High School Graduate: CIS Helped Me Find My Voice

Dreon Smith recently graduated from Loy Norrix High School. In May, he reflected on his CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Dreon has given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Dreon with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar

I still remember that day. I was a fourth grader in Ms. Clawson’s class at Washington Writer’s Academy. I was nervous and scared as I made my way to the CIS office. I got there and saw my cousin, Dalanna. She is the CIS site coordinator at Milwood but back then she was at Washington. Well, Ms. Hoskins—that’s what Dalanna told me to call her at school—she introduced me to this tall dude. Turns out he was Mr. Larry Manley, the CIS after school coordinator.

Thinking back on that moment, it was like I was a young branch that became planted in CIS. I became a part of something that was bigger than me. I also became part of the first group of students who got to be part of the CIS after school program at Washington.

Not only did my grades begin to improve, but I grew in ways I didn’t know I could. Sports has always been important to me. So it really helped that Mr. Manley liked basketball just as much as me. He used basketball to help us kids grow. It was a way for us to talk and learn and dream. He taught me how to be a young man and how to be a gentleman. You know, like at lunchtime, let the ladies go first.

With CIS, there’s always been people there to catch me. Like Ms. Melissa [Holman], who worked with CIS Think Summer. It was a time when, as a branch, I had to learn to grow a different way. See, I’d had some surgery and my dream of a sports career over. There I was, a middle school student with a pin stuck in his hip, in a wheelchair. I’d wanted so badly to be part of CIS in the summer but now I didn’t even know how I could make that work. It was Ms. Melissa [Holman] who caught me then. She helped me to get there. Literally. If I didn’t have that ride, I would never have been able to go.

CIS helped me find my voice by giving me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. I’ve been able to explore my passion for poetry and music. My grandma loves music and can sing and I wanted to get into that too. I believe putting poetry and music together really gets your voice out there. One CIS partner that especially helped me with that: Bangtown Productions. We wrote and performed songs and to this day, you can find some of them on YouTube, songs like “Rise Above It”—we performed that one at Bronson Park.

CIS helped me find my voice by helping me speak up about things that are important to me, like funding after school programs. Back in 2013, when I was in 7th grade, I was one of the student representatives who went to City Hall. We wanted the Kalamazoo City Commission to help us: keep the lights on! Thanks to our voices—and those of you who advocate for after school funding to remain a priority, the lights have stayed on. At least for another year.

 

Back in 2013, Dreon (far right) advocating for after school funding before the Kalamazoo City Commission.  (Ms. Melissa is at the podium.)

When you find your voice, you can do things you never thought possible. Just this year, I wrote a poem called “We have something to say” and it was a finalist for the MLK Courage to Create Poetry contest. I read it on the campus of Western Michigan University. That was really special, to think that people came to hear my voice…

Now back to when I left eighth grade. There wasn’t an after school program at Loy Norrix; it kind of hurt. It had really helped having the structure, the homework help, and all the enrichment activities. Monday through Thursday it had been a big part of my life. So, in 9th grade, I found myself going home after school and struggling to get homework done. And even though my mom and dad were on me, I didn’t always make the best choices, like choosing to sleep over doing homework.
In 10th grade, things started to look up. Ms. Trella [Artrella Cohn], who I knew through CIS Think Summer caught me and connected me with Mr. [Montrell] Baker, who has been my CIS Site Coordinator ever since.

One thing I’ve learned along the way is that I like helping people. A lot of freshman look up to me. Being tall helps! They literally look up to me. So, by connecting me to a lot of opportunities, Mr. Baker has helped me with being able to give back to my peers and other, younger students. Because I’m really good at math, I’ve been able to tutor students that need help with math. I volunteer with the food pantry we have at my school, thanks to CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. I do a lot of the heavy lifting and sorting, and stacking the food items. I’m working Tuesdays and Thursdays at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Through Literacy Buddies, I support students in their reading.

Most recently, I have become involved with the Men’s group which is led by Dr. [John] Oliver. Young men meeting with older men. We talk about our futures, current events—important things that need to be talked about for us to grow. Some of my good friends are a part of the group and for some of them, I never knew their stories until we had that group. It’s meant everything to me, to hear from those higher branches. I’m going to be that higher branch some day. And I’ll be passing that wisdom they poured into me, down to the next branch.

I’m grateful to CIS for catching hold of me, nourishing me, and feeding my desire to help others. Thanks to CIS, I am the young man I am today. And I’ve made great friends along the way. We have all came together as one through Communities In Schools.

As for my future plans? I have a few ideas. I’m thinking about going into business or communications, or maybe I’ll pursue teaching and coaching in a sports area. What I know for sure is that thanks to all those of you who have nourished me, I am using the Kalamazoo Promise to go to college because I’ve been accepted to KVCC!

I’d like to close with a poem I wrote for this occasion. But first, thank you all for doing your part. Know that when you work and volunteer and partner and donate to CIS—you’re making sure the kids that come after me will have the “Mr. Manley’s,” the “Ms. Melissas,” the “Ms. Trellas,” and the “Mr. Bakers” they need to grow strong, so they can be there for the next group of branches that have yet to even bud.

Thank you.

Dreon Smith with Dr. John Oliver

Isaiah & Dedrenna Hoskins, A Mother and Son Giving Back

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, volunteers and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature CIS volunteers Isaiah and Dedrenna Hoskins, the mother and son team supporting students at Washington Writers’ Academy. Since 2010, they’ve been distributing Friday Food Packs which are made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.  At Washington Writers’, these packs are provided thanks to Bethany Reformed Church. Each pack that the Hoskins deliver, holds enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend hours when other food options may be scarce.

When the school year ended this past June, this mother and son team kept at it, volunteering to distribute much needed food packs over the six weeks of CIS Think Summer! at Arcadia Elementary School.

Stacy Jackson, CIS After School Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy, along with colleague, Tamiko Garrett, CIS Site Coordinator of Linden Grove, oversaw the elementary CIS Think Summer! program. “They are reliable and really get the job done,” says Tamiko. “They make sure the packs get to where they need to be.”

“Yes,” adds Stacy, “They helped make this summer extra smooth. These two breathe life and hope into the kids every time they step into the school.”

Oh, and if you are wondering, the answer is yes. These Hoskins are related to the Dalanna Hoskins, CIS Site Coordinator at Milwood Elementary School. These two fabulous volunteers, Dedrenna and Isaiah, are her mother and brother.

We caught up with Isaiah and Dedrenna this summer, out at Arcadia Elementary. They were preparing the cart with food packs but took a short break to answer our questions. Although Isaiah is mostly nonverbal, he listened carefully to the questions. While he was patient with us, and often smiled, when it was over, he immediately jumped back into action. He knew he had a job to do and that the kids were counting on him!

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

 

POP QUIZ

What are you currently reading?

Pigs in the Parlor by Frank Hammond and Ida Mae Hammond. And Isaiah likes the Berenstain Bears books and Dr. Seuss.

 

What are your favorite words right now?

Roots and responsibility. Yes is one of Isaiah’s favorite words.

“Yes, yes!” pipes up Isaiah.

 

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

The diversity. The openness of the place.

 

What has most surprised you since you began volunteering with CIS in the schools?

Just how much of a great need there is…our kids need us and I’m glad Isaiah and I can help.

 

It’s clear you and your family values volunteering. Why do you choose to give back through CIS?

It is just who we are. We give, and not necessarily in expectation of getting something back. But, you know, you always get something back when you volunteer.

 

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

My parents. They’ve been my foundation, a strong foundation, and wide spreading. That gets us back to my favorite words: roots and responsibility.

 

As Dedrenna said, “Our kids need us.” If you would like to be in the schools, helping students, volunteer with CIS today. Go here.

You can learn more about Dedrenna and Isaiah and what it means for them to be giving back in the schools to kids in this year’s CIS Annual Report.

Pop Quiz: Dalanna Hoskins

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.

POP QUIZ

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 are you currently reading?

God’s Armor Bearer by Terry Nance and The LQ Solution by Dr. Keith Johnson. LQ stands for leadership quotient to the teaches you how to become a better leader. I’m reading both these books through my church.

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?

Compassion.

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!

 

The Dolly That Mike Made

Anyone who sets foot in a school knows that the role of a custodian is vital to the health and climate of a school. At Milwood Elementary School, students, their parents, along with KPS and CIS staff, and every community partner and volunteer who serves Milwood Elementary, is better because of Mike McCurdie. CIS Project Manager Missy Best says, “As Milwood’s wonderful custodial staff person, Mike has also really gone above and beyond to do things for CIS.”

Milwood’s CIS Site Coordinator, Dalanna Hoskins, agrees. She tells us Mike embraces his work as a custodian, going above and beyond to assure that the learning environment is ready every day for children. “Every now and then I bring him coffee, or free coffee coupons to let him know much we appreciate his help,” she says. And today, as guest blogger, Dalanna Hoskins shines the spotlight on one of her favorite custodian and tells us how other schools will soon benefit from Mike’s ingenuity.

“Mr. Mike” is what I call him. Before I even set foot in Milwood, Mr. Mike was supporting CIS staff, volunteers, and partners. For more than a decade, Mike McCurdie has served as custodian at Milwood Elementary School. Since the time of Renita Ellis (Milwood’s first CIS After School Coordinator) to now, we know we can count on Mr. Mike. Whenever I need help or assistance with access to the school or unlocking rooms or bringing in boxes of supplies –whether it’s clothes, backpacks, or other basic need items from CIS Kids’ Closet or items from one of our partners, like shoes from First Day Shoe Fund—Mr. Mike is always there to help me with getting these much needed resources into the school for our kids.

Most of you are probably familiar with the Friday Food pack program that exists throughout many of our CIS sites and made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. It was first piloted right here at Milwood Elementary, back in 2003. We credit our steadfast partner, Milwood Christian Reformed Church, with helping us get this program off the ground. Mr. Mike, too.

From the beginning, he has always there, helping with the food pack deliveries. As the program expanded and the number of food packs grew, Mr. Mike grew tired of always using the huge flat beds for the food packs. They were big, heavy, and cumbersome to wheel around. He knew there just had to be a better way. When, due to renovations, we temporarily moved to the school building on South Westnedge, Mr. Mike realized that the flat beds were not going to work at all. So, he came up with the idea of using wooden scooters instead.

The dolly that Mike made:

The dolly that Mike made

underside view of Dolly

And we have been using them ever since. In fact, it works so well that we are going to recreate his dolly for other CIS sites!

Thank you, Mr. Mike!Dolly made by Mike