Volunteers In Service To America

Today is Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service. Some of you might recall helping Mayor Bobby Hopewell kick off the first ever day of recognition back on April 9, 2013. That morning, as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo staff and AmeriCorps VISTA gathered on the steps of City Hall, we were excited to partner with Mayor Hopewell, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), The Spirit of Kalamazoo, and New World Flood and its founder, Todd “TJ” Duckett. We celebrated college spirit and gathered college gear for students in Kalamazoo Public Schools. A friendly competition quickly ensued to see which Michigan public college or university could offer up the largest number of contributions during this one hour only event. As community members and downtown business folks like Jen Ward, owner of The Station, visited City Hall to drop off donations, the excitement grew.

We can’t recall which college or university won that day. It doesn’t matter as the real winner that day was our kids. And our 12,000+ kids continue to be the ultimate beneficiaries of VISTA support throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

As the nation’s mayors and county officials increasingly turn to national service as a cost-effective strategy to address local challenges, it’s worrying that the the President’s budget proposal calls for the elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers AmeriCorps. It’s distressing that this vital federal agency that helps millions of Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service is on the chopping block. (In 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service leveraged an additional $1.26 billion dollars in outside resources to increase their nationwide impact. That’s even more than the federal investment.)

(Some of our current and former VISTAs, from left to right) Pamela Tate, Brenda Morris, Nicholas Baxter, Katie Pearson, Abby Schulze, Terra Mosqueda, Donielle Hetrick, Stephen Brewer, Stacy Salters, Samantha Pennington, and David Hamilton.

Kalamazoo AmeriCorps VISTA members, past and present, we thank you for helping expand CIS’s capacity to meet student and school needs. Thank you for being part of the solution to help students stay in school and achieve in life!

Did you know that VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level? In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools. CIS is grateful to those past and present VISTAs who have chosen to serve their country through AmeriCorps. Currently, CIS has five citizens serving as Volunteers In Service To America (VISTAS) throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. If you see them, take a minute and thank them for their service:

Pamela Tate, Brenda Morris, Samantha Pennington, Stephen Brewer, and David Hamilton.

Over the years, our VISTA’s have worked closely with their CIS Site teams in a variety of ways. Click on the links below to find out how VISTAS working with CIS make a difference in the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Our VISTAS…

are silent giants in the school. Former VISTA Laura Longwell reflected on her service at El Sol Elementary School and Hillside Middle School. You can read it here.

work with CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes to keep food pantries stocked and support Friday Food Backpacks.

help organize CIS Kids’ Closet to make sure kids have the basics like clothing, hygiene, and school supplies, so they can focus on learning.

promote a college-going culture throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

make memories, working through the summer months with CIS Think Summer to prevent summer slide and assure that students have a safe summer filled with fun and learning.

share talents and passions. Nicholas Baxter, who recently completed his AmeriCorps VISTA service, spent his Thursday lunchtime supporting Arcadia students interested in reading, writing, and learning about poetry.

get kids off to a great start. VISTAS helping CIS organize the pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and many supplies local businesses, faith-based groups, service organizations, and community members generously donate so kids start the school year with the basics they need to succeed.

…and more.

Thank you VISTAS (past and present) and thank you, Corporation for National and Community Service, for your support!

(And if you’d like to check out some fun photos and news coverage from Kalamazoo’s 2013 Recognition Day for National Service, click here.)

 

Pop Quiz: Terra Mosqueda

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 another member of the Communities In Schools site team at Hillside Middle School, Terra Mosqueda. Embarking on her second year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS, her work spans between Loy Norrix High School (three days a week) and Hillside (two days a week).

Terra grew up in Rockford, Michigan and it was college that brought her to Kalamazoo. She started at Western Michigan University studying Child and Family Development and then decided to change her focus. After taking some classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College she decided to take a year off and try something else other than school.

“Being a VISTA has made me lean more towards social work,” Terra says. “School has always been my biggest obstacle. I didn’t try very hard in high school. And I want to work to make sure kids don’t go down my same path. Honestly, I never thought I’d be in a school again! But I really enjoy the relationships I’m making, especially with the students. Being a VISTA gives me opportunities to try new things. I get to talk to people I’ve never thought I’d have a chance to talk with by being in the schools.”

Like her other colleagues who are VISTAs with Communities In Schools, Terra helps nourish a college-going culture. To this end, she has planned college trips for Loy Norrix students and at Hillside she’s created a “college window” that she changes every few weeks.IMG_2940

She orders food from CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes to keep the food pantry stocked. She makes sure CIS Kids’ Closet is organized and filled with essentials, like clothing, hygiene, and school supplies.IMG_2938

Terra works with her CIS site teams to assure a smooth delivery of dental services offered to students through the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services and their “Smiles to Go” van. She also supports the CIS After School program. “I’ve gotten really close to the kids. They’ve really grown on me.”


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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

It’s not so much something I’ve learned as something that I’ve opened up to. and that is that no two kids have the same learning style. If two kids are sitting next to each other and I show one how to do a math problem, that same approach may not work for the other student. I have to bend my mind and think of other ways to help that child. At the same time, this helps me in that I expand and come up with new ways of thinking.

 

What are you currently reading?

With a Pistol in his Hand by Americo Paredes. It is about Gregorio Cortez, a Mexican outlaw still known to this day. When Gregorio eventually dies, he does so in my great-grandfathers house; it’s mentioned in one of the chapters. It’s a really interesting read, and I get to learn a little more about what my great grandfather experienced in his life with his compadre, Gregorio Cortez.

 

What’s your favorite word right now?

Go. I always say “Go” to the kids as a way to encourage them to be in the right classroom, do their homework, and such. “Go” is both encouraging and demanding. It’s the best of both worlds!

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’m really leaning towards social work. It’s so important to keep kids in good environments. I want to help them graduate with the Kalamazoo Promise and do what they want to accomplish in life.

 

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

My mom and dad, equally. My mom was the caring one and my dad helped me by pushing me. They had the good cop-bad cop thing going on and it worked well on me.

 

Thank you, Terra!

Are you or someone you know interested in becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA? The next group of AmeriCorps VISTA members will come on board in August. To find out more, go here.

In the weeks to come, we’ll introduce you to Fred Myles and Precious Miller, two more CIS team members from Hillside. In the meantime, if you missed the  post about Principal McKissack, you can read it by clicking here. You can read about Katherine Williamson, Hillside’s CIS After School Coordinator, by going here. To learn about Nicholas Keen, Youth Development Worker at Hillside, go here.

Every Site Coordinator Needs A Site Coordinator

Today, we highlight the work of Jay Gross.  Jay was honored this past May at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jim Ritsema, along with Derek Miller, CIS Site Coordinator at Northglade Montessori Magnet School, presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7627We’ll let you in on a saying we have at CIS. Every Site Coordinator needs a Site Coordinator. And Emily Demorest, CIS Site Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, has hers in this next Champ.

“We wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we have out at Maple Street if it wasn’t for Jay Gross,” she says. “Last year, when I was a new Site Coordinator, he took me under his wing. He oriented me to the building, took time he didn’t have to help me learn who was who, who did what, and suggested the best avenues for getting things done.”

As the Home School Community Liaison for Kalamazoo Public Schools at Maple Street, Jay embodies the spirit of collaboration, showing what we can accomplish when we work together. So when Communities In Schools proposed doing a College Night last year as a way to promote a College Going Culture at the middle school—it was Jay who was one of the first to step up, supporting not just with words, but actions. “If Jay had not been in the picture,” points out Emily, “this event would not have been the success it was, nor would we have considered doing it again this year. Both times, Jay helped handle communications, advertising and promotion of the event internally and externally.” It took CIS and KPS, working in concert, to host the sixteen representatives from higher learning institutions.

20140506-DSC_7684
From Left: Jim Ritsema, Derek Miller, Jay Gross

Jay’s low key and calm-under-pressure approach can be counted on when it comes to our kids. When a student reached out to the Site Coordinator and she realized immediate care was required and that, for safety reasons, it would take more than one adult, Emily did not hesitate to turn to Jay. He jumped into action, providing the transportation necessary, allowing the CIS Site Coordinator to focus her attention fully on the student.

Jay can be counted on, whether it is as an ambassador for CIS, successfully implementing a college night, or joining with us in a student’s moment of need.

Jay Gross, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

One Fabulous CIS Cheerleader

Today, we highlight the work of KPS Principal Carol Steiner.  She was recently honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. Retired Judge and CIS Board President, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

 

Carol SteinerCIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema describes this Champ’s presence as “positively contagious.” Carol Steiner’s enthusiasm, zest for life, and positive leadership set the tone at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School for students, parents, and staff alike. As the school’s principal, Carol embraces EVERY opportunity to reinforce a college going culture. Whether in the hallway, on the playground, or before a large school assembly, she will remind the children and their parents that because they are in theKalamazoo Public Schools, each child has the, now what is it? She’ll cup her ear and smile as the crowd shouts out: THE KALAMAZOO PROMISE!

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being at Parkwood during the morning announcements, you will hear this Principal reminding everyone to “Choose to make it a good day!” Carol is one of those rare creatures who heeds her own advice. For the past 29 years, Carol has chosen to make every day a good day as she serves well the children in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the last ten of those as principal and chief cheerleader at Parkwood Upjohn. In a school of 530 students, she knows practically everybody’s name. Rain or shine, she is out greeting the children, welcoming them or sending them home safely.

Carol “gets” CIS. She is the cheerleader for integrated student services. Because she knows what her kids need, she takes full advantage of the community resources CIS leverages for the school. When parents reach out to Carol for support and she sees that their need for their child can be addressed through CIS—such as therapy, tutoring, basic needs—she links that parent to the CIS Site Coordinator. Principals are busy people. Yet, she makes a point of welcoming volunteers and partners so that they feel a part of the school family.

Because of the high standards she sets, the model she upholds, Carol Steiner inspires us all not only to do the work needed for our kids, but to do it better. Call her unconventional, a free spirit, these are parts of Carol we love and cherish. You may be retiring, Carol, but you have taught us well. Like you, we choose to make it a good day for all our kids.

Carol Steiner, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Carol Steiner

We Geek The Library

Book w GlassesHere at Communities In Schools, we’ve been talking about how much we love our Kalamazoo Public Library. The organization and its people are a part of what makes Kalamazoo excellent.

Speaking of the library, did you remember to vote today? On the ballot is the millage renewal for both the Kalamazoo Public Library and the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency. If you didn’t catch the Kalamazoo Gazette Editorial in Sunday’s paper, you can read it here. Now go out and vote! I’ll wait right here. The polls are open from 7am to 8pm.

Welcome back. Feels good to exercise your right as a citizen, doesn’t it? Anyway, here are just nine reasons we love our library…

They bring us together.

Huge numbers of us read and discuss the same book in the Reading Together program. By doing so, we become wiser as a community.

KPL is an information hub for our community.

Check out Consumer Reports, find a book on origami or learn about financial derivatives.

No computer? No problem.

Just go to your local library branch and computers and computer help are waiting for you.

They reach out to all members of our community.

With multiple branches and programming geared to every age—from babies to tweens to seniors and all in between—everyone is welcome. Whatever we geek, the library supports us! How cool is that?

(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner
(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner

They promote a college going culture.

Whether suggesting books to read—in person or on their blog—the Kalamazoo Public Library encourages us all to read. One of the 8 pillars identified by the Kalamazoo Public Schools for building a college going culture is: “Everyone Reads/Literacy: Language Development, Reading, and Writing.” KPL, in a joint endeavor with Kalamazoo Public Schools, works hard to make sure every KPS first grader has a library card and is a library user.

As a KPS parent, I had the opportunity to chaperone my son’s class on their library trip. I watched librarians asking children what topics interested them and then escorting the children—some who had never set foot inside a public library until that day—to shelves filled with books on the subject they wanted to know more about. It is a thing of beauty to watch the world open for a child as, for the first time, they check out a library book.

They remind us that reading is fun.

They run a fabulous summer reading program. If you have never signed up your child, encouraged others to sign up or signed up yourself, you owe it to yourself to do so.

They play well with others.

KPL partners with a number of terrific organizations throughout the community to co-host family friendly event at the Central Library the first Saturday of every month. Called First Saturdays @ KPL,  CIS loved partnering with our library in hosting a First Saturday which offers fun, free activities.

They keep us hip.

They provide e-books for our Kindle Fires, DVD’s, movies, and music—all at no charge.

They remind us that reading is not an option.

KPL brings great writers to Kalamazoo, like Walter Dean Myers, who are passionate about books and inspire young and old alike. “Either you read or you suffer,” Mr. Myers said during his “Reading is Not Optional” tour this past summer. “A child will pay the penalty for a lack of literacy throughout their life.”

Silent Giants In The Schools

Today’s post is written by Lauren Longwell. She is venturing into her second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA with us. (VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America. VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level. In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools.) 

Lauren working in food pantry at El Sol Elementary School
Lauren working in food pantry at El Sol Elementary School

In thinking what I would like to do in retirement it came to me that education seemed to be getting short changed. I began to think about who had influenced me and where my life changing experiences had occurred. I immediately thought back on my seventh grade teacher and how she supported and guided me, cared about who I was, and saw potential in me. I wanted to be able to assist and support a child in some way so that they too would have a chance at their potential. CIS is a way the community supports our schools, providing wrap around care for Kazoo’s kids. I like that.

Becoming a VISTA went hand-in-hand with being a volunteer with CIS. AmeriCorps VISTA has many volunteer opportunities, making it possible to be a part of a community, work with people in need, and assist others in realizing a dream. For me this dream is our kids, our cities, our communities, our homes, and on the larger scale, our country. Thus, my opportunity to become a VISTA and work with CIS came to fruition.

I have the wonderful opportunity of being a VISTA within two Kalamazoo Public Schools: El Sol Elementary School and Hillside Middle School. I do a variety of tasks within the schools. El Sol Elementary rings with the sounds of two languages, Spanish and English. Although I don’t speak Spanish, I am able to get along just fine and this experience has prompted me to enroll in a Beginning Spanish Class. I assist the CIS Site Coordinator with the El Sol Food Pantry. The Food Pantry provides a wide range of foods for families in need who have children attending El Sol. Shelves are stocked weekly with food from Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each week I pick up a load of food supplies and stock the El Sol Food Pantry shelves. I’d always played pretend “grocery store” as a kid and, gosh, my wish has come true. I now stock a food pantry that provides food to others.

One of my other VISTA roles is to promote a “College Going Culture” within my assigned schools. I have the pleasure of working with students in setting up College Awareness bulletin boards. Students in the CIS After School Program meet as a group and help design College Awareness posters which they then hang up throughout the school. The Middle School kids are aware of how important grades, study time, attendance and completion of homework all are in their journey to College. As a VISTA, my task is to assist, guide, support and honor the students’ potential for college. This requires care, belief in students’ abilities and assisting them to know that they can succeed.

At Hillside Middle School I have helped to promote, develop and present the idea of recycling at the school. A team of students from the CIS After School Program (and me) go to each classroom weekly to empty the recycling bins. The kids have developed a team approach which gets the job done and allows them to help keep Hillside Middle School clean as well as environmentally aware.

During my year as a VISTA I have learned much about the importance of volunteers in the school setting. I have also seen other VISTAs who are much younger than myself step forward and give back to our community and this country. It has been a humbling experience for me to step aside from a professional career to a less visible one. Having said this, I must say with a loud and clear voice that, without volunteers and the silent helpers of our community, we would be at a loss. The gifts, passion, experience and care of volunteers and VISTAs in Kalamazoo are the silent giants who give of themselves to help our community fulfill its Promise…. Thank you CIS for allowing me to be a VISTA with you and the kids of Kalamazoo!

And thank you, Lauren, for being one of those silent giants! We are grateful to have you, and the passion, wisdom, and experience you bring to benefit our children. Know a young person, a retired person, someone who is passionate about youth and may want to explore the possibility of being a VISTA with us? Share Lauren’s post with them.

Being a VISTA

100_3129CIS has three AmeriCorps VISTA workers who are wrapping up their time with us this week. VISTA stands for Volunteers In Service To America. VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level. In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Communities In Schools currently has seven VISTAs who work to build capacity in our community. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools.

We are so grateful for their service. When the government shut down, our AmeriCorps VISTAs didn’t miss a beat. They continued their commitment with us. Thank you Courtney, Peggy, and Shereen for your dedication and  service! As our Director of Volunteer Services, Abby Nappier says, “They have made such a profound impact on our schools, supporting students with services provided through the community while actively promoting a College Going Culture.” It is only fitting, then, that our guest blogger today is Peggy Korpela.

I became a VISTA with CIS because I wanted to do community building while gaining work experience. I believe helping children is one of the biggest ways we can improve our community. Children are, after all, the future.

Peggy with some of the College Club students at 5th grade graduation last year.
Peggy with some of the College Club students at 5th grade graduation last year.

A typical day as a VISTA starts off with assisting my site coordinator with student and volunteer data. On Mondays, I meet with my fifth graders who are in the College Club. Our social work intern Jaime and I teamed up for this project. We discuss various topics, such as the Kalamazoo Promise® and the schools they can go to with it. As part of my VISTA project, I created a reference notebook of Kalamazoo Promise® information. The students use this as a reference to work on developing a profile of colleges they’re interested in. They write a formal letter to the college(s), asking for more information. I also help them navigate college websites and career websites. I developed lesson plans for the club specifically so Jaime and others could continue to support these students after my VISTA service ends and I leave Spring Valley.

Bulletin board created by Peggy
Bulletin board created by Peggy

I’ve learned a lot about myself through my VISTA service. Before my term began I wasn’t especially good at problem solving in a time crunch or thinking fast on my feet.  I’m much better at it now. I felt I had a good understanding of kids before, but I know I have deepened my understanding this year.  I am also more confident in my ability to manage a project on my own. For example, I supported dental services at both KPS elementary summer school sites and it went really well. Communities In Schools partners with the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services throughout the year to assure students receive the dental care they need. The County’s mobile Smiles to Go dental van has two dental chairs inside of what looks like a large camper van with a smiling tooth on the side. At Northeastern and Milwood Elementary Schools I assisted with the infrastructure for the program, ensuring enrollment forms were correct, communicating with parents, scheduling with school staff, and escorting students to their dental appointments. Working with the dental team, I managed to get about 92 students in for dental cleanings.  If you had asked me before VISTA started if I thought I could do that, I’m not sure I’d say yes. The VISTA experience has given me confidence in my abilities and a lot of pride in the fact that I have been able to have a direct impact on children.After lunch, my activities range from entering data in the computer to obtaining clothes for kids who need them.

Teachers often come in to ask questions about various resources for their students. On Fridays, the 5th graders who help us with food packs will come back to our office to pick a prize out of our prize box. At the end of the day, I connect with some of our CIS students to find out how their day went. After the students leave, it’s usually more data entry or other projects that require more uninterrupted time.

Putting The Super In Intendent

Communities In Schools and our host of partners could not do the work we do without the support, vision and leadership of Dr. Michael F. Rice. As both the Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools and as a board member of CIS, Dr. Rice helps us align our community resources with KPS to increase our collective impact on children. Superintendents have one of the most challenging jobs in the world and yet, as CIS founder Bill Milliken has said, “Superintendents are under siege in this nation.” If someone you know doesn’t agree with that statement, my guess is they are probably living under a rock. Or, maybe even throwing one.

Speaking of superintendents, I want to relay a conversation I had a few weeks ago with some of Ms. Furney’s second grade students at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Before I start my volunteer work with one of two reading groups, Ms. Furney always reviews the day’s schedule with the class. On this day, she shared that their Superintendent, Dr. Michael F. Rice, would be visiting Parkwood that day to visit third grade classrooms, as he does throughout the district, to talk college with them.

As I passed out the books we were going to read, one of the children asked me what a Superintendent was.

“Who can answer that question?” I asked the students.

One little girl immediately thrust her hand in the air. “They like to read. Superintendents go to the library. That’s where I met Dr. Rice. We had a really long talk. He is the NICEST man EVER…I hope I see him today because my mom said I could go up and talk to him next time I saw him. We’re not strangers anymore, you know.”

“I’ve seen Dr. Rice lots of times at the library,” another kid piped up.

Another offered, “Superintendents are basketball players. Ours is really good. I’ve seen him play at Hoopla.”

“Dr. Rice is in charge of all of the Kalamazoo Public Schools, right?” asked another girl. “He’s like the boss?”

“That’s correct.”

“But not Loy Norrix,” a boy said. “Right?”

“Loy Norrix High School, too,” I replied.

“No way!” he said, mouth hanging open, obviously impressed. This, for him, was the pièce de résistance.

As we all got on with the business of reading, their excitement lingered. It was clear to them that their superintendent walks* his talk when it comes to the importance of hard work, reading, and preparing for college. These second graders can’t wait to be about the business of being third graders. That means they will get to talk college with the nicest man in the world—a seasoned reader, basketball player, and Superintendent of Loy Norrix. “Read louder!” one of the children instructed. “We want him to hear what good readers we are.”

*and sometimes even hoops it up!