A Salute To Bonnie Terrentine

At the end of last school year, Bonnie Terrentine stepped down from her role as CIS after school coordinator at Lincoln International Studies. She officially retired (well kind of, keep reading) from CIS after 16 years.

Bonnie first began working for CIS in 2003. Prior to that, she, along with Fred Coker, had served as a coordinator for the Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program, also known as KAAAP. (Initiated in 1992 by the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, KAAAP matched elementary students to a mentor committed to seeing the young person through high school graduation. KAAAP eventually merged with CIS.)

While Bonnie’s last seven years have been at Lincoln, regardless of the titles she has held and the organizations she has served [KAAAP, KPS, and CIS], Bonnie has touched the lives of many children and families at many schools. When we asked her to list schools she has worked in over the years, she ticked off: Lincoln, Arcadia, Chime, Washington Writers’ Academy, Vine Alternative, Hillside Middle School, Milwood Magnet Middle School, Kalamazoo Central High School, Loy Norrix High School, and Northglade Montessori Magnet School….oh, I’m probably missing a few! My work in these schools, I loved it!

Bonnie has now been in Kalamazoo longer than where she grew up, in Muskegon Heights. We’re thankful that Bonnie and her husband Robert made the move to Kalamazoo so Bonnie could attend school. Bonnie receive a secretarial shorthand degree from Parsons Business School and a degree in elementary education from Western Michigan University. She also received, through an on-line program with Madison University, a degree specializing in early education.

Bonnie and her husband have four children: Melita, Tim, Aleesha, and Travis. They also are the proud grandparents of three.

We sat down with Bonnie, to learn how she is handling retirement, what she plans to do, and what advice she has for us.

Technically, you’ve retired from CIS.

Yes, but I was called out of retirement after only two months! It’s on a temporary basis, though. I’m filling in for Prairie Ridge Elementary School’s CIS after school coordinator who is on maternity leave.

I guess it’s fair to say you are rocking a “working retirement.”

Yes!

When my youngest son, Travis, found out I was retiring, he said, “But mom, what are you going to do?” He doesn’t have to worry now. When Linda [Thompson] called me in late July and asked if I would consider substituting later in the Fall when a staff went on maternity leave, it was easy to say yes because I love the work of CIS. Plus, the school is close to my home.

Here’s a few words and phrases your CIS colleagues use to describe you: a good woman, dedicated, compassionate, great laugh, no nonsense, loving, passionate about kids succeeding, generous, and reliable. What do you have to say about that?

They didn’t miss anything! [She laughs.]

Reflecting on your career with CIS, what are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the fact that I believe I did a good job, even in areas where I was weak. In those cases, I learned what I needed to do and I did it. I helped people and I accomplished a lot with families and kids. That’s a strength of mine. At my retirement celebration, Pam [Kingery] said, “You set the bar high for kids and you let kids believe and know that if they work hard they can accomplish anything they want to.”

What are you going to miss the most?

Of course, the children. That’s why I took on the site coordinator position in the first place. The kids are what this work is all about.

What are you going to miss the least?

Doing the data part of the job while making sure kids get what they need. I know data is an important part of our work, but it’s still a balancing act. It’s challenging to find the time to do the data, but you squeeze it in when you can. It’s about finding that balance, being able to take care of kids and families along with all the other requirements that allow us to keep the program going so we can keep taking care of kids and families!

You have been a voice that consistently lifts up the important role of youth development workers (YDWs). You brought to our attention, people like Justina Franklin [read post here], shedding light on how YDWs in CIS afterschool program throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools help our children grow. You said that what they do is what we should all be about: caring and developing the best in all of our youth.

Oh, I’ve been so pleased with the combination of solid staff I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years. Like the CIS youth development workers at Lincoln, like Mrs. Elaine Willis, Pat Atkins, Talanda Ollie, and Dalah Jaber. Oh, they’ve all been wonderful to work with. All my staff did their jobs and forged great relationship with children. You can’t ask for more!

What advice do you have for that next generation of CIS staff who follow in your footsteps?

Remember what the work is. Don’t be out for self-gain. Remember, you are here to improve the quality of education and life for the students. Never lose sight of this.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished God’s Transforming Love. A friend of mine, Gwendolyn E. Google, wrote a significant portion of this book and it’s about women, their griefs, struggles, and triumphs in life. She used to live here but lives in Nashville now. When she visited, she gave me a copy of her book. Before that, I read Courage to Soar. That’s by the gymnast and Olympian, Simone Biles. I’m also a daily Bible reader. I assist with teaching Sunday school to children up to 4 years old at Bible Baptist Church.

Now that you are retired, what do you plan to do or see or experience more of?

I hope to travel and see more of the United States.

With your husband?

Hopefully he’ll want to join me. [She laughs.] I already did one my bucket lists. 

Mind telling us what that is?

I took doula training and completed it. Did you know there are pre-birth and post-pregnancy doulas? I did the pre-birth and now I’m going to take the post-pregnancy training this Spring. I know what it’s like to be nervous and not know what to do once you’re home with your new baby, so I think that helping after the pregnancy will be more my thing. I’m really excited about that.

Thank you for your time, Bonnie. Not only for this interview, but for your years of service to students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, including the last sixteen years with CIS in which you have dedicated yourself to helping kids stay in school and succeed in life. We salute you!

 

 

 

We Can’t Have a Strong America with Weak Kids

Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. When a child is hungry, it impacts that child’s ability to learn. It’s harder to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, it’s difficult to focus on reading, and to regulate behavior. A chronically hungry child is worried when and where their next meal will come from.

I had written the above words and then met Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. Actually, we didn’t really meet and Mr. Shore has no clue who I am. I was just one in the crowd when he stepped out to the podium the day after the Awards of Excellence celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s just that he was so engaging, funny, and thoughtful that I felt like we met. He said a lot of important things in his speech but what has stuck with me is this: “We can’t have a strong America with weak kids.”

In America, there are 11 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade who live in poverty. That is, as Mr. Shore pointed out, a lot of children coming to school in a state of distress, sitting at their desks “fundamentally compromised in their learning…plopping them in front of a great teacher” does not solve the problem. If anything, it is, in the eyes of Mr. Shore “setting children up to fail.”

Since 2003, here in Kalamazoo we have learned that if we can send kids home with food on Fridays, they return to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn.

Thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Friday Foodpacks have been one of the “tools” CIS Site Coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help. Just last school year, 750 elementary students received a weekly foodpack while food pantries served students in El Sol Elementary and all six secondary schools.

As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Anne Lipsey, the entire KLF staff and their board that our Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers can get Friday Foodpacks into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children. For students like Charles (not his real name), it can make all the difference.

Identified this year by his CIS Site Coordinator as someone who could benefit fromFriday Foodpacks, Charles was looking forward to receiving his pack. At the same time, it so happened his school, like many schools, was engaged in a food drive. So when Friday arrived and his Site Coordinator gave him his first ever foodpack, he informed her he was going to donate all of it to the food drive. After all, he knows what it feels like to be hungry. He is hungry a lot. Weekends especially.

She looked into eager eyes and in her wisdom said, “How about this time you pick one thing from your bag to donate? Just this one time, okay?”

He loved the idea. So, he parted with one item and then went home, with dignity and food still in his pack.

Upon hearing this story, CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery replied, “Loaves & Fishes is about feeding hungry people, but it is also about dignity.” How true. One of the hunger stories noted on the KLF website quotes someone as saying, “KLF volunteers always made me feel like somebody instead of nothing.” Our Site Coordinators and community volunteers are doing the same thing within the schools. Providing both access to food and embodying the KLF values: respect, diversity & inclusion, stewardship & accountability, integrity, collaboration, urgency, and service.

By working through us within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes taps into the heart of one of our values or what we refer to as a “CIS basic”:  that all children deserve a healthy start in life. And, for one little boy, who, according to the Site Coordinator is now eating every last crumb in his pack, it spoke to another CIS basic, the opportunity to give back to peers and community.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who make it possible for our children to arrive to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn. Milwood Christian Reformed Church (MRC helped pilot this program back in 2003) both carry out the foodpack distribution at Milwood Elementary and financially support this program. And when MCR volunteers Helen Anderson and Thelma Vantill go on vacation they find people from the church to step in while they’re gone. Mt. Zion financially supports the foodpacks at Northglade. Workers who are part of the MRC Industries sheltered workshop pack food into bags for Edison and Spring Valley each week. Out at other KPS schools, our kids rely on CIS volunteers like Allison Leonard (Parkwood Upjohn), Rose Blackwood (Prairie Ridge), and Cortney Afton (Lincoln) to make sure the packs get to kids in time for the weekend.

CIS Site Coordinator Leslie Poucher Pratt refers to these foodpack volunteers as “All Stars.” We couldn’t agree more.

Director of Volunteer Services, Abby Nappier, says we still need a number of volunteers to help deliver foodpacks to children within several schools. So, if you or someone you know may want to volunteer, click here.

There is, Mr. Shore reminds us, much work to be done when it comes to eradicating child hunger. Until then, we will only be as strong as our weakest child.

A version of Charles’ story first ran in Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes newsletter. You can find it here.

Pop Quiz: Lincoln International Studies Student

Bonnie and StudentWelcome 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 nine-year old Trinity Thomas. She is a third grader at Lincoln International Studies.

Alright, Trinity: pencils out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Actually, I’ve learned something very interesting. It’s called algebra. But it’s really pre-algebra. And it’s really easy. [What’s easy about  it?] You can take away stuff and put numbers in and use pawns and cubes that have numbers on them. It’s easy because my teacher helps me with it. Oh, and we’re finding patterns and working on multiplication, and addition and subtraction.

What are you currently reading?

I’m onto the Babymouse books [by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm]. I’m readingBabymouse Puppy Love right now and I’ll read it all the way to the end. MostBabymouse books have 91 pages! The first time I started reading these Babymousebooks I was in love.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A fashion designer—because I like designing dresses. [Do you sew?] No. I design them on paper. I make dresses that are strapless so they are really good for summer. And they have hearts.

Student readingWhat is your favorite word right now?

That would be design. Because it gets me in the ready-to-design-stuff mood. At home, whenever my mom says, “Make stuff and design your dresses!” I get out the pencil and paper she gave me and start designing them. [Did you know that some of our older students are designing clothes and are working towards a realfashion show with Western Michigan University students?] I didn’t know that but that’s something I’ll want to do when I’m older, too. Definitely!

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

That would be singing the song “Do Re Me” because I like the song. And singing Michael Jackson’s “Rockin’ in the Tree Top.” [In a lovely singing voice, Trinity breaks into song, singing her rendition of “Rockin’ Robin.”] I think about that song a lot. It’s catchy, you know?

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

My mom. She’s nice. She turns my frown upside down. My mom helps remind me about important things and helps me with my homework. And the best thing about her? She makes me feel better when I’m sick because she always knows the best thing to do.

Trinity went on to identify other caring adults in her life, including: CIS Site Coordinator, Mrs. [Bonnie] Terrentine, CIS Site Coordinator, Mrs. [Justina] Franklin, Youth Development Worker, and her third grade teacher, Ms. [Sara] Hannah.

Trinity, thanks for taking time out to talk with us!

You are welcome!