Making Headlines With Good News: Literacy Buddies In Schools

IMG_5450The annual STAR awards were held last week. STAR, which stands for Sharing Time and Resources, is a partnership between Volunteer Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Gazette which, since 1986 has been recognizing the contributions of outstanding volunteers who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

This year, 3,292 volunteers were nominated for STAR Awards. Their 2014 combined giving was 70,949 hours. What a wonderful community we live in!

Here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, we share with you one of those nominations:  Literacy Buddies, nominated within the “Youth Group Volunteer” category. Come back in two weeks, when we’ll feature CIS volunteer Patrick “Pat” Early, nominated within the “Adult Volunteer” category. The final winners within each of the 14 volunteering categories can be found here.

Actually, come back this MONDAY. For the past three years we have run our posts on Tuesdays but are making an exception to run a special Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids post from two passionate people who put kids first. You won’t want to miss it.

Literacy Buddies, which began in 2011 thanks to a State Farm grant awarded to CIS, pairs high school students with second grade students in order to improve reading, writing, homework, and vocabulary skills. Acting as positive role models, high school students offer one-on-one support to help motivate success for younger kids.

In 2014 the Kalamazoo Public high school students participating in the program volunteered 580 hours at Spring Valley Center for Exploration and Arcadia Elementary School.

An opportunity to give back to peers and the community is one of the five basics CIS believes all kids need and deserve. Literacy Buddies does just that. Older students see themselves as leaders; they see themselves as having something to offer their community and as part of that community. While the program provides younger students with a learning link to what high school might be like for them, it also teaches older students lessons in responsibility and commitment.

 Demond Jackson, a high school student and third year participant in Literacy Buddiesat Arcadia, said, It’s a really great program. I recommend it to anyone. It’s been a great experience. I didn’t have anyone to help me at this age. Now I’ve been giving back and have grown attached to working with these kids. I love seeing their smiles. I love helping them understand their work and giving them someone to look up to. I don’t plan to stop.”

IMG_1622eDeborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central, echoes the tremendous growth she’s seen in her students after participating in this program. “They come back year after year. They stand a little bit taller when they see themselves giving back to their community. A student just told me today ‘This is the best year yet!’”

Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended a three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall recently held in New Orleans. Sitting on a panel there, she stated her experience in high school: “I’m not a leader, I’m a shy introvert—no one is going to follow my lead…. Communities In Schools told me, ‘You do have leadership qualities, you are a leader.’ But I didn’t embrace that until [participating with] Literacy Buddies.” Given the opportunity to work through her fears in order to emerge as a role model, Dominique, like many of the current high school buddies, has developed self-confidence and owns her leadership skills.

IMG_1292eeLiteracy Buddies is lifting the self-esteem and confidence of all students who participate in the program. As  Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley says, “The impact goes beyond the academic piece. Relationship building made a difference on both sides…The program also teaches high schoolers how to give back and shows young children that it’s not just older people who can participate in community service.”

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Pop Quiz: William Hawkins

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KPS Principal William Hawkins with CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio during the 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards.

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 Mr. William Hawkins, who has been serving as principal at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past two years. Prior to this he was at Woods Lake for the past fifteen years, five as principal and the first ten as a teacher. What you may not know is that he comes from a long line of educators. He grew up in Flint where his mother was a principal. His grandmother was a teacher as was his great grandmother. His own mother encouraged him not to go into education! It was a hard job then and it is a hard job now. In this instance, our 12,000+ kids are fortunate that a young man didn’t listen to his mother! (Mr. Hawkins said his mom is now happy with his decision to enter education.)

We popped this quiz on Mr. Hawkins back in November, during the first snow day of the season.

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?  I’m always looking for facts. My wife tells me I should be on Jeopardy.  “How did you know that answer?” she’s always asking as we are watching the show. I do enjoy learning interesting facts and trivia. One day I might apply to appear on Jeopardy. I’d probably be in second place by the end of the show.

Tell us an interesting fact or piece of trivia. 

There is a new tree planted at the capital of Washington D.C. in honor of Emmitt Till.

What kind of tree is it? Do you know?

Sycamore.

What are you currently reading?

Currently I’m reading Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument. It’s that time of year when I’m in classrooms doing evaluations. I want to make the process meaningful for teachers and myself. The Charlotte Danielson model helps with that. It is a collaborative structure where there’s both a pre-observation and post observation conference. The process is reflective for the teachers. It’s not just me going through classrooms with a checklist. It is a collaborative process; teachers have input. The tool is designed to create an environment where you reflect on your process, improve in areas of weakness and build upon your strengths.

Speaking of strengths, what is one of yours?

For me? Dealing with parents. Communicating with parents and students and being the link that connects parents to the school.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Originally, I was going to be a professional football player and play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were my favorite team growing up. Lynn Swann, “Mean” Joe Greene….all the greats.

I’ll tell you a little bit of trivia about the Steelers. Did you know that they were the first NFL team to have a cheerleading squad?  

I didn’t know that. You need to be on Jeopardy.

I wouldn’t do well with geography questions. And I only know that bit of trivia because I lived in Pittsburgh for a time and one of my best friend’s mom—Norreen Modery—was a Pittsburgh Steelerette. So, back to you. What is your favorite word right now?

Achievement.

Tell us something more about you.

My experience in education—elementary all the way through high school –was a positive one. It is my goal to help the children that I serve have a positive learning experience as well. That is why I am in education. And being in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the home of the Promise, there is an extra added incentive to make education an enjoyable experience for all students.

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

First and foremost my family: my mother, father, and grandparents. And then there was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hall. I remember we read the The Hobbit.

She read it to you?

No, we read it. “He can’t read that,” said a bookfair representative who was visiting the school. I read some of it to him and he was amazed. “I guess we have to get him the book, Lord of the Rings, now.” And he did.

That’s wonderful having caring adults encouraging you to really push yourself when it came to reading.

Yes. And then there was Mr. Alexander, my sixth grade teacher and the first male teacher I had. He motivated me, got the best out of me. High school was Mrs. Foster. She was my Spanish teacher and also the cadet teaching program teacher. This program gave me the opportunity to do a pre-teaching internship while I was still in high school. Mrs. Foster encouraged me to go further into education and encouraged me to minor in Spanish and it is because of her I am also certified to teach Spanish.

Thank you, Mr. Hawkins!

Mr. Hawkins is one of the people featured in the video that was created to celebrate the work of his CIS site coordinator, Martha Serio on her Unsung Hero Award. You can watch it here.

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Singing Loudly And Proudly Of Unsung Heroes

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Kalamazoo at 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA. Also pictured, Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back).

Question: What does Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and California have in common with Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Answer: They have CIS Site Coordinators and public schools who have just received the prestigious Unsung Heroes Awards.

The Unsung Heroes Awards annually honor CIS site coordinators, and schools and communities that partner with Communities In Schools to change the picture of education in America. CIS site coordinators work in more than 2,200 K-12 public schools serving 1.3 million young people and their families every year. Together, site coordinators, schools and communities keep kids in school, and this award recognizes those that are doing whatever it takes to eliminate barriers and never giving up, on anyone.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

Last year, you may recall, Kalamazoo was one of four communities in the country given a “Community of Excellence” award by National CIS. This year, Kalamazoo won in two areas!

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

“I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award,” said Serio. “I love being a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I am able to connect students with over 40 fabulous volunteers and community partners they need to succeed because of the support I receive from my Principal, Mr. William Hawkins and the Spring Valley teachers, staff, parents, and CIS staff. Here at Spring Valley, we are all a team.”Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

Arcadia Elementary School, committed to the CIS model for more than 13 years, was one of four sites honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network. The award highlights successful implementation of the proven site coordinator model in a partner school.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

“Arcadia Elementary School is a shining example of what can happen when we work together for kids. This award is shared by all of us—The Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, our volunteers, partners, and donors—all dedicated to meeting students’ needs,” said Pam Kingery executive director, CIS of Kalamazoo. “Along with the talented KPS teachers, staff, and administrators, we will continue working with the community to serve the students at Arcadia as well as students in the nineteen additional KPS schools that CIS is in.”  You can watch the Arcadia video by clicking here.

In addition, Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall and also made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel. Keep reading Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and you’ll learn what she is up to. (We had a chance to pop our “pop quiz” on her as she waited in the New Orleans airport for her flight home.)

Pop Quiz: Hailiey From Spring Valley Center For Exploration


IMG_2192Today’s pop quiz features Hailiey Houser, a fifth grader at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. She has been involved with CIS for three years now and is featured within our latest CIS Connections newsletter which you can read 
here.  Alright, Hailiey, pencil out. Here we go!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m in Read 180 and it’s really great. Right now, we’re learning about how to stop bullies and stand up for ourselves. Some school have formed anti-bulling clubs, the kids will make posters, hang them around the school. We’re talking about what we want to do in our school when it comes to bullying.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading Writing Freedom. It’s about a girl whose parents get in an accident and they pass away. She ends up finding a horse she loves. I think this story is interesting because it’s about animals and a mystery at the same time. I also love the Percy Jackson series. I’m on The Son of Neptune, the first book in the second series.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I have the Kalamazoo Promise® so I want to go to either Michigan State University or Western Michigan University. I plan to be a writer, doctor, a vet, a singer, and a teacher. I love little kids.

What is your favorite word right now?

Fantastic. 

You said that quickly, without blinking an eye.

Well, it’s been my favorite word for the past five years.

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

Seeing my dad for my birthday. Since he lives in Tennessee I don’t get to see him often. 

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

My mom, my step-dad, and my dad…They have gotten me through really tough times. Also, my math teacher, Mr. Smith and my Read 180 teacher, Ms. Krzebietke, or “Ms. K” as us kids call her. They are both great. And Ms. Martha because she’s helped my family a lot, especially this year.  She  got me involved in College Club, Girls on the Run and the Writer’s Workshop where all the people—especially Ms. Molly, help me with writing. Ms. Molly has been with me all this year and she helped me write my first book, The Powerful Mouse which I dedicated to my family and friends! [Hailiey holds up her book.] Oh no! I just now noticed the mouse is missing a leg! [She laughs, then sets the book down.] I’m working on my second book now called The Connection. It’s about a girl who is a vet, finds a dog without a tag, and develops a relationship with him.

Thank you, Hailiey!

IMG_2196While you can read ”All the Write Moves” in the current CIS Connections newsletter, in which Hailiey and her CIS Site Coordinator reflect on the academic success Hailiey is experiencing at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, we’ll end today’s post with a portion of the interview that you’ll only find here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids… 

Hailiey is keenly aware that she must work hard now to prepare herself not just forLinden Grove Middle School come fall, but for college. “Going to college is important,” she points out. “That way, you can have a good life and get a good job. Since Ms. Martha got me involved in the College Club I have written a letter to Michigan State. They wrote back and sent me a banner, a packet of things I need to know to prepare for college. Did you know that you have to stay in college for a certain amount of time, depending upon what type of job you are looking to do? I also learned that you also have to write well to do well in college. Every Wednesday at recess time I do the Writer’s Workshop. I work closely with Ms. Molly. I do the work but she has been there all this year to help me. I’m also doing Girls on the Run again. I first did it in 3rdgrade and I have a medal at home for running the 5K we do at the end of the program. Girls on the Run is about running but it’s also about meeting new people and making new friends. I did a good job with that, so I’m looking forward to it again. Ms. Martha also helped me get to Pretty Lake Camp last year and I’ll also be going there again this summer. Last year, a turtle peed on my shoes and luckily I made some good friends because one of them had an extra pair of tennis shoes I could wear. That was good because my shoes smelled something awful.”

Pop Quiz: Andrew From Spring Valley Center For Exploration

IMG_2188I recently sat down with Andrew Hedgpeth, a second grader in Mrs. McCurley’s class at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. He is also in his second year with the Writer’s Workshop, a program run by a group of CIS volunteers. As Andrew explains, “Every Wednesday during recess time about five of us meet in the library and work on our books. The first time that I started doing this, I knew [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Martha put me in the perfect place. I love to write and have been doing it for a long time now.” Andrew has authored three books so far and dedicates his latest, Twice the Basketball, “to my family and my cousin Ethen.” The book begins and ends with Andrew eating a hotdog. “I really like this ending,” Andrew says and then with a laugh, adds, “Hotdogs, too!”

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

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

You can write about anything you want to write about when it comes to writing. I have written about basketball, a type of vegetable, and the first book I ever wrote was about monster trucks. I’m part of the writing workshops where we do a lot of things to make books and so I’ve written about a lot of things. I write books in my class also. Writing is one of my favorite things to do.

What are you currently reading?

Books about aliens and interesting things like that. In fact, I wrote a book called Alien Invasion. I wrote it all by myself with no helping.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I will go to the one my mom went to.

What college is that?

I can’t remember but I’ll definitely go there. See, I want to be a professional book writer. I will write about funny things and send them to my friends and family and they will send them on to their friends and families so a whole lot of people will read my books.

What is your favorite word right now?

Just one word?

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Illustration featured in Andrew’s book, Twice the Basketball

That’s kind of hard for a writer to think of just one word isn’t it?

Yes it is!

Well, then, what are a few of your favorites?

Aliens, monster trucks, basketball, lions, and horses.

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

Playing my last game of basketball. I am undefeatable.

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

My mom, my dad and some of my family. They help me spell words and do those kind of things to help me be a good student. My teacher, Mrs. McCurley, and my classmates all care too. And all the writing workshop people. Ms. Martha, too.

Engineers of the Heart

cathedral-in-the-making
There is considerable research that shows that children who are not reading at grade level by third grade face far higher risks than their peers of dropping out of high school, becoming pregnant, unemployed or of entering the prison system. This was the statistic that, nine years ago compelled Mary Bullock and others at First United Methodist Church (FUMC) to step up to the plate and with a razor sharp focus take action.

“This isn’t going to be easy, you know,” Mary grumbled when she agreed to recruit tutors from within the church. “I don’t know if we can get the number of volunteers we need to pull this off well.”  Mary’s worries quickly dissipated as a dedicated cadre of talented tutors came forward and began working with 1st and 3rd graders on a weekly basis. Promise Helpers was born. And then, two years of grant money, totaling almost $10,000 made possible through Henkel— thanks to church member/Promise Helper Rob Hilliard, who as an employee of this international German company made it possible for Spring Valley Center for Exploration to use euros to purchase books and other reading and learning materials to enhance the work that the Promise Helpers were doing in the school. In addition to funneling volunteers through CIS to Spring Valley, FUMC established a Promise Helpers Fund which has helped with such things as providing books for the school’s in-room libraries, for math textbooks, and school backpacks/school supplies. “FUMC’s presence at Spring Valley,” says Site Coordinator Martha Serio, “has truly been a blessing.”

Mary Bullock died on June 22nd and we at Communities In Schools and the Spring Valley family will sorely miss her. She worked hard to nurture and build the Promise Helpers. (She made it look easy even when it wasn’t.) Each time, though, a Promise Helper walks through the school doors her work lives on.

I am grateful to have had the chance to thank Mary for her volunteer work with CIS. I told her that she was like an architect of the soul, that her work with Promise Helpers has been like building a very important building. Something bigger than the Empire State Building. Something more impressive than the Eiffel Tower. Something that will last far longer than the great pyramids of Egypt. She has, through her work at FUMC, been sending our children some of the finest engineers of the heart. She, her Promise Helpers, and all of our faith partners have been doing the forever work that never fades but only grows more powerful by the day.

So thank you Mary, thank you Gil, thanks to each and every Promise Helper and each and every faith partner who continues the vital work of supporting the most beautiful and wondrous cathedrals of the world: our children.