“I’m here for the first time and I’m here to work. I want to get my C up to a B in math.”
“I’m here because my mom thinks that if I put in the extra effort during lunchtime, I’ll do better in school…I think she might be right.”
These are just what two of the more than 30 Milwood Magnet Middle School students have to say about the new Homework/Tutor Drop-In Lab in their school. Initiated this school year by CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best after “feedback from teachers, parents, and the students themselves” students may now drop in for help with homework during their Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes (from 10:41 to 1:17).
“The response has been wonderful,” says Missy. “I’ve had parents dropping in to see how things are going and encouraging their student to take advantage of the lunchtime support. Students are coming to the lab because they are stuck and want help,” says Missy. “Others come because they want a quiet space to finish up their homework.”
Missy wanted to model the drop-in support after labs that many colleges offer. “It’s a great way to meet students’ needs and address parent and teachers hopes for wanting additional support for struggling students,” she says. So she spoke to Milwood Magnet principal Mark Tobolski about the idea and “he said, ‘Let’s try it.’ The principal has been very supportive of CIS and helped us get this lab up and running. He helped with key logistics, like figuring out how to get kids through the lunch line more quickly and how to do lunchtime passes for kids wanting to drop into the lab.”
When students drop into the lab they are choosing to surround themselves with a community of support. On this Tuesday in November, CIS volunteers Dr. Jim Zhu and Lynetta Carnes are both on hand to help. [Lynette, having just finished her regular volunteer time in Mrs. April Rocco’s classroom, stopped in for the first time. “It worked out today that I could stay a little longer and help out.”]
CIS after school coordinator and former math teacher Shannon Jones is there as well, working with a small group. “How lucky are our kids?” Missy says, a big smile on her face. “Shannon is terrific with the students.”
“The kids are responding to the one-on-one immediate feedback,” he says. “Someone is at their side, able to let them know if they are doing it right or if they are on the wrong track. They can quickly adjust and that helps them get up to speed and where they need to be when they are back in the classroom.”
Later, Michael Harrison, CIS Associate Director of Site Services drops in. He pulls up a chair and start talking math with a couple of young men.
The room is humming with learning. At moments, it is quiet enough to hear pencils scribbling. At other times, snatches of conversation can be overheard. Comments made by grownups, like:
What are you working on? Can I help? I want you to find your own answer. Independent variables… If I distributed biscuits to everyone at this table and… What book are you reading? If I brought in ten cookies and… That one’s still gottcha, huh? This is definitely right! Open the bracket and….. Minus 52. Correct. You are doing a linear equation! Remember, you can only add terms that are similar….. Perfect! Yes, multiply this! You are really picking this up. Excellent!
“Today was a great day,” says Missy. “We had a lot of students but we also had grownups to help. We need more volunteers, though! Our kids keep showing up. They are asking for this academic support and we need more volunteers who are willing to show up for kids.”
Can you help out? Just an hour a week can change a life. Our kids need you at Milwood Magnet Middle School and at 19 other CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. To become a CIS volunteer, click here.
As I busy myself with upcoming preparations, like menu planning and making out a grocery list, and debating if it would be best to shred or slice zucchini for a new recipe I’m going to try out, these mundane thoughts are interrupted by something much more important, wondering what Thanksgiving will be like for some of our 12,000+ kids.
A child so hungry he rummages through a garbage can, snatching and stuffing into his pockets a partially eaten sandwich, a bit of apple. He is worried about his younger sister who isn’t yet school age and wants her to have some food in her belly before the day slips away.
I think of the student who messed up big time on a homework assignment. The class was learning about sequencing and the student couldn’t figure out how to put in proper order the steps for making a bed. It seems a basic thing, something any third grader should be able to do. But, spend some time with this student and it becomes apparent that she is a bright child, one who likes to please and struggles to do her best. However, she does not have a memory of her head ever touching a pillow. She often sleeps on floors and, if lucky, the couches of friends or family. She is one of 2.5 million children (1 in 30) who is homeless in America. It’s hard to figure out the steps to making a bed when you don’t have one, when the only pillow you’ve ever seen is in a book.
And then there’s the sixth grade girl who shows up to school every day wearing shoes that are so badly worn that the soles flap up and down as she walks through the halls. She feels like a clown. Though some of her classmates tease her, one offers up a pair of their own worn, but respectable pair of shoes.
Or what about that high school student who has been missing too much school lately?
These students bring to mind a conversation I recently had with someone. She said that as a child she was thankful for school each and every day. “I didn’t want to leave it. I’d figure out strategies to stay as long as possible. Anything to not go home.” School, she said, was her haven.
For too many children, weekends, holidays, and snow days take away the haven of school, the solace that comes in knowing they will have a breakfast and a lunch, a warm and stable environment that isn’t always a given once the school bell rings at the end of the day.
What will these children—who sleep on floors and worry where their next meal will come from—what will they doing on Thanksgiving? Will they have enough to eat? Anything to eat? Where, on Thanksgiving night will they lay their heads to sleep? Unfortunately, for many children throughout our nation, Thanksgiving is no different from any other day. It will just be what every other 364 days of the year means: survival.
The good news is that in each of the above situations, CIS was able to reach out to these children because of you. We—and those students and their families—are thankful for YOU. You give out of your abundance— your heart, financial support, resources, and time. These students, and many more, are doing well and able to focus on school because of you.
What are you thankful for? We’ll leave you with just a few things our 12,000+ kids tell us they are thankful for: school, CIS, mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers, teachers, principals, secretaries, the Kalamazoo Promise®, dogs, phones, football, shoes, glasses, clothes, food, presents of any kind, a bed to sleep in, a room of my own so that I can walk into it. Their lists go on. And it includes you.
Note: This post ran three years ago in Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Originally titled “Mis(Thanks)Giving,” it’s back by popular demand.
We recently met up with Mike Stoddard at BASIC, where he is chief operating officer of the human resources consulting company that has been named to Inc. magazine’s list of America’s 5000 fastest-growing private companies for the fourth year running.
Mike has served on the board of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo for 13 years, holding the position of Treasurer for many of those. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Ferris State University. A former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, he served as a Military Police during the Vietnam era.
By 1976, Mike had started his accounting practice and in walked his first tax client, Fritz Teutsch, It was Fritz who shared with Mike his idea to start a business. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1989, Mike and Fritz established BASIC, which stands for Benefits Administration Services International Corporation. Headquartered in Portage, Michigan, BASIC has grown into one of the largest third party administrators in the nation. A technology driven HR Compliance Company, BASIC focuses on delivering administrative and technology solutions to assist human resource departments nationwide. Their offices are located in Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, California, Missouri, and now Rhode Island.
It’s a good company. We have a lot of great people that have worked with us for a long time, We’re a good corporate citizen. We take pride that we’re involved in a number of different boards, from CIS to The Salvation Army, to West Michigan Therapy Dogs,…[Mike keeps naming organizations and we found it hard to keep up. Given that “People Helping People” is one of BASIC’s values, it’s not surprising that this flows from their business culture and spills into the community. You can catch the names of all the worthy organizations here.]
The number one thing is our people. We have 186 employees. That’s doubled in the last three years. Our five-year goal is to double again and get to 400 employees. We’re fortunate and blessed, to be allowed to do the work we do. As we grow, our people grow with us as well.
BASIC is consistently recognized as an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Company. What is behind BASIC’s ability to both successfully grow as a business and to manage that growth?
Hire the right people. It’s really about having a good team.
Fritz and I, we’ll be working out at West Hills, and we’ll look at each other and think back to when we started. Our office space was the size of closet, about 50 square feet. Today, [Mike gazes upwards and counts out loud, “13, 20, 25…”] BASIC is over 35,000 square feet. The success of our company is no one or two people. It’s about the team.
What trend(s) are you seeing in your field, particularly when it comes to improving staff focus and effectiveness?
Staff need to continue to be trained and stay up on trends in the business. At BASIC, we need to be up on the latest and best technology. We need to identify what clients need because that changes over time.
Be nimble. That’s one of the reasons BASIC develops new products. It’s important to keep up and be flexible. In a blink of an eye, things change, particularly when it comes to technology.
We are and always want to be an American company. For us to continue to be an American company we need to be productive. Some of our competitors outsource stuff—that’s a trend right now. We could look to India, hire a person for 400 dollars a week. We wouldn’t pay payroll taxes, health insurance, dental, vision, 401-k match, no time off, none of that. But our people are more productive even though we pay them more. Our people work hard. We are an American company and we’re proud of that fact.
You are a dedicated and long-time CIS board member, holding the role of treasurer for a number of those years. As you know, there are many great organizations throughout the area that support kids. Why CIS?
I came on board one or two years after the merger in 2003.
I only ever remember you as being part of the CIS board!
Yes, that’s just about right! [He laughs.]
Bob Borsos first approached me and asked me if I might be interested in being on the board. I went to meet with Pam [Kingery] at the PNC Building where CIS used to be housed and she showed me this video—I’ve shared this story with as many people that will listen. It really made an impression.
In the video, an African American male is wheeled into the emergency room. He’s been shot up with bullets. The video then cuts to another scene, another patient being wheeled into the ER, and you see the face of that same male—but now he’s the emergency room surgeon. The tagline: Give kids a chance to succeed. I’ll never forget that. CIS is about giving kids a chance to become educated. That the American dream. With education, combined with opportunity and the willingness to work, you can get ahead. CIS helps kids take advantage of opportunities—and, in the case of Kalamazoo, take advantage of the Promise—they change not only their lives but their future children’s lives.
What is something you’ve recently learned?
I’ve learned what invasive bittersweet is and what it does to our forest. It kills trees.
I didn’t know anything about bittersweet until Ruth from the Kalamazoo Nature Center came out one Saturday morning. She taught us how to identify the invasive species and we pulled out bittersweet along the Eliason trail. [BASIC adopted an almost two-mile stretch of the Eliason nature trail that winds near their property and is part of the 123-acre Eliason Nature Reserve.] Bittersweet is a vine-type plant and strangles trees. We saved one big tree. We call it the Basic tree now.
What is your favorite word right now?
Grandkids. We have nine, soon to be ten grandkids come February. They range in age from zero to 18. The older I get, the more I realize how much we can make a difference in their lives. They are our future!
What is something you love about our community?
We are a caring community. People care about other people and are willing to help. That’s my experience, whether it is CIS, Portage Community Center, our church, or neighborhood. We’re Western Michigan! We’re hard workers. Family is important and we watch out for our neighbors.
Any favorite restaurants?
Let’s see. Oh, let me think. Latitude 42! I’m a bit biased, however. [He smiles. The microbrewery restaurant is owned by the Stoddards, and co-founded by their son Joe Stoddard, Todd Neumann, and Scott Freitas.] I often work there on Friday and Saturday night, as the bar back.
Essentially, I’m a glorified dishwasher. I like watching the interactions and seeing how well the employees treat the customers. It gives me a lot of pride. They take good care of the customers. The service is good. The food is good—the fried chicken and salmon are my two favorite dishes.
Also, on Sundays, after church, my wife Ruth and I love going to the Daily Grind Cafe for breakfast.
At Communities In Schools, we believe that every child needs a marketable skill to use upon graduation. It’s one of our five CIS basics. As an employer, what marketable skills are you looking for right now?
Communication skills. Both written and verbal. The ability to communicate—whether that is talking on the phone, composing emails, being attentive and listening to the client—is important in our service business. A lot of people, unfortunately, don’t have those skills.
What advice do you have for our 12,000+ students—the up and coming generation of workers—to prepare themselves for obtaining a job?
In our business, you need to know English. English is important. You can’t talk like you might talk at home in the work environment. You must be professional. You can set yourself apart and really advance if you can communicate. Strong written and verbal communications skills, having computer skills, composing emails that reads like you know what you’re saying…that is what we’re looking for.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My dad. Growing up on the West Side of Grand Rapids, he taught me a lot. I was the oldest of five children. My mom stayed home and raised us. My dad was a postal clerk. He worked all the overtime he could. After doing his postal work, he had a paper route. It was a rural route, in the area where Grand Valley is now. That was something! All those snow banks in the winter…
My dad was a good man, good husband, and good father. He set a good example. I learned from him that it takes effort to be successful. You don’t need to be the smartest. You just need to put in effort and be willing to sacrifice. It starts with effort.
Mike, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!
There is always a good reason not to give. We don’t have enough time or money or time. We think somebody else will step up or do a better job than us. The list goes on.
Millie Ellis has more than her fair share of reasons not to extend herself, particularly to kids in Kalamazoo. That’s because Millie lives 2,000 miles away, in Dripping Springs, Texas.
There, she is busy caring for her husband who recently suffered a stroke. She is also dealing with her own health issues. Yet, despite distance and her current struggles, Kalamazoo kids are on her radar.
She learned from her friend, Shirley Street, that during the cold Michigan winters, some kids didn’t have mittens to keep their hands warm. Shirley told her of the need and that, for the third year in a row, she was doing something about this by knitting mittens. Her mittens would go to CIS Kids’ Closet and from there, CIS staff in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools would be providing them to students who needed mittens.
Shirley knew about the need thanks to her daughter, Sue Warner, who lives in Kalamazoo. A long-time CIS friend, volunteer, and partner, Sue is Kalamazoo Public Library’s Head Librarian of Youth Services. Sue Warner is a knitter too, and has been knitting mittens and hats for Kalamazoo kids over the years.
Back to Texas. When Shirley shared with Millie how she was helping kids in Kalamazoo Public Schools, Millie was moved. She wanted to figure out a way to “help those kids in Michigan,” too. The next time the friends connected, Millie said, “I found some yarn. I’m going to knit some mittens, too.” And she did.
When a box from Texas (mailed by Millie) showed up at Sue’s door, Sue was stunned. “I thought she might have managed to knit a few pairs of mittens, but Millie had knit 52 pairs!”
Sue dropped off the load of mittens, made with love from Texas, and some of the CIS staff tried on a few.
Knitters make something beautiful—in this case mittens—by interlocking loops of one or more yarns. To knit is “to join closely and firmly, as members or parts (often followed by together).” Despite her own hardships, Millie made it her mission to make the lives of kids a bit better and a bit warmer this winter. Millie joined with Shirley, who connected with Sue who connected with CIS, who now gets these mittens into the hands of children.
Thank you, Millie. And thank you Shirley, Sue, and all you knitters (and non-knitters, too!) who join together with CIS to create a caring, loving community for our children.
You are in the direct path of a devastating hurricane and yet, even though you are frightened, cold, wet, and hungry you manage to reach a designated shelter. It’s sturdy and well stocked. There is room for you. Once inside, you aren’t sent back into the storm for blankets and pillows, food and water. Your needs for clean, dry clothes, toothpaste, and other hygiene products, can be met here.
Now imagine this. Someone says, Sorry you’re hungry, but if you want something to eat you’re going to have to leave the shelter and round something up yourself. Lost your shoes in the storm? Too bad. Yea, it’s a shame your pants are soaked but if you want something dry, you won’t find it here. No reliable transportation to the six locations you need to go to get what you need? Don’t know what to tell you. Despite the struggle it took to get here, with the hurricane barreling down, you abandon the shelter. Crazy, huh?
Yet, that’s exactly the position we put children and their families in when we don’t offer needed supports in the safe haven of schools. We shouldn’t expect teachers and other school staff to coordinate resources and supports. They already have one of the most important jobs in the world: educating our kids. We can’t necessarily expect parents, despite all the love they have for their children, to handle it alone, either. As one mother put it, “There is no worse feeling I’ve had as a parent than knowing my child has needs but I’m not in a position to help meet them all.”
We can’t expect students to thrive in school while enduring the often unpredictable storms of life, all the while attempting to navigate the adult-sized challenges blown into their path. They can’t turn on the Kid Channel, the one with someone standing in front of a fancy map and be expected to figure out how to seek refuge from Hurricane Poverty, Category 4 Homelessness, Tropical Storm Depression, or the rumbling shock waves felt for years from the Food Insecurity Earthquake.
Fortunately, for kids throughout 2,300 schools across the country—20 of those schools within the Kalamazoo Public School district—CIS is in the schools, standing with teachers, catching students in their time of need, and along with parents, a host of community partners and volunteers, lifting them up with a net of integrated student supports we’ve woven together (and continue to weave).
Just as planning and coordination is a vital part of any emergency response, so it is for CIS work. Thanks to Kalamazoo’s commitment to integrated student services, we work closely with Kalamazoo Public Schools and our community partners so that we can deliver the right resources, to the right kids, at the right times, right in the schools. It’s this collaborative preparedness that not only provides students and their families relief from the storm, but allows students to focus and learn from their teachers.
When our most vulnerable students succeed, we all do.
Four ways you can provide relief to Kalamazoo children today:
To those of you who have advocated for a restoration of full funding for 21st Century After School Programs, thank you! Your efforts have made a significant difference. A bi-partisan measure in the House restores a portion of the 2016-17 funding levels. Congress has until December 8, 2017 to adopt a compromise funding bill between the House and the Senate for 21st Century CLC’s. Your continued advocacy for the importance of federal funding to extend the learning day for our kids is needed until there is a final adopted budget. For more information and for information on public officials to contact, go here, to the first page of the 2017 Spring issue of CIS Connections.
If you missed our post a few weeks back on the recent storms our community and CIS family has been weathering, you can read it by going here.
Fifth Third Bank is partnering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) to support students’ school attendance with a donation of 500 alarm clocks. This comes just in time for September’s Attendance Awareness Month, a nationwide effort to raise awareness about the importance of regular school attendance and reducing chronic absenteeism in the new school year.
“Alarm clocks are an important resource for our students,” says Pam Kingery, CIS Executive Director. “We are grateful for Fifth Third Bank’s donation, which will help students attend school on time, every day, ready to learn.”
“Every minute counts,” notes Kingery. “Tardies, early departures, excused and unexcused absences all lead to missed classroom instruction, putting students at risk of falling behind. Missing time in school can affect core knowledge, grades, and even graduation rates.”
Fifth Third Bank and CIS agree that good school attendance is essential to academic success. But far too many students are at risk academically because they are chronically absent, missing 10 or more days for any reason, excused or unexcused. Research shows that’s the point at which absenteeism begins to risk serious consequences.
According to Attendance Works, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving school attendance, starting as early as kindergarten or even preschool, chronic absence predicts lower third grade reading scores. By middle school it’s a warning sign that students will fail key classes and drop out of high school. Absence from school is not just a matter of truancy. Many children, especially in the early grades, miss too much school because of chronic health problems, unreliable transportation or housing moves—barriers that the community can help families address.
“School attendance matters to all of us, not just those with school-age children,” says Ron Foor, Community President for Fifth Third Bank. “When our schools graduate more students on time, our communities and our economy are stronger. We have more people who are prepared for the workplace and more engaged in our community’s civic life. Students who attend school regularly are more likely to be employees who attend work regularly. And we know that every second counts in a lot of different ways. Whether it is school attendance or saving for the future, every second really does matter.”
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 Dalanna Hoskins. Her history with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) began in 2009 when she served for three years as the CIS Assistant Site Coordinator for Washington Writers Academy. Hoskins returned in 2014 as CIS Site Coordinator at Milwood Elementary School. She also serves as a community broker for the Arcadia Institute helping young students and teenagers with developmental disabilities figure out their life goals and get them connected to their community, with emphasis on inclusion. She says, “I love my work with both CIS and Arcadia. I really learn a lot from the kids.”
A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Dalanna attended several KPS elementary schools and it was during her time at Woods Lake she met Mr. Leroy Green, a 2015 CIS Champ. [You can read more about that here.] After graduating from Loy Norrix High School Dalanna attended The College of Wooster in Ohio, graduating with a degree in black studies. She then decided to “explore my more creative side and check out the fun route” and obtained a fashion design degree from Ursuline College.
Alright, Dalanna: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?
Definitely my second grade teachers at Northglade Elementary—Mr. Bushhouse and Mr. Chuck Pearson. We had great times! At Halloween, they dressed up as the Blues Brothers. We put on plays, once a month it seemed. We also made a cookbook and I still have that cookbook.
My favorite teachers in middle school were Ms. Diane Lang and Ms. Dales. They both were math teachers and took time with us and made sure that we understood. Patience is something that I’ve always appreciated. Also, Paul Rothi who taught us social studies.
One of my favorite teachers at Loy Norrix was Barbara Felkel, my Latin teacher. She made Latin fun. I still remember basic Latin principles because of her teaching.
So, what’s a basic Latin principle?
Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt. Which is: I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you all are, they are.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I have learned about the importance of process and living in the moment. As a person who wants to just get things done, sometimes it’s hard for me to ‘stop and smell the roses’ but I have learned that I just need to enjoy it, enjoy the process on the way to my destination, instead of worrying about the destination itself.
What’s one way you are learning to be a better leader?
Looking at a problem and finding a solution instead of capitalizing on the problem. Okay, so there’s a problem. It’s good to identify it but now what are some solutions to the problem? Instead of taking the victim mentality and asking Why me? a leader would say Why not me?What is a solution?
What is your favorite word right now?
What is something you love about Kalamazoo?
I love that Kalamazoo is very rich in resources and understanding. People from Kalamazoo are very giving and service-oriented.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
Both of my parents. My mother and my father have given me the foundation that I have and now I just build on that.
Dalanna, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!