Champs Among Us

 

This past Wednesday, CIS board and staff had a fabulous time hosting the almost 400 people who gathered at the Radisson for the 10th Annual Champs event to honor community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality.

 

All in for kids, this year’s Champs are:

Evening Custodians: Mike Free, Ike Thurman, and Chalene Watson,

KPS Custodians of Milwood Magnet Middle School

Kalamazoo College Men’s Baseball Team, CIS Higher Learning Partner

Pfizer, CIS Business Partner

Prevention Works, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Rotary Club of Kalamazoo, CIS Service Club Partner

Susan Knox, CIS Volunteer

The CIS Board also honored Von and Fran Washington with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. As educators, creators, and professional performers, this couple and their company, Washington Productions, use the performing arts to extend the dialogue of race, culture, identity, and what it means to be American. They gave an unforgettable acceptance speech that awed us all. We’ll feature the Washingtons next week.

Special thanks to the event sponsors:

  • PNC,
  • Maestro,
  • Lawrence Productions,
  • BASIC,
  • Borgess,
  • Fifth Third,
  • Greenleaf Trust,
  • Miller-Davis Company,
  • Schupan & Sons,
  • TowerPinkster,
  • Warner Norcross & Judd,
  • Western Michigan University,
  • Bronson,
  • First National Bank of Michigan, and
  • Kreis Enderle Hudgins & Borsos.

As Von Washington Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise, and emcee who kept the event flowing said, “You are all champions for children!”

In addition to hearing brief, yet memorable remarks from Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice and CIS Board President Dr. Tim Light, guests were treated to a performance of “Glorious.” As many of you know, “Glorious” was conducted by Dr. Eric Barth, Kalamazoo Kids In Tune Curriculum Director.  (Kalamazoo Kids in Tune is a partnership of The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.) The children were joined by soloist Christine Mason, a CIS Youth Development Worker at Woods Lake.  Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, along with students from Arcadia, El Sol, Spring Valley, Woods Lake and Woodward Elementary Schools and Kalamazoo Central High School, Maple Street and Milwood Magnet Middle Schools filled the ballroom with glorious sounds. Bravo to all involved in the performance (both in front of and behind the scenes)!

Curt Johnson, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, shared his CIS story—which we’ll be publishing here in the coming weeks —and lifted up the voices and needs of the more than 11,000 students that CIS serves throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools. Thank you, Curt!

A special shout out to our CIS Site Teams, the CIS Site Coordinators, After School Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work to help children stay in school and achieve in life.

So, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Sitting at table, left to right: Namita Sharma, Carolyn H. Williams, Sid Williams, and Moses Walker

 

Barbara Witzak: A Blue Ribbon Woman

Over the next few months we will be introducing you to our nine award winners honored at our recent annual Champ Celebration. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. Hopefully, you got a chance to read last week’s post which featured Kawyie’s speech. Today, we officially kick this series off with the winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Retired Judge and CIS Board President, Carolyn H. Williams presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7737The late President Emeritus of Western Michigan University demanded excellence of himself and inspired and cajoled others to achieve excellence. Whether reflecting on his experiences as a 6th grade teacher, getting donations of winter clothing for Western Michigan University students from the Middle East or questioning what Communities In Schools was doing to support boys, Diether Haenicke was always in pursuit of ways in which the lives of young people could be improved so that they could demonstrate their own excellence.  That trait of straightforward sense of determination is shared by this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Barbara Witzak.

A native of Kalamazoo, Barbara has served the children who attend the Kalamazoo Public Schools for more than four decades.  Among the many attributes for which she is known, is a work ethic reflected in regular fourteen-hour days that often begin in her office at 5:00 a.m. and end well after dark. She has sustained an intense level of commitment to her profession, to the school district, to her educator team and to the children in KPS, whether as Principal of Oakwood Elementary and Washington Writers’ Academy over a 14-year period or in her subsequent administrative positions including the most recent, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning.  Among her most noteworthy accomplishments was the selection of Washington Writers’ Academy as a “Blue Ribbon School.”

Ms. Witzak consistently reflects the behavior of a servant-leader, always willing to jump in with her sleeves rolled up to enhance support for others or to fill in for someone attending to other needs.  According to her nominators, Superintendent Michael Rice and School Board Trustees, “In her leadership roles, Barbara has been integrally involved in every major instructional reform of the last several years in the district.” The nomination goes on to indicate,  “As Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Services, Barbara has been instrumental in helping to establish and build community partnerships in support of an urban literacy community and a growing college culture.”

Please join me in saluting the 2014 outstanding winner of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, Barbara Witzak.

20140506-DSC_7745

Checking In For Children At The Checkout Lane At Meijer

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, has returned from Charlotte, North Carolina. She, along with a Kalamazoo delegation, joined the national CIS board for a reception to celebrate the 2013 Awards of Excellence recipients. Kalamazoo was one of four communities from across the country honored as a community of excellence. Pam wrote the below post a few days before she left. You can find out more about Kalamazoo’s award by clicking here to read Julie Mack’s Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive article.

Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice
Kalamazoo receives Communities of Excellence Award! (Pictured, from left) Founder & Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools Bill Milliken, Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell, Executive Director Emeritus at The Kalamazoo Promise® Dr. Janice M. Brown, CIS President Dan Cardinali, CIS of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo Board President Carolyn H. Williams, and KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice

On Sunday I did my usual run to Meijer for a few groceries and felt compelled to look at the children’s winter coats to see if they were marked down any more. The Communities In Schools Kids’ Closet still had need for some specific children’s sizes and as usual, we are trying to stretch our dollars as far as we possibly can. When I discovered that the coats and snow pants were marked down to between $11 and $15 per item, I couldn’t resist.

As I stood in the check-out line with a cart piled well over my head with my rainbow of boys and girls jackets and pants, a gentleman approached me with a rather mischievous grin, asking “Are those for all of your grandchildren?” I grinned back, explaining that probably if I had that many grandchildren, I’d be rather crazy. He got a bit more serious and said knowingly, “You are getting those for other kids who really need them, aren’t you?” I confessed that I couldn’t resist such bargains and also explained that I work for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and that we provide all kinds of support for kids so that they can concentrate on doing well in school. I indicated that having a warm coat is one of the many ways we in the community can help.

He listened attentively for my entire explanation and with the kindest, most sincere look on his face, reached into his wallet and handed me $20 and said, “I want to help, too.”  Mr. Owens was his name. As he walked away, I could see a woman standing in line on the other side of me, looking my way with curiosity. She made almost the same inquiries as Mr. Owens, confirming that my piles of coats were going to be shared with children who really need them. Her name was Joan and she handed me $50 and she insisted, remarking that she has been fortunate herself, making it especially important to contribute.

image001And then there was Crystal, the Meijer’s check-out employee who helped me—with patience and kindness that seemed to border on joy. She too wanted to know about Communities In Schools and how CIS helps the community help kids. I think there may have been tears in her eyes as she handed me the next pile of coats she scanned to put in the extra cart she retrieved.  When I make these large purchases, the Crystals of the world can make things immensely easier. As I made my way to the door, keeping the two carts going in forward motion and making sure not to crash into the penny pony ride, the beeping started as I passed the security “gate.” Meijer’s greeter, Kathy, looked at the open piles of multi-colored puff on hangers rather quizzically. I reassured her with a smile that I was not trying to steal 43 children’s jackets as I dug in my purse for the receipt I had just neatly tucked away. She smiled back. We never did figure out why I continued to beep but Kathy, too, learned about Communities In Schools and added her sincere thanks and encouragement. When she added that she makes occasional donations at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, I sent those thanks right back at her.

Just another day in our Community of Excellence!

IMG_2103Do you, like Pam, have a moment where excellence—the generous, caring nature of this community—percolates through an ordinary, everyday activity? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

Finding Words in Your Pockets

(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner
(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner

Last week, the Kalamazoo Public Library introduced kids and grownups alike to Walter Dean Myers as part of his “Reading is Not Optional” tour sponsored by the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council and the Every Child a Reader Foundation.

What a treat! It’s not everyday you have a chance to meet the national ambassador for young people’s literature. A prolific and award-winning author, Mr. Myers is the third person appointed to this post since it was created in 2008. In honor of his visit, KPL put one of his quotes—“Reading is not an option” on a bunch of buttons. Very cool.

On Wednesday, I attended a breakfast/talk hosted at the library. It quickly became clear that Mr. Myers, considered by many to be one of the most important writers in children’s books, is the kind of man who calls things like he sees them. A tall man, Mr. Myers is funny, bright, and spirited. He has an uncommon knack for appearing to be laid back and feisty all at once. I was expecting Mr. Myers to read some of his work, throw out a few interested tidbits and then be on his way.

He didn’t do this. He didn’t read any of his work and what he said was not what I expected to hear. One of the first words out of his mouth was “poverty.” When Mr. Myers talks about poverty, he isn’t talking about economics. He is referring to, “pockets of language poverty” that our children experience. Anyone who works with kids these days knows that too many of our children are growing up with not only a scarcity of food and lack of sufficient housing, but also, a dearth of words.

Some researchers have even taken the time to document this “pockets of language poverty.” Every hour, a child growing up in poverty is exposed to 1,500 less words than a child who is not being raised in poverty. This means that by the time the poor child is four years old, he or she is behind by 32 million words. This word deficit is mind-boggling. It makes the heart heavy to think about all the children who have deep pockets from which they pull out nothing.

“Literacy is a tool all kids need,” Mr. Myers said. “Either you read or you suffer,” he said. “A child will pay the penalty for a lack of literacy throughout their life.”  These aren’t warm and fuzzy statements to make and Mr. Myers knows it. But he is the kind of person who, from what I could tell, calls it like he sees it. “I’m an old black man. I can say whatever I want,” he told the audience. We laughed but we know his comments are true and need to be spoken aloud. Mr. Meyers is serving our nation well as an ambassador, for we too will pay the penalty for every child we fail to reach.

The good news is that our kids here are part of a community that has committed itself to being the education community. Together, as parents, community partners and educators we are filling the pockets of language. These pockets are deep. It is not a matter of simply tucking a word in here and there. To be successful, we must, asSuperintendent Dr. Michael Rice says, have a “drumbeat of literacy.” For the sake of all our children it’s time for all of us to play, and play hard.

Have you picked up your drumsticks, lately?

Want to know more about Walter Dean Myers? Check out his NPR interview here. And if you missed local coverage of his visit, check out Erin Gignac’s article here on MLive.

Reading is not optional

Putting The Super In Intendent

Communities In Schools and our host of partners could not do the work we do without the support, vision and leadership of Dr. Michael F. Rice. As both the Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools and as a board member of CIS, Dr. Rice helps us align our community resources with KPS to increase our collective impact on children. Superintendents have one of the most challenging jobs in the world and yet, as CIS founder Bill Milliken has said, “Superintendents are under siege in this nation.” If someone you know doesn’t agree with that statement, my guess is they are probably living under a rock. Or, maybe even throwing one.

Speaking of superintendents, I want to relay a conversation I had a few weeks ago with some of Ms. Furney’s second grade students at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Before I start my volunteer work with one of two reading groups, Ms. Furney always reviews the day’s schedule with the class. On this day, she shared that their Superintendent, Dr. Michael F. Rice, would be visiting Parkwood that day to visit third grade classrooms, as he does throughout the district, to talk college with them.

As I passed out the books we were going to read, one of the children asked me what a Superintendent was.

“Who can answer that question?” I asked the students.

One little girl immediately thrust her hand in the air. “They like to read. Superintendents go to the library. That’s where I met Dr. Rice. We had a really long talk. He is the NICEST man EVER…I hope I see him today because my mom said I could go up and talk to him next time I saw him. We’re not strangers anymore, you know.”

“I’ve seen Dr. Rice lots of times at the library,” another kid piped up.

Another offered, “Superintendents are basketball players. Ours is really good. I’ve seen him play at Hoopla.”

“Dr. Rice is in charge of all of the Kalamazoo Public Schools, right?” asked another girl. “He’s like the boss?”

“That’s correct.”

“But not Loy Norrix,” a boy said. “Right?”

“Loy Norrix High School, too,” I replied.

“No way!” he said, mouth hanging open, obviously impressed. This, for him, was the pièce de résistance.

As we all got on with the business of reading, their excitement lingered. It was clear to them that their superintendent walks* his talk when it comes to the importance of hard work, reading, and preparing for college. These second graders can’t wait to be about the business of being third graders. That means they will get to talk college with the nicest man in the world—a seasoned reader, basketball player, and Superintendent of Loy Norrix. “Read louder!” one of the children instructed. “We want him to hear what good readers we are.”

*and sometimes even hoops it up!