We are an open book

Today begins National Reading Month. In anticipation of all the fabulous literacy activities kicking off throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) staff once again prepare by asking each other: What are you reading?

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick.

-Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Site Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

 

I am reading the Mindful Manifesto by Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell and I love it!

-Missy Best, Site Coach & Mentor 

 

I am currently reading From Babylon to Timbuktu- A History of Ancient Black Races Including The Black Hebrews, written by Rudolph R. Windsor.

-Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator, Loy Norrix High School

 

I just finished Memory For Forgetfulness, by Mahmoud Darwish, which is a poetic account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut. I’m now reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and How The Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev.

-Kaitlin Martin, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I just finished Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, which is a case study and research summarization of how people are dating now that technology is involved. I laughed out loud on every page. Everyone on my flight on Tuesday morning thought I was crazy. Now I am going to start reading Sick In The Head by Judd Apatow.

-Elyse Brey, Director of Elementary Sites

 

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel.

-Keely Novotny, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading the first volume of a collection of graphic novels by Jaime Hernandez entitled Love and Rockets. Very fun!

-Katherine Williams, CIS After School Coordinator, Hillside Middle School

 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

-Stephen Brewer, AmeriCorps VISTA, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading…Tales of a Female Nomad  Living at Large in the World by Rita Gelman and We Need New Names by No Violet Bulawayo. Here’s to Good Reads….

-Lauren Longwell, AmeriCorps VISTA Lead

 

I am reading In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt. It’s about Gail’s volunteer experience at my uncles orphanage in Cambodia.

-Terra Mosqueda, AmeriCorps VISTA, Loy Norrix High School & Hillside Middle School

 

I just finished M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A. Through narratively linked poems, A. Van Jordan tells the story of MacNolia Cox. She won the 1936 Akron, Ohio Spelling Bee and then became the first African American to reach the final rounds in the national competition. It’s beautifully written and reads like a play. Now onto reading Nora Webster by Colm Tóibin.

-Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I am currently reading The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Stacy Schiff. It is a psychologically thrilling nonfiction account that is rather dense with facts and light on sensationalism. In other words, readers really have to commit, but the payoff has been well worth it.

-Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

The book I currently started dissecting again is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness written by Michelle Alexander; a former director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California and past director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. The New Jim Crow is about the US prison system, its rise to have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and how, when systems are created, the social views those systems are predicated on can play a huge role in the systems operation.

Sure to polarize people to one side or another of an already controversial topic, this book is great at inspiring critical reflection on one of Modern America’s major topics!

-Nathaniel Wolfe Easlick, CIS After School Program Coordinator, Milwood Elementary

 

I’m currently reading and listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. This book details Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, which in many ways, forms the foundation of mindfulness practices in the United States. I’m also reading The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Siegel, which offers specific strategies for helping kids to integrate the various parts of their brain to help them manage socially and emotionally.

-Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives

 

I am currently reading: The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. A wonderful science fiction classic that deals with computer programming, nano-technology, and the limits of artificial intelligence.

Re-reading: Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey. A fantastic strength’s based model and, in my opinion, a great read for both those with ADHD and those who work with or love those with ADHD.

Also, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is my book club read this month. A fun read so far, it also has poignant themes about the treatment of people living in elder care communities.

-Ellie Galas, CIS Site Coordinator, Linden Grove Middle School

 

I just finished The Wright Brothers and am currently reading two books: Connection Culture by Michael Lee Stallard and Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline, the author of Orphan Train (the community read this year).

-Mary Oudsema, Special Projects

 

I’m currently reading The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 3 by Charlie Adlard and Robert Kirkman. It’s a collection of the graphic novels that the television show is based on. If you like the show, you’ll love the graphic novels – they’re amazing!

-Donielle Hetrick, CIS After School Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

I have been reading a lot of articles lately on trauma-centered approaches to working with youth as well as other research papers on program design. But, I am about to crack into two books, Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males and Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women both by Freeman A. Hrambowski, III, Kenneth L. Maton and Geoffrey L. Greif.  Mr. Hrambowski was a keynote speaker at the National Summer Learning Associations training in October in Baltimore.

My book club, The Lovely Ladies of Literature, is voting in a little over a week on our next read.

-Artrella Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites

 

I am currently reading The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield.

-Tamiko Garrett, Site Coordinator, Milwood Magnet School

 

 

Twelve Days Of Kindness

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12 Days of Kindness Calendar

We’re taking the next two weeks off from blogging and will return here to meet up with you again in January. To tide you over until then, we thought we’d share a really cool and kind idea: the Twelve Days of Kindness.

In December, each day after school, students at Woods Lake began focusing on acts of kindness. As part of Kids in Tune (a partnership of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and Kalamazoo Public Schools) one student has been reading out loud the day’s theme to the rest of the students and then everyone practices that theme. Students carry forward the themes of each day, adding to their musical and kindness repertoire. Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives says the students have responded overwhelmingly to the activity. “Each day, a number of teachers, staff, Kids in Tune volunteers have had opportunities to pass out ‘kindness coupons.’ There were a variety of incentives associated with the Twelve Days of Kindness, including rounds of applause from their fellow Kids in Tuners. It’s been fun for kids and grown-ups, alike!” The themes, which Deb and Eric Barth came up with and incorporated into December programming were:
A1_EveryDayPlease and Thank You Day

Be Kind to Your Instrument Day

Kind Smiles Day

Kind Words and Compliments Day

Kind Listening Day

Be Kind to Your School Day

Post-it Notes of Kindness Day

Kindness Crafts Day

Kindness Chain Day

Write Kind Letters Day

Be a Kind Helper Day

Culmination of Kindness Day

When was the last time you did something kind? What acts of kindness have you benefitted from? Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that “you cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” So, during these next few weeks, let’s all do some kindness while we still have time. See you back here in January.

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One of the many kindness letters written

Don’t Quote Me

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Four of the twelve new CIS interns. The BSW Social Work students (from left to right) are: Lexy Maciarz, Katie Palazzolo, Gretchen Schultz, and Victoria Kiel

As I sit down to write this post, I’ve just returned from being part of the orientation for our new interns. All twelve of them! It’s a CIS bi-annual ritual that I always look forward to; welcoming all those fresh, new faces, excited to be linked to aCIS Site Coordinator and begin their work within a Kalamazoo Public School. Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Learning, supervises the social work interns. “Welcoming our interns each year is like going back to school for me. My social work internships played an important role in my life. The joy of direct practice and mentorship by an experienced practitioner is the heart of what makes social work education so unique. An internship is the core process to becoming part of the profession and going on to make an impact on your chosen community. From the standpoint of our children, they benefit from one on one service by students who have specifically chosen this type of work as their life focus. These interns want to be there for our kids and they create opportunities and learning moments that stay with the children long after the internship is over.”

We’ll introduce you to this year’s nine social work and three health interns—all affiliated through our partnership with Western Michigan University—in a future blog post. Yes, we had them take our pop quiz and, being the good college and graduate students they are, they were up for the challenge! But, for now, thought you might be interested in a “behind the scenes” look at the exercise we did as a way to get to know each other better and begin the conversation about what it takes to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

We placed a quote in each of the four corners of the room. The interns were instructed to read each one and then stand by the quote that spoke to them the most. Then we discussed what they picked and why it resonated with them. Here are the quotes they read:

I might just be my mother’s child, but in all reality I’m everybody’s child.

Nobody raised me; I was raised in this society.

Every child you encounter is a divine appointment.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.

Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.

Which one speaks to you? Perhaps several or all do, but which one resonates with you the most right now? Why?

Each quote, I think, speaks to a dimension of what CIS and its school and community partners are trying to do, not just here in Kalamazoo, but throughout the country: recognize that every child is our child. And, if we hold this to be true, we must expect the best and set high standards for all of our children. Every moment with every child is a moment we must seize. As CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Lauren Longwell said at the training, “Our kids need us to be consistent. They need us to be present to them. We need to show up and be there for them.” Our children learn to believe in themselves because we believe in them. And they will, as one of the interns pointed out, “live up to as low or high as we set the bar.” So we might as well set the bar high and see where it takes our kids—and us. Hey, that sounds pretty good. Okay, go ahead and quote me.

Wondering who the four quotes are attributed to? In order of how they appear above: Tupac Shakur, Wes Stafford, John Whitehead, and Lady Bird Johnson.

 

Math, Music, And Refrigerators

_DSC0746Today’s post is written by our CIS friend and partner, Kalamazoo College Professor  Dr. Eric “Rick” Barth.

newspaper-clipping-of-Ricky-BarthLet’s begin with an old clipping from my home-town newspaper, dating back to the 1960s (right).

The picture shows a small-town businessman (my father) watching as a toddler (me) pushes on the side of a refrigerator, equipped with a long-forgotten bit of technology that was meant to make an easy job of moving, and cleaning behind, heavy kitchen appliances. I’m pretty sure that gadget never caught on with the buying public, but my dad always had his eyes open for the “next big thing” and hey, you never know…

This story could go lots of ways from here: how about “That was the day I learned the importance of cleaning under my fridge”? Instead, when I see that yellow newspaper, I think “That was one of the many days in my life that I got the chance to try something big and, because of all the supportive people around me, didn’t have to worry that something good wouldn’t come of it.”

That toddler spent the next 30 years working in Dad’s appliance store and studying in rural Kansas public schools, getting his degree at music school from the University of Kansas, getting married, working in more appliance stores, getting his Ph.D. in mathematics, moving to New York City and finally to Kalamazoo with two little boys of his own, to teach at Kalamazoo College. That history is a series of big opportunities, big changes, big challenges, big trials, and big joys. All big things that I was able to attempt without (much) fear because of all the supportive people around me.

Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park
Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park

What’s the next big thing? For me it’s combining my work at the College with my role as Curriculum Director at Kids in Tune. KiT is a family business for sure. The founder and director is Liz Youker, a fellow KU music alum with an unmistakable can-do spirit. My son Thomas started the Woods Lake Elementary cello club while in high school and merged that into the brand-new KiT program when it began in 2011, teaching in the program until last fall when he went off to music school. My wife Deb Faling — we met in music school at Kansas and have been collaborating on one crazy thing after another for almost 30 years — is the KiT associate director. And we spend so much time and work so closely with site coordinator Donielle Hetrick and ISS director of elementary sites, Linda Thompson, that they merit status of at least honorary “favorite cousins”!

So what happens at Kids in Tune that makes us all invest so much? How about this as an example: One day after we’d been rehearsing a portion of Mahler’s Symphony #1, a group of students came to me and asked “When do we start Symphony #2?”. It was clear to me in that moment that those kids were experiencing the power of great art in their own way and that they were seeing their life in the program as a great adventure where they are confident that every hard-earned and well-deserved discovery is followed by another one. I hope that by bringing our best to KiT students every day, we provide the opportunity for all 85 of them, every one, to try big things with an expectation that something great will happen, and without any worry that it won’t.

Knock, Knock

knockknockThis has been a tough winter. And it’s not over. With all this snow falling, ice damming, roof leaking, pipe bursting weather, my humor has taken a hit. What about yours? When was the last time you had a chance to thaw out and have a really good laugh? Not just a chuckle or snort but a full blown, eye-watering laugh that just doesn’t rumble above the surface but goes deep beyond the frost line?
Kids who can appreciate and share humor are happier and more optimistic, have higher self-esteem, and can handle differences (their own and others’) well. They are able to connect better with peers and handle adversities that come their way.
A sense of humor doesn’t just help kids emotionally and socially. There are physical benefits as well. Laughter relaxes the body (muscles stay relaxed for up to 45 minutes) and boosts the immune system. It lowers stress hormones, lowers heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure, aids digestion, and can decrease pain.
Laughter is a free resource and we need to mine it. We are wired for laughter, after all. I recall silently commending myself on having a child with an advanced sense of humor until the nurse told me my two month old’s grins were gas related. A baby’s first laugh typically occurs around the 4th or 5th month. In fact, scientists have teased out four distinct stages of humor development. I read (somewhere) that, on average, children laugh 200 times a day, adults, just 15-18 times a day.
knockknock2Humor can facilitate mastery and learning. Nobody knows this more than educators. Every day principals, teachers, site coordinators, and others wield humor with finesse to impart an important lesson, diffuse a situation, connect wth a student or parent. “Humor, like other forms of play, are intimately tied to social, emotional, and cognitive stages of development,” says Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Learning. ”It’s a great tool children can use to help them throughout their life. The power of play, with humor being one aspect, can stoke the flames of creativity and innovation, necessary ingredients for strong kids and ultimately a strong work force. Humor can heal, connect us to others, and help us deal with challenges in life.”
Years ago, I worked at a homeless shelter/single room occupancy residence in Pittsburgh. The individuals living there didn’t have much to laugh about as they had lost much—families, jobs, homes, physical and/or mental health, their sense of dignity. “What this place needs is a good laugh,” one of the residents said one day as she scanned the somber faces lined up for dinner. Turns out, she was right. We ended up incorporating a humor class as part of the rehabilitation programming. It was led by a local comedian—I forget his name but on an interesting side note, he had a tiny part in the movie, Silence of the Lambs, which was filmed in Pittsburgh. He appears towards the end of the movie—holding a box of flowers I think—and knocks on a door. (Who’s there?) Anyways, his comedy classes and his sense of humor helped change the tone of the building. Residents began smiling and laughing more. They hadn’t lost their sense of humor after all. And if laughter wasn’t lost, maybe another job, another beginning at life was possible.
We owe it to our children to help nurture their sense of humor. And we don’t have to be a comedian to do it. Just pay attention. We all have the ability to tap into the humor that is all around us. Just make it a goal to find one or two things every day that you find genuinely funny. Share your insights. Ask a child to share with you the funniest thing that’s happened to them recently. This builds a child’s habit of noticing humor.
And the next time a great comedian comes to town, like Costaki Economopoulos, go see him! (Don’t take the kids, though.) I promise you’ll laugh way more than 18 times.

What Are You Reading?

In anticipation of National Reading Month, we’re posting a series of emails that have recently flown between CIS staff. We did this last year and once again, it’s been fun to see what my colleagues are reading. We’ll begin with Artrella’s email that started it all…

A month from now (give or take a few days) Kalamazoo Public Schools will be kicking off its Literacy Month activities at the various schools (National Reading Month is March). I personally think that it is always fun to see the READ posters out at the sites and various KPS buildings when I am out. My curiosity leads me to ask the question…WHAT ARE YOU READING???  

I just received my book via Amazon today, which is a part of my Book Club (The Lovely Ladies of Literature). It is 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. Do share…

-Artrella M. Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites

 

I’m reading Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. “In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at the Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.” Challenging subject material, but excellent writing.

-Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives

 

I just got a box delivered from a friend living in India, and she sent me: Ayoni and Other Stories, a compilation of stories written by various Indian writers “who have focused on women’s issues…and altered the Telugu [Indian ethnic group] literary scene…. These stories deal with the dilemmas and problems faced by women, both on the physical and emotional levels.”

So far, I like how one of the writers captures one of my personal gestures, a blank stare, via writing by the usage of “…”. Tis awesome!!

-Haley A-bel, CIS Site Coordinator, Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

I’m reading Tenth of December, a collection of short stories by George Saunders and have recently finished A Woman in the Polar Night, by Christiane Ritter, the story of a year spent by a woman in a tiny hut on an island in the arctic circle which makes our recent Polar Vortex look like a walk in the park.

-Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives

 

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. A classic introduction to Taoism I have read a few times and it’s always soothing for me.

-Emily Demorest, CIS Site Coordinator, Maple Street Magnet

 

I am reading Affirming Your Greatness Through The Power of Words by Burnette Clingman and Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath.

-Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

I’ve just finished gorging myself with Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food, edited by Peggy Wolff. I’m on to the next course, a combination ofTell Me, poems by one of my favorite poets Kim Addonizio and Traveling Sprinkler, a novel by Nicholson Baker, one of the most uninhibited, funny writers I’ve ever read. Take page 96, for instance. I wanted to tell the Quakers about Debussy’s sunken cathedral. I kept formulating an opening in my head. “A little more than a hundred years ago, a composer named Claude Debussy wrote a piece for piano called ‘The Sunken Cathedral.’ He was a man with a big forehead who loved the sea.

-Jennifer Clark, Director of Community Relations

 

I just finished Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Just started a novel called The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally.

–Pam Kingery, Executive Director

 

I am reading Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women, by Melissa Harris Perry and just started the third book in the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. Yes, #nerdpoints.

-Kaitlin Martin, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I am currently reading one of this year’s “Reading Together” books: The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan. I also just finished reading a book called Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant.  It is a historical fiction on the Borgia family in Italy.

-Emily Kobza, Director of Development & Business Engagement

 

I am listening to Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and just finished listening to MansfieldPark by Jane Austen. I just finished reading the first two books in the Divergent Seriesby Veronica Roth and am impatiently waiting for my daughters to finish the third.  At one point during reading the first book there were 3 book marks in it.  I love it when we all read the same book- The Newsome Girls Book Club!  It’s really great when we get my mom to join in, too!!

Next in line are Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmakerby Jennifer Chiaverni, both historical fiction.

-Debra Newsome, Finance Coordinator

 

Wild Things by Dave Eggers!! Check him out if you haven’t; he’s fantastic.

-Jen DeWaele, CIS Site Coordinator, Woodward School for Technology and Research

 

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins. I highly recommend!

-Abby Nappier, Director of Volunteer Services

 

I’m reading A Dance with Dragons, the 5th book in the Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. They’re amazing – you guys should just stop reading your current books and switch to these.  🙂

-Donielle Hetrick, CIS Site Coordinator, Woods Lake

 

Currently reading Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by Jocelyn Glei. Great book for learning how to work smarter and find creativity even when you have no time or energy for it.

P.S. I love seeing what everyone is reading.

-Korrine Wojcik, CIS Site Coordinator, Milwood Elementary

P.P.S. We hope you also loved reading what we are reading. We’d love to hear what you are reading. Let us know! We may just publish what are readers are reading in the near future.

 

Failure is Never Fatal

Jenee McDaniel, CIS Site Coordinator and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School
Jenee McDaniel, CIS Site Coordinator and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

Every 26 seconds, a child drops out of school.

This alarming statistic disturbs me more than any other national statistic out there. Why? I think it’s because it is entirely preventable. There is no such thing as a dropout gene. It’s not that a kid wakes up one morning and says, “Oh, well. I think today is the day I will drop out of school.”

Dropping out, as we say in CIS,  isn’t an event. It’s a process. Too often, it is the result of not having a need met. Day after day. What’s standing in the way of a child’s success is hunger, a pair of glasses, shoes, a warm coat, dealing with emotions in a healthy way, coming to school late or not at all. A sense of hyper-hopelessness sets in.

“Dropping out is cumulative,” says Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS).”It’s the piling on of stuff to where it feels so overwhelming that a child feels the only option is to drop out. The community resources that flow through CIS allow our Site Coordinators to keep things from piling on.”

Perhaps a student is struggling in math and reading, failing a core class, their attendance isn’t what it should be, or their grade point average is suffering. Sometimes, the difference between being college ready and not college ready isn’t so huge but, to a child, it feels insurmountable. Having that extra caring adult in their life can help them find the courage to address obstacles and continue on with their educational journey.

Now, more students who are in need of that little extra push are getting it thanks to a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Hired this fall, three Success Coaches are working within four KPS schools. Lisa Brown is at Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal Ollie is at Loy Norrix High School, and Missy Best is at Maple Street Magnet School and Hillside Middle School.

“We need a larger footprint at larger schools,” Pam Kingery says. “CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows us to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. For students who need a moderate degree of support, having that one-on-one coaching support can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.”

“Success,” John Wooden once noted, “is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” The CIS Success Coaches are supporting Kalamazoo Public School students in the courageous journey of becoming the best they can be. O’Neal, Missy and Lisa are working closely with the schools and CIS staff to determine what students will best benefit from this individualized support.

The students already involved in the program are working with their Success Coaches to build on their unique strengths, creating a success plan, which includes goals that support school success, graduation and readiness for college or other post-secondary training.

Sometimes, success is just around the corner. It just takes determination and often the support of others to get there.

If you are interesting in finding out more about Success Coaching, contact CIS Director of Social Emotional Learning, Deb Faling, LMSW @ 269.337-1601 x 203.

Pop Quiz: Liz Youker

Liz Youker, Kalamazoo Symphony OrchestraAs Director of Education for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Liz Youker has been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping to establish Kids in Tune (KIT)—a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra—at Woods Lake Elementary School: A Magnet Center for the Arts. Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Initiatives credits Liz’s steady and supportive presence with helping to imbed KIT within the school culture. “Liz is the heart and soul of KIT,” Deb says. “Without her, the program would literally not exist. Her thoughtfulness, her vision, her warmth and her work ethic helped to bring this program to Kalamazoo and to the very lucky students of the CIS after school program at Woods Lake.”

Over tasty tea and coffee at Caffé Casa, I sprung our pop quiz on Liz. She didn’t miss a beat. (Pun intended.) See how she did and then check out Rhino Media’s brand new video about Kids in Tune.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m so focused on KIT…..let’s see…I love to cook, so a lot of my learning is happening in the kitchen these days. Over the summer I learned how to make yogurt. The process is simple, and once you get the hang of it there are limitless variations. It would be a money saver too, aside from the few batches that don’t turn out so well and nobody will eat… Next I’m going to try homemade mozzarella.

What are you currently reading?

I have two little ones so I’m reading a lot of children’s book. Mostly fairy tales. And I’m reading the same books over and over again.

What’s your favorite fairy tale?

My daughter’s favorite is Hansel and Gretel. She’s four years old and really enjoying fairy tales. I thought they might be too scary for her but she is into scary-spooky things right now. Reading these tales is helping my daughter explore her world a little more; concepts like dark and light, good and bad, how people can be nice and mean all at the same time. And these stories all have a resolution at the end that wraps things up.

Your comments remind me of a book I read a while back called Psychological Immunity. The premise being much like you are talking about, that it is by reading fairy tales to our children that parents help build resiliency, innoculating children to the darkness that exists in the world. If you weren’t reading fairytales all the time, what would you be reading?

I’d be going back over the classic literature that I absorbed quickly in college but didn’t have the luxury of delving into more deeply at the time—they say education is wasted on the young. I’m at a point in my life when I’d love to go back and re-do those college courses that I flew through.

Liz and Barry Kalamazoo Symphony OrchestraWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

I think about this a lot. I’m in a very administrative role with my work at the Kalamazoo Symphony. But coming from a long line of teachers, I feel like the natural evolution of things is to finally become a teacher after all these accumulated experiences. I admire teachers. I observe such impressive teaching on a daily basis, at Woods Lake and with the preschool teachers working with my own kids. So, perhaps my destination is to become a teacher. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll start over some day and learn to sing harmony in a blue grass band.

What is your favorite word right now?

Proleptic.

I’ve never heard of that term before.

It’s an interesting word, meaning something like: playing dress up or where you actas if you are before you become that something. Play the part and then you become it. This is of interest to me because of my work with Kids in Tune. We want the kids to consider themselves to be a musician, to be part of an orchestra before they are actually performing at that level. Act as an orchestra until you become one. We are helping kids seriously adopt an identity and a role that they can grow into over time.

If I can pick two, my other favorite word is “iterative,” which means a process where you circle back to the beginning often, picking up more each time. With every repetition or iteration you learn something new, it brings you to a new level of understanding. It’s another part of our approach at Kids in Tune—to play Beethoven’s 9th at the beginning, but to keep coming back to it periodically to experience it with a new level of understanding. So I have two favorite words right now, but they are related.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

What has been on my mind? Let’s see…The importance of assuming and expecting the best of others. At Kids in Tune we have high standards for the students. It’s important that we all have not just an expectation of excellence, but an assurance, a positive attitude that accompanies the expectation. The students know we believe in them and that they can achieve what we expect them to achieve. So the way in which we support students is important. We must know, believe and expect that they will rise to the challenges presented them. As supporters of these students, we must not come from a place of doubt.

You’re a pretty deep person.

(Liz just smiles, laughs lightly.)

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

I’ve been fortunate to have lots of them. So when I think back on that somebody who, in retrospect, made a bigger impact on me than I realized at the time, I’d say it was my fifth grade teacher, Carol Mitchell. She knew that we were dealing with an illness, my mom was going through chemotherapy and she offered to take me out one afternoon. She took me to a museum—it had a dinosaur exhibit— and dinner. I still remember the outing and what I ordered. She might have invited me under the premise that it was a reward for good work at school….looking back I know that she realized I was a student who was in a difficult place, going through things at home. She took time out of her weekend, going above and beyond to help a student. She made me feel special and gave me confidence. She offered me an experience I might not have otherwise had.