Students Shine Light On After School In Kalamazoo

100_6497Did you know that throughout our nation, 15.1 million school-age children are alone and unsupervised in the hours after school? I knew it. But only because Melissa Holman shared that statistic with me. As the CIS Coordinator of Extended Learning, Melissa works behind the scenes with licensing, programming, and basically doing all-things-after-school for CIS. She says after school programming “gives kids a safe and supervised environment in which they have exposure to a broad range of things they might otherwise not have. It can be spending some time with a caring adult, a member of the community who provides academic support, or participating in an enrichment activity like karate or dance. It can be the safe space they need to complete homework, to make friends, to learn more about their strengths and talents.”

In conjunction with Lights On Afterschool events across the nation, Kalamazoo Public School students who participate in CIS afterschool programming—a resource available thanks to the support of the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers)—have once again been coming up with their own unique ways to shine the spotlight on quality, after school programming. Students have been busy researching and posting after school facts, creating public service announcements, working on posters, creating chants, a movie, and preparing to march through downtown.

20131021-_DSC4061Last year, more than eighty student representatives filled the Chamber of City Hall and shared with their commissioners the importance of extending the school day. “The afterschool program provides us with food, clothes, and other things we need,” said one fifth grader. “The afterschool program helps us stay away from drugs and off the streets. The staff help us with our homework and any issues we struggle with. The staff will do anything to make sure we are respectful, responsible, and safe so we can grow up to be anything we want to be and are treated equally. This helps us so we can do the same for others who need help and think they can’t find it.”

100_6490This year, through a variety of creative approaches—speech, dance, poetry—students are sharing the importance of having after school support in their lives and how they think it impacts the community. Thanks to the talented Ja’male Jordan, former CIS Youth Development Worker turned CIS Volunteer, some of their messages have been made into a short movie. Students, along with their parents will soon have a chance to watch Afterschool: The Movie on the big screen, downtown at the Alamo. In preparing for the project, students emphasized different aspects of after school which Melissa didn’t find surprising “because every child is special and has their own unique strengths and needs, so the benefits resonate differently for each student.”

One Woods Lake student who participates in the Kalamazoo Kids in Tune program (a joint partnership between the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools and Kalamazoo Public Schools) recognizes how “fortunate I am to be learning an instrument, a skill that will be with me the rest of my life.”

100_6491For many middle school students at Maple Street it’s the opportunity to get their homework completed. “Ms. Emily and her staff make sure I get my homework completed. No excuses!”

For an Arcadia student, after school is a chance to develop friendships. “You love your family but sometimes you just need to see your friends.”

Melissa says students “attend programming because they appreciate the support and supervision as well as the range of activities they get to do every day after school.” What keeps Melissa showing up day after day? ”Just seeing the impact,” she says with a smile. “We are literally changing lives. As a child, I had that happen for me when a caring adult changed my life. I want that for all of our kids in Kalamazoo.”

#LightsOnAfterschool

 

AmeriCorps Vista Summer Associates: Memory Makers

teamsecCIS Think Summer! ran for six weeks this summer and served over 150 first through ninth graders and also included the Kids in Tune participants. Fifteen AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates were hired and supported the students throughout their summer academic/enrichment program.  Many of these AmeriCorps VISTA Associates—or “coaches” as the kids called them—hailed from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and one of the key ingredients to a successful summer experience for the students. Thank you AmeriCorps VISTAs for your support of our students!

Some of the AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates took a few moments to reflect on CIS Think Summer! and they are our guest bloggers today.

Between the elementary  and secondary staff, there was a wide variety of coaches working for CIS Think Summer! Each day brought new challenges and everyone worked hard to make sure that all of the students were safe, learning, and having fun. All of us gained wonderful memories of our time in the program, and we want to share a few words about our experiences at CIS Think Summer!

My favorite memory was watching the students explore the zoo. I loved seeing the students’ faces light up at the bird exhibit and how excited they were to point out all the colorful birds. The moment when they fed the lettuce to the giraffes was memorable, too!

-Kelsey-Ann Wessel, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Working with these kids this summer has been an amazing experience. Being able to combine an academic with an enriching environment brings fun to learning. Being able to share my own expertise with kids has also been rewarding.

-Sarah Woods, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

I had an amazing summer working with Communities In Schools. I got to meet some truly special kids and help guide them towards success. It was rewarding to work with kids who have so much potential. It’s good to be able to make a difference.

-Kira Boneff, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Elementary school-aged children do not often get the opportunity to make choices about their activities, especially in school, but the clubs at CIS Think Summer! gave them exactly this opportunity. Every afternoon, the students spilt up into their choice of clubs, which rotated every two weeks. This approach allowed students of different grades to mingle and make friends, as they were split up into 1st-2nd grade and 3rd-5th grade groups.

The clubs were split into five different topics: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Arts and Crafts, Health and Wellness, Life Skills, and Leadership. Each coach got to switch which club they were leading every two weeks as well, which allowed us, as coaches, to meet and work with many students outside of our grade levels.

I was lucky enough to meet a lot of the younger kids through clubs, an opportunity that I might not have otherwise had as a 4th grade coach. Some of the offerings included Hands-On Science, Cooking Club, Debate Club, and Let’s Move Sports Club.

In addition to allowing the kids to have a say in their schedule, the clubs provided an opportunity to help them grow through non-classroom experiences. The kids learned about chemistry and plants in Hands-On Science, about healthy eating in Cooking Club, and about public speaking skills in Debate Club. Providing all of these experiences helped us work toward one of our main summer goals: giving students educational and fun opportunities to help grow up on the track to success.

-Kira Boneff and Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates

 

One great thing about CIS Think Summer! is that every Thursday is a celebration/field trip day. One of the most memorable and favorite field trips among the elementary students was going to Binder Park Zoo. Each coach was paired with around five kids, and was free to venture wherever they wanted. Coach Sadina from the 4th grade Achieve Team had a great time with her group.

All the children in her group wanted to go to Wild Africa first so that they could see the giraffes. To get there, they all  rode in the Safari Tram. Along with giraffes, the children saw ostriches, monkeys, zebras, and a variety of birds. Toward the end of the safari the kids went on an artifact scavenger hunt where they earned their ultimate safari training.

After Wild Africa they decided to go and visit other animals such as the bears, hogs, chipmunks, wolves, flamingos, and peacocks. One student took the liberty of marking down every animal the group saw on the map so that they could try to see them all!

Another fun part of this field trip wasthat all the elementary students got to ride the train to Battle Creek. It was very exciting to see everyone in a great mood riding together as a group. It was a great day for CIS Think Summer!

-Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Honestly, if you were not a part of CIS Think Summer! you missed out on a lot of fun. I think the number one reason why it was awesome to be a part of it was because of the people involved.

Kalamazoo is a very diverse place to live. We love this because it is really hard to be “sheltered.” It makes for more dynamic ideas and creates a more comfortable atmosphere. That was easily Coach Bryce Burnette’s favorite part of being an Americorps VISTA.

He admits he is a little biased, but believes that secondary had the most fun this summer. The staff were very close and that had a huge impact on the program. It made the experience more enjoyable for the students especially because it was clear that everyone was having a good time.

Lastly, the students were fantastic. The future of KPS is very bright and CIS is doing a lot to make it an even better and more enjoyable experience.

-Bryce Burnett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

Melissa Holman: A World Changer

Melissa-with-aunt-and-brotherCompassionate, smart, creative and so much more, Melissa Holman is part of what makes Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo a great organization. In her role as the CIS After School Program Coordinator, Melissa is dedicated to her 12,000 plus kids. She works hard. She is always on the go, checking in, supporting CIS staff and students, and assuring that we are meeting or exceeding licensing standards at ten CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Funding provided by theMichigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers) allows us to provide after school as a strategy for promoting student success.

Anybody who knows Melissa also knows she has a fabulous fashion sense. She pulls off some of the coolest looks. She mixes colors and patterns that shouldn’t work, but do. She can strap a belt in her hair and look totally hip. (Several years ago, inspired by her hairdo I decided to don a belt myself the following week. The first person I ran into said, “Um, did you know you have a belt in your hair?” Sigh.)

So, I’m grateful that this hard-working, hip, and delightful colleague—who is living a beautiful life—took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to sit down and talk with us today.

Can you tell us a little something about yourself?

Here’s a little background on me: originally from Ann Arbor, I grew up in Romulus, Michigan and graduated from Romulus High School. I attended Ferris State Universityand obtained a BA in Communication with a minor in U.S. Multicultural Relations. Then, from Western Michigan University I received my MA in Educational Leadership, with a Higher Education Student Affairs Concentration.

I have a knack for working with young people and am able to develop relationships because I like to have fun with them! I love for students to have “aha” moments—especially related to their identities. This is what drives me to do the work that we do. I’ve worked at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo since December 2008 and have loved every minute of it! After School Program Rocks!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Recently I’ve been following the media on Lupita Nyong’o, the breakout star from the multiple-award-winning movie 12 Years a Slave. In a recent speech she made at anEssence Banquet, she spoke a lot to the concept of beauty as it relates to African/African American girls. During her open response to a young female fan who had begun skin bleaching treatments, Lupita spoke of her own struggles. She quoted her mother by saying, “you can’t eat beauty.” This is a thought-provoking statement. I’ve learned that “beautiful” is something you have to “be” and continue to “become.” My hopes are that I live a beautiful life that inspires others to do the same.

What are you currently reading?

I sometimes get into commentary, and read a lot of news online, but in a week or so, I’ll be starting a book called “DNA” by D.A. Hammond. It’s about understanding and explaining the Christian faith from the lens of hip-hop culture.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I grow up, I want to be a world changer! In reality, my hopes are to be impactful in whatever it is that I do. Ideally, I’d love to meet some of our CIS students at the university level and motivate them to finish strong and become productive adults who also impact society.

What is your favorite word right now?

I’m really into etymology, so right now my favorite word is “peace.” The word has multiple meanings and understandings.

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

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to leave a legacy. I’m still mulling through my ideas, but I think that your character could make your environment better or worse. A legacy could be either positive or negative. The formula (I think) for leaving a positive legacy would be Character + Accepted Responsibility + Positive Attitude. I’m not saying my thoughts make a lot of sense, but that’s what’s on my mind!

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

I have been very fortunate in having a lot of caring adults in my life who helped me get to where I am today. Two come immediately to mind. One is my third grade teacher, Ms. Awosika, who is by far one of my favorite people in life! She challenged me to read, corrected me when I was wrong, and even checked on me far past my third grade year. She spent a lot of her years in Africa, and she always had interesting stories and color pages. I had never met anyone who was interested in sharing with students their life experiences outside of my grandparents. She became friends with my mother and my aunt, so I was sure to stay on my best behavior.

I have a very supportive family that is full of caring adults. The one who comes to mind is my aunt who recently passed away, Charlene Johnson. Growing up, she embodied the CIS “5 Basics” for me. I remember having to temporarily move in with my aunt after the birth of my little brother because I was having a hard time adjusting to a new baby being in the house. Once I was able to “play nice” I was able to move back home and embrace having a little brother. In more serious circumstances—she is one of many adults I lived with when I was displaced as a child. She provided food, clothing, shelter, love, and a safe environment where I could concentrate so that I could learn and grow. Later in life while I was struggling to finance my freshman year in college, she paid my tuition, and I was able to finish. She believed in my dreams, and even up to her death, she was covering me in prayer and encouraging me to do more. My aunt was a community leader, and taught people across southeast Michigan and abroad. I spent a lot of time with my aunt, and she definitely made an impact in my life.

Melissa, thanks for sharing today and thanks for all you do for our community. And, just for the record, you show up day after day for our kids. You give your all. You already are a world changer. 

Melissa (to the right, behind podium) and students before City Commission advocating to “keep the lights on” for after school.
Melissa (to the right, behind podium) and students before City Commission advocating to “keep the lights on” for after school.

Students Tell Kalamazoo: “Keep the Lights On!”

20131021-_DSC4027Over 1,000 children throughout ten Kalamazoo Public School buildings benefited in the 2012/2013 school year from after school programming through Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. This resource has been available thanks to the support of the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers). CIS is in the fifth year of this five year federal grant.

“Afterschool programs are vital to creating healthy outlets for students during this critical time of day, says Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites. “We cannot expect young people to make healthy decisions in life such as attending school regularly and improving their academics when we are not willing to invest our time and resources to support them.”

In conjunction with Lights On Afterschool 2013 events across the nation, Kalamazoo Public School students who participate in CIS afterschool programming have been coming up with their own unique ways to shine the spotlight on quality, afterschool programming. Throughout October, students have been posting facts and research regarding afterschool programming, creating public service announcements, working on special projects with school personnel, and more.

20131021-_DSC3968And just this past Monday evening, close to 80 students, parents and CIS staff filled the Chamber of City Hall. The students present were representing all students from CIS afterschool sites: Edison Environmental Science Academy, Lincoln International Studies School, Milwood Elementary School, Washington Writers’ Academy, Woods Lake Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, Linden Grove Middle School, Hillside Middle School and Loy Norrix High School. They came together at city hall to share with the Kalamazoo City Commission the importance of extending the learning day through afterschool programming. Commissioner Don Cooney, on behalf of the Kalamazoo City Commission and Mayor Bobby Hopewell, read aloud a proclamation announcing October as “Lights On Afterschool Month” in Kalamazoo and committed to engaging in activities that ensure that the lights stay on and the doors stay open for all children after school.

Surrounded by children and parents, Melissa Holman, the CIS Afterschool Program Coordinator accepted the proclamation. Reflecting upon the experience, Melissa says, “I was extremely proud of our students for having the courage to advocate for their after school programs to our public officials. I believe that we are helping to develop world changers, who will first start by creating a better community through after school programs.”

Sure enough, one by one, students stepped up to the microphone to speak to their elected officials.

“The afterschool program provides us with food, clothes, and other things we need,” fifth grader Antonio said before a packed audience. “The afterschool program helps us stay away from drugs and off the streets. The staff help us with our homework and any issues we struggle with. The staff will do anything to make sure we are respectful, responsible, and safe so we can grow up to be anything we want to be and treated equally. This helps us so we can do the same for others who need help and think they can’t find it.”

Leasia Posey, a 7th grader at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, said, “I have been in Communities In Schools afterschool program since elementary school at Washington Writers Academy.  I think the afterschool program is amazing because of the staff, the clubs, and the transportation home.” Leasia told Commissioners that her favorite clubs are art, drama, and gardening.

Tiara Blair
Tiara Blair

Loy Norrix High School student Tiara Blair spoke up as well, “Communities In School has made a huge difference in my life. It has helped me to maintain my grade point average at a 3.7 average.” [Applause errupted in the chamber.] “Not only has it helped me with my academic studies but also with community building and networking. Communities In Schools connects me with a lot of resources, such as dental, vision, and food pack services. Also, because of CIS, I am provided a room with materials and the needed space to complete my homework. I appreciate the team staff that are hired here, they really take the time to help me succeed in my education.”

Rather than citing a bunch of research demonstrating that students who regularly attend afterschool programs are more likely to improve their grades, tests scores and overall academic behavior (there is a lot of it!), we’ll let Shediah, a fifth grader from Milwood Elementary School wrap up this post. Here, in her own words:

What Does the CIS Afterschool Program Mean to Me?

To me, afterschool program means to always be loved and helped. Afterschool program is a place that I can let my feelings go and be myself. I will always be safe and cared about.

To me, afterschool program is a place I can go to and calm down. I know I can always go the CIS staff when I need help. I can always be comforted when I’m going through a hard time.

When my [Site Coordinator] Ms. Abby left, I was very sad. After a while she came upstairs and comforted me. So did all of my classmates and my teachers.

I still miss Ms. Abby but Ms. Korrine who has taken her place is really nice. CIS is still fun.

Check out the inspiring City Hall photos (taken by Don Kingery) on our facebook album.

If you missed any of the WWMT coverage that aired on these recent events, not to worry. Just check out the following links:

What CIS Executive Director, Pam Kingery says about afterschool programming can be found here.

Students speaking out for afterschool programming during city commission meeting can be found here.

20131021-_DSC4061

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

Derek Keeps Kids On The Move

cis-pedometers1-150x150Today’s post is written by Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives. It appeared in Go! Team Go! an internal publication generated by Melissa Holman, After School Program Coordinator. We thought it was too good to keep to ourselves and so we’re sharing it here with you.

Walking to Brazil may seem like a tall order but when 60 students pool their foot power, it just might be possible. Northglade Montessori Site Coordinator Derek Miller has students walking to distant places, a few steps at a time. To get his new Level 1 activity off the ground Derek ordered 60 pedometers that are assigned to fourth and fifth grade students. Students have a goal of logging 3,000 steps per day.

“This encourages kids to get more exercise,” says Derek, “which is part of being healthy, but it’s also about exercising kids brains.” Northglade students keep track of how many steps they walk over time, with lots of opportunities for using math skills. Steps can be added, converted into yards and miles, and charted on graphs. Then geography is added to the mix as students consult maps to see how far an individual student might have travelled over a period of weeks or months, and how far the total miles walked by Northglade students would stretch – to Chicago, Atlanta, perhaps Mexico City? Students get passports where they can track distances from one world city to another and learn some basic facts about other nations.

Derek is not just talking the talk. He’s walking the walk, wearing his pedometer and tracking his own steps. Last Thursday he had logged over 4,000 steps by mid-afternoon.

Derek and VISTA Donielle Hetrick are walking with students at lunchtime, in the halls and on the playground, depending on the weather.

The project was developed by Northglade’s Health Committee that includes the school staff, parents and CIS.