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 Through The Eyes Of Dan Cardinali

As an educational leader, Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc.,regularly lends his voice to the national dialogue on education reform. In a recent visit to Kalamazoo, Dan was deeply moved by how the Kalamazoo community comes together to support the public schools. He shared his thoughts with the nation in a recent post that ran in the Impact section of the Huffington Post under the title “Bridging the False Dichotomy Between Poverty and Education Reform.” Julie Mack also wrote about Dan’s post in the Kalamazoo Gazette. Here now, in Dan’s own words…

20131106-_DSC4515Recently I attended two days of meetings in Kalamazoo, Michigan that gave me a new sense of optimism for the future of our public schools and our neediest students.

It was another reminder to me that school reform is a wonderfully hopeful and iterative process, despite the political and rhetorical flare-ups it may inspire at times. While impatience can set in, given the urgency that passionate reformers feel about improving public education for all students, what I saw in Kalamazoo convinced me that we are moving into a powerful reconciliation of historically dueling camps.

On my first day, I attended a luncheon where an extraordinarily diverse group of nonprofit leaders was exploring ways they could support the city’s public schools. The local food bank was there, along with housing advocates, mental health experts — even the Kalamazoo Symphony. All of these overworked, underfunded folks were looking beyond their traditional turf to discuss how they could partner with Kalamazoo Public Schools to provide the necessary supports so that all students’ basic needs are met, and high quality youth development opportunities are available regardless of a family’s economic means.

On day two, I attended a national conference for communities looking to emulate the Kalamazoo Promise, an innovative program that pays up to 100 percent of in-state tuition for any student who graduates from Kalamazoo Public Schools. The Promise was launched by anonymous donors who believed that public education could drive economic development for the entire city, and eight years later, the numbers are proving them right.

20131106-_DSC4538Since the Promise began, an estimated 95 percent of high school graduates inKalamazoohave enrolled in at least one semester of college, and nearly 900 have attained some type of higher education credential. Public school enrollment has jumped, test scores are up and suburban families are moving back into the urban core, bringing much needed tax dollars with them.

You’ve probably noticed by now the unifying theme in my visit toKalamazoo. What’s tremendously encouraging to me is the way that the entire community is coming together in support of the public schools. InKalamazoo, public education is everyone’s business. The silos that separate schools, businesses and civic organizations are coming down as everyone accepts a shared responsibility to prepare young people for a successful, productive life.

In other words, Kalamazoo is re-forming its sense of community, not just reforming its schools.

I think the importance of that distinction would be difficult to overstate. For too long now, the school reform movement has been dominated by a false dichotomy. On one side we have the “no-excuses crowd” — well-meaning, social entrepreneurs who believe that disruptive innovation can and should drive the larger public education establishment to change. By reforming school-based factors such as teacher quality, district and school management practices, student and teacher accountability systems, or content and delivery of curriculum, the no-excuses crowd believes that schools can be fixed from the inside out, independent of the socioeconomic context in which they operate.

On the other side, we have many education leaders and practitioners making a different kind of argument: While agreeing that schools must be held accountable for driving academic results for all students, they point out that the trauma of poverty is making those results harder and harder to achieve. Research is increasingly demonstrating that the stresses of poverty — homelessness, food insecurity, family breakdown and so forth — can accumulate over time, damaging students’ ability to learn. In other words, no matter how extraordinary the teacher, principal or curriculum, students living in chronic poverty are fundamentally compromised in their ability to take full advantage of the investments being made on their behalf.

AR6What I’m beginning to see all across the country is that this latter view is gaining currency, even as internal reforms continue. In Kalamazoo, Superintendent Michael Rice is working tirelessly to improve test scores and other educational outcomes with the hard-driving conviction of the no-excuses camp. At the same time, he is coordinating with a growing number of community groups that are stepping up to support students impaired by poverty. This determination to simultaneously attack problems from within and without is exactly what we need in the school reform movement.

The great irony of the no-excuses approach is that it unintentionally excuses the broader community from taking responsibility, because all of the burden is placed on professional educators. Think about it: If a problem originates inside the classroom, then it’s a failure of the school, and “they” need to fix it. But if the problem begins in the broader community, suddenly the responsibility shifts, and the pronouns change. Now it’s our problem, a failure that we need to remedy.

When an entire community comes together to support its poorest kids and help them succeed in school, that’s evidence of a whole new mindset at work — one that accepts responsibility, not excuses. This doesn’t happen quickly, of course, and a shift in mindset is never easy or neat. That’s why we’re in a kind of interstitial place right now, reaching for a new model of shared responsibilities while still clinging to our old conceptions.

20131106-_DSC4389We still don’t know exactly what the new models will look like, but there are some tremendously encouraging examples emerging in communities across the country:Say Yes to Education, Elev8, Diplomas Now, City Connects, Communities In Schools and the Cincinnati Public School System. Watching entire communities accept their responsibility under the social contract for bringing young people into adulthood is one of the most positive steps in school reform I’ve seen over the last ten years.

In today’s world, education is an absolute requirement for securing middle class existence and having agency in one’s life. When we start with an understanding of public education as the sine quo non for a successful democracy, then it’s much easier to understand that this is something in which we all have a stake.

In the weeks to come, I plan to unpack these ideas a little more, looking at ways in which local leaders and provider networks can ease the transition to a broader understanding of the social contract and new model of shared responsibility in public education.

20131106-_DSC4154But for now, I’d like to know what you think. Do you agree that public education is a community affair, or should reforms be focused inside the classroom? Do you live in a community with broad-based efforts similar to the ones in Kalamazoo? If so, what kind of success or failure have you seen? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

You can join in this discussion by going to the Comments section within the Huffington Post or by commenting on this blog site. Want to read more posts by Dan? You can find a list of these here.

How Do You Spell Excellent? K-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O-O

Today’s guest blogger is Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Read what she has to say. I think you’ll find it most excellent!

Who doesn’t like being selected for an award?  It feels great to have nominated Kalamazoo for a “Communities of Excellence” award, to learn Kalamazoo was chosen and that other winners are Charleston, South Carolina, Wayne County, Indiana, and Charlotte, North Carolina.  Pretty good company I would say.

Since being notified, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a Community of Excellence.  Is it supposed to mean we are perfect—that we have no poverty, no homelessness, no kids who use illegal drugs, no gun violence, no prejudice?  Does it mean that we talk only about the great things—The Kalamazoo Promise®, two great hospitals, being a vibrant college town, getting a new medical school, having a great Symphony Orchestra, strong proponents of social justice, an exceptional non-profit sector, a diverse economy and a vibrant arts community?  I decided not. Part of our strength is a willingness to be honest about our challenges, and a determination to tackle them head on even when we may be tired.

Last week, I attended the swearing in of the new City Commission, Mayor, Vice Mayor and City Manager and the honoring of long-standing public servants, Hannah McKinney and Ken Collard. And there I got a glimpse of something key to being a Community of Excellence.  Earlier in the day I had listened to a story about a community in southern Illinois and felt as though I were sharing in their overwhelming sense of discouragement—they seemed to be succumbing to a sense of inevitable and profound decline, as though nothing could prevent the downturn. Either you left the town, or you bought 32 guns and taught every family member to use them and hunkered down in fear.

Listening to Jack Urban, Bob Cinabro, Stephanie Moore, Barb Miller, Don Cooney, David Anderson and Bobby Hopewell affirmed why Kalamazoo deserves to be selected for a Community of Excellence award. Knowing that Ken Collard’s legacy to the City is a commitment to telling the truth and doing what is right, regardless of what is popular or politically expedient, is excellence. Acknowledging in the most civil manner possible that they have disagreed with one another, that they will disagree with one another again in the future and that they will do so openly but with the utmost care and respect is excellence. Expressing profound admiration for the outgoing City Manager and strong support for the incoming one is excellence. Providing a preview of hard issues and decisions to come, and taking the long view rather than the short one is excellence.  Taking responsibility and assuring us that we shall positively overcome is excellence. I walked out of the swearing in ceremony feeling very proud of Kalamazoo and wondering if these public servants might teach a class in Lansing and Washington DC.

Kalamazoo will be celebrated as a Community of Excellence by the Communities In Schools National network at an awards ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina in late January. And I have more than two months to think about all the additional reasons that Kalamazoo is totally deserving of the honor—hundreds of ordinary people who volunteer hours and hours each year to tutor kids in our schools or deliver meals to our elders, a public library committed to ensuring that the love of reading extends to all, a Community College determined that students embrace their strengths to find the right future, a community of outstanding teachers dedicated to helping even the most reluctant students to learn, even when we consistently fail to say thank you.

When the Community of Excellence Award is given, I will stand a little taller, understanding that the list of accolades that are recited, aren’t nearly long enough to do justice to the great place where I live. What can you add to the list?

One Man’s Charitable Odyssey

100_4111-edit no tonyWe recently welcomed a most amazing and interesting person into our midst. Imagine making it your personal mission to seek out and perform a charitable act in every state throughout this country that you haven’t yet visited (37 to be exact). Sounds almost impossible but that is exactly what one man has set out to do. And here in Michigan, we were fortunate to have him touch down in Kalamazoo. He came bearing gifts and distributed much needed items out at Woods Lake Elementary School. But, we’ll let him tell you about his visit in his own words. The following post originally ran last week on his own blog site, 37people.

This week I continued my journey of giving, but it was just a short week with only two more states visited. Despite it being such a short week, I think that I am now starting to learn more about what this journey of giving really means to me and how it is changing the way I think about what I am doing. First I’ll tell you about MI (followed by IN), and you will see a common theme that was very evident this week (something I’m starting to hear more about lately, across various organizations). I will then talk about this common theme in a bit more depth (I’ll start explaining it in this MI post and finish it in my IN post) and what it has started me thinking about for the future.

On Monday I had the sincere pleasure of visiting the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) in Kalamazoo, MI. I don’t think I could do a better job of explaining what CIS does than what they have on their site, so let me start with that:

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) brings together the support of hundreds of volunteers and local organizations to meet student needs at school–before, during, or after class–so that outside problems interfere less with learning and plans to stay in school and graduate on time.

100_4096-edit (600x800)CIS works within the Kalamazoo Public Schools system, determining school and student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources to students.  Whether it’s tutoring in math, a pair of eyeglasses, a new pair of socks, a backpack full of food for the weekend, or a safe place to hang out after school, when these needs are met, students can concentrate on learning.

One of the after school programs CIS coordinates is called Kids in Tune (KIT), and I was able to visit their KKIT program being run at a local school.  KKIT is “a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” and I was able to provide some needed supplies for this program: five cello and five violin bows (these are one of the items that frequently need repair or replacement); 10 Suzuki cello and 10 Suzuki violin CDs (every student who learns to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on their cello or violin has a special graduation ceremony and receives their own copy of the CD to take home and listen to); and 37 song flutes (used by the 1st grade students as they learn the musical basics prior to starting on the traditional orchestral instruments).

Let me briefly explain why I did not stop smiling during my entire visit.  I was first taken to one of their special graduation ceremonies where a 3rd grade girl, who only picked up a cello in June, was about to play an advanced version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in order to graduate to the next level.  And to top it all off, she was playing in front of an audience with a guest from NJ (talk about added pressure!). Well she did a fantastic job and put on an amazing performance. At the end of her performance, when her instructor notified her that she had graduated, I was given the honor of presenting her with a Suzuki cello CD :-)

My next stop was to a class learning the violin, also made up of very young children. I arrived towards the end of their lesson where I was then treated to a very special performance. I cannot begin to explain how impressed I was at not only the way they played, but also how well they were being taught too. It was clearly evident on their little faces how much they were enjoying the experience.

100_4107I have actually jumped ahead a bit, so let me take a step back while at the same time summarizing my thoughts about this day.  Before going to the school, I spent some time talking to the amazing people who work at and run CIS at their office. What they do (as I quoted above), and the model that they have employed to do this is something that really resonated with me. It is such a simple but powerful concept – bring what the students need right to them by partnering with the right groups and people.  And it’s so much more than just music of course (but I’m super happy music is a part of it!). I asked CIS about some of the positive benefits they have seen as a result of this model. One thing they have found is that attendance at school is up with students being much more interested and engaged in school, which of course makes perfect sense. But let me talk about something else.  Earlier I mentioned a common theme for this week. I found the following talking about KIT:

It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment.  As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more. Like how to express her feelings better. I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”

I think there are enough articles out there extolling the benefits of a strong family, and strong family participation in education, that has a direct correlation with student success and graduation rates. To me, this is the real strength of this truly wonderful program and the people who run it. Not only are they bringing positive change to the lives of these students, but they are also positively impacting their families. This is something I will come back to in my IN post.

But I do want to mention one last thing. I was told about The Kalamazoo Promise®, and once I explain it I think it will perfectly tie all of this together. In 2005 a group of anonymous donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to pay up to 100% of the tuition to a Michigan college or university for any Kalamazoo public high school graduate! And therein lies the challenge for Kalamazoo – getting their students to graduate and be accepted for post-secondary education. This is exactly why an organization like CIS is so valuable to the Kalamazoo community.

Check out his blog, 37people, to see where else his journey is taking him.

Pop Quiz: Liz Youker

Liz Youker, Kalamazoo Symphony OrchestraAs Director of Education for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Liz Youker has been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping to establish Kids in Tune (KIT)—a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra—at Woods Lake Elementary School: A Magnet Center for the Arts. Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Initiatives credits Liz’s steady and supportive presence with helping to imbed KIT within the school culture. “Liz is the heart and soul of KIT,” Deb says. “Without her, the program would literally not exist. Her thoughtfulness, her vision, her warmth and her work ethic helped to bring this program to Kalamazoo and to the very lucky students of the CIS after school program at Woods Lake.”

Over tasty tea and coffee at Caffé Casa, I sprung our pop quiz on Liz. She didn’t miss a beat. (Pun intended.) See how she did and then check out Rhino Media’s brand new video about Kids in Tune.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m so focused on KIT…..let’s see…I love to cook, so a lot of my learning is happening in the kitchen these days. Over the summer I learned how to make yogurt. The process is simple, and once you get the hang of it there are limitless variations. It would be a money saver too, aside from the few batches that don’t turn out so well and nobody will eat… Next I’m going to try homemade mozzarella.

What are you currently reading?

I have two little ones so I’m reading a lot of children’s book. Mostly fairy tales. And I’m reading the same books over and over again.

What’s your favorite fairy tale?

My daughter’s favorite is Hansel and Gretel. She’s four years old and really enjoying fairy tales. I thought they might be too scary for her but she is into scary-spooky things right now. Reading these tales is helping my daughter explore her world a little more; concepts like dark and light, good and bad, how people can be nice and mean all at the same time. And these stories all have a resolution at the end that wraps things up.

Your comments remind me of a book I read a while back called Psychological Immunity. The premise being much like you are talking about, that it is by reading fairy tales to our children that parents help build resiliency, innoculating children to the darkness that exists in the world. If you weren’t reading fairytales all the time, what would you be reading?

I’d be going back over the classic literature that I absorbed quickly in college but didn’t have the luxury of delving into more deeply at the time—they say education is wasted on the young. I’m at a point in my life when I’d love to go back and re-do those college courses that I flew through.

Liz and Barry Kalamazoo Symphony OrchestraWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

I think about this a lot. I’m in a very administrative role with my work at the Kalamazoo Symphony. But coming from a long line of teachers, I feel like the natural evolution of things is to finally become a teacher after all these accumulated experiences. I admire teachers. I observe such impressive teaching on a daily basis, at Woods Lake and with the preschool teachers working with my own kids. So, perhaps my destination is to become a teacher. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll start over some day and learn to sing harmony in a blue grass band.

What is your favorite word right now?

Proleptic.

I’ve never heard of that term before.

It’s an interesting word, meaning something like: playing dress up or where you actas if you are before you become that something. Play the part and then you become it. This is of interest to me because of my work with Kids in Tune. We want the kids to consider themselves to be a musician, to be part of an orchestra before they are actually performing at that level. Act as an orchestra until you become one. We are helping kids seriously adopt an identity and a role that they can grow into over time.

If I can pick two, my other favorite word is “iterative,” which means a process where you circle back to the beginning often, picking up more each time. With every repetition or iteration you learn something new, it brings you to a new level of understanding. It’s another part of our approach at Kids in Tune—to play Beethoven’s 9th at the beginning, but to keep coming back to it periodically to experience it with a new level of understanding. So I have two favorite words right now, but they are related.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

What has been on my mind? Let’s see…The importance of assuming and expecting the best of others. At Kids in Tune we have high standards for the students. It’s important that we all have not just an expectation of excellence, but an assurance, a positive attitude that accompanies the expectation. The students know we believe in them and that they can achieve what we expect them to achieve. So the way in which we support students is important. We must know, believe and expect that they will rise to the challenges presented them. As supporters of these students, we must not come from a place of doubt.

You’re a pretty deep person.

(Liz just smiles, laughs lightly.)

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

I’ve been fortunate to have lots of them. So when I think back on that somebody who, in retrospect, made a bigger impact on me than I realized at the time, I’d say it was my fifth grade teacher, Carol Mitchell. She knew that we were dealing with an illness, my mom was going through chemotherapy and she offered to take me out one afternoon. She took me to a museum—it had a dinosaur exhibit— and dinner. I still remember the outing and what I ordered. She might have invited me under the premise that it was a reward for good work at school….looking back I know that she realized I was a student who was in a difficult place, going through things at home. She took time out of her weekend, going above and beyond to help a student. She made me feel special and gave me confidence. She offered me an experience I might not have otherwise had.

Happy Birthday, Blog!

One year ago we launched this blog: Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. There were over 181 million blogs when we began and there are probably more than that now. The blogosphere is bloated with lots of blogs (say this sentence 10 times). So thank you, dear readers, for choosing to read this blog. To celebrate our year together, I’ve made a delicious chocolate cheesecake (recipe can be found here) and if you want a slice, stop down to our office today. We’ll be offering them on a first come, first serve basis.) In addition, we’re whooping it up by sharing 17 blogtoids* about our one-year-old blog:

  1. In one year, we offered up 53 posts; that’s basically a fresh post every Tuesday.
  2.  Donna Carroll and I welcomed 11 guest bloggers, composed of CIS staff, board, and partners. Thank you Emily, Artrella, Bethany, Melissa, James, Dom, Sandy, Pam, Bonnie, Kaitlin, and Carly for contributing your voice to this blog. Thanks to all the kids, parents, school and community partners who shared their thoughts with us. We’re looking forward to hearing more from you as well as new voices this school year.
  3.  Over half of our 53 posts have highlighted individuals or entities in this community. If all our 12,000 plus kids are going to succeed in school and life, it’s going to take a lot of committed adults working together.
  4.  All 18 of the Kalamazoo Public School buildings that have CIS (we’re in 19 schools this new year, having most recently added Woodward School for Technology & Research) have been mentioned at least once in one or more posts. We love the Kalamazoo Public Schools!
  5. We named names. And we won’t stop. We’ll continue to tell you who is making a difference for kids through CIS.
  6.  You’re smarter because of this blog. You’ve read topics here ranging from literacy, mentoring, resiliency, and music. You’ve discovered what dental care and food have to do with academic success. You’ve read impressive phrases (thanks to guest blogger like CIS board member and partner Dom Pullo) such as “students mixed chemicals that created a chemiluminscent reaction…”
  7.  Three of our posts caught the attention of National CIS. Woo, hoo!
  8.  Most cried over blog post: Open Letter to A Father Who Will Never Read This.
  9.  Funniest post: Don’t Name Your Blog “The Blog.”
  10.  Post that received the most response from teachers and other school staff: Cast Your Vote for Kids.
  11.  Post that featured our hairiest school volunteers: Kaitlin Martin’s Paws for Stories.
  12.  Hardest post to write: Engineers of the Heart.
  13.  Funnest post to write: Six and a Half Things to Do While We’re Away.
  14.  Most fashionable post: Threads.
  15.  Post that featured one of our favorite student interviews: Pop Quiz: Lincoln International Studies Student.
  16.  Hardest thing about blogging? Coming up with a title for each post that is provocative without being too provocative. It needs to be something catchy that will make you want to read more than just the title.
  17. Most rewarding thing about blogging? Seeing and sharing CIS in action—with you, the partners, volunteers, donors, parents, staff, and learning about the wonderful students who are empowered because of your support.

We have only begun to introduce you to some of your 12,000 kids and the hundreds of caring adults who are helping to raise them. Stay with us this year and continue to get a behind the scenes glimpse of CIS in action. At Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids you will continue to meet the talented teachers, hard working principals, and dedicated community volunteers, partners, and CIS staff who are empowering our children to succeed. We look forward to turning two with you.

*A blogtoid is a term I made up just for this post. (I hope this makes you feel special!) A blogtoid is a fact or deeply held opinion about a blog.

Birthday Candles

Got Learning?

Tiara (left). Her mom and sister attended the CIS Think Summer! bash and watched her perform with her dance club.
Tiara (left). Her mom and sister attended the CIS Think Summer! bash and watched her perform with her dance club.

What have you been learning this summer?

Have you improved your math and reading skills? Have you learned to sing, cook, dance, play the cello, discovered who you are, and perhaps, more importantly, gained a glimpse of who you might become?

You’d likely answer ‘yes’ to most of the above questions if you were like one our 200 students involved in the six week CIS Think Summer! program that ended last week.

The students had an opportunity this past Thursday to celebrate and share with friends and family members just what they had been learning in their elementary, secondary or Kalamazoo Kids in Tune summer program.

Recarte Lockhart stopped down to see what all the fuss was about. “My nephew has been having a wonderful time this summer with CIS. He doesn’t like to miss a day of this program!”

Mrs. Cobb, whose daughter Rickelle will be a 7th grader in Kalamazoo Public Schools is “pleased to see how CIS has promoted college and career development. I appreciate how the staff get the students to think for themselves, to problem solve and to address important issues like bullying…CIS is reinforcing, promoting the important lessons we, as parents, are teaching at home. For some kids, I know, this is an introduction for them. For others, like my daughter, it is reinforcing those important skills and ideas they need to know to be successful.”

“I’m really grateful for this experience,” her daughter Rickelle says. “I’ve learned more about subjects like math and English—and it’s been fun! Our coaches are the best; they lay out the lessons in fun ways, through games and playing. Plus, they really know how to connect with kids and can handle anything that comes up with us. CIS chose really good people to help us. I’m glad they hired coaches like Miss MacKenzie, Miss Angelica, and Coach Asia. They really helped me this summer.”

100_3773Deshani Raines, who will be attending 7th grade at Hillside this fall expresses similar sentiments. “CIS Think Summer inspired me to do more things than I normally would over the summer and to learn more than I already know—in a fun way. Coaches taught me to do what’s expected and to learn right from wrong. They were all great.”

For Jazel O’Neal, another up and coming 7th grader, this summer experience was an opportunity to explore one of her passions: singing. “I learned how to be a better singer because of CIS. They even made arrangements so I could perform at the Black Arts Festival. The coaches were really nice and encouraging. They are not judgemental at all. Thanks to CIS, more people have gotten to hear my voice. I like that.”

For older students like Tiara Blair, who has been involved with CIS for three years and will be entering 11th grade at Loy Norrix High School this fall, summer has been an opportunity to give back to younger students.

Tiara, a friendly, poised and self-assured young woman, helped sixth graders in the area of fashion and dance. Cynthia Cooper, Tiara’s mother, points out that her daughter was in a good position to help out because of the experiences and opportunities she has received through CIS. “This is my daughter’s third year participating in CIS and I’ve seen how it’s helped her make friends and positively impact her self esteem.”

“My favorite part this summer,” says Tiara, “was working with the younger kids and helping them figure out how to solve their problems. Like, who took my pencil? It may not seem like a big thing, but kids need to figure out the small problems if they want to solve bigger one’s later.”

CIS Think Summer! secondary students dressing for success before their mock interviews.
CIS Think Summer! secondary students dressing for success before their mock interviews.

Just how has being a part of CIS’s summer experience changed Tiara? “Helping these kids has got me thinking: I can see myself now becoming a teacher.” Along the way, Tiara has benefited from a number of great KPS teachers. A few of her favorites? Loy Norrix English teacher Ms. Kelly Stetten, Milwood Middle School’s Math teacher Mr. James Roth and Mrs. Rana Findling who taught Tiara the ins and outs of video production. Teachers, Tiara and her mother both agree, who go above and beyond their job description.

CIS is proud to be working with and within the Kalamazoo Public Schools. We greatly appreciate our coaches, school and community partners, volunteers, and parents who  work with CIS—no matter what the season—to do what it takes for kids to be successful in school and life. We are especially grateful to all the wonderful kids who (even though they may have had some fun along the way) have worked incredibly hard this summer, and are not just avoiding the summer slide, but are climbing mountains, inspiring us all to greater heights.

(If you didn’t get a chance to check out the “CIS Think Summer” celebration video posted on our facebook page, you can check it out here.)

Tuning Into Music And Possibilities

_DSC0518Today we highlight the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, honored this past spring at the sixth annual Champ Celebration.  (This is the fifth installment of a nine part series.)

At Woods Lake Elementary School: A Magnet Center for the Arts seventy-eight first through fifth graders are enrolled in the CIS After School Program (funded by the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.) Here, after school, they have a safe place to learn and grow, receive a hot meal, get homework help, and then, thanks to the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, tune into music and possibilities within themselves.

The children are literally surrounded by caring adults who repeat the same chorus: one of building resilience through the artful combination of mastery, unconditional acceptance, and high expectations. This song every child deserves to hear is on the lips of Liz Youker, Director of Education for the KSO, it’s in the steady beat of Jennifer Barliment and the KSO Board of Directors.

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra’s love for music is transforming children and a school. It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment. As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more. Like how to express her feelings better. I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”

_DSC0579Because Kids in Tune is a trio, a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra it is impossible to pull an individual note out of a symphony and say, “Ah, this is it. This is the note that captures the success of Kids in Tune because, just like the orchestra, everyone has a part to play. Children are forging noble identities because of the actions of many: the Kalamazoo Public School teachers and Principal Mitch Hawkins who stay after school to watch their students perform. Because of the custodian who took vacation time to play her cello with the kids, the CIS Site Coordinator who moves between piano and cell phone calls with parents without missing a beat. Youth Development Workers moving effortlessly between homework help and violin or flute lessons. The Kids in Tune curriculum director who wields chalk by day at K College and a baton in the afternoon. The four KSO teacher artists who read children like they read music, having the wisdom to stop a lesson when a child is struggling to find out what is going on. Volunteers, Service Learning college students, and high school students…the notes go on.

The Kalamazoo Symphony’s commitment to this Kids in Tune partnership, their innate understanding that it takes practice and then more practice after that to get it right is an inspiration to us all.

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, we thank you for helping students stay in school and achieve in life.

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