Do you do your best and try hard, too?

Last week, more than 420 guests attended the 11th annual CIS Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec. Before guests even entered the Radisson’s Arcadia Ballroom, they were treated to a live performance by the Kalamazoo Kids In Tune Middle School Ensemble, under the direction of Ben Gudbrandson and sponsored by Warner Norcross + Judd. It was clear these young musicians had practiced and practiced as they performed at their best.

 

 

What about you? Do you do your best and try hard, too? That is one of the questions fourth graders from Woodward School for Technology and Research asked the grown-ups in the room. Kyla Clark, Isaac Dyer, Kiana Gill, Kieara Virgil, and Curtis Whitfield, representing their Woodward peers, recited “The Kalamazoo Poem” at Champs (their presence sponsored by Borgess). As part of Mrs. Calloway’s English class at Woodward, these KPS students were five of the 60 fourth graders from Mrs. Rice, Mrs. Polsco, and Mrs. Calloway’s classes who participated in poetry workshops facilitated by CIS. The poem also incorporates several lines written by students involved in the CIS After School Program at Milwood Elementary School. On April 7, 2018, “The Kalamazoo Poem” premiered at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts as part of the 5th Annual Kalamazoo Poetry Festival.

We share with you, this week, their poem and hope you’ll keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champs experience. We’ll be publishing the two inspiring speeches given by representatives of the Class of 2018, Kanequewa Steward, Kalamazoo Central High School, and Dreon Smith, Loy Norrix High School. Over the coming weeks you’ll also be inspired (for the first time, or all over again!) by learning what each one of the eight award winners is doing to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Thanks to CIS volunteer Don Kingery and CIS youth development worker Nae Williams, you’ll also be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through their photographic lens.

The Kalamazoo Poem

We love Kalamazoo.

All the wonderful places you can go,
like home, the Kalamazoo Public Library,
and all the schools.
I love going to school and learning.

Kalamazoo can be loving and caring,
even to people who aren’t always nice.

This big, wonderful city has all my friends in it.
In this city that is not too big and not too small
people can be themselves.
Did I mention I love the schools?
That teachers are teaching?

Kalamazoo does not have hurricanes.
Get this: it has a banana car!

My head feels like it will explode
because Kalamazoo is so cool.
I love the way people handle their biz.
I love the summer and wind.

My family is here. My friends.
My school. My teachers. Me!

Kalamazoo is the best city I’ve ever been to,
it’s our home, we have the Promise–and college is free!

You see, people here treat each other with kindness.

Kalamazoo can be so kind.

Kalamazoo gives presents and parties on cold, Christmas mornings.
It gives us teachers and tutors who help us with our work.

People say kind words. Someone says hi.
Students listen to their teacher.
We play together. We clean up. We get along.

When people are put down, Kalamazoo help them get back up.
We get together and help the homeless, the poor,
and those who are feeling sad.
We fix each other’s houses.

I wish everybody had a home
and that it never snowed.

Yes, there are things we wish were true about Kalamazoo.

We need more good jobs.
If only everything cost a penny!
I wish the river wasn’t polluted,
that I could see my dad.

I wish we always remembered to treat others
how we want to be treated.

I wish we had a robot.
If only rappers lived in Kalamazoo
and there was no such thing as the flu.

I wish Kalamazoo was 5,000 miles long and 5,000 miles wide.
I wish everybody-and I mean everybody-could be in my family.

I wish I could help everyone
and that we wouldn’t stop helping each other—
even when we don’t always get it right.

I wish that the power wouldn’t get shut off.
I wish everyone had a place to live and I had a bed of my own.
There should be a waterpark in the middle of town.

If only Kalamazoo was California. I miss my cousins.
I miss my mom. I worry and wonder where she is.
We need more bikes and shooting stars.

No shootings! There is a scared little street
that worries someone could get hurt today.
Will you keep me safe forever?
I dream I will become ….

A firefighter, a doctor, a teacher, an artist,
a football player, a wildlife technician…

Will you take care of me?
Help me learn today?
Be there when I grow up?
Will you do your best, like us, and try hard, too?

-a group poem by 4th graders of Woodward

At the conclusion of the poem, Kiana asked emcee, Dr. John Oliver, if they could introduce the next speaker. Dr. Oliver graciously agreed. Kyla then called Dr. Michael Rice to the stage and Curtis let everybody know that Dr. Rice is their superintendent. Kieara shared that “he likes poetry, just like us!” Isaac pointed out that every day, “and I mean every day—Dr. Rice does his best, and like us, he tries hard, too.”

The students then gifted Dr. Rice with a book, the completed works of Langston Hughes, signed by the fourth graders of Woodward.

What about you? Are you working hard for kids, too?

If you believe in our efforts to ensure that ALL kids stay in school and achieve in life, you can learn about volunteer opportunities here, or go here to learn more about other ways to support kids, or call us at 269.337.1601.

 

John Oliver: Listening to that still, small voice

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 John Oliver. When John joined the CIS support staff in August of this past year as Director of Quality & Evaluation, he became the second John in the downtown office (shout out to John Brandon!), so colleagues began referring to him as “Dr. John.”

John grew up in Lansing, Michigan, graduating from Everett, the same high school that Irving “Magic” Johnson attended. He then moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College. After graduating, he returned to Michigan and entered Marygrove College in Detroit, obtaining a teaching certification and a Masters in Educational Leadership. He taught for seven years at Gardener Middle School, the same building he had attended as a youth.

He then pursued his doctorate in Educational Leadership from Michigan State University. “I wanted to remove barriers,” he says. While there, John worked with his advisor who was the evaluator for a Kellogg project for community change. “That’s where I made the connection between community and the schools needing to work closely together. We looked at eleven different communities across the country and how they were doing change. My doctoral dissertation focused on the power of youth and adult partnerships.”

Around this time John also developed an interest in radio through involvement in “an offshoot” that grew out of his work on the Kellogg project. “We formed this learning exchange, beginning with the original 11 communities we worked with and it eventually grew to 75.” Radio, he says, can be a platform for communities to exchange ideas and can “bring together wisdom of place.”

Last year, after six years as an assistant professor at Texas State University, John, his wife Michele, and their daughter Joelle moved to Michigan to be closer to family.

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

Pop Quiz

You mentioned the phrase “wisdom of place” in referencing the radio project you were involved with in Texas. Talk more about that.

In thinking about place-based leadership, it’s important to never take for granted that someone who doesn’t have a title isn’t someone who should also be at the table…Too often it’s the people with credentials making decisions on behalf of those they represent. We miss out on a lot of capacity, on the wisdom of place, and the power of people when this occurs. To really learn and exchange ideas, we must check our credentials at the door. We learn more by asking than just by sharing or telling. That’s always the case when working with children.

You once taught at an African-centered charter school. Can you tell us more about that?

99% of the students were African American. We placed students at the center of their learning, asking them to consider Where am I in this topic? Where are my people in this? So, for example, let’s say students are learning about 1492 in history. What happens in 1492? Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Students would discuss things like, How do you/can you discover some place if people are already there?

Critical consciousness and centering is what we taught alongside each topic and the African-centered approach was embedded within everything and whatever benchmarks we covered. We always posed the question, Okay, where are you in this and how are you centered? We pushed students to get to that base, to consider African diaspora throughout their course work. The experience culminated in the eighth-grade class going on study tour up the Nile. I went with the students. It was an incredible experience.

You’re now the data guy for CIS. How would you describe what you do?

My role, the way I articulate my role to others, is that I’m trying to make sense of what the data says. To be clear, data is more than just numbers, graphs, and charts. It’s also the dialogue, the conversations and the responses with people. It’s about relationships and finding relationships between the numbers. What’s happening between relationships of people, organizations, and the community? What is the story?

Can you tell us one story?

The story I’m trying to understand now is how to ask a new question. The question we’ve struggled with as educators over the years has been how do we assess at-risk or marginalized student populations? To that end, we zero in on incarcerated youth, drop outs, etcetera. However, being here in Kalamazoo and learning how resource-rich this community is, as well as being a Promise community, that’s huge, right? So how do we look at this with fresh eyes, in a new way? When we do, it becomes not so much looking at “at-risk youth,” but looking at what is keeping students from not using the Promise.

CIS is focused on removing barriers that put students at-risk of not using the Promise. I have an appreciation for this multi-layered, multi-faceted approach to student success and am really pleased to be working here in a community invested in the CIS model of integrated student services.

Favorite word?

Positivity. It’s actually one of my top five words.

What are the other four?

Futuristic, adaptability, connectedness, and maximizer.

Are those all words you try to apply to your life?

Yes. Those are my identified strengths within the five domains of the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 that we all took at our CIS orientation launch in the fall. It was both reassuring and a little creepy how accurate it was. But, wow, it really makes sense…I’m in the right place, doing the right things. Everything is aligned.

What are you currently reading?

Start With Why. It’s by Simon Sinek.

Sounds like nonfiction.

It is. I don’t do fiction. If I’m going to read something, I want to learn. I always like to increase my skills set. When I want to be creative, I explore that avenue through music, playing the guitar and listening to music.

What do you love about Kalamazoo?

Lot of things. It’s small but close enough to larger venues and cities. Most importantly, though, it’s a tight, close community.

Any favorite places yet?

The Farmer’s Market. That was a cool discovery!

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

My parents, of course. Especially my dad. He passed last year. We got here to Kalamazoo just before he passed. We arrived in September and he passed in December. It wasn’t expected.

What a difficult thing to go through. I imagine your mom must appreciate that you have been here in Michigan during this difficult time.

Yes. It helps to know that we were listening to what the universe was putting out there, listening to that still small voice that said, Get back to Michigan.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

It’s important to follow that still, small voice. Listen and follow.

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

John Oliver, Director of Quality & Evaluation (far left) modeling Millie’s mittens (you can read that post here) with CIS staff John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator, Alonzo Demand, Human Resources Coordinator, and Michael Harrison, Associate Director of Site Services.