Making Headlines With Good News: Literacy Buddies In Schools

IMG_5450The annual STAR awards were held last week. STAR, which stands for Sharing Time and Resources, is a partnership between Volunteer Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Gazette which, since 1986 has been recognizing the contributions of outstanding volunteers who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

This year, 3,292 volunteers were nominated for STAR Awards. Their 2014 combined giving was 70,949 hours. What a wonderful community we live in!

Here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, we share with you one of those nominations:  Literacy Buddies, nominated within the “Youth Group Volunteer” category. Come back in two weeks, when we’ll feature CIS volunteer Patrick “Pat” Early, nominated within the “Adult Volunteer” category. The final winners within each of the 14 volunteering categories can be found here.

Actually, come back this MONDAY. For the past three years we have run our posts on Tuesdays but are making an exception to run a special Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids post from two passionate people who put kids first. You won’t want to miss it.

Literacy Buddies, which began in 2011 thanks to a State Farm grant awarded to CIS, pairs high school students with second grade students in order to improve reading, writing, homework, and vocabulary skills. Acting as positive role models, high school students offer one-on-one support to help motivate success for younger kids.

In 2014 the Kalamazoo Public high school students participating in the program volunteered 580 hours at Spring Valley Center for Exploration and Arcadia Elementary School.

An opportunity to give back to peers and the community is one of the five basics CIS believes all kids need and deserve. Literacy Buddies does just that. Older students see themselves as leaders; they see themselves as having something to offer their community and as part of that community. While the program provides younger students with a learning link to what high school might be like for them, it also teaches older students lessons in responsibility and commitment.

 Demond Jackson, a high school student and third year participant in Literacy Buddiesat Arcadia, said, It’s a really great program. I recommend it to anyone. It’s been a great experience. I didn’t have anyone to help me at this age. Now I’ve been giving back and have grown attached to working with these kids. I love seeing their smiles. I love helping them understand their work and giving them someone to look up to. I don’t plan to stop.”

IMG_1622eDeborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central, echoes the tremendous growth she’s seen in her students after participating in this program. “They come back year after year. They stand a little bit taller when they see themselves giving back to their community. A student just told me today ‘This is the best year yet!’”

Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended a three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall recently held in New Orleans. Sitting on a panel there, she stated her experience in high school: “I’m not a leader, I’m a shy introvert—no one is going to follow my lead…. Communities In Schools told me, ‘You do have leadership qualities, you are a leader.’ But I didn’t embrace that until [participating with] Literacy Buddies.” Given the opportunity to work through her fears in order to emerge as a role model, Dominique, like many of the current high school buddies, has developed self-confidence and owns her leadership skills.

IMG_1292eeLiteracy Buddies is lifting the self-esteem and confidence of all students who participate in the program. As  Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley says, “The impact goes beyond the academic piece. Relationship building made a difference on both sides…The program also teaches high schoolers how to give back and shows young children that it’s not just older people who can participate in community service.”

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Pop Quiz: Dominique Edwards

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Dominique Edwards (right) with Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites

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 Dominique Edwards, a 2014 graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School. A CIS alumni and former board member of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Dominique is currently attending Southwestern Michigan College and took time out of her busy schedule to participate in the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall in New Orleans. She made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel.

We popped this quiz on Dominique while she was in the New Orleans airport waiting for Delta 1603 to arrive and take her back to Kalamazoo. Alright, Dominique: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I’ve learned that you can have fun as long as you are responsible. You must be responsible for yourself.

What are you currently reading?

My favorite book of all time is Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I’m reading a lot of psychology and sociology books right now. English too.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A CIS Site Coordinator. I think I finally found my niche. I love what a site coordinator does. They are the extended family that is with you throughout your school day and they care enough to know and help you after the school day has ended.

What is your favorite word right now?

Barbados. I love the letter b. It’s so smooth and there are two b’s in Barbados. Barbados. It’s just fun to say.

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

My mom. My parent got divorced when I was six. My dad is a fantastic guy and is there when I need him. But I grew up in a single parent home and so my mom was the dominant force in my life and made sure I was taken care of. She went off to be a truck driver for a while but she made sure my brother and I were taken care of.

Another caring adult is Ms. Trella.  A lot of the doors that opened for me wouldn’t have been opened if it weren’t for her. Doors like the Leadership Conference—Ms. Trella put my name in for that—and to be part of the CIS campaign launch party to talk about my experiences. So many things, like, one-on-one tutoring, performing poetry in a talent showcase, a five session career workshop, being part of the Principal’s Bookclub with Mr. Washington. We read the Hunger Games series and we also went to King-Westwood and read to kindergarteners. Being a Literacy Buddy and a mentee with the PRO team.

That is a wide range of activities.

It was a domino effect. Once I got involved with CIS, one opportunity after another presented itself. I would have gone to college but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it that much and I would have dropped out after one semester. All those experiences CIS provided helped me in growing up. And now I get to go to a community college that has dorms and that is awesome.

Any advice you have for students?  

Hone your studying skills in high school so you can carry those with you into college. I also have to say that even though I didn’t feel like I was a leader, I was. So, don’t fight your leadership quality. Go for it. And don’t be afraid to put yourself outside of the box.

That’s exactly what you did this whole week. You were on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel and spoke from the heart before over three hundred people. That is stepping outside of the box and really putting yourself out there.

Yes. Socially, I tend to be shy. Just attending this conference was outside the box for me. I wonder what if they don’t want to talk to me. But I pushed myself. Hi, my name is Dominique, I’d say. And I shook their hand and it went from there. It all turned out great.

Singing Loudly And Proudly Of Unsung Heroes

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Kalamazoo at 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA. Also pictured, Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back).

Question: What does Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and California have in common with Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Answer: They have CIS Site Coordinators and public schools who have just received the prestigious Unsung Heroes Awards.

The Unsung Heroes Awards annually honor CIS site coordinators, and schools and communities that partner with Communities In Schools to change the picture of education in America. CIS site coordinators work in more than 2,200 K-12 public schools serving 1.3 million young people and their families every year. Together, site coordinators, schools and communities keep kids in school, and this award recognizes those that are doing whatever it takes to eliminate barriers and never giving up, on anyone.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

Last year, you may recall, Kalamazoo was one of four communities in the country given a “Community of Excellence” award by National CIS. This year, Kalamazoo won in two areas!

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

“I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award,” said Serio. “I love being a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I am able to connect students with over 40 fabulous volunteers and community partners they need to succeed because of the support I receive from my Principal, Mr. William Hawkins and the Spring Valley teachers, staff, parents, and CIS staff. Here at Spring Valley, we are all a team.”Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

Arcadia Elementary School, committed to the CIS model for more than 13 years, was one of four sites honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network. The award highlights successful implementation of the proven site coordinator model in a partner school.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

“Arcadia Elementary School is a shining example of what can happen when we work together for kids. This award is shared by all of us—The Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, our volunteers, partners, and donors—all dedicated to meeting students’ needs,” said Pam Kingery executive director, CIS of Kalamazoo. “Along with the talented KPS teachers, staff, and administrators, we will continue working with the community to serve the students at Arcadia as well as students in the nineteen additional KPS schools that CIS is in.”  You can watch the Arcadia video by clicking here.

In addition, Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall and also made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel. Keep reading Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and you’ll learn what she is up to. (We had a chance to pop our “pop quiz” on her as she waited in the New Orleans airport for her flight home.)