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.

What do you love?

We know you love seeing kids succeed. We do too! What else do you love? We polled a few CIS partners, volunteers, and staff. Here is what they said:

 

 

 

I love the possibilities…as seen through my seven-year-old, her friends, and this community.

-Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

 

The Great Lakes—all of them.

-John Brandon, CIS Partner Services Coordinator

 

What I love is lip gloss!

-Tamiko Garrett, CIS Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School

 

I love seeing kids being happy.

-Amy Kuchta, Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring

 

I love when students/staff/teachers tells me, “Thanks for all that you do!” Go CIS!

-Levi Soto, CIS Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary School

 

If I had to choose one thing, it’d be the sound of children laughing and playing!

-Stacy S. Jackson, CIS After School Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I love cooking. One of my favorite things to make is Zuni Café Chicken. You can find the recipe here.

-Amy Terzino, CIS Executive Assistant

 

I love Harry Potter audio books. There are two narrators and people get very heated about which one they prefer. I like listening to Jim Dale. He has a very calm voice which works better with narration. Stephen Fry does a good job with the character voices. But when I want to be calm and mindful, I just prefer Jim Dale’s soothing voice.

-Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator at Prairie Ridge Elementary School

 

I love my life.

-Tracie Hall, CIS Finance Coordinator

 

Walking in the woods on a fresh, fall day.

-Sally Stevens, CIS Volunteer

 

I love talking with former students about their progress in life.

-Von Washington Jr., Executive Director, Community Relations

 

I love my first cup of coffee on Saturday morning.

-Jenna Cooperrider, CIS Success Coach at Kalamazoo Central High School

 

I love seeing parents beam with pride while taking smartphone videos of their young musician at Kids In Tune.

-Liz Youker, Vice President, Education and Community Partnerships, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

 

Besides coffee, I love when children ask other children, “Are you alright?” It shows the building of empathy and caring.

-Aisha Coulson-Walters, CIS Site Coordinator at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

 

Lake Michigan and the bike trails that can get you there from Kalamazoo.

-John Curran, Executive Director, First Day Shoe Fund

 

Stand-up comedy!

-Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Coordinator for Washington Writers Academy

 

Singing. I was a voice performance major in college.

-Nicky Aiello, CIS Volunteer and Development Coordinator

 

Thanks for sharing! We love hearing what you love. We especially love all the support you and our Ask Us About Our 12,000 Kids readers show Kalamazoo Public School students by sharing your time, talents, and financial gifts with Communities In Schools. Thank you for working with us to help students 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!

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.