Making Sure Kids Finish Strong

This article was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections. Read the full issue here

The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).
The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).

CIS Senior Site Coordinator Montrell Baker and CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie sat down with us to reflect on the work they do at Loy Norrix High School to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

What obstacles most threaten a student’s path to graduating on-time or at all?

Montrell: A lack of support systems. If they don’t have support at home, haven’t identified an adult that can guide them, it’s hard to be successful. They need support, an outlet. That’s what we are for those kids, and not just for school work. They also come to us about their home and life situations. We guide them in their decision-making process. We are there for them.

O’Neal: I’d agree. Students need a support system that allows them to be a student. This makes me think of a student we wanted to connect to after school supports but every time we pursued it, she refused. “I just can’t,” she said. Eventually, she told us, “I have to get home after school and open the door for my little brother and sister. I have to make sure they do their homework and cook them dinner.” Coming from a single-parent household, the student has significant responsibilities as her mom works long hours and doesn’t get home until evening.

So you’ve identified resources to support this young lady and yet, she’s busy being a support system for her younger siblings. How do you go about helping a student in this type of situation?

O’Neal: We come up with another game plan. We work around the student’s reality and put other supports in place. I’d also say that another barrier to graduation is normal stuff, like peer pressure. Students from both Norrix and Central spoke quite eloquently about this to our CIS board back in June.

Montrell: Yes, and sometimes it’s the lack of basic needs, like pencils and backpacks. Students will come down to CIS and say, “My teacher sent me here because I don’t have a notebook.”

O’Neal: Or clothing. Some kids will tell you, “I need a shirt.” But other students—you know they have a need—but we can’t always come right out and say, “Hey, I know you need clean clothes.”

So how do you handle those situations?

Montrell: I usually start with conversation. [O’Neal nods.] Let them know all we have to offer. Towards the end of our conversation, I’ll say something like, “So then, you got everything you need?” It opens the door for them and often the student will say, “You got clothes, right? Can I get a sweatshirt, because I’m cold coming to school in the morning?” After that, they feel more open to coming for assistance.

O’Neal: It’s all about developing those relationships.

O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).

In your experience, how do CIS and the school work together to help students get and stay on track to graduation?

O’Neal: CIS connects the services, and in some cases the actual materials, that allow students to focus on being a student and learn from their teachers. My job description is to remove the barriers to graduation.

Montrell: That is a lot of it. Touching on what we just discussed—about the basics—teachers should not be expected to, nor do they have the budgets to, provide everything students need. They don’t have an abundance of notebooks and other class supplies lying around. With CIS in the school, when they see a student with a need, whatever it is, they can say, “Go to CIS.” Teachers are great at referring. Who better to know that a student is struggling in reading or doing poorly in class because they can’t see? Teachers know when students need glasses and that we have a vision fund. They reach out to us all the time for a wide range of needs. I tell them to send the student to me. Then, I explain the process to the student and get them glasses, a tutor, or help meet whatever needs he or she has.

O’Neal: Administration also plays an important role. Our Principal, Mr. Rodney Prewitt, is well aware of CIS and that we can connect students to what they need, whether it’s dental support, glasses, clothes, tutors, you name it. Assistant Principal Kelly Hinga provides great support as well. She is knowledgeable about CIS, a terrific advocate, and supports us so we can be successful for kids.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

Capitalizing on Your Investment

CIS Seniors at Board Meeting

This article was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections. Read the full issue here.

Five graduating seniors, Quinntonia, Zion, Arrion, LaStarra, and Dorian participated in a panel discussion at the CIS Board Meeting in June. All five Kalamazoo Public School students are headed to college. Here are a few insights and hard-earned wisdom they shared.

“What am I most proud of? Accepting help. I like to be independent, and I couldn’t be because of my situation. I’m proud I could accept help from CIS.”

“I liked being able to run down to [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Yarbrough. She always let me know where I was and what I needed to do to stay on track. Working with CIS and all my teachers, I was able to turn myself around.”

“Without CIS, school would have been way, way harder. All the support you receive makes you feel good and want to graduate and be something in life.”

“I’m looking forward to college and putting to use what [CIS Site Coordinator] Mr. Baker and [CIS Success Coach] Mr. Ollie taught me—and making my own success plan.”

What would be your advice to help students succeed in school and use the Kalamazoo Promise?

“Find a support system and keep believing in yourself.”

Seniors at CIS Board Meeting“Talk more about possible futures and careers. By having a better understanding of what the future could look like, it helps students set their goals.”

What barriers did you encounter to attending school and performing academically?

“I’m a last-minute kind of person… and I’d forget to turn stuff in. CIS helped get me organized.”

“I talked too much and got distracted. I was terrible my first year. Mr. Ollie helped me get it together.”

Students shared how the decision to focus in on school impacted friendships.

“I lost friends. But you only need a few good friends, even just one friend who strives for the same success.”

“When you get serious about school, you can end up bringing your friends along. They start thinking, ‘Maybe I should start getting serious, too’ and you can get on track together and get your diploma.”

“I lost friends too, but I gained new friends and we helped each other in class. Also, losing a friendship doesn’t mean you can’t gain it back.”

How can CIS be better?

“Help more students who are struggling.” –Resounding response from all panel members.

KPS seniors and CIS staff after the CIS Board panel discussion.
KPS seniors and CIS staff after the CIS Board panel discussion.

 

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

A Young Man Moving Forward, No Matter What

IMG_29721-1Dareon Martin, in his quiet voice says, “Everybody has their own story. I went through stuff when I was younger. I needed somebody. I was fortunate to have some people in my life that cared and now I want to be one of those people for someone else.”

Without a doubt, Dareon is one of those caring people. A 2015 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, he is a young man who is giving back. Hired upon graduation by the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, Dareon is supporting young people by helping them with homework, reading with them, engaging in activities, and more.

“Being a Literacy Buddy* while I was at Loy Norrix helped me get this job,” he says. “I gained the skills I needed to help me work with kids.” Literacy Buddies pairs high school students with elementary students to serve as positive role models and offer one-on-one support to motivate success.

Dareon plans to soon tap into The Kalamazoo Promise and attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College. He wants to explore a wide variety of his interests, ranging from culinary arts, to dance, music, and the criminal justice system.
Things haven’t come easily for Dareon. He could have easily given up and become a negative statistic, but he didn’t. Dareon’s personal mantra is: keep moving on…no matter what.

“I wouldn’t have graduated high school on time if it wasn’t for Communities In Schools, that’s for sure,” says Dareon. “I probably would have ended up on the streets doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.” Reflecting further, he says, “I just didn’t care about school. It wasn’t until about the end of my freshman year of high school that it all hit. Everybody else around me was caring about me and how I was doing. It hit me that I needed to start caring about myself.”

And just who were those people who paved the way for Dareon? Dareon points to a host of people, like his sixth grade teacher at Edison Environmental Science Academy. “Ms. [Erika] Adams, she helped me through a lot of stuff.” [Ms. Adams now goes by Mrs. Zavasky and is still teaching at Edison.] And in 2008, Dareon was matched with Dan Hinkle, a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring. “Dan Hinkle, he’s a great man. He’s always been there for me. He still is.”

“I was an immature kid,” Dareon says matter-of-factly. “And when I got to high school, I was fighting and getting into trouble. I didn’t care about school. It was just bad.” Meeting the polite, well-mannered man that Dareon is today, it’s hard to imagine him otherwise. What changed and helped get him on track to graduate from high school?

“I’d say the people in CIS helped focus me. I visited the CIS office every day. They also gave me somewhere to go after school where I could get my homework done. Ms. Jenee [McDaniel], Mr. Charles [McCall Lipsey], Ms. Rola [Emmanuel], Mr. Ja’male [Jordan], Ms. Shayla [Jones], and Ms. Elnora [Talbert]….they all helped me a lot. Coach too.”

The coach Dareon is referring to is CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie. “Dareon is a natural leader,” says Ollie. “And despite the obstacles, he doesn’t give up.” Together, they mapped out a plan tailored for Dareon’s success. “It’s really more of a game plan or road map,” says Ollie. “It helps make the impossible seem possible.”

IMG_1706Kalamazoo Public Schools recognized the gains Dareon made and in his senior year, Dareon was selected by Principal Prewitt to represent Loy Norrix at the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet.

It’s Dareon’s positive attitude, grit and perseverance that fuels him forward. Were it not for all the caring adults in Dareon’s life, he says his story would have turned out differently. “I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you today, that’s for sure. And CIS, you guys saved my future.”

All of the great work you’ve been reading about is made possible by people like you who volunteer with or donate to CIS. Please invest in local kids and be a part of more success stories like Dareon’s.

Make a gift to CIS today.

This story and more can be found in the latest issue of CIS Connections

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Why Boys?