This article was featured in our CIS Connections newsletter, The Double Issue. You can find the full publication here.
David Hamilton is studying health administration at Western Michigan University and, along with his twin brother, Daniel, will graduate this spring. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at Kalamazoo Central High School and Washington Writers’ Academy, David is focused on promoting a college-going culture.
At Kalamazoo Central, David has also been working on improving attendance among ninth graders who are chronically absent. He says, “The school and CIS work together to remove barriers to attendance. We’ve named the program ‘All Giants Present.’” David has been researching what works and says that “while there may be many root issues, it comes down to accountability and community support.”
One of the strategies he’s implementing is incentive cards. “They are more like ‘we miss you’ cards and they are signed by other students. Geared towards accountability, these cards let the absent student know their absence is noticed and that they are missed.”
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.
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.)
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.
…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.