Pop Quiz: Nicholas Keen  

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 Nicholas Keen (pictured on right) who is in his second year with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, serving as a Youth Development Worker at Hillside Middle School.

Nicholas grew up overseas and refers to himself as a ‘Foreign Service brat.’ “I got my start in Haiti, then Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Czechoslovakia, and Croatia. Intermittently, I’d come back to America, but the breadth of my youth was overseas.” Nicholas eventually went to Kalamazoo College, graduated and started working for Communities In Schools.

Nicholas says that because he was always moving throughout his youth, he developed a “nuanced ability to adapt.” This propensity to talk to strangers, learn how to make friends, and comfortably enter new settings helped him jump easily into his work as a Youth Development Worker.

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve been doing ballet for a while and just nailed how to do a pirouette. Consistently, that is.

 

What’s the secret?

Doing it over and over again until it happens. You have to keep practicing, isolating each of your body movements, such as keeping your weight over the hips while rotating. You isolate the movements but also need to address each of them at the same time. It’s more of an ongoing learning process. It’s also enthralling.

 

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Blood Memory by Martha Graham.

 

Favorite word right now?

Rapacious.

 

What does it mean?

Aggressive greed.

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I would love to be a freelance artist or become an educator for studio art classes at the college, high school, middle school and maybe even elementary level.

 

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

Fortunately, I’ve had many. But my stepfather has been one of the more significant caring adults in my life. He came into my life when I was ten or eleven. I’d been without a father for four or five years and he applied more structure than had prevailed in our home. My mother was a foreign service officer within the US Embassy and quite busy. We were living in extravagant houses and my mother had to bear the weight of frequent gatherings. We had a cook, a housekeeper and privileges that my brother and I didn’t understand. We had a lot of freedom and up to that point, my brother and I were basically raised by wolves. My stepfather put a backbone into our life. He made us accountable and helped us apply a systematic balance to life.

 

Thank you Nicholas!

 

Our kids need more Youth Development Workers, enthusiastic individuals like Nicholas, to step up and serve in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday). If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go here.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, What’s The Ugliest Lie Of All?

uglysweaterOne of my colleagues kept suggesting I write an ugly post to remind folks to come out to our Ugly Sweater Party with the Young Professionals that is going on later this afternoon, Tuesday, December 9 at Old Burdicks Bar & Grill. 5-7pm. I told them no. “Admission is free with minimum $10 donation or a new item from the Wish List,” they’d remind me.

“I’m coming to the party,” I said. “But I DO NOT WANT TO WRITE AN UGLY POST.” But they didn’t seem to take the hint and kept nudging. I must admit, we’re all pretty good about that at CIS.  About not letting go or giving up when we believe in something. Especially when it comes to kids. (There must be something in the water here because it is a trait we share with Kalamazoo Public School teachers, staff, administrators and countless community partners and volunteers.) So, buckle up.

Here comes ugly.

That’s what he said. It feels like I heard that a thousand times as a young girl. For the first two of my school age years, I walked to my friend’s house, waited while she finished breakfast so we could walk safely together to school. My friend’s father would regularly tease me, say, “How are you doing, Ugly?” Or “Hey, everyone, here comes Ugly!” I didn’t say anything to my parents or teachers. I was embarrassed because a part of me believed him. I did have a huge gap in my front teeth. So big it felt like a car could drive through it. And why did I agree to that stupid shag haircut in first grade? What other classmates looked like Mrs. Brady?

Kindergarten picture, pre-shag haircut

 

Fortunately for me, my friend and her family moved after a few years. I also have a pretty strong ego. (My husband complains that it’s too strong.) And it didn’t hurt that I was accidently born into a family that could pay to close my gap with braces, that I had opportunities outside of school to feel good about myself. Mostly, I got over the ugly because of caring adults. This experience, though, is one of the things that drew me to CIS. It took a while to believe in myself, for a host of caring adults, like my parents, an orthodontist, two piano teachers, and a slew of fine school teachers to wipe away the ugly. It left a scar I’m content to bear—it’s made me hyper-focused on all the ugly things children hear along the way. The messages we send—intentional or not—that seep into their psyche until they believe the ugly.

Here is the ugliest truth of all: too many of our kids lose hope in themselves every day. Kids  who have come to believe they are nothing but a bad grade, who feel as empty as their tummies, and begin to believe that theKalamazoo Promise® isn’t for kids like them.

It’s hard to take in all this ugly. But we owe it to our kids to hang in there with them and give them hope. Every day, our CIS Site teams along with hundreds of volunteers and school and community partners are doing just that. Here’s just one great example of the kind of beauty that cuts at ugly:

When Kalamazoo Central High School identified some young men with patterns of missing school, skipping classes, academics slipping—clear warning signs that these students were at risk of dropping out—CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough jumped into action and started meeting with each student to connect them to a men’s group. Some of them told her: “It’s no use. I’ve messed up too badly. What’s the point? The Promise isn’t for kids like me.”

“Just come once,” she said. “Promise me that.” And they did. Again and again because CIS partner, Pastor James Harris and his team were surrounding these young men with love, speaking to each, as Nelson Mandela says, “in his own language, that goes not to his head but his heart.” So the site coordinator wasn’t surprised, when one day Pastor James dragged a bag of trash into the group.

“What’s this?” he asked the young men.

“Trash,” they said.

“You sure?” he replied.

The young men realized that they couldn’t be sure, not until they searched through it. Turns out, mixed in with all that trash was a 100 dollar bill Pastor James had tucked inside an envelope. The lesson learned that day? Despite missteps along the way, value resides inside each of them and they do not need to throw their life away.

This is the kind of beauty that CIS Site Coordinators are orchestrating every day. Putting just the right resources—volunteers like Pastor James, Kalamazoo College students, or a grief therapist from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan—with the right kids at the right time. They do an awesome job of it and kids can’t help but stumble into their own beauty.

But the ugly side of this same coin is that we need more people to step up. Todonate, volunteer, and partner. To advocate for both integrated student services and stable and adequate school funding.

So, if you have survived this ugly ride, thanks for hanging in there. Come on down to Burdick’s and hang out with us from 5-7pm. Bring a donation of $10 or some newclothing item for CIS Kids’ Closet (packs of underwear, winter boots, and sweats especially needed). They’ll be plenty of food, fun, and prizes for the ugliest sweaters. (I even hear that Burdick’s is making a signature drink for CIS!)

And, if you didn’t like this ugly post, I don’t want to hear it. Stop downtown at Burdick’s and let my colleague know. (You can’t miss her. She’ll be the one wearing an ugly sweater.)

Can’t make it? We understand. It’s a busy time. We just ask that you take a moment to consider making a donation to CIS. No matter the amount, your contribution takes a bite out of ugly. ‘Tis the season after all. No matter what form of action you choose to take, it reminds our children—and all of us—that they are a treasure worth fighting for. That is one beautiful message that will never go out of season.

AmeriCorps Vista Summer Associates: Memory Makers

teamsecCIS Think Summer! ran for six weeks this summer and served over 150 first through ninth graders and also included the Kids in Tune participants. Fifteen AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates were hired and supported the students throughout their summer academic/enrichment program.  Many of these AmeriCorps VISTA Associates—or “coaches” as the kids called them—hailed from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and one of the key ingredients to a successful summer experience for the students. Thank you AmeriCorps VISTAs for your support of our students!

Some of the AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates took a few moments to reflect on CIS Think Summer! and they are our guest bloggers today.

Between the elementary  and secondary staff, there was a wide variety of coaches working for CIS Think Summer! Each day brought new challenges and everyone worked hard to make sure that all of the students were safe, learning, and having fun. All of us gained wonderful memories of our time in the program, and we want to share a few words about our experiences at CIS Think Summer!

My favorite memory was watching the students explore the zoo. I loved seeing the students’ faces light up at the bird exhibit and how excited they were to point out all the colorful birds. The moment when they fed the lettuce to the giraffes was memorable, too!

-Kelsey-Ann Wessel, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Working with these kids this summer has been an amazing experience. Being able to combine an academic with an enriching environment brings fun to learning. Being able to share my own expertise with kids has also been rewarding.

-Sarah Woods, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

I had an amazing summer working with Communities In Schools. I got to meet some truly special kids and help guide them towards success. It was rewarding to work with kids who have so much potential. It’s good to be able to make a difference.

-Kira Boneff, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Elementary school-aged children do not often get the opportunity to make choices about their activities, especially in school, but the clubs at CIS Think Summer! gave them exactly this opportunity. Every afternoon, the students spilt up into their choice of clubs, which rotated every two weeks. This approach allowed students of different grades to mingle and make friends, as they were split up into 1st-2nd grade and 3rd-5th grade groups.

The clubs were split into five different topics: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Arts and Crafts, Health and Wellness, Life Skills, and Leadership. Each coach got to switch which club they were leading every two weeks as well, which allowed us, as coaches, to meet and work with many students outside of our grade levels.

I was lucky enough to meet a lot of the younger kids through clubs, an opportunity that I might not have otherwise had as a 4th grade coach. Some of the offerings included Hands-On Science, Cooking Club, Debate Club, and Let’s Move Sports Club.

In addition to allowing the kids to have a say in their schedule, the clubs provided an opportunity to help them grow through non-classroom experiences. The kids learned about chemistry and plants in Hands-On Science, about healthy eating in Cooking Club, and about public speaking skills in Debate Club. Providing all of these experiences helped us work toward one of our main summer goals: giving students educational and fun opportunities to help grow up on the track to success.

-Kira Boneff and Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates

 

One great thing about CIS Think Summer! is that every Thursday is a celebration/field trip day. One of the most memorable and favorite field trips among the elementary students was going to Binder Park Zoo. Each coach was paired with around five kids, and was free to venture wherever they wanted. Coach Sadina from the 4th grade Achieve Team had a great time with her group.

All the children in her group wanted to go to Wild Africa first so that they could see the giraffes. To get there, they all  rode in the Safari Tram. Along with giraffes, the children saw ostriches, monkeys, zebras, and a variety of birds. Toward the end of the safari the kids went on an artifact scavenger hunt where they earned their ultimate safari training.

After Wild Africa they decided to go and visit other animals such as the bears, hogs, chipmunks, wolves, flamingos, and peacocks. One student took the liberty of marking down every animal the group saw on the map so that they could try to see them all!

Another fun part of this field trip wasthat all the elementary students got to ride the train to Battle Creek. It was very exciting to see everyone in a great mood riding together as a group. It was a great day for CIS Think Summer!

-Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Honestly, if you were not a part of CIS Think Summer! you missed out on a lot of fun. I think the number one reason why it was awesome to be a part of it was because of the people involved.

Kalamazoo is a very diverse place to live. We love this because it is really hard to be “sheltered.” It makes for more dynamic ideas and creates a more comfortable atmosphere. That was easily Coach Bryce Burnette’s favorite part of being an Americorps VISTA.

He admits he is a little biased, but believes that secondary had the most fun this summer. The staff were very close and that had a huge impact on the program. It made the experience more enjoyable for the students especially because it was clear that everyone was having a good time.

Lastly, the students were fantastic. The future of KPS is very bright and CIS is doing a lot to make it an even better and more enjoyable experience.

-Bryce Burnett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

Math, Music, And Refrigerators

_DSC0746Today’s post is written by our CIS friend and partner, Kalamazoo College Professor  Dr. Eric “Rick” Barth.

newspaper-clipping-of-Ricky-BarthLet’s begin with an old clipping from my home-town newspaper, dating back to the 1960s (right).

The picture shows a small-town businessman (my father) watching as a toddler (me) pushes on the side of a refrigerator, equipped with a long-forgotten bit of technology that was meant to make an easy job of moving, and cleaning behind, heavy kitchen appliances. I’m pretty sure that gadget never caught on with the buying public, but my dad always had his eyes open for the “next big thing” and hey, you never know…

This story could go lots of ways from here: how about “That was the day I learned the importance of cleaning under my fridge”? Instead, when I see that yellow newspaper, I think “That was one of the many days in my life that I got the chance to try something big and, because of all the supportive people around me, didn’t have to worry that something good wouldn’t come of it.”

That toddler spent the next 30 years working in Dad’s appliance store and studying in rural Kansas public schools, getting his degree at music school from the University of Kansas, getting married, working in more appliance stores, getting his Ph.D. in mathematics, moving to New York City and finally to Kalamazoo with two little boys of his own, to teach at Kalamazoo College. That history is a series of big opportunities, big changes, big challenges, big trials, and big joys. All big things that I was able to attempt without (much) fear because of all the supportive people around me.

Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park
Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park

What’s the next big thing? For me it’s combining my work at the College with my role as Curriculum Director at Kids in Tune. KiT is a family business for sure. The founder and director is Liz Youker, a fellow KU music alum with an unmistakable can-do spirit. My son Thomas started the Woods Lake Elementary cello club while in high school and merged that into the brand-new KiT program when it began in 2011, teaching in the program until last fall when he went off to music school. My wife Deb Faling — we met in music school at Kansas and have been collaborating on one crazy thing after another for almost 30 years — is the KiT associate director. And we spend so much time and work so closely with site coordinator Donielle Hetrick and ISS director of elementary sites, Linda Thompson, that they merit status of at least honorary “favorite cousins”!

So what happens at Kids in Tune that makes us all invest so much? How about this as an example: One day after we’d been rehearsing a portion of Mahler’s Symphony #1, a group of students came to me and asked “When do we start Symphony #2?”. It was clear to me in that moment that those kids were experiencing the power of great art in their own way and that they were seeing their life in the program as a great adventure where they are confident that every hard-earned and well-deserved discovery is followed by another one. I hope that by bringing our best to KiT students every day, we provide the opportunity for all 85 of them, every one, to try big things with an expectation that something great will happen, and without any worry that it won’t.

Are You My Mother Or My Father? Yes. Yes You Are.

Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park
Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park

What kind of parent are you? If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know that YOU are raising the children of our community. So, what kind of parent have you been lately? Involved? Are you financially or emotionally supportive? What example are you setting? Are you invested enough so that should someone sidle up to you in the grocery store and ask you what you ‘ve done lately for one of your 12,000+ kids or how one of them is doing, could you tell them?

Dr. Eric “Rick” Barth can.  As a tot, he was moving 322 pound refrigerators.  For the past several years, both during the school year and CIS Think Summer! program, Dr. Barth has gotten hundreds of his kids moving to the beat with Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, a program that is done in  partnership with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra,  Kalamazoo Public Schools and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. As Chair and Professor of the Math Department at Kalamazoo College, Dr. Barth is a busy guy and yet he makes the time to share his talents with our kids. We are grateful for his on-going commitment. His steadfast presence is making a difference.

We invite you to return next week and read what Dr. Barth, our next week’s guest blogger,  has to say about moving refrigerators, Kids in Tune and why he invests in our children. In the meantime, check out the below clip of Rick conducting Boogie Woogie Blues.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-vbk6y9t8Q

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Kalamazoo Takes Stock in Children

20131106-_DSC4389Twitter and Wall Street may have had Sir Patrick Stewart (he played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and has a twitter following of 729,766) to ring in its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange but CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo had an even more impressive lineup to ring in the public phase of its Promise Me campaign.

1. It was KPS Parent, Audrey Seilheimer, who helped us come up with the theme of Promise Me and served as creative consultant in the development of the Promise Me video featured on our campaign website. Audrey has recently been hired as Marketing and Fund Development Assistant for Girls on the Run. (You go, girl!)I can’t do any better than Yvonne Zipp of The Kalamazoo Gazette/mlive or Sonya Hollins of Community Voices in capturing the public launch and highlights of the Promise Me campaign. Nor can I strike so poignantly at the heart as to why CIS exists, as Mickey Ciokajlo did in his column that ran in Sunday’s Gazette.  (Be sure to read their pieces and check out the fabulous photos that accompany them—links below.) But, I can share with you a few behind the scenes facts:Brief, yet thoughtful remarks were made by: Promise Me Campaign Co-Chairs Carolyn H. Williams and Janice M. Brown, Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael F. Rice, Western Michigan University President John Dunn, Kalamazoo Valley Community College President Marilyn Schlack, Kalamazoo College Provost Michael McDonald, CIS National President Dan Cardinali, (in town to serve as keynote speaker at the PromiseNet Conference), Kalamazoo Central High School student Dominique Edwards, El Sol Elementary student Juan Carrillo Betancourt, and KPS parent Meghan Wineka. (We thank each of you for your presence and lending your voice to the campaign. We are grateful for your support.)

20131106-_DSC41542. The music that played before and after the kickoff included the Promise Me song, an original piece written just for this campaign by our students. Our fabulously talented partner, Bangtown Productions, worked with a number of students, and, as part of their CIS after school programming, wrote and produced Promise Me. You can listen to the song here. (You kids rock! And so do you, Pharlon!)

3. With a goal of $4.5 million, Promise Me is almost half-way there and is seeking the support of the greater community in reaching it. Okay, so that’s not a behind the scenes fact anymore but it allows us the opportunity to thank those of you who have already made it your business to invest in CIS and the students of Kalamazoo. (Thank you!)

4. Missed the launch? You can catch the whole thing here thanks to CIS volunteer, Howard Tejchma. (Thank you, Howard!)

20131106-_DSC4159The many events of last week got me thinking about how and where we choose to put our hope in the future. When it comes to Twitter, investors believe that the company will figure out how to make a profit from its 200 million or so monthly active users. When it comes to the Promise Me campaign, investors believe that CIS and the students of Kalamazoo are a good and worthy investment. As our freshly minted mayor, Bobby Hopewell tweeted on November 6, “No better way to start my new journey as Mayor of the city of promise than to be at an event supporting our promises.”

We have gone public. And we need your support. If you think that it’s important for every child to graduate from high school on time, prepared for post-secondary education and employment, please give us your support. Already given to the campaign? Tweet about it. (Heck, why not tweet the link to this post to Sir Patrick Stewart. Maybe he or one of his many followers will be moved to give.) If you’re not a tweeter, that is fine. Talk about it. After you’ve donated, encourage your neighbors, friends, and family members to donate as well. Let them know you have given and encourage them to give to the campaign as well. CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo need you. Do it now. Promise?

 
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Media links:
MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/11/kalamazoos_communities_in_scho.html

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/11/communities_in_schools_launche.html

 

Community Voices

http://comvoicesonline.com/16396/education/cis-celebrates-campaign-results-changing-lives/

Wood TV 8

http://www.woodtv.com/news/local/kalamazoo-and-battle-creek/promise-me-campaign-aids-kzoo-students

WWMT Channel 3

http://www.wwmt.com/shared/news/features/top-stories/stories/wwmt_promise-me-advancement-initiative-begins-15375.shtml

CW7

http://www.cw7michigan.com/shared/news/features/top-stories/stories/wmmt_promise-me-advancement-initiative-begins-15375.shtml

WMUK

http://wmuk.org/webclip/kalamazoo-communities-schools-launches-capital-campaign