Rotary Club of Kalamazoo: Living Out Service Above Self

Today we highlight Rotary Club of Kalamazoo, honored with a 2017 Champ Award. The team’s Champ award was sponsored by Miller-Davis. CIS Board member and Bronson Healthcare Vice President Terry Morrow presented the award.

Where to begin? We could go back to 1914, when this next Champ was born right here in Kalamazoo. But let’s just go back 17 years, when Communities In Schools first had the pleasure of partnering with The Rotary Club of Kalamazoo and seeing, first hand, Rotarians living out their club’s motto: Service above Self.

STRIVE working together at Hays Park.

It was in 2001 that Rotary kicked off its STRIVE program, in which Kalamazoo Central High School students are paired with a Rotarian who serves as a STRIVE mentor. Having this one-on-one relationship with a caring adult helps students at risk of dropping out, to stay in school and on track for graduation.

In 2015, Rotarians expanded its STRIVE program to Loy Norrix High School and also initiated a Career Connections program. A national survey released in 2014 by Achieve showed that approximately 50% of recent high school graduates reported gaps in preparation for life after high school. The Kalamazoo Rotary is working to bridge this gap. CIS Senior Site Coordinator Montrell Baker says that through Career Connections, juniors and seniors have the opportunity to meet and build relationships with Rotarians or other career professionals in Kalamazoo. “Connecting with these professionals and having a chance to interview them is a fun and exciting way to learn what it really means to work in the career that has captured their interest.

While supporting high school students, they haven’t forgotten about our elementary students. Because promoting literacy is one of the club’s goals, they joined forces with CIS as part of their Rotary Is For Reading Campaign. They know that research shows that students who read proficiently before fourth grade are far more likely to finish school and pursue higher education. So, for the past eight Aprils, they have worked with the school district and CIS to foster College Awareness Week, where Rotarians pair up and step into second grade classrooms throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools. Wearing college gear and armed with the book, I Know I Can, they promote literacy, a college-going culture, and inspire students to take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise. Each student receives their own copy of the book, in which young animal characters share their dreams and career aspirations and commit to preparing for college. Each student also receives a bracelet inscribed with “I Know I Can” to remind them that they too must prepare for college, even as second graders.

Whether it’s reading to thousands of elementary students, adopting a CIS family for the holidays, or making personal and career connections with high school students, Rotarians are truly united in the ideal of Service above Self.

Rotary Club of Kalamazoo, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

 

 

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.

David Hamilton: Doing Double Duty

This article was featured in our CIS Connections newsletter, The Double Issue. You can find the full publication here.

David Hamilton is studying health administration at Western Michigan University and, along with his twin brother, Daniel, will graduate this spring. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at Kalamazoo Central High School and Washington Writers’ Academy, David is focused on promoting a college-going culture.

At Kalamazoo Central, David has also been working on improving attendance among ninth graders who are chronically absent. He says, “The school and CIS work together to remove barriers to attendance. We’ve named the program ‘All Giants Present.’” David has been researching what works and says that “while there may be many root issues, it comes down to accountability and community support.”

One of the strategies he’s implementing is incentive cards. “They are more like ‘we miss you’ cards and they are signed by other students. Geared towards accountability, these cards let the absent student know their absence is noticed and that they are missed.”

David & Daniel Hamilton
David Hamilton (left) with his twin brother, Daniel, as children.
David-and-Daniel
Now as an adult, David (left) is an AmeriCoprs VISTA member with CIS.

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!

Pop Quiz: O’Neal Ollie  

O'Neal Ollie
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

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 O’Neal Ollie who is the CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix 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 coaching support from O’Neal Ollie can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal then headed to school in Riverside, California and later returned to Kalamazoo, graduating in Sports Management from Western Michigan University. Today, O’Neal and his wife Terri are proud KPS parents of son Bass, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School who is also enrolled in college, and daughter, Symphony, who graduated from Kalamazoo Central, was honored by the YWCA in 2014 as a Young Women of Achievement, and is now in her third year at Michigan State University. O’Neal notes that “it’s my wife Terri who keeps all of us on track.”

Alright, Coach Ollie: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

O'Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni
O’Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Oh, my goodness. I learn so much stuff. For a person that thinks he knows everything, well, that is a tough one. Okay, I learned about dual enrollment. That is the process of enrolling a student in college while they are still completing high school with eligibility to play high school sports. My son is a senior at Kalamazoo Central and plays three sports.

Favorite word?

At this time of the year, it is football because my son is in his senior year.

What are you currently reading?

Sports Illustrated, because of the Olympics, which were so good with swimming, gymnastics, and track.

You graduated from Kalamazoo Central. Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Vern Davis and Clarence Gardener. Also, Coach Don Jackson. He taught PE, probably one of my biggest mentors in school. Mr. Davis was a math teacher and Mr. Gardner was general business & accounting. Both coached as well.

My counselor was Nelson Stevenson and he was my main man. He enrolled me in Upward Bound. That was my introduction to college. We stayed on Western’s campus-in Bigelow Hall-for eight weeks. I learned the social aspects of college and thought, this is going to be great! I have life-long friends that I made from attending Outward Bound.

Mr. Davis made you feel so good about yourself. He made it easy to learn. It probably helped that he was a former NFL player. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles and was All-American. I had his class fourth hour. “Don’t ever make me come look for you,” he’d say.

Coach Gardiner’s business and accounting was the most useful class I’ve ever taken. I still write my checks the way he taught me in school. When I went to college, I majored in accounting until I changed to sports management.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve always been interested in school and sports administration. But, regardless of all I’m doing work-wise, I can’t forget I’m a dad. I learn a lot from my son and daughter.

Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O'Neal
Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O’Neal

Like what?

Things I never expected to learn, like, what it means to go prom dress shopping. That is a whole process and it’s a family event.

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

My mom, my second mom, and my third mom. I have eight older siblings and my oldest sister, Ida Buchanan, was a secretary in my building when I was in high school. I would much rather my mother than my sister Ida get a hold of me. She did not play. Still doesn’t. She still works, going between Hillside and Linden Grove Middle School.

My mom, I always appreciated how hard she worked and the way she had a way of breaking things down to make us understand things. One of my favorite quotes she said was when I came home crying one day. “You’re crying because folks are talking about you?” she said. “You start crying when folks stop talking about you.”

Thank you, Coach Ollie!

We continue to talk about O’Neal Ollie in our soon to be released newsletter, CIS Connections. O’Neal and his CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker, share their insights about helping students get on track to graduation. And if you missed Montrell’s interview with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, you can read it here.

Pop Quiz: Alex-Saundra Hudson 

Ms. Alex working during CIS Think Summer!
Ms. Alex working during CIS Think Summer!

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 Alex-Saundra Hudson, or, as she is known by students in the CIS Think Summer! Program, “Ms. Alex.”Alex's graduation photo As a proud 2015 graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, she is now a Promise Scholar who has successfully completed her freshman year at Michigan State University. “Being in college,” she says, “and knowing how much everything costs, the Promise is definitely a blessing!” Alex is spending her summer as a youth development worker with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. “I love what I’m doing!” says Alex.

Alright, Ms. Alex: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I have a deeper understanding and appreciation that, as people, we are all different. It’s helpful to have an understanding that each kid has a different family background. Having that in your mind when you’re working with them is good to remember.

Favorite word?

Extraordinary.

What are you currently reading?

The only thing I have time to read right now is the Bible.

Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Oh, that’s hard to answer because I definitely had many great teachers, teachers like Ms. [Karen] Jansheski. She was my 8th grade English Teacher at Linden Grove. Also, I was an attention-seeker when I was younger so in my elementary years—I came to KPS in fourth grade—Ms. [Tracey Sanders] Pierce was great with me. She was the behavior specialist at King-Westwood. At Kalamazoo Central, I had a lot of great teachers there, but Ms. [Elaine] Sayre jumps out. She taught journalism, AP Language and I did an independent study with her my senior year. Also, Mr. [Joshua] Gottlieb. He taught physics.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Honestly, this job with CIS has helped a lot. It started out as a summer job, a way to make some money, but it has become an eye opener to my future. I was studying science at Michigan State and now I’m switching to Human Development and Family Studies. I always knew I wanted to work with kids in some way. This job has encouraged me. I enjoy it. It never feels like I’m at work, whereas, when I go to my second job—a large-scale retailer—I just dread going there.

I love the kids here and really enjoy the relationships I’ve formed. I envision doing something with my degree and probably going on to graduate school.

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

My mom, definitely, and primarily because she has been a positive example. When I was six, and my sister was eight, she went back to finish her college degree in chemistry at Michigan State. When I was in high school, she started law school. She is taking the bar, starting tomorrow. She always pushes me and my sister to do our best.

I would also have to say my high school track coaches, Coach Jaime Gordon, Coach Hal Bates, Coach Richard Grayson, and Coach Calvin Cheatham have been there for me. I just finished my freshman year of college and they were a huge support system. They texted me to see how I was balancing track and school. Checking up and making sure I’m doing what I need to be doing is really helpful.

Thank you, Ms. Alex!

If you or someone you know might want to be a youth development worker with CIS click here for more information.

IMG_3161

 

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.