Pop Quiz: Tamiko Garrett

Tamiko Garrett, upon successfully completing Communities In Schools Site Coordinator Learning Pathway Virtual Boot Camp

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 Tamiko Garrett. She’s been with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) for three years and is the CIS Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School.

A proud KPS parent, Tamiko attended Kalamazoo Public Schools as well, graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, after having been educated at Spring Valley, Northeastern, and Hillside Middle School. She says that supporting students within the same school district she went to is “rewarding and strange at the same time…I’ll work with a kid and then quickly discover that I went to school with their parent. That connection, I think, actually helps me do my job better.”

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I recently learned Trevon Martin’s mother is going to be in town, speaking at Chenery as part of an event that is sponsored by Lee Honor’s College. It’s March 29th and I plan to attend.

What are you currently reading? 

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.  I recently saw the movie. Normally, I read the book first but I decided to switch things around.

That is a great movie. Everyone needs to see it.

I agree.

What made you decide to change things up?

A few things, really. Just being in America and having never before heard of these women and their incredible story, this black history, well it made me want to know more. Also, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but students in after school—not just here at Linden Grove but all the CIS after school sites throughout KPS middle schools— are doing an amazing program. It involves working with NASA. It’s quite exciting for our students to be exposed to STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] beyond the school day. Students will even be linking up with other schools throughout the country that are using this curriculum. When [CIS After School Coordinator] Jenee learned that the movie was coming out, she thought it would be a perfect opportunity to tie in the NASA project with Black History Month. She arranged for the students to see the movie and I volunteered to help chaperone.

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

Auga Davis. She was my first grade teacher. My older sister had her as well so I thought it was cool to have the same teacher. I still remember thinking, “Wow, this is my sister’s teacher and she’s teaching me now!” Ms. Davis recently retired from Indian Prairie after teaching 40 years in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. She was such a nice and sweet teacher. To think of somebody teaching and giving to students for 40 years. Just, wow.

What is your favorite word right now?

Blended learning.

Tell us more about that.

Blended learning is really all about how we can customize a student’s individualized learning style with a teacher’s teaching style in order to achieve the best educational outcome for the student.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

The Kalamazoo Promise. I have a daughter who attends Kalamazoo Central High School.  She is in the 11th grade. The Promise is such a wonderful opportunity and she will soon be able to get 100% of this incredible gift!

Can you tell us something about yourself that people may be surprised to know?

I am currently working on my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Eastern Michigan University.  I love learning and teaching others.

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

Definitely my mom. She raised three kids. She is now very hands on with raising my niece and she is helpful to me in raising my daughter. My siblings and my niece all graduated from Kalamazoo Public Schools, and my daughter will soon be joining us as proud graduates.

Tamiko, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!

We continue to talk with Tamiko in our soon to be released newsletter, CIS Connections. Tamiko and her CIS site team member, CIS After School Coordinator Jenee McDaniel, share insights into what it takes to work together to help students stay in school and be successful.

 

 

Pop Quiz: Dominique Jackson

dominique-jackson-internWelcome 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 Dominique Jackson.

One of ten terrific interns working with CIS, Dominique graduated from Kalamazoo Central in 2012. A Promise Scholar, Dominique went on to Michigan State University and obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. “I was the first generation in my family to graduate from a four year university,” she says. She is currently working on her Masters in Social Work at Western Michigan University.

As a social work intern, Dominique works closely with her CIS site team at Linden Grove Middle School. “It’s great learning from [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. [Tamiko] Garrett and [CIS After School Coordinator] Ms. [Jenee] McDaniel. And the KPS staff is awesome! They’ve all welcomed me and so it’s been a smooth transition coming in as an intern.”

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

In some European countries, such as Norway, college is completely free. I didn’t know that.

Favorite word?

I have so many, it’s hard to say. Right now, I’d say strength. That’s what I need right now to get through this year, with working at Gilden Woods Early Childcare & Preschool, going to school, and doing my internship.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Always by Nina Lane. I really liked it.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’m still trying to decide, but I’m leaning towards doing social work in schools. Or, possibly, working with juveniles. This would tie in with my degree and I do like the thought of getting juveniles on the right track.

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

My mom, for sure. She’s the one that’s always been there, motivating me and pushing me to do well.

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

Mrs. [Ruth] Schafer. She was my fifth grade teacher at Arcadia. She was very engaging, helpful, and pushed us to do better. She was hard on us while still showing her love and support. She was amazing and I loved her.

Also, Mrs. [Elaine] Sayre, my AP [Advanced Placement] Language teacher. I had her my senior year at Kalamazoo Central. Mrs. Sayre helped me think and really prepared me for college and the higher level of work that was expected of me. I have to also definitely say Principal Von Washington. When I was at Kalamazoo Central, he was just an awesome principal. He was always checking up on students to make sure they were doing okay. Oh, and Mr. [Ramon] Baca. He was my principal when I was at Arcadia and he was great too. I loved Mr. Baca.

As you know, Von Washington Jr. is now the Executive Director of Community Relations for The Kalamazoo Promise. What’s it like to be a Promise Scholar who is now giving back within the very school district she graduated from?

It’s definitely awesome to come full circle. I come from a single parent household and I didn’t know college would be possible for me, so getting the opportunity to go to college by the generosity of strangers is an amazing gift.

Right now, my younger brother is at Michigan State. He was eligible to receive 100% of The Promise as well. And I have a much younger brother at Arcadia who will be a Promise Scholar one day.

What do you do as a CIS intern at Linden Grove Middle School?

As a CIS intern, I check in with kids about their grades. I make sure they have everything they need, whether it’s school supplies or personal care items, whatever they are going to need to enhance their school performance. I also make sure they are getting their homework done while still having fun with them as well.

I really love working with Ms. [Tamiko] Garrett and Ms. [Jenee] McDaniel. They’re awesome, engaging, supportive, and not afraid to challenge me, which I love because I love learning!

What is something you are learning when it comes to your internship?

Every kid is different. You have to tailor your approach to their needs as much as you can, make sure they are being recognized individually. One strategy you use for one kid many not work for another, but that’s okay. You find the one that works.

Thank you, Dominique!

 

Pop Quiz: Lenny Williams

IMG_3000Welcome 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 Lenny Williams, who is about to begin middle school at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts. We sat down with him at the end of last school year, just as he was preparing to graduate from Arcadia Elementary School.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve learned something about history. I’ve learned about slavery and about a man named Jacob who would go claiming lands for his people and then he was mistreating people who were slaves. He’d hit them. He wasn’t a nice guy. I learned that from Ms. [Donna] Judd. She teaches me social studies and science.

What are you currently reading?

The Magic Treehouse series. Right now I’m reading Sunset of the Sabertooth where they find the saber tooth tiger. I really like the Magic Treehouse books.

What’s your favorite word right now?

Go! As in, I go to the car.

What college or colleges are you considering going to and taking advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise?

I want to be a Spartan. And I’ll be a football player for Michigan State.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A football player.

Do you have a backup plan?

My back up plan is to play basketball.

Do you have a backup to your backup plan?

I also could study math, history, and science. I like those things too. Ms. [Ci’Erah] Bell taught me math last year. She taught me stuff I didn’t know, like adding fractions and subtracting fractions.

Even though you don’t have to make those decisions now, it sounds like you have talents and interests in a number of areas so you’ll have some good choices when the time comes.

Yea, I think so too.

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

My whole family. My dad, my mom, and my sisters who are in high school. They help me with my algebra and problems that I do not know. I’d also say my Principal, Mr. [Greg] Socha. He is very nice. He checks on us every day to make sure we’re safe and sometimes he’s even helps us with our work when he’s in the classroom.

Anything else we should know about you?

I like school.

Thank you, Lenny!

Lenny will be featured in our upcoming newsletter, CIS Connections, where he reflects on his elementary years and the school and community supports that helped him succeed. You won’t want to miss it!

 

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.

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That’s Me When I Used To Be A Grown Up

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.
Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

Volunteers (not all pictured) gathering to carry out First Saturday at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Every KPS secondary site in which CIS has a presence was represented by student volunteers and CIS staff who turned out for this February’s First Saturday @ KPL.

“That’s me when I used to be a grown up,” explained Donna Carroll’s grandson, 3 1/2 year old Malcolm, when he saw a picture of Malcolm X on the cover of a book his mom, Ursula, was reading.

How powerful when a child sees himself reflected in another, when we see ourselves in each other.

For many of our young people feeling like they’re part of a larger whole comes from a sense that they’re connected at the larger community level. But how can young people make this connection?

Volunteering is a great way to challenge ourselves and put ourselves on a path of meeting new people. For young people, it’s a chance to gain valuable experience, learn about themselves, interact with people they might not otherwise meet, and explore career interests.

Did you know that teens who volunteer are less likely to become pregnant or to use drugs, and are more likely to have positive academic, psychological, and occupational well-being?  According to Child Trends, other positive outcomes include development of greater respect for others, leadership skills, and an understanding of citizenship that can carry over into adulthood.

An opportunity for students to give back to peers and their communities is one of the five CIS basics.  Our young people are giving back every day. Here’s just one recent example.

Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.
Loy Norrix Senior Tiara Blair helps put event bracelet on one of the littlest partiicpants.

In partnership with  the Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise® and New World Flood,  Communities In Schools hosted February’s First Saturday at the downtown Kalamazoo Public Library. Free and open to the public, the event welcomes families with their young children to enjoy stories, activities, guests, and door prizes. CIS partnered with the library last year to host one of their First Saturdays and it was a great experience for all involved. But Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites (and lead for CIS  for organizing First Saturday events) felt something was missing: our older students. “This event,” she said, “is a perfect opportunity for students in our secondary schools to give back.” So, this year, the missing piece to the puzzle was complete. With support from CIS staff, AmeriCorps VISTAs,  wonderful KPL librarians, and New World Flood’s Todd “TJ” Duckett, thirteen middle and high school students volunteered. They ran five different literacy stations throughout the library: Read to Me, Scavenger Hunt, Spelling Bee, His & Her Story Station (writing their own stories), and Fantasy Station (which involved picking an item out of a basket to help build upon a collective story).

Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.
Artrella Cohn, CIS Secondary Site Director, reviews with volunteers how the literacy stations will work.

“Seeing the middle and high school students in action truly warmed my heart,” said Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites and organizer of the First Saturday’s event. “The presence of the WMU Students added to the whole ‘reach back and give back’ message that I envisioned for this event. There were middle school students who were signing in, and with smiles on their faces asked, “There are 11th and 12th graders here to volunteer too?” I could visibly see our high school students—who are already mature young ladies—really jump into their role when they realized that there were older high school students and college students involved. Wearing WMU gear, Carmelita Foster and her team of college volunteers stood out in a real way for those of our students looking to successfully complete high school and obtain that Kalamazoo Promise®.”

“This event ran like a well-oiled machine because the youth volunteers knew where they fit. These young people took ownership of their stations,carried out fun learning activities and served as positive role models for the little ones.”

Todd Duckett, of New World Flood
Todd Duckett, of New World Flood

Colleen Marie Deswal, mother of one of those little ones wrote, “My son Teddy participated in his first story time! He volunteered and stated that the dog wiped his nose with the kleenex since that was his prop in the circle. I was shocked he understood what was going on and added to the story since he is only 2 1/2. Was an amazing moment in time. Glad you all are doing these types of events for the community. One reason I moved back to Kalamazoo is the wonderful community involvement.”

We may be stepping out of Black History Month into March, but many of our young people will continue to give back and make good choices, like choosing to give up their Saturday to volunteer. In giving back, they make history, and our future.

“I see myself in the future of these young people,” reflects Artrella. “It’s a beautiful cycle.”

Do you recognize yourself in our youth? If you do, despite what your mother told you, it’s okay* to point your finger. Point proudly at our young people and say, Yea, that’s me…when I used to be a grown up.

 

*sometimes

In Times of Grief And Loss, Hospice Is There

boy-984313Genuine, compassionate, and flexible. These words only begin to capture our partner, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Thanks to its work with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, hundreds and hundreds of Kalamazoo Public School students have benefited from its school-based grief groups. Since 2006, Hospice Board members, administrators and therapists have been committed to providing students with a grief counselor who is highly skilled at engaging students from diverse backgrounds who are grieving due to terminal illness or death of a loved one, loss of their home, divorce, incarceration or foster care.

This school-based service, which will touch almost 100 students this school year, offers hope and better ways of coping with the losses they have experienced. One student, struggling with the death of her mother, saw her grades drop to the point she felt paralyzed with grief and hopelessness. “I didn’t care about anything,” she said. “I gave up easily…I wasn’t doing my work and was behind on credits.” She took what she saw as her only available option and dropped out of high school. She almost became a statistic. Almost.

KPS staff did a great job of convincing this young woman to return to school and to get connected with CIS. The school’s CIS Site Coordinator connected her with a grief & loss group offered by Hospice. The student credited the work she did in the weekly groups with therapist Cate Jarvis with helping her get back on track to graduate. As the oldest child in a parentless family, she recognized that the best way to honor her mother’s memory is to make sure that her little brothers and sisters attend school regularly and do their homework so they too can graduate and take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

It’s a fact: healthier children make better students—including emotional health as well as physical health. Research proves that addressing children’s health needs is associated with positive school outcomes. When students’ health needs are met, studies find increases in academic achievement, decreases in incidence of problem behaviors, improvement in the relationships that surround each child, and positive changes in school and classroom climates.

lonely-928656But access to these needed services is often an obstacle. When it comes to the delivery of health services—or any of the critical resources our partners provide—location matters. Transportation is often a barrier for many of the students served through CIS. Keeping appointments outside of the school setting can pose a hardship for families. School-based health services are a growing trend throughout the country. Approximately 75% of children who receive some type of mental health service receive it in schools.

We are grateful to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and to all of our partners who work with us, investing their time, expertise, and resources to change the landscape of healthcare delivery for our children.

We continue to be thankful for the Kalamazoo Public Schools. It is through their home and heart that many of these vital student needs are identified.

Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan guides and supports individuals (and their caregivers) coping with illness, aging, dying, and loss by providing an array of supports and services, grief support like Journeys, a free program for children and teens which is offered at their Oakland Centre facility (2255 West Centre Avenue in Portage). If you know a child or a teenager who is hurting because of the death of a loved one, Journeys can help. To find out more, 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.

Sailing the Sea Of Success

20140506-DSC_7608Today’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…

DSCF8433Since 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.

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