people. In fact, 71% of today’s youth (ages 17–24) are ineligible for the military due to a lack of proper education (basic reading or writing skills) or health issues (often obesity or diabetes). Without the right skills or education, they find themselves stuck in low-skill, low-wage jobs or are unemployed.
It’s a moral and economic crisis that too many young people leave high school without clear pathways to a successful future. We must make it a national priority to help prepare young people to be both personally and professionally successful – especially those who are traditionally overlooked.
In many inner city schools, fewer than 60% of students graduate, and many of those who do graduate are not prepared for employment. We are creating generations of citizens who will never have a chance. Unfortunately, it’s self-perpetuating, and we all pay the price. The subpar academic outcomes of America’s minority and low-income children resulted in yearly GDP losses of trillions of dollars, according to McKinsey & Company.
Getting young people on a pathway to brighter futures in high school and beyond will help them achieve long-term economic success and ultimately positively impact the economic trajectory of the entire country.
JPMorgan Chase is investing over $350 million in skills development around the world. This includes New Skills for Youth, a $75 million, five-year effort to increase dramatically the number of young people who complete career pathways that begin in high school and end with postsecondary degrees or credentials aligned with good-paying, high-demand jobs. We are also investing in summer youth employment programs that provide young people with meaningful, skills-based summer work.
And today we announced the expansion of The Fellowship Initiative, which helps create economic opportunity for young men of color in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. Through the right combination of intensive academic, mentoring and leadership training, we are preparing them to take advantage of critical opportunities to get ahead. In fact, this year 117 students completed The Fellowship Initiative and 100 percent of them are graduating from high school. Combined, they have been accepted into over 200 colleges and universities across the country.
While not every business can make this kind of commitment, they can promote other efforts that create economic opportunity. This includes continued on-the-job training and education and create apprenticeships for future workers. They can also encourage partnerships with schools to ensure skills are aligned with employment needs. These investments are good for the long-term vitality of the communities we serve and create pathways to success for their employees and families.
JPMorgan Chase is creating bridges between businesses and communities to support an economy that creates opportunity for future generations. By encouraging business, government and nonprofits to work closely together, we can continue to produce position outcomes and drive entire communities forward.
You can read more about our approach to bridging the skills gap here.
Curt Johnson will soon start college. Having graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Curt reflected on his CIS experience at the 10th Annual Champ Celebration held this past April. Since then, a number of guests in attendance have asked us to publish it. Curt has graciously given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
While Curt gave the speech that follows, he did add additional comments at times. For instance, when he noticed Angelita Aguilar (a 2016 Champ—you can read about herhere) in the sea of almost 400 people, he called her out and thanked her for her support through the years.
PNC was the Student Showcase Sponsor and when Curt finished his speech, Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Curt with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar.
Here’s Curt’s speech:
I’m happy to be able to share my story with you and my experience with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. CIS has helped me a lot. I first became involved with the CIS when I was in sixth grade at Milwood Magnet Middle School. During conferences, one of my teachers recommended CIS to my mom and me. For that, I am grateful. Ever since then, CIS has been like a home base for me throughout my education.
One of the reasons I thought CIS was a good fit for me was because moving into a new school would be a way to make friends and meet new people and find out more about myself. I’d recently moved to a new neighborhood, having been adopted into a new family when I was going into fifth grade.
The CIS After School program kept me busy after school. Staying busy is important for kids and teenagers; without extra-curricular activities kids begin to look for things to do that aren’t good for them and could end up getting them into trouble. We always did fun activities. I especially enjoyed going to the gym and eating snacks. We also did homework while we ate our snacks.
I gained a lot of new experiences through CIS. For instance, as part of the after school program, we had an opportunity to sign up for various activities throughout the week, so I was always busy. I was introduced to different cultures, various forms of dance, music, and even food. I also found my passion for music through CIS. This was during seventh and eighth grade and it was thanks to CIS partner Bangtown Productions. We probably made around 20 songs throughout the two-year span. I still have the CD’s we made.
Over the years, CIS has helped me with school. That help is especially fresh in my mind this year, as I’m a senior preparing to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise. I’ve appreciated the tutoring opportunities and the really helpful tutors that CIS has provided. It’s been great having WMU students help me with chemistry. These college students are going to school for engineering so they explain things, and get me through it.
Throughout my high school years at Kalamazoo Central, my CIS Site Coordinator, Ms. Yarbrough has taken me under her wing. She checks up with me regularly, making sure I’m staying on top of my academics. She also helps resolve problems and situations. Those situations can range from serious issues to just needing a granola bar so I can focus and get through the day. I want to give my site coordinator a shout out for always keeping my best interest in mind. She makes it clear what I need to do, what I should do, and if anything is wrong—let the problem be known—so we can fix it.
I know that some kids have a hard time talking to adults, so having a CIS person like Ms. Yarbrough in their school—whose job is to be there and help you get through your school days so you can graduate—is important. As a high school student, the emotional support I’ve received from CIS helps me get through the school year. Kids deal with a lot of stress and people like Ms. Yarbrough and other CIS staff understand. This emotional support is important to so many kids—as you’ll often find many students lining up at the CIS door, waiting to talk with Ms. Yarbrough. Just like a lot of other kids, I don’t have to break down, because I have somebody I can talk to, somebody I can trust. Someone always make sure I say how I feel so it’s not affecting me during the school day.
As I reflect on my six years with CIS, I think what I’ll take away most from the experience is having gained friends, opportunities, met CIS staff and mentors and people I can turn to if I need help. Without the support and guidance from CIS, the chances of me walking the stage and receiving my diploma would have been very slim. I will be graduating this June and plan to attend Southwestern Michigan College. I’m interested in social work and theatre.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the years I’ve spent with Communities In Schools. I would also like to thank all the people I’ve met over these years of being involved with the program—the CIS staff, the partners, the volunteers—and to all the people who I haven’t met, who have given money, time, effort, and patience to helping all of us kids.
Thank you, Curt! We’re excited for all that the future holds for you. You know where to find us! Stay in touch!
Did you catch Curt Johnson along with Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School, on The Lori Moore Show? You can watch it here.
Have you read the new anthology, Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors? If not, you may want to add it to your summer reading list. Published by Celery City Books, the anthology includes the work of a number of Kalamazoo Public School students from Arcadia Elementary School. Poems by Reem Ahmed, Nour Abdullah, Hala Alhasan, Nada Alhasnawi, Faris Bukhader, Nabaa Eyddan, Lisbet Lopez, Taema Qwam-Alden, Roziya Rustamova, Abdullah Tayara, and Ritika Verma are woven throughout the anthology. These fourth and fifth graders are published alongside prominent poets and writers from Michigan and beyond.
If you want to read a book on immigration policy, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are a neighbor, have a neighbor, or are interested in exploring the theme of immigration and what kids have to say about it, this 116 page anthology is for you.
Here are nine things you may not know about this anthology project:
What readers are saying.
CIS friend and community advocate Deborah Droppers says, “I applaud the anthology of essays and poems found in Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors. The anthology uses the written word to encourage thoughtful discourse on the challenges that each of our communities face while celebrating the amazing things that happen organically when people believe in the power of conversation between neighbors that are close and beyond our picket fences.”
Retired KPS teacher Carol Hodges says this: “Opening this anthology in the middle, I find a child’s poetic love letter to the country of Iraq juxtaposed against the complex musings of an American man teaching English to Arabs in the Mideast. Then there is the story of a Nigerian woman named Rejoice who fears being deported. How different is her modern-day experience from the 1919 steerage voyage of the young British woman leaving shame and servitude behind?This volume is thin but it is far from an easy read. You’ll need time to ponder.”
The people behind the pages.
Were it not for the support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the children’s voices might not have been heard. A shout out to Arcadia Elementary School teachers Debora Gant, Holly Bishop, Erin Young, and Donna Judd for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students. Also, Donia Ali and Grace Gheen are two shining stars at Arcadia who are part of the fabulous Kalamazoo Public Schools Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. They were instrumental to the success of this project in so many ways.
It’s in the bag.
The anthology is now part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s impressive list of books available as a Book Club in a Bag. Karen Trout, Reading Together coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library says, “KPL’s 2016 social justice resolution includes the statement: KPL values compassion and champions everyone’s right to be welcome in a safe environment in the library and in the wider community. Adding this title to our Book Club in a Bag collection–and encouraging local dialogue about the issue of immigration–is a perfect way to put this institutional commitment into action.” Book Club in a Bag is open to all Kalamazoo Public Library district resident cardholders.
At a reading at the stunning sculpture gardens of Roan and Black in Saugatuck, award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl talked about the project and helped the voices of the children reach an even wider audience. Ridl contributed three of his own poems to the anthology.
Students got a lot out of this anthology project.
The Arcadia fourth and fifth graders wrote poems, some for the first time. Their work was published and they have had opportunities to read their work to others, at home, school, on the Kalamazoo College campus, and at Bookbug. They’ve read alongside well-known Michigan poets and writers like Buddy Hannah, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, Lynn Pattison, Kit Almy, Phillip Sterling, Marion Boyer, and Alison Swan. They’ve even been approached by audience members asking the students to autograph their copy of the anthology and have graciously done so. (Kudos to Arcadia Principal Greg Socha for all his support of this project, including his wise suggestion of giving students the opportunity to practice their signatures in advance of readings!)
Student are giving back to the community.
One can’t help but think that the students have given more than they have received. Like the other contributors, the children donated their work and all proceeds benefit Justice For Our Neighbors in Kalamazoo, a legal clinic for immigrants.
Also, their words make grown ups think! As one reader said, “I know immigration has been a hot topic but it didn’t really hit home until I read the children’s ‘Dear Country’ poems.” Similar sentiments have been shared by other readers. A reader who attended the June Bookbug event said, “I’m humbled by the bravery of these children. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to read before a group of people, let alone leave one’s country and then read so beautifully in a brand new language. How many of us could do that? I don’t know if I could!”
Jennifer Clark, co-editor of the anthology, works on special projects and initiatives for CIS and worked with the students on this anthology project as a CIS volunteer, offering workshops at Arcadia Elementary School. She can’t sing the praises enough of the CIS staff at Arcadia. Thanks to Caitlin Bales and Rachel DeNooyer for all their support! CIS volunteer Cindy Hadley also worked behind the scenes, escorting students to and from the poetry workshops. Go, Cindy!
Today we highlight Susan Knox, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. Her Champ award was sponsored byGreenleaf Trust. CIS Board member and Kalamazoo Promise Board Member Dr. Janice M. Brown presented the award.
A child’s success in school and life often hinges on the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. It’s one of the five CIS basics, something every child needs and deserves. This relationship can make the difference between a student staying in school or becoming one of the 1.2 million students who drop out of school each year. Since the Fall of 2010, Susan Knox has been that caring adult for many of our high school students, particularly those struggling academically.
When Susan, a chemical engineer, retired from Pfizer, she sold her house and car, and moved downtown. “I wanted to start volunteering,” she said, “to contribute to something I felt passionate about. I picked up a pamphlet about volunteering and circled the ones I thought I could do.” We’re forever thankful she circled Communities In Schools.
She has been a CIS volunteer at Kalamazoo Central for seven years now. Regardless of the weather, she catches the city bus and week after week, year after year, shows up consistently for our kids. “Suzie’s passion to serve students goes far beyond what is expected of any volunteer,” says CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough. “She’s willing to adjust her schedule to accommodate the needs of both our students and staff.
Her flexibility has allowed CIS to connect her with the students who need her most. She provides academic support to student one-on-one and in small groups. She’s worked with students during study hall, after school, and during the lunch hour. While she primarily focuses on math, she’s willing to tutor in other subjects. “No French or Spanish,” she says, “but I’ll give everything else a try.”
Smart, compassionate and humble, Susan credits her success with students to the support she’s received along the way. “CIS gave me the training I needed to be successful. I learned how to do things and just as importantly, what not to do.” She refers to CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough and CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider as her “CIS bosses…They aren’t bossy, though,” she says. “Because they know the students so well, they give me insight into what the students need from me. They’re role models. I watch their interactions and it helps me figure out what I should do, what I should tolerate or not tolerate when it comes to behaviors. They coordinate with each other and give me the support I need so I can support the student.”
“Volunteering,” someone once said, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Through her rock solid and steady support, Susan is creating a community of hope, one in which all children can fulfill their promise.
Susan Knox, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Tommy Lasorda once said, “There are three types of baseball players: Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happens.” The young men who make up the Kalamazoo College Baseball Team and choose to volunteer with CIS are the kind who make things happen.
Since January 2013, these players have been stepping up to the plate to support students at Edison Environmental Science Academy, both during the day and as part of the CIS after school program. Students and teachers alike look forward to the players coming each and every week. These young men can be counted on to be present and fully engaged with the students. Step into the school and you might find players serving as tutors, playground friends, and offering classroom support. After school, they might be sharing dinner, conversations, and participating in recess activities with students.
While faithfully serving at Edison, some have gone on to extend support to students at other CIS sites. Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator for Woodward School for Technology and Research, says that the two teammates supporting the Woodward students “show their passion and dedication to the students as much as if they were on the field practicing. They give 110% and the students always love when they come to volunteer.”
Edison’s CIS Site Coordinator Keely Novotny and After School Coordinator Stacy Jackson both say that it’s the team’s on-going commitment to building relationships, to mentoring and tutoring that is making a meaningful impact in the lives of the students.
The team’s head coach, Mike Ott, nurtures that sense of commitment, creating an environment in which the Hornets experience success as a team both on and off the field. Although the players maintain a full school schedule and admirable grade point averages, in addition to their baseball practices and games, they make it a priority in their busy schedules to connect with the KPS students. Some players have been that consistent presence since their freshman year and are now seniors, preparing to graduate.
Both school and CIS staff love how the students eagerly anticipate the arrival of the players. Even before the school bell rings to announce the start of day, it’s not uncommon to spot a first grader seeking out the CIS Site Coordinator and ask, “Mrs. Novotny, is Jack coming today?” Each time, she’ll say, “Yes, he’ll be here” and each time, he and all the other players prove her right.
Today we highlight Prevention Works, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. The non-profit’s Champ award was sponsored byBorgess. CIS Board member Carolyn H. Williams presented the award.
A healthy start and a healthy future is one of the five basics that Communities In Schools believes every child needs and deserves in order to be the best student and the best person they can be. For more than a decade, CIS has turned to Prevention Works to help us create stronger, healthier students and families throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
We count on Prevention Works to deliver evidence-based prevention programs that are both engaging and educational. They address substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, bullying, family life skills, parenting, sexual health and adolescent health, and they encourage young people and their families to make wise decisions and live healthy lives.
Spring Valley Center for Exploration students participating in Prevention Works program as part of CIS After School.
Hillside Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Precious Miller works closely with Prevention Works Program Director Lola Amos to connect just the right programs to the right students and classrooms. She says, “Prevention Works staff helps our students get in touch with what they’re dealing with at home and school—to put a language to what they’re experiencing. Students learn that it’s okay to share that information with those they trust, that we are here for them.”
When Prevention Works Katie McDonald and Lenye Tynes stepped into Hillside classrooms, lives changed. As one student said, “I’m not bullied anymore. They helped the bully and they helped me.” He says his grades have improved since he’s able to focus on learning and no longer worries about what will happen once he steps outside the school. “Prevention Works is an incredible resource for our students,” says Precious.
CIS Site Coordinator January Haulenbeek agrees. When she was looking to meet the needs of a group of Northglade Montessori Magnet School students—all boys, ranging from first through third grade—she turned to Prevention Works. “Sure enough,” January says, “they provided the perfect facilitator. As a recent college graduate and young professional, Matt quickly built rapport with the students. The boys looked forward to their weekly meetings with Matt. He inspired them to dream big. He helped them take responsibility for their futures by focusing them on decisions and choices they could control.”
Victoria, a seventh grader at Hillside has been a huge fan of Prevention Works since her elementary days. “Prevention Works teaches different things,” she explains, “like how to handle peer pressure and how to be responsible. They’ve taught us how to turn down alcohol and other substances. They’ve taught us how to communicate better.”
Ever since her site coordinator connected her to the Strengthening Families Program, Victoria notices the change in her own family. “We compromise more,” she says. “My mother and I went through all seven weeks and my sister and dad came twice with us. We all talk more as a family. We try and see things from each other’s point of view.”
Prevention Works, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
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 David Hamilton. A former youth development worker with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), at the start of the school year David began serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS at Kalamazoo Central and Washington Writers Academy. Originally from Detroit, David graduated from Cass Tech High School and has just completed his studies in health administration at Western Michigan University, graduating with his bachelor’s this Spring. David is also featured in the most recent CIS Connections, with the “Double” theme. You can read the full issue here.
Alright, David: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
That in Kalamazoo, in general, kids struggle here, too. Coming from Detroit, it took me by surprise and feels a bit ironic. We have this great thing, the Kalamazoo Promise, yet not every kid is in the right state to receive and take advantage of it. Through my work with Communities In Schools I’ve learned there are many other underlying issues that can get in the way.
There are many factors, but homelessness is a big deal, hunger, and other basic needs. CIS does a very good job of getting those resources so they can be break down those barriers that students face on a daily basis, whatever those students may need to alleviates some of those challenges.
Right now it’s serendipitous. I feel like a lot of things that have come about in my life are serendipitous. I try and see them as opportunities and take advantage of them.
What are you currently reading?
The Last Dropout by Bill Milliken. It’s a book that I have found to be very informative on the causes of the pressing issue that students face. It also speaks to chronic absenteeism. [David talks more about this in the latest CIS Connections.]
What is something people may be surprised to know about you?
I have a huge interest in roller skating. I’ve been to Ohio and Atlanta. I’m going to Benton Harbor. I literally skate every Tuesday. You can get into Roller World for only a dollar.
Skating is a really big culture. We enrolled in a 100 day class called Starting Gate at Western. It’s a small incubator class that helps students develop their entrepreneurial ideas. And, of course, ours is to develop a skating rink in Kalamazoo.
My twin, my companion in life. We enrolled in the class together after we started skating this past summer. We’ve got surprisingly good at it.We made the right decision, taking that class, it’s been beneficial. We’re looking for a location so kids don’t have to worry about transportation. We want to offer a positive, fun, clean environment for kids. Skating is something you have to be introduced to; you don’t generally seek it out. You can dance, ballroom dance, and hustle on skates. It’s fun.
What’s the best part about being a twin?
The companionship and the support we get from each other. Obviously, we’re so close in age so we can relate to things together and they happen to be a family member.
What’s the hardest part?
When you don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s hard to disagree with a family member. I am the oldest, and he needs to learn his own lessons. I can’t forewarn him and that can be hard.
You’re the oldest?
Technically. By five minutes. At times we’ll do something and it will make me remember I’m the oldest. For instance, both of us chose to join the fraternity. I tested the ground waters first and laid the foundation. Then I asked him what he thought about it and he said, If you think it’s going to be beneficial, I’ll do it.
You’re a busy college student. How did you come to work with Communities In Schools?
I was looking for an internship for the summer and I wanted something that would help me hone my skills in administration and mentoring kids. I wanted to do AmeriCorps VISTA. I applied but I missed the deadline. So I applied to be a youth development worker for CIS Think Summer. It was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life. I learned so much. I had so much support: from the other youth development workers, [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Yarbrough, and Ms. Artrella. I worked closely with twelve students and they were respectful and looked up to me.
I ended up applying again for VISTA, attended the August 23rd VISTA training and began my VISTA work at the start of school year. My time is divided between Kalamazoo Central and Washington Writers Academy.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m looking to pursue my masters in counseling psychology. Ultimately, I want to end up in administration in higher education.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is your caring adult?
My parents. Until recently, I’ve taken for granted having a two-parent household. I see the support they give each other and all they’ve instilled things in me. If one wasn’t there, I don’t know how I would have turned out. I’ve benefited from the kindness and the nurturing of my mother as well as the sternness and motivation of my dad and his “go get it” drive. I like that. They complement each other and one doesn’t overpower the other.