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.
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.
“If I didn’t have CIS in my life, I would not be a senior right now,” says LaShawnda Melton. “I would have given up and dropped out.”
It’s hard to imagine that this bright young woman who is a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School was on the cusp of dropping out, but she was. Like the nearly two million teens who find their hunger for learning dampened by depression, LaShawnda found herself struggling just to get out of bed in the morning. It was during her freshman year at Central that the school, concerned about LaShawnda’s attendance, reached out to CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “She was facing, and continues to face, challenging situations,” says Deborah. “She is a fighter, though. I coach her, connect her to supports—but it’s LaShawnda who puts in the work. We can provide all the services students need, but for progress to occur, they need to take advantage of them. LaShawnda comes to me, she seeks help, and puts in great effort.”
“Ms. Yarbrough’s been there with me every step of the way,” explains LaShawnda. “When I didn’t want to talk with anyone else, she helped me get my attendance and grades straight. Ms. Yarbrough, she acts like your momma. She pushes you. When she sees you doing wrong she fusses at you. She won’t help you if you don’t help yourself. She feels your pain.”
LaShawnda readily ticks off a number of resources and opportunities that her Site Coordinator has connected her to over the past four years: “JUMP [Just Unleashing My Potential focused on health & wellness, homework assistance and more, funded through The Greg Jennings Foundation], I’ve Got Next [a mentoring approach to attendance, made possible by AT&T Michigan], field trips, and college visits. Every year she connects me with counseling through WMU and Family & Children Services, dental services, tutors, and even school supplies when I’ve needed them. Ms. Yarbrough also led me to Ms. Aguilar, our Dean of Students, and she has been really helpful. She really cares and, just like Ms. Yarbrough, keeps me on track even with stuff going on in my life.”
On track to graduate this spring, LaShawnda wants to become a nurse practitioner and is considering Wayne State, Grand Valley, or Eastern Michigan. “I’m so thankful for The Kalamazoo Promise®,” she says. “I see my family struggling and The Promise gives us a lot of opportunities. I wish I could find the founders and thank them.”
LaShawnda shows her thanks every day by showing up to school and doing her best. It’s having a CIS Site Coordinator at her side, along with a combination of supports and the caring adults who provide them, that keeps her “not just focused on school but also thinking about my future.”
“It is amazing to see her resilience,” says Deborah, “and it is an outstanding testimony that through it all, she will be graduating and taking advantage of The Promise. I’m so proud of LaShawnda. This is just the beginning for her.”
All of the great work you’ve been reading about is made possible by people like you who volunteer with or donate to CIS. Please invest in local students and be a part of more success stories like LaShawnda’s.
The Employees at Stryker Instruments have been supporting local students in a number of ways over the past several years. As part of the Stryker “Amazing Race” event in the fall of 2013, Stryker employees raced around the City of Kalamazoo to collect school supplies, which were donated to CIS Kids’ Closet. Kids’ Closet provides items of new clothing, school supplies, and personal care items to students in CIS supported KPS buildings.
We had the good fortune of meeting one Stryker employee in particular at the Amazing Race event, Quay Eady. Quay made a commitment to volunteer for the 2013-14 academic year at Milwood Elementary School. During that time she tutored and mentored several 4th grade girls in the CIS After School program every Tuesday and Thursday. On average, she gave 4-5 hours of her time each week. She also volunteered at several school events, serving dinner to families at the Family Movie Night, and supporting the end of school picnic for CIS after school students at Milham Park.
This past fall, the employees in the Stryker Instruments Service Call Center took on a challenge of collecting 500 school supplies for the CIS Kids’ Closet. They met and exceeded their goal. These supplies were then distributed by CIS site teams to students who needed them. Around this same time, CIS was approached by Service Operations Leader Greg McCormick with a very generous offer: a group of 8-10 Stryker employees committing to volunteer for an entire year with CIS. When asked how they wanted to volunteer their time, Greg replied, “we’ll do whatever you want us to do.” Greg has been leading “Champions for Change,” a group of twelve employees who want to have a positive impact on students in Kalamazoo. They help students with their homework in the CIS after school programs at both Milwood and El Sol Elementary Schools. Every Wednesday, volunteers from the group arrive ready and willing to help students with solving math problems, learning spelling words, or reading a book.
One of the five CIS basics is that every child needs and deserves a marketable skill to use upon graduation. “Stryker employees, through Bigs in Business, exposes students who would not otherwise have this opportunity,” points out Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central. “The students really look forward to this. These ninth graders are making connections beyond themselves by working one on one and in small groups with the employees. It’s motivating them. They are taking more initiative and responsibility—whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.”
Over the course of getting to know these men and women who are partnering with CIS in numerous ways, we couldn’t help but notice how Stryker employees, in their service to students, live out the very values that are core to their business: Integrity: We do what’s right. Accountability: We do what we say. People: We grow talent. Performance: We deliver. What a great message this sends to our young people.
Stryker® Employees, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Kalamazoo is bursting with strong, wonderful women.
Just last week, the 2015 award celebration for the YWCA Women of Achievement was held at the Radisson. Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo was one of four women to receive the Women of Achievement Award.Kalamazoo Community Foundation sponsored her award and, as President and CEO, Carrie Picket Erway shared with the packed audience: In December 1999 Pam took on the challenge of developing a new organization from scratch, known as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Pam’s recipe to success was in using a national model to overcome the barriers that disrupted kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Under her leadership and vision, the organization has steadily grown to over 140 employees, serving 20 schools, reaching 1,300 students, coordinating 175,000 hours of service, and over 9,700 students receiving service through community partnerships coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.
Several of you have asked that we run the speech that Pam gave that evening. We think you’ll find it straightforward and sincere, just like Pam. But, before we share it, just a few words about some of the other award winners with connections to CIS….
The YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement Award was given to Carolyn Alford. A former CIS board member, who, among many other volunteer and professional accomplishments, also served 16 years on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Trustees. She reminded the packed audience that we can make an impact on our community “when we work together as one on behalf of others.” She definitely lives these words.
The YWCA Young Women of Achievement Award was bestowed upon 19 young women from area high schools and organizations that show exemplary leadership through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, serving as role models, and academic achievements. Special kudos to our own Tiara Blair!
We are so proud of her and how she and all the Women of Achievement serve as role models for the next generation. In fact, later this week, Thursday, May 21st, our future women–over 2,000 3rd-5th grade girls–will pound through the streets as part of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run 5K. You go, girls!
Here now, is Pam’s speech:
I love this community! I came here with my husband for his graduate school program, intending to stay one-two years. Now, 41 years later, I feel very blessed to be in this special place. I have had the good fortune to have two careers here—one in mental health and one with Communities In Schools. And in both, I have been extremely lucky to work with smart, talented colleagues who care about their work as much as I do—several have honored me with attending this evening. A special thanks to Jennifer, Emily and Trella for nominating me for this award. I want to thank my family—my husband, Don, my daughter Logan and my sons, Noah and JB; not only have they been very supportive of me, they embrace my work with Communities In Schools with their own time, talent and treasure. They conspired to surprise me with the special visit by Noah from Washington DC to attend this event. My very special friend, Tyreese and his mom, Renee, also enrich me every day by sharing their lives. Thank you, Tyreese!
I so appreciate this award and the YWCA’s history of supporting and lifting up the women of Kalamazoo. To be a part of that group of women is inspiring to me. To theKalamazoo Community Foundation for sponsoring my award, please accept my genuine gratitude. I really believe in “For good and forever”—it isn’t just a tag line—and so it is especially meaningful to have your support. Thank you.
I want every child in this community to benefit from its resources as much as I have, and as much as my children did—for the good of us all, forever for Kalamazoo and beyond. And so my deep and profound appreciation includes in particular the Board members of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and our generous donors. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and taking this journey of faith and determination that together we will surround our kids with love and a community that continues to say “we believe in your ability to succeed.”
Finally, I believe my mother’s spirit is here with me. She is the person who instilled in me a love of education, in spite of having to give up her own. Thanks, Mom—I am forever your grateful daughter.
The 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.
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.”
Deborah 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.
Literacy 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.”
As one of the largest employers in Michigan, AT&T has a vested interest in assuring that students do well in school. Jim Murray, President of AT&T Michigan, told the crowd that had gathered this past Thursday at Loy Norrix High School that it’s important to “build a pipeline of talent…a good education and a high school diploma are critically important for Michigan students as they prepare for success in life,” he said. “We see this in our communities and in our workforce and that is why AT&T is supporting students and proven programs like Communities In Schools that help them.” Mr. Murray then presented a $292,238 check to Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo is 1 of 30 AT&T Aspire recipients nation-wide (and the only one in Michigan) selected from a competitive request for proposal process from more than 1,100 applicants. Mr. Murray explained that programs were evaluated based on their effectiveness in helping students graduate ready for career or college. Selected programs use evidence-based approaches to serve students and are able to demonstrate quantitative results.
“Students should be provided with the opportunity and the necessary support to be successful,” said Rodney Prewitt, Principal of Loy Norrix High School. This union of AT&T and Communities In Schools supports our purpose by helping us to maximize students’ academic, social, and personal success. In addition, it also benefits our college going culture by helping us provide an education that is relevant to the needs of our students.” Kalamazoo Central High School Principal Val Boggan echoed similar thoughts, adding that “CIS does phenomenal work. We’ve had great success with our students at Kalamazoo Central.”
Several Loy Norrix students then spoke.
Antasia, a junior, credited her success as a student and 3.5 GPA to resources she’s received through CIS as well as “having somebody to be by my side.” Removing the barriers allows her to strive to be the best student she can be.
Malik, a senior, for whom CIS has been a part of his life since second grade, pointed out that it is often the “little stuff” that students need to help them to focus so they can be successful. Dental care, vision support, and food packs help many students, he said.
Anasia, a freshman appreciates the guidance CIS has provided her. “They always have my back. With the help of CIS, my transition to high school was ten times easier…every student should have this support.”
Tiara Blair, a senior, said this, “Communities In Schools has given me multiple opportunities throughout my high school career. They have provided me with glasses so I can actually see the notes I need to take. CIS has also offered tutoring in subjects, like math, that I struggle in. These are just a few of their helpful tools they provide me with.
With these tools I am able to maintain a 3.7 GPA.” The audience broke into applause, as they did for the other students who mentioned their impressive GPAs. Tiara waited for the audience to stop applauding and continued. “I was one of those students who thought college was not an option for me. With the support of CIS, I am applying to Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, and Albion College. Communities In Schools has better prepared me to be accepted. Not only have they helped me figure out where to apply to, they also helped me navigate through the many employment options available. One of the programs offered was MODA, Merchandising Opportunities Design Associations at Western Michigan University. This gave girls like me a chance to try out the fashion world. We were able to design and sew our own outfits and present them in one of their fashion shows. Although it was a lot of fun, I also learned how stressful this line of work can be. I am privileged and grateful to have the support of CIS be a part of my middle school and high school career.”
AT&T Aspire, the company’s signature education initiative focused on school success and career readiness, allows CIS to support a site coordinator at Loy Norrix High School, provide in-class assistance to Algebra I students at both Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central High School, and support students over the summer. With an unwavering commitment to data-driven education outcomes, AT&T Aspire has impacted more than 1 million students since its launch in 2008.
We thank you, AT&T, for helping kids aspire to be the successful students they are meant to be!
Today’s guest blogger is CIS graduate and former CIS board member, Ricki Harris. Ricki graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2012, and later that year she graduated from Naval Station Great Lakes. Her former mentor, Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites, was there to celebrate with her. (Artrella shared her memories of meeting Ricki when she was just nine years old and how their lives have intersected over the years. If you haven’t read that beautiful post, you can find it here. Ricki’s “Story of Progress” was also featured in the 2010-11 Annual Report. )
Ricki, whose official title is DC3 (SW/AW) Harris, now serves as a Damage Controlman for the Navy. She has been nominated for the Blue Jacket Sailor of the Quarter and has received a Letter of Accommodation from her Commanding Officer.We are proud of Ricki and her accomplishments. We admire her perseverance, intelligence, warmth, modesty, and bravery. Not everyone can spread their wings and fly around the world. So when Ricki came back to visit us a few months back, we were so happy to see her and bombarded her with questions. Her decision to enter the Navy has given her a chance to see the world. We wondered. What were some of her favorite places? Why? How did visiting those places change (or not change) the way she sees “the place” of Kalamazoo? What exactly does she do as a Damage Controlman? What is it that sticks out for her as something that has (or is) influencing her growth as a young woman? What advice does she have for Kalamazoo Public School students? She was kind enough to write this post so we could share this with you…
Since graduating and leaving Kalamazoo, I’ve been to the Philippines, Jebel Ali Dubai, Jordan, Eliat Israel, Singapore twice, Bahrain, Hawaii, and Oman. My favorite places would have to be Israel, Singapore and Dubai. If you are on the fence about what you want to do, then the military may be a great choice. It doesn’t matter what branch you choose as all of them have different expertise and can offer good experiences. Whatever you do, think about the decision. Make sure it’s something you love or can grow to love.
In Israel, I got to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land and experience the different religions that were there—which was an eye-opener since I’m not too religious. Singapore was very clean and offered different religious sectors, such as “Little India” and “Chinatown.” In a sense, it was like having a little taste of India and China. The people were very friendly and spoke English very well. Dubai is probably one of the richer countries the world has. They have one of the world’s biggest malls and their King even came on board our ship! With all the lights and night life, you would think the party never stops there. It’s a beautiful city and a nice place to vacation. Being overseas and visiting all of these places made Kalamazoo seem super small, though nothing takes away from how beautiful downtown Kalamazoo is with the older neighborhoods and big houses. Plus Kalamazoo College is so beautiful…
My role within the military is as a Damage Controlman. I’m responsible for the ship’s integrity. This means fighting fires, and combating casualties on the ship. We are the first responders to any casualty on board a ship. We teach people how to do our job and we also work with chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) warfare equipment just in case there was ever a CBR attack. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but I love it.
Being in the military has greatly influenced me. I have received training that would cost a fortune in the real world. It has given me endless possibilities that I would not have had otherwise, especially right out of high school.
My experience with the military has also shown me how to deal with people. The military is a melting pot. Befriending the people I meet has helped me learn and understand other cultures. Altogether, it is a learning experience. People may like you or just down right hate you. That will happen where ever you go in life. As long as you put your mind to it and do what’s right, you will succeed. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you will get recognized.
I would encourage any student who is in school to continue with school. Work hard and make the best of it. Thanks to the Promise, you have your education paid for. I came to KPS in fourth grade so I still received a large amount of the Kalamazoo Promise®. I would also encourage high school students to attend AP Courses. I took roughly about six, and I even tested out of Economics and Algebra.
You’ll be surprised what you can do if you put your mind to it. YOU have to want to do it, though.
Today’s post is written by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Her words can also be found on the front page of our latest CIS Connections.
No one orders gravy without the mashed potatoes. No one buys a set of special tires without owning a car to put them on. You don’t buy an extra gig of memory when you don’t possess a computer. Likewise, Communities In Schools wouldn’t seek after school grants if it didn’t have basic core services within the schools—whole-child, integrated student support.
Communities In Schools was recently notified that ALL THREE after school grants for which it applied have been selected for funding by the Michigan Department of Educationbeginning the 2014-15 school year. Those grants, funded for five years, will provide significant extra learning support in fifteen schools—nine out of its ten current after school sites and six new elementary sites. And, yes, the grants do represent a substantial dollar amount—more than ten million over the five year period. Of course, this is a huge accomplishment for CIS, Kalamazoo Public Schools and the partners who collaborate with us. We couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity!
BUT, after school services are not the CIS core integrated student support strategy that is basic to our mission—to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. After school services are an example of a very important, narrow but intensive strategy for providing critical academic support to a targeted group of students within each selected school. It does give us a critical opportunity for daily contact with students to support homework completion, provide tutoring and practice for key academic skills and a safe, supervised setting while parents are working. It makes a substantial impact on the students who participate.
Core to a whole-child, coordinated service strategy, is a site coordinator who is available to organize and connect the community’s resources to a wider group of students within a school, students who have needs beyond academics, and who most often have very limited socio-economic means to meet those needs—dental, vision, food, clothing, school supplies, mental health, etc. Why do I point this out? Because it is our KALAMAZOO FUNDERS and DONORS who make possible the core of what Communities In Schools is and does. If you are one of those funders and donors, your support is essential in allowing us to leverage other resources—the gravy if you will—to provide critical extra support to some students, while maintaining the basics to greater numbers of children.
Yes, ten million dollars, even over five years, is a lot of money. But it goes to a very specific and narrow purpose—the special set of tires—and cannot be used to support our core services. For that core set of services, we are continuing our Promise Me Campaign. For that core, we are dependent on you, Kalamazoo. For that, we thank you for being the mashed potatoes.