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.

Angelita Aguilar: The Champ You Want at Your Side

Angelita Aguilar (center) with Principal Valerie Boggan (right) and CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough (left).
Angelita Aguilar (center) with Principal Valerie Boggan (right) and CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough (left).

Today we highlight Angelita Aguilar, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Her award was sponsored by State Farm and CIS Board member Namita Sharma presented the award.

If you found yourself on a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight, encircled by hungry sharks—did I mention your boat is leaking?—this Champ is who you want at your side.20160517-_DSC8174

As Dean of Students for Kalamazoo Central High School, Angelita Aguilar is a calm, rock solid person others turn to for support and guidance. Approach her office and you just might encounter this common scenario: the phone ringing, several staff seeking her input, a parent waiting to ask a question, a student approaching, looking for guidance. Angelita is at the center of it all. You’ll recognize her by her attitude, always one of “How can I help? What more can I do?” You’ll also recognize her by her ears. They are the ones turned up full-volume to listen.

Angelita, her very name means messenger, angel. She lives up to her name.  She’s a down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of person who has shrugged off her wings and hangs with students succeeding and students struggling.

She advocates tirelessly for what works for kids. Because she understands the CIS mission, she empowers students to take full advantage of the community supports and resources CIS offers at Kalamazoo Central High School.

Too often, in this noisy world, messages aren’t always received, but when Angelita speaks, kids and grownups alike listen to what she has to say.

At a parent advisory meeting, Angelita stood up and talked about the Communities In Schools’ approach and how she couldn’t imagine a Kalamazoo Central without CIS. A parent at that meeting was so inspired that, after that, she called Kalamazoo Central’s CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “I thought I knew about CIS,” said the parent. “But, Ms. Aguilar, she really knows and connected the dots for us. She explained all the supports you bring into the school. Now I want to be part of CIS. What can I do to help?”

Deborah says, “Angelita’s office is always available to assist students I’m working with. I’ll walk into her office with a student that has given up—and when we leave, these students have an academic plan and a sense of hope. I can’t imagine Kalamazoo Public Schools or Communities In Schools without her.”

We can’t either.

Angelita Aguilar, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life. 

 

Angelita Aguilar (center) with Namita Sharma and State Farm.
Kalamazoo Central High School Dean of Students Angelita Aguilar (center) with CIS Board Member Namita Sharma and State Farm Insurance Agent Ryan Smeader.

 

 

A Promise of Success

A Promise of Success“If I didn’t have CIS in my life, I would not be a senior right now,” says LaShawnda Melton. “I would have given up and dropped out.”

It’s hard to imagine that this bright young woman who is a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School was on the cusp of dropping out, but she was. Like the nearly two million teens who find their hunger for learning dampened by depression, LaShawnda found herself struggling just to get out of bed in the morning. It was during her freshman year at Central that the school, concerned about LaShawnda’s attendance, reached out to CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “She was facing, and continues to face, challenging situations,” says Deborah. “She is a fighter, though. I coach her, connect her to supports—but it’s LaShawnda who puts in the work. We can provide all the services students need, but for progress to occur, they need to take advantage of them. LaShawnda comes to me, she seeks help, and puts in great effort.”

“Ms. Yarbrough’s been there with me every step of the way,” explains LaShawnda. “When I didn’t want to talk with anyone else, she helped me get my attendance and grades straight. Ms. Yarbrough, she acts like your momma. She pushes you. When she sees you doing wrong she fusses at you. She won’t help you if you don’t help yourself. She feels your pain.”

LaShawnda readily ticks off a number of resources and opportunities that her Site Coordinator has connected her to over the past four years: “JUMP [Just Unleashing My Potential focused on health & wellness, homework assistance and more, funded through The Greg Jennings Foundation], I’ve Got Next [a mentoring approach to attendance, made possible by AT&T Michigan], field trips, and college visits. Every year she connects me with counseling through WMU and Family & Children Services, dental services, tutors, and even school supplies when I’ve needed them. Ms. Yarbrough also led me to Ms. Aguilar, our Dean of Students, and she has been really helpful. She really cares and, just like Ms. Yarbrough, keeps me on track even with stuff going on in my life.”

On track to graduate this spring, LaShawnda wants to become a nurse practitioner and is considering Wayne State, Grand Valley, or Eastern Michigan. “I’m so thankful for The Kalamazoo Promise®,” she says. “I see my family struggling and The Promise gives us a lot of opportunities. I wish I could find the founders and thank them.”

LaShawnda shows her thanks every day by showing up to school and doing her best. It’s having a CIS Site Coordinator at her side, along with a combination of supports and the caring adults who provide them, that keeps her “not just focused on school but also thinking about my future.”

“It is amazing to see her resilience,” says Deborah, “and it is an outstanding testimony that through it all, she will be graduating and taking advantage of The Promise. I’m so proud of LaShawnda. This is just the beginning for her.”

All of the great work you’ve been reading about is made possible by people like you who volunteer with or donate to CIS. Please invest in local students and be a part of more success stories like LaShawnda’s.

Make a gift to CIS today.

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