Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks: In Schools for Kids

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 Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks.

A Kalamazoo native and proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Reverend Mo attended Northeastern Elementary School, Hillside Middle School, and “the great Kalamazoo Central High School.” He went on to graduate from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s in social psychology. A number of summers ago, he also served as a youth development worker in CIS Think Summer!

Reverend Mo is the Director of Youth Ministries at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a position he’s held for almost three years. He’s written a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You, and is working on another book, also geared to youth. And still, he makes volunteering with youth in the schools a priority. For the past two years, he’s volunteered with CIS at Kalamazoo Central High School, supporting young men in a group that meets on a weekly basis. The young men have named the group, KC Men of Change.

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

Pop Quiz

Thinking back on your years as a student in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was your favorite teacher?

I’d have to say my favorites were my English teacher, Mrs. [Sandra] Daam and Mr. [Topher] Barrett. He was a forensic coach and I was also in his drama class. Mr. Barrett was patient and challenged me to be a leader. Mrs. Daam was loving and hard. Oh, she was hard! But a loving hard. She helped me out a lot.

How would you describe the volunteer work you do with CIS?

For me, the work is really meaningful, especially because when I was their age, I wish that I could have been a part of something like this, to have someone help me make wise decisions, and challenge me.

Last year, I was able to meet with them twice a week and this year, we’re meeting once a week. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to go back to doing the group twice a week. When we meet, I’m able to ask the hard questions of them because of my experience growing up, and we have deep conversations. I like impacting them in a positive way.

I sense a great deal of respect for our youth, whether it is here at the church, in the schools, or in the community. Kalamazoo cares about its young men and women.

CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough said one of the most impactful sessions for the students was one that had to do with self-love.

Yes, Deb wanted to have a few sessions that combined both the males and females [Young Women with a Purpose], so we did. I had them list five or more people that they love. I then asked them to name the things they do for them because they love them. They identified things like I protect them, I’m loyal to them, I make sacrifices, and so on. I asked them to list five more people they love and then asked, Now how long does the list have to be until you’re on it? It was an eye-opener for them. Too often, our young people aren’t taking care of themselves because they’re busy worrying about others. We then talked about loving ourselves and how that involves things like trusting one’s self and protecting one’s self.

When it comes to engaging our youth, what do adults often forget?

I think they forget that they were once a youth and, along with that, they forget their mistakes.

I can remember my mistakes vividly. In 2015, I wrote a book, Unmasked: The Courage to Be You. In it, I share my own struggles of when I was in high school, my mistakes and regrets, as well as being somebody who I wasn’t. Students often struggle with that.

Sometimes, adults do too!

Yes, and while the book is geared to youth, I’ve had adults who have read it tell me: I’ve needed this!

When it comes to working with young people and connecting with them, what’s your secret?

One, recall your own youth and know your own mistakes. Also, know that their emotions and feelings are real. Too often we can cast them aside or don’t recognize them. Youth don’t always share their feelings but just because they aren’t communicating them to the world, doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the feelings. They may be bottling them up, so offering them a safe space to bring out and express their feelings can help. When I share my story, my path, and the wrong things I’ve done, that helps get the process going. They see this guy wearing a suit and tie, and think, well, he has baggage and pain and if he can open like that, maybe I can too. And they start sharing, because now we’ve got this trust thing going on and are connecting on a deeper level, having real conversations.

Speaking of suit and ties, Deborah Yarbrough also mentioned that you implemented a “Dress for Success” day and that that too, was a huge hit and brought the group closer together, identifying even more as a team.

Actually, it wasn’t me but the young men who came up with the idea! Each week, I come wearing a suit and tie to group. We had a tie session last year and taught the young men to tie ties. Last year, the group decided to have a dress up day and it went so well we thought, why not keep this going? And so, this year we had another tie session and then another dress up day!

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading and listening to books. Right now, I’m listening to Meet Generation Z. It’s written by James Emery White. He takes a look at this next generation that follows the Millennials, or “Generation Z.” He explores the trends, how culture is shifting, how we can reach these young people, minister to them, and serve them.

What is one way, according to the book, that we can reach this next generation?

Answer their questions. With the age we are living in, young people have a lot of questions. We need to listen to those questions and have answers.

James Emery White points out that we are living in a post-Christian world, one in which the norm is that people are no longer connected to a religion. More often than not, as a minister I’ll hear, I don’t have any religion. I’m spiritual, but I don’t belong anywhere. This generation is asking, Is religion necessary? Is it relevant?

What are some of your favorite Kalamazoo places?

Home, here [church], and Sweetwater’s Donuts. That’s about it…I’m really a home body!

Favorite word?

Self-assessment.

I feel like a lot of people have the inability to self-assess. I want to know, how can I grow? What could I have done better? We live in a blame generation. So, when things go wrong, it’s easy to point the finger and blame anybody but ourselves. But if we stop and assess ourselves, recognize hey, I could do this or that better, well, when we do that, we can move forward. If everybody did that, we could really move forward. We need to self-assess.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

The importance of habits as well as practicing those habits. By training on whatever you’re working on, you can build upon good habits. While I’m always learning, that’s the big one right now: habits.

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

During my elementary years, I’d have to say it was Mr. Gary Vanstreain. He was our basketball coach at Northeastern Elementary School. He was so positive, caring, and challenging, and would give you the shirt off his back.

In middle school, there were quite a few. I’ll go with my coach at Hillside, Steve Dunning. He was a disciplinarian and made sure you were on track and what you needed to do to stay on track. Even outside of the court, outside of basketball season, he cared and was on me. He showed that tough love.

In high school, it was Pastor James Harris. I will never forget, I was in a low moment in my life and Pastor Harris came to my house, spoke with me and prayed with me. He set out on a notecard representing where I was and then set out another notecard showing me where I could be, my potential. I doubt he’d remember that, but that moment really impacted me.

Then, in my college years, it was my own pastor, Pastor Moore. He really poured into me, invested in me, mentored and disciplined me.

Thank you, Reverend Mo, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

Jennifer Johnson: Ever Moving Towards the Possibilities

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 Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.

A lifelong resident of Southwest Michigan, Jennifer grew up in northern Michigan. “People won’t like to know that I love snow,” she laughs. “But I grew up with snow! I love it!”

Jennifer attended Central Michigan University, double majored in psychology and English and then obtained her Masters in English, Language and Literature. “When people learn I have an English degree, they’ll often ask, What makes you qualified to do this? I tell them I’m annoying,” says Jennifer. “And I ask questions.”

We’d describe Jennifer not as annoying but rather, persistent, focused, and curious, always looking for possibilities and moving not just her and Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes towards them, but the whole Kalamazoo community.

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

Pop Quiz

When we talk about hunger these days, we often hear the term, ‘food insecure.’

That is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of hunger.

What is your definition of food insecurity?

People need enough food to lead a healthy active life. They need food that counts nutritionally. A person may be eating food, but not the right food. They may be taking in calories, but not the right calories. The reality is that some people don’t have enough money to buy the right food, or perhaps they have enough money but they live in a food desert. Their only access to food is the local Family Dollar or corner store that doesn’t have fresh fruits and vegetables; the foods they need to grow health and strong.

Hunger presents itself in many different ways. Teachers see it in the form of concentration problems and behavioral issues. For kids themselves it is more of an out loud thing, literally. My stomach is growling! My daughter’s teacher, like a lot of teachers, has a snack drawer in her classroom. We see the holes and we’re all trying to fill them.

Speaking of filling a need, let’s talk Friday Food packs! We are so grateful to you and all those at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes for your commitment to this program. As you know, since 2005, your food packs have been one of the critical “tools” CIS site coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help students.

In the early days with the program, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes saw the food packs as merely a bridge, a bridge to more things. It was, and still is, helpful for us that CIS site coordinators, working with teachers and administrators, identify students who need that little extra help on weekends from Loaves & Fishes. Identifying the kids has been a way to help us reach the families. We want to feed the whole family as well as the child.

So the Friday Food Packs has helped bridge that end?

It has helped with that, yes… I’d add that we are limited by the number of packs we can provide. Around 6,000 kids are on free and reduced lunch. The number of food packs provided are small in proportion to the need. We know how tough it is for CIS site coordinators to prioritize what students will receive the packs.

You’ve been with KLF for eleven years, serving these last four years as executive director [and prior to that, as resource development and public relations director]. When it comes to feeding hungry people and engaging our community in the fight to end hunger, what is one of the biggest changes you’ve noticed over the years?

One of the most recent things I learned was from talking with Deb Yarbrough, the CIS site coordinator at Kalamazoo Central. She’s been there a long time and really knows the kids. So I asked her, “When it comes to hunger in the high school, what’s changed?” She said that it’s changed a lot. Kids, she said, are more responsible than they’ve ever had to be for their food, their sibling’s food, as well as accessing food for their household.

What a responsibility that puts on our children’s shoulders! Now, there are lots of reasons for this, one being that a parent may be working at night. Whatever the case, the level of responsibility that has been put on kids in the last few years has greatly increased…I grew up as a latch key kid, but it was different then. It’s not the same thing.

If you could feed us one statistic on hunger, what would it be?

In our community, there are 40,000 food insecure people. That means in Kalamazoo County there are people living right on the edge and there are also people living deeply in poverty. It’s the whole spectrum.

One of the thing people don’t realize is that just because you have a couple of jobs doesn’t mean you have all the bases covered. Imagine, you have two part time jobs, no benefits, and something happens where you have medical bills. Or maybe your car dies and you don’t have the dollars to fix it. You need groceries, but don’t have a vehicle. Life is complicated for many people. Holes and gaps hamper their success and their children’s success. At Loaves & Fishes, we live with that every day and work to create as many access points as possible to help kids and the surrounding community.

We know [from last year’s Valentine Post] that you “love the possibilities” as seen through your daughter, her friends, and this community. What possibilities have you been noticing recently?

It’s hard to see them sometimes. It’s easy to get bogged down by external things, like what’s going on in the environment, the media, the world. It’s hard to not be negative. I encourage everyone to push all these distractions out of the way to see the possibilities. They are there! We believe at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes—we believe to our core—that we can create a hunger free community. That is an immense task, but it is possible! And CIS is an integral part of that task.

How so?

Your CIS people are incredible connectors. We couldn’t do this work without CIS. CIS site coordinators are on the ground and in the schools. They see and can help identify a child in need and that helps us know where our food needs to be. CIS is one of many agencies that are helping us do that throughout the community.

We love partnering with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes in the Kalamazoo Public Schools! Your organization really has an open mind set. Back in 2003, when we came to you and sought out your expertise about kids coming to school hungry, especially on Monday mornings, KLF was quick to say, Let’s figure something out! Soon after, the Friday Food packs was born.

Sometimes, possibilities are stopped by a system. We adhere too strictly to boundaries or the way things have always been done. When we open ourselves up to looking at ways systems can be stretched, that’s when possibilities can happen and we can leverage things like breakfast, lunch and summer feeding programs to their fullest.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Systemic change is hard. Real change takes work! We’re all busy and it’s hard to stop, to take the time and figure out better and new ways to do something. But if we can stop and focus—together— and say, I know this isn’t easy work, but let’s take the time to figure this out, together, we can make things better.

Do you have a favorite condiment?

I’m anti-condiment. I don’t like condiments, and that includes salad dressing. I’m boring, I know. That will be the theme of this blog interview! I’m boring.

Far from it! So, what’s the best meal you’ve ever had? What one food item is a “must have” in your own home?

We love fruits and vegetables. Mostly fruits, if you ask my daughter.

My best meal? Probably the home-made pizza I made with my daughter. I love baking and cooking with my daughter. Growing up, I cooked with my mom and grandmother and I am trying to instill that love of cooking with my eight-year-old daughter. We recently made spaghetti and meatballs from scratch. Not the noodles, though. We don’t have a noodle maker. But my daughter helped with the meal. She squished and formed the meatballs with her hands…I know how much it meant to me to bake with my mom and knowing I can do that with my daughter, well it’s thrilling to have that experience with her. Cooking and baking together is an important part of our life.

Favorite word?

Possibilities. That’s been one of my favorite words for a very long time. I can trace my thinking on possibilities back to Zora Neale Hurston and her book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. That book taught me a lot about possibilities. It really made me think beyond my own life. When you think there is no other way to go, nowhere to turn, there is. You just need to stop, collaborate, and take a different road.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Katharine Graham’s Personal History.

Loved that book, though it was a lot of pages.

God Bless America, that was a long book! But it was so good. I really enjoyed reading about Graham’s growth as a woman, her running the Washington Post, and working in a male-dominated industry. I found it inspirational and relatable for our times: don’t give up! Oh, and I’m just starting The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. To think about the contributions to the world both of these women made, and in completely different ways. It’s inspiring.

Did you know that the librarian [Jermaine Jackson] at the Alma Powell Branch Library is related to Henrietta Lacks?

Yes, there are several of her descendants living in our community. That is exciting.

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

I’ve had several. Both my parents have been my caring adults. I lost my dad four years ago. My mom is still here. My mom was my baker, teacher, and challenger. So was my dad. I’d go to Rotary with him, we’d collect for UNICEF together. I learned to give back at a very young age.

I’d also have to say my English teacher was very influential. I didn’t like school, didn’t find it very challenging. She changed my life by showing me books I should read. In college, I even ended up going into English Language and Literature.

Without a doubt, another caring adult in my life is Anne Lipsey. She became a friend but she is also my mentor, having been my boss for years. I’ve learned so much from her, how the voice of the people we serve must be heard and how we must stand up for them, particularly during these judgemental times. I’ve learned so much and continue to learn from her. She is just amazing.

We’re so grateful to the KLF staff and board for your on-going commitment to helping hungry kids in the schools and for all you do to end hunger throughout our community. We know there are many volunteers who work behind the scenes to make your work, such as food packs and school pantries, possible. What is the size of your volunteer force?

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes would not exist without volunteer support. On a weekly basis, it takes 300 to 400 volunteers to do what we do. That’s a massive amount of people! From front desk people volunteering, helping us answer the phone, escorting people through the building, to drivers who pick up and deliver our food, and those volunteers who deliver those food packs to schools. [If you would like to learn how you can volunteer with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, go here.]

Thank you, Jennifer, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

Graduate Reflects on his Experience with CIS

Curt Johnson will soon start college. Having graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Curt reflected on his CIS experience at the 10th Annual Champ Celebration held this past April. Since then, a number of guests in attendance have asked us to publish it. Curt has graciously given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

While Curt gave the speech that follows, he did add additional comments at times. For instance, when he noticed Angelita Aguilar (a 2016 Champ—you can read about her here) in the sea of almost 400 people, he called her out and thanked her for her support through the years.

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

Curt presented with PNC gift from Steve Powell.

Here’s Curt’s speech:

I’m happy to be able to share my story with you and my experience with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. CIS has helped me a lot. I first became involved with the CIS when I was in sixth grade at Milwood Magnet Middle School. During conferences, one of my teachers recommended CIS to my mom and me. For that, I am grateful. Ever since then, CIS has been like a home base for me throughout my education.

One of the reasons I thought CIS was a good fit for me was because moving into a new school would be a way to make friends and meet new people and find out more about myself. I’d recently moved to a new neighborhood, having been adopted into a new family when I was going into fifth grade.

The CIS After School program kept me busy after school. Staying busy is important for kids and teenagers; without extra-curricular activities kids begin to look for things to do that aren’t good for them and could end up getting them into trouble. We always did fun activities. I especially enjoyed going to the gym and eating snacks. We also did homework while we ate our snacks.

I gained a lot of new experiences through CIS. For instance, as part of the after school program, we had an opportunity to sign up for various activities throughout the week, so I was always busy. I was introduced to different cultures, various forms of dance, music, and even food. I also found my passion for music through CIS. This was during seventh and eighth grade and it was thanks to CIS partner Bangtown Productions. We probably made around 20 songs throughout the two-year span. I still have the CD’s we made.

Over the years, CIS has helped me with school. That help is especially fresh in my mind this year, as I’m a senior preparing to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise. I’ve appreciated the tutoring opportunities and the really helpful tutors that CIS has provided. It’s been great having WMU students help me with chemistry. These college students are going to school for engineering so they explain things, and get me through it.

Throughout my high school years at Kalamazoo Central, my CIS Site Coordinator, Ms. Yarbrough has taken me under her wing. She checks up with me regularly, making sure I’m staying on top of my academics. She also helps resolve problems and situations. Those situations can range from serious issues to just needing a granola bar so I can focus and get through the day. I want to give my site coordinator a shout out for always keeping my best interest in mind. She makes it clear what I need to do, what I should do, and if anything is wrong—let the problem be known—so we can fix it.

Curt, at Champs with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough.

I know that some kids have a hard time talking to adults, so having a CIS person like Ms. Yarbrough in their school—whose job is to be there and help you get through your school days so you can graduate—is important. As a high school student, the emotional support I’ve received from CIS helps me get through the school year. Kids deal with a lot of stress and people like Ms. Yarbrough and other CIS staff understand. This emotional support is important to so many kids—as you’ll often find many students lining up at the CIS door, waiting to talk with Ms. Yarbrough. Just like a lot of other kids, I don’t have to break down, because I have somebody I can talk to, somebody I can trust. Someone always make sure I say how I feel so it’s not affecting me during the school day.

As I reflect on my six years with CIS, I think what I’ll take away most from the experience is having gained friends, opportunities, met CIS staff and mentors and people I can turn to if I need help. Without the support and guidance from CIS, the chances of me walking the stage and receiving my diploma would have been very slim. I will be graduating this June and plan to attend Southwestern Michigan College. I’m interested in social work and theatre.

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the years I’ve spent with Communities In Schools. I would also like to thank all the people I’ve met over these years of being involved with the program—the CIS staff, the partners, the volunteers—and to all the people who I haven’t met, who have given money, time, effort, and patience to helping all of us kids.

Thank you.

Thank you, Curt! We’re excited for all that the future holds for you. You know where to find us! Stay in touch!

Did you catch Curt Johnson along with Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School, on The Lori Moore Show? You can watch it here.

 

Susan Knox: Doing Her Part to Create a Community of Hope

Today we highlight Susan Knox, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. Her Champ award was sponsored by Greenleaf Trust. CIS Board member and Kalamazoo Promise Board Member Dr. Janice M. Brown presented the award.

A child’s success in school and life often hinges on the opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. It’s one of the five CIS basics, something every child needs and deserves. This relationship can make the difference between a student staying in school or becoming one of the 1.2 million students who drop out of school each year. Since the Fall of 2010, Susan Knox has been that caring adult for many of our high school students, particularly those struggling academically.

When Susan, a chemical engineer, retired from Pfizer, she sold her house and car, and moved downtown. “I wanted to start volunteering,” she said, “to contribute to something I felt passionate about. I picked up a pamphlet about volunteering and circled the ones I thought I could do.” We’re forever thankful she circled Communities In Schools.

Susan, on right, with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough.

She has been a CIS volunteer at Kalamazoo Central for seven years now. Regardless of the weather, she catches the city bus and week after week, year after year, shows up consistently for our kids. “Suzie’s passion to serve students goes far beyond what is expected of any volunteer,” says CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough. “She’s willing to adjust her schedule to accommodate the needs of both our students and staff.

Her flexibility has allowed CIS to connect her with the students who need her most. She provides academic support to student one-on-one and in small groups. She’s worked with students during study hall, after school, and during the lunch hour. While she primarily focuses on math, she’s willing to tutor in other subjects. “No French or Spanish,” she says, “but I’ll give everything else a try.”

Susan and Kalamazoo Cental student taking a break from tutoring to smile.

Smart, compassionate and humble, Susan credits her success with students to the support she’s received along the way. “CIS gave me the training I needed to be successful. I learned how to do things and just as importantly, what not to do.” She refers to CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough and CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider as her “CIS bosses…They aren’t bossy, though,” she says. “Because they know the students so well, they give me insight into what the students need from me. They’re role models. I watch their interactions and it helps me figure out what I should do, what I should tolerate or not tolerate when it comes to behaviors. They coordinate with each other and give me the support I need so I can support the student.”

“Volunteering,” someone once said, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Through her rock solid and steady support, Susan is creating a community of hope, one in which all children can fulfill their promise.

Susan Knox, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Pop Quiz: Jenna Cooperrider  

img_3224Welcome 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 Jenna Cooperrider, now in her second year as CIS Success Coach for Kalamazoo Central High School. CIS Success Coaches allow Communities In Schools to have a larger footprint in larger schools. CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows CIS 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 support from Jenna or her colleague, O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School, can be the tipping point that gets students on track and on the road to graduation.

Jenna hails from Waterford, Michigan. She received her undergraduate degrees in English and Psychology from the University of Michigan. She then attended Wayne State University where she earned her Masters in Social Work. Jenna works closely with CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough and she says, “I love when we see the positive changes in kids from working with them. We have a student who was failing and is now passing all his classes—and you know that if you weren’t there, it could have been a different situation.”

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

On fleek.

Pardon?

On fleek. I heard students mentioning this word, using it quite a bit, and thought it was a website. But, it means on-point. My hair’s on fleek.

I feel five percent hipper now.

Yea, the kids really keep me up to date. I like how they teach me things.

Favorite word?

Vacation.

What are you currently reading?

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. It takes place during the Second World War. Kavalier and Clay are cousins, one just escaped from the Czech Republic and one from New York City and they create a new superhero and get a contract to start a new comic book.

As you know, attendance is one of our goals at CIS this year. As a success coach, what is one of the main reasons some kids struggle with attendance?

That’s a hard question to answer. When it comes to attendance, it’s really student specific as to why a particular student isn’t coming to school. There can be common denominators, but when it comes down to asking students, it’s not always the same answer.

What are some of the reasons you hear?

Not having an alarm clock is a big one. Sometimes, students miss the bus and they just don’t have a ride to school. Some don’t like school. Some stay home with a sick brother or sister because their parents have to work. Sometimes, it just takes a phone call to the parents. “What do you mean my kid isn’t in school?” they sometimes say. And then a half hour later that student is in school.

For instance, I’ve worked with a student who was struggling with his attendance. Turns out, he had spotty and unreliable transportation. He was also homeless. I worked closely with Mr. Schrum, our homeless liaison here at Kalamazoo Central. He’s one of our go-to people for resources for kids in these situations. He got the student bus tokens. And now, a school bus picks the student up.

When it comes to addressing attendance issues, CIS needs to not only work with the student, but work closely with the school and also communicate with parents, letting them know what resources are available to help.

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

Besides the obvious—my mom and my dad—I would say my grandma. She was a single mom. She worked really, really hard to support my mom and my aunt. She’s the epitome of hard work. She worked at General Motors while raising two kids on her own. She’s feisty and says what she thinks. I don’t always want to hear what she has to say but she’ll tell me anyways. I respect that.

Thank you, Jenna!

 

 

Pop Quiz: Tyesha Moore 

TyeshaWelcome 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 Tyesha Moore. A former Milwood Elementary and Linden Grove Middle School student, Tyesha is now a sophomore at Kalamazoo Central High School. She became involved with Communities In Schools in ninth grade. “I met [CIS Success Coach] Ms. Cooperrider through [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Yarbrough,” she says. “Both help me, are there even through my toughest times.” As Tyesha puts it, “They have both taken me under their wings and now Ms. Cooperrider is keeping me on her watch.”

Jenna Cooperrider describes Tyesha as “really smart and sweet.” Tyesha describes herself as “shy.” This school year, this young woman is stepping out of her comfort zone to explore her passion for writing by taking a slam poetry class with English teacher, Christopher Bullmer.

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Never give up. I never give up on certain things, even though it’s really hard. Also, when somebody gets in your way, move around them, and breathe! I’m trying to do good, but it’s a struggle.

Favorite word?

Roses, because I like roses. I want to get a tattoo in honor of my little niece that passed away. I want it to be beautiful. I love the color blue and my niece loved the color pink and so a rose with those colors, that is what I have in mind for getting a tattoo.

Poetry is an important part of your life. Can you share a little bit about when you started writing? Your writing routine?

I’ve been writing poetry since I was fourteen. I carry a notebook with me so I can write when I need to. Sometimes I write every day. Sometimes, every other day.

notebook

Three words that come to mind after reading some of your poems: deep, dark, and real. Is that a fair statement?

Yes, my poetry is about my life and expressing how I feel.

The poet Rita Dove has said, “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” Do you agree?

I think I do. Poetry is a type of power you put into your words. I write whatever I feel and whatever is around me.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a good book. I can’t remember the title now and I already turned it back to the school library, but it’s about a girl who has two separate families. One is the real one and the other family kidnapped her but she said they didn’t.

What are your plans upon graduating from high school?

I want to travel to an art institute, attend college out of state somewhere and work on my poetry.

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

My mother. She takes care of me. She has eleven kids and I am the baby of the family. Her kids have all grown up to be what they want to be. For instance, my older sister is a banker.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I envision myself doing a couple things. I’ve always wanted to be a famous artist and also go into modeling. But, with modeling, you have got to be perfect. I’m not perfect so I think I’m going to do something that mixes poetry and art.

Thank you, Tyesha!

Capitalizing on Your Investment

CIS Seniors at Board Meeting

This article was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections. Read the full issue here.

Five graduating seniors, Quinntonia, Zion, Arrion, LaStarra, and Dorian participated in a panel discussion at the CIS Board Meeting in June. All five Kalamazoo Public School students are headed to college. Here are a few insights and hard-earned wisdom they shared.

“What am I most proud of? Accepting help. I like to be independent, and I couldn’t be because of my situation. I’m proud I could accept help from CIS.”

“I liked being able to run down to [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Yarbrough. She always let me know where I was and what I needed to do to stay on track. Working with CIS and all my teachers, I was able to turn myself around.”

“Without CIS, school would have been way, way harder. All the support you receive makes you feel good and want to graduate and be something in life.”

“I’m looking forward to college and putting to use what [CIS Site Coordinator] Mr. Baker and [CIS Success Coach] Mr. Ollie taught me—and making my own success plan.”

What would be your advice to help students succeed in school and use the Kalamazoo Promise?

“Find a support system and keep believing in yourself.”

Seniors at CIS Board Meeting“Talk more about possible futures and careers. By having a better understanding of what the future could look like, it helps students set their goals.”

What barriers did you encounter to attending school and performing academically?

“I’m a last-minute kind of person… and I’d forget to turn stuff in. CIS helped get me organized.”

“I talked too much and got distracted. I was terrible my first year. Mr. Ollie helped me get it together.”

Students shared how the decision to focus in on school impacted friendships.

“I lost friends. But you only need a few good friends, even just one friend who strives for the same success.”

“When you get serious about school, you can end up bringing your friends along. They start thinking, ‘Maybe I should start getting serious, too’ and you can get on track together and get your diploma.”

“I lost friends too, but I gained new friends and we helped each other in class. Also, losing a friendship doesn’t mean you can’t gain it back.”

How can CIS be better?

“Help more students who are struggling.” –Resounding response from all panel members.

KPS seniors and CIS staff after the CIS Board panel discussion.
KPS seniors and CIS staff after the CIS Board panel discussion.

 

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring

Today we highlight Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Their award was sponsored by BASIC and CIS board member James Ritsema presented the award.

BASIC & BBBS
From BBBS, accepting their Champ Award, right to left): Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, Carmen James, Match Support Specialist, and Ann Woolley, President-elect. They are joined (right to left) by Fritz Teutsch, President of BASIC, Mike Stoddard, Executive Vice President/Principal of BASIC and James Ritsema, Kalamazoo City Manager and CIS board member.

Strategic partnerships strengthen Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s ability to meet the needs of the over 9,000 young people we serve. To have the biggest impact on learning, CIS aligns with those who offer evidence-based approaches. Over a decade ago, when CIS Site Coordinators positioned within the Kalamazoo Public Schools began identifying students in need of mentoring, the choice was clear. CIS turned to Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring.

Partnership, like a healthy marriage, demands commitment and energy. It’s an adventure that can take you further than going it alone. Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters says, “CIS is critical to us. We have a powerful partnership and are able to provide services directly to the kids that need them. CIS is the link that makes sure we are able to reach the kids who are in the greatest need of our services.”

Those services, whether it’s school-based mentoring, Bigs on Campus, or Bigs in Business, require a planned, coordinated effort to magnify outcomes for students. Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites says, “Big Brothers Big Sisters staff are always available to work with us on barriers and challenges that naturally arise when implementing and expanding any program. We work together,” she says, “to improve processes to ensure students are being served at fullest capacity. Right now, we’re discussing how we can expand Bigs in Business to more schools next year.”

Local businesses, brought under the Bigs in Business umbrella, help reach more students than ever before. Big Brothers Big Sisters works in concert with CIS so that, twice a month, Kalamazoo Central High School students can take a van to Stryker, Loy Norrix High School students head to Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Stryker, while middle school students from Maple Street go to National Flavors. Students make connections beyond themselves, working one on one and in small groups with the employees-mentors. It widens their world. As CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough puts it, “It’s highly motivating for students; we’re seeing them take more initiative and responsibility—whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.” CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider agrees. At the start of the school year, she consulted with Deborah on a student who was failing school and at-risk of dropping out. “We connected him to Big Brothers Big Sisters and that,” says Jenna, “was his turning point. Today, he’s not just passing all of his classes, he’s getting A’s and B’s!”

CIS site teams throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools engage in similar conversations for students. For those needing one of the CIS basics: a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult or a marketable skill to use upon graduation, they know they can count on Big Brothers Big Sisters to deliver.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Representing Big Brothers Big Sisters at Champs (left to right) Cindy Schrauben, Communications Manager, Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, and Ann Woolley, President-elect.
Representing Big Brothers Big Sisters at Champs (left to right) Cindy Schrauben, Communications Manager, Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, and Ann Woolley, President-elect.