High School Graduate: CIS Helped Me Find My Voice

Dreon Smith recently graduated from Loy Norrix High School. In May, he reflected on his CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Dreon has given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Dreon with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar

I still remember that day. I was a fourth grader in Ms. Clawson’s class at Washington Writer’s Academy. I was nervous and scared as I made my way to the CIS office. I got there and saw my cousin, Dalanna. She is the CIS site coordinator at Milwood but back then she was at Washington. Well, Ms. Hoskins—that’s what Dalanna told me to call her at school—she introduced me to this tall dude. Turns out he was Mr. Larry Manley, the CIS after school coordinator.

Thinking back on that moment, it was like I was a young branch that became planted in CIS. I became a part of something that was bigger than me. I also became part of the first group of students who got to be part of the CIS after school program at Washington.

Not only did my grades begin to improve, but I grew in ways I didn’t know I could. Sports has always been important to me. So it really helped that Mr. Manley liked basketball just as much as me. He used basketball to help us kids grow. It was a way for us to talk and learn and dream. He taught me how to be a young man and how to be a gentleman. You know, like at lunchtime, let the ladies go first.

With CIS, there’s always been people there to catch me. Like Ms. Melissa [Holman], who worked with CIS Think Summer. It was a time when, as a branch, I had to learn to grow a different way. See, I’d had some surgery and my dream of a sports career over. There I was, a middle school student with a pin stuck in his hip, in a wheelchair. I’d wanted so badly to be part of CIS in the summer but now I didn’t even know how I could make that work. It was Ms. Melissa [Holman] who caught me then. She helped me to get there. Literally. If I didn’t have that ride, I would never have been able to go.

CIS helped me find my voice by giving me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. I’ve been able to explore my passion for poetry and music. My grandma loves music and can sing and I wanted to get into that too. I believe putting poetry and music together really gets your voice out there. One CIS partner that especially helped me with that: Bangtown Productions. We wrote and performed songs and to this day, you can find some of them on YouTube, songs like “Rise Above It”—we performed that one at Bronson Park.

CIS helped me find my voice by helping me speak up about things that are important to me, like funding after school programs. Back in 2013, when I was in 7th grade, I was one of the student representatives who went to City Hall. We wanted the Kalamazoo City Commission to help us: keep the lights on! Thanks to our voices—and those of you who advocate for after school funding to remain a priority, the lights have stayed on. At least for another year.

 

Back in 2013, Dreon (far right) advocating for after school funding before the Kalamazoo City Commission.  (Ms. Melissa is at the podium.)

When you find your voice, you can do things you never thought possible. Just this year, I wrote a poem called “We have something to say” and it was a finalist for the MLK Courage to Create Poetry contest. I read it on the campus of Western Michigan University. That was really special, to think that people came to hear my voice…

Now back to when I left eighth grade. There wasn’t an after school program at Loy Norrix; it kind of hurt. It had really helped having the structure, the homework help, and all the enrichment activities. Monday through Thursday it had been a big part of my life. So, in 9th grade, I found myself going home after school and struggling to get homework done. And even though my mom and dad were on me, I didn’t always make the best choices, like choosing to sleep over doing homework.
In 10th grade, things started to look up. Ms. Trella [Artrella Cohn], who I knew through CIS Think Summer caught me and connected me with Mr. [Montrell] Baker, who has been my CIS Site Coordinator ever since.

One thing I’ve learned along the way is that I like helping people. A lot of freshman look up to me. Being tall helps! They literally look up to me. So, by connecting me to a lot of opportunities, Mr. Baker has helped me with being able to give back to my peers and other, younger students. Because I’m really good at math, I’ve been able to tutor students that need help with math. I volunteer with the food pantry we have at my school, thanks to CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. I do a lot of the heavy lifting and sorting, and stacking the food items. I’m working Tuesdays and Thursdays at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Through Literacy Buddies, I support students in their reading.

Most recently, I have become involved with the Men’s group which is led by Dr. [John] Oliver. Young men meeting with older men. We talk about our futures, current events—important things that need to be talked about for us to grow. Some of my good friends are a part of the group and for some of them, I never knew their stories until we had that group. It’s meant everything to me, to hear from those higher branches. I’m going to be that higher branch some day. And I’ll be passing that wisdom they poured into me, down to the next branch.

I’m grateful to CIS for catching hold of me, nourishing me, and feeding my desire to help others. Thanks to CIS, I am the young man I am today. And I’ve made great friends along the way. We have all came together as one through Communities In Schools.

As for my future plans? I have a few ideas. I’m thinking about going into business or communications, or maybe I’ll pursue teaching and coaching in a sports area. What I know for sure is that thanks to all those of you who have nourished me, I am using the Kalamazoo Promise to go to college because I’ve been accepted to KVCC!

I’d like to close with a poem I wrote for this occasion. But first, thank you all for doing your part. Know that when you work and volunteer and partner and donate to CIS—you’re making sure the kids that come after me will have the “Mr. Manley’s,” the “Ms. Melissas,” the “Ms. Trellas,” and the “Mr. Bakers” they need to grow strong, so they can be there for the next group of branches that have yet to even bud.

Thank you.

Dreon Smith with Dr. John Oliver

Ever Wonder How The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round?

Today, we highlight the work of Terri Aman.  She was honored this past May at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jasmine Granville, along with Larry Manley Jr., CIS Site Coordinator at Washington Writers Academy,  presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7614“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round!”  We have the idea that the yellow buses that carry our children to and from school magically appear as they have since ancient times, when parents stopped walking three miles to school, barefoot, in ten feet of snow. Anyone who is a little closer to reality, including parent who’ve called transportation to see if their house keys were left on the bus after the away basketball game or who’ve begged for mercy after their child was kicked off the bus for horseplay, knows there are many buses and hundreds of wheels that don’t go round and round without the woman with the magic transportation wand. That magic wand’s fairy dust is sprinkled around by Kalamazoo Public School wonder woman and Executive Supervisor for Transportation, Terri Aman.

In addition to the thousands of students routinely transported to and from their regular school day, hundreds of Communities In Schools’ participants in after school and summer programs are faithfully delivered via KPS buses, in rain, snow, sleet, hail and yes, dark of night. We are not sure how she keeps her hair from going white or how she maintains her appreciation for humankind, but we are immensely grateful that she continues to oversee a service that neither we nor students and parents could do without. She truly makes life easier for CIS Site Coordinators and Directors by her unflappable aura.

Terri appears ever able to let others’ frustrations—often laced with angry words—roll off her back. She understands when the bus is delayed and the driver is upset because he had to circle back for a dawdling after-school student who had mistakenly thought his parent was picking him up. Terri listens carefully to the hysterical parent who doesn’t understand how her child could have possibly gotten off the bus at her old address rather than her new one, despite having lived at the old address since she started school.

Terri works tirelessly on behalf of KPS and its students. She keeps the wheels on the bus going round and round.

Terri Aman, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

20140506-DSC_7670

A Shout Out To Secretaries

Secretaries make the world go ‘round. If you are a parent, volunteer, or partner with us you know that the secretary is often the first face you encounter upon entering a school building. The role of the secretary is key not only to the overall functioning of a school, but to the success of our community partnerships and volunteer efforts. Toall administrative professionals sprinkled throughout theKalamazoo Public Schools, thank you for all you do. You help us surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Given that Wednesday is Administrative Professionals Day in the United States, here are what a few of our Site Coordinators have to say about their schools’ secretaries:

A huge thank you to Clar Pillsbury and Cherie Buell, two women who work tirelessly for all of us at Lincoln International Studies School. Their job position and responsibilities are enormous. I appreciate all of their hard work and sacrifices they make for me and the rest of the staff here. Thanks so much for what you have done and continue to do for staff, students, and families!!!!

-Bonnie Terrentine, CIS Site Coordinator, Lincoln International Studies School

Julie Davis is kind, compassionate and her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control. She is an invaluable asset to Arcadia and my job as a Site Coordinator.

-Gulnar Husain, CIS Site Coordinator,  Arcadia Elementary School

Pam Storher knows everybody and everything. She is sweet, caring and loves the kids. She goes above and beyond. The same can be said for Joy VandePol, my   go-to-person for attendance. She and Pam are always busy but they never make me feel like I’m bothering them.

-Larry Manley, Jr. CIS Site Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

At Edison Environmental Science Academy, Mrs. Carol Stoeffler is the glue that holds us all together! She works compassionately in serving not only the students at Edison but the staff also! She is AMAZING in dealing with parents and students! Mrs. Carol is an AWESOME representation of all the staff at Edison and I am grateful to have had an opportunity to know and work with her!

-Stacy Salters, CIS Site Coordinator ot Edison Environmental Science Academy

Yvonne Steffler is so wonderful and patient with the students at Milwood. She takes care of business and always has a smile for the kids! We want to thank Yvonne for all of her hard work!

-Abigail Nappier, CIS Site Coordinator, Milwood Elementary School

Sheri Ferrari and Ann Campbell not only keep this building running smoothly, but they greet our volunteers, partners, and children with a smile. I can depend on them to funnel new volunteers to me.  Their support of CIS helps make Parkwood a more caring community.

Jody Sikkema, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School