Jenee McDaniel: One of Many Afterschool Professionals We Hold in Our Heart

Did you know that it’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week? Did you know that, throughout the U.S., an estimated 10.2 million children participate in afterschool programs each year? Did you know that for the past 13 years, CIS of Kalamazoo has helped students succeed in school through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and currently serves 750 students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle school sites? CIS After School is available thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.*

Thanks to all of our wonderful Afterschool Professionals. Whether you are a CIS After School Coordinator, a Youth Development Worker, an Instructional Lead, an Evening Custodian, Bus Driver, Food Service Worker, a CIS Volunteer or Partner supporting our kids in one of the 15 after school sites, we thank you for extending our reach as a community into after school hours. None of us could not do this work without the support of Kalamazoo Public Schools: the KPS Administration, Transportation, Food Service, and the many Principals and Teachers. Thank you for supporting us as we provide high quality programs that focus on student success.

One way to honor and lift up the great work being done with kids by all afterschool professionals is to shine the spotlight on one of our own. So today, we feature Jenee McDaniel. She’s been with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) since 2010 and is the CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School.

A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Jenee attended Lakewood Elementary ( K-3 school that closed back in 2004), Edison, Milwood Middle, and graduated from Loy Norrix High School. Jenee moved to Detroit and obtained an associate’s degree at Wayne County Community College. She also lived in Cincinnati for a time. She moved back to Kalamazoo when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. We’re glad her mom’s doing great—and has been in remission for a long time now—and we’re glad Jenee chose to stick around Kalamazoo. Jenee continued to further her education, obtaining both her BSW and MSW in the School of Social Work at Western Michigan University.

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

                                                         POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I keep learning more and more about myself. Just how to be more in tune with what is really important, and sweating the small stuff less.

What are you currently reading?

I’m studying for my clinical licensing exam so I’m looking over materials that relate to theories, medication, best practice, that kind of stuff.

What is your favorite word right now?

I honestly don’t have a favorite word.

You’re the first person we’ve interviewed who hasn’t had a favorite word!

[Jenee’s teammate Tamiko Garrett has briefly entered the room.] What about, “Hey, boo?”

That is a go-to greeting that I use often. LOL.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

The Promise. I also like the stance that our mayor and the city commission have taken and the commitment to being a city of welcome to all. With the political climate the way it is right now, I love that the city is taking this stance.

Thinking back to your student years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

In elementary school, when I went to Edison, my favorite teacher was my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Pulley. I believe she is still teaching or just retired from Spring Valley but she had been my teacher at Edison. I really connected with her. As an African American teacher, she looked and talked like my family and me. She was relatable, firm but fair, and you just knew that she cared. Not just that, but she would check up on me throughout my life; she’s the kind of person that remembers you after you’ve left and grown.

At Milwood Middle, it was my science teacher, Mr. Chuck Pearson. I’ve always liked science but the way he facilitated our class, he just made science so fun. In high school, my favorite teacher was Coach [Dob] Drake. I hated history and he taught history. The way he presented it, though, you couldn’t help but enjoy the class. He jumped on tables, things like that, and made it fun to learn. It was always a show and you always learned something. He was a good teacher. I never minded going to his class and I never once fell asleep. Still, today I hate history but I loved that class. Besides learning history, I learned something else from him: it’s the way things are presented that can make the difference.

Can you tell us something about yourself that people may be surprised to know?

I’m a sensitive person. Some people would find this really hard to believe!

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

My caring adult has been a combination of my mom, dad, and grandma. My mom was very structured and consistent. She may not have been a hugger, but she taught us how to be independent, responsible, accountable, and to maintain things. My grandma—she was a Southern woman and lived with my mom—she was business-like, and even though she had a lot of health issues, she taught me so many lessons and life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, self-respect, morals, and compassion. My dad did not live in the home with us but he was always just around the corner. Some would consider him more “street” but he was always available to us and always involved—which I consider a blessing—because that was not the case for so many around me growing up. He has always been about family. He was also the kind of dad who shows up for things. He came to all my school events, cheered the loudest, which was embarrassing then, but I appreciate it now. He was a man’s man, but I learned about feelings and emotions from him. He was affectionate, gave me compliments, told me he loved me, and it was always okay to not be okay.

Outside of my family, I would have to say Barb Howes has been that caring adult for me. School has always come easy to me but after getting my BSW, I was tired. I had a family situation that was going to require a lot and I didn’t want to go on to graduate school at the time. But because of Barb Howes, I did. She believed in me, knew I was capable, and expected nothing less from me.  Knowing all the obligations I had with family, she offered me a graduate assistantship and was an advisor, mentor, confidant, and still is one of the best people I have ever met.

Jenee, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids! And thanks for your on-going committment to helping our kids learn and grow in an after school setting!

We continue to talk with Jenee in our recently released newsletter, CIS Connections. Jenee and her CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett, share insights into what it takes to work together to help students stay in school and be successful.

*The federal budget for 2017-18  proposed by the President completely eliminates funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. To learn more and find out what you can do to assure our kids can continue to learn in the after school hours, read the latest “Double” themed issue of CIS Connections.

 

 

A Safe Place to Learn and Grow

A safe place to learn and grow. This is one of five CIS basics that we believe every child needs and deserves. Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Site Coordinator and today’s guest blogger, Emily Demorest, works closely with other CIS staff, the Kalamazoo Public Schools, volunteers, and community partners to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for all children. Here now is Emily’s open letter and reaction to a recent draft statement put forth by the Michigan State Board of Education.

 

I applaud the Michigan Department of Education for their bold step to support the rights and safety of LGBTQ youth in Michigan public schools. The State Board of Education’s Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students is a crucial step in ensuring all students in the state receive the education they deserve. We are tasked with supporting all students regardless of our personal feelings regarding individual identity issues.

Any LGBTQ students can share stories of marginalization or open hostility because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. At a time when young people are most vulnerable in their personal development, youth are experiencing issues with bullying, physical harassment, and difficulties accessing safe use of a toilet during the school day. Most are careful to share their true identities even with those they trust. As a CIS Site Coordinator, I work daily with students facing these challenges. All these young people want is to be safe and supported in their learning environment.

Students who do not feel that school is a safe and supportive environment have worse educational outcomes. According to research published by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network in 2013, LGBTQ students who perceive a hostile school climate are three times as likely to miss school and twice as likely to report a lack of interest in pursuing post high school education. Tragically, over half of students experiencing discrimination and harassment at school do not report the abuse due to feeling that exposing their identity to school staff will lead to further problems.

Do not all children deserve equal opportunities to quality education?

The full report is available by going here. Members of the public who wish to comment on the guidelines have until April 11th to express their support before the vote on May 10th.

 

 

Caring Adult Series: Mr. Blink

Johnny featured with some caring adults. Back,from left: CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters, KPS Principal Julie McDonald, KPS Teacher Chad Chambless.
Johnny featured with some caring adults. Back,from left: CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters, KPS Principal Julie McDonald, KPS Teacher Chad Chambless.

If you follow our blog, you know that CIS has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, that, even after all these years, they still carry within their hearts?

Members of the CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy were up to the challenge and in the weeks to come, we’ll find out who their caring adults are as we will publish each of their letters.

Today, we are excited to share a letter written by one member of the passionate, talented, and dedicated team who infuse Edison Environmental Science Academy with hope, love, and learning.

 

Dear Mr. Blink,

Many people do not believe I was ever a shy person.  Thirty six years ago, you had that shy 7th grader in your social studies classroom and on your volleyball team.  My brother was a star football player at the high school, breaking all sorts of records.  I was known as “Dean’s little sister” or “little Sharick.”  I was 12, trying to figure out who I was, what I stood for, and who my friends were.

Honestly, I don’t remember you doing anything particularly special just for me, but you made me feel special, gave me my own voice and always called me by my first name.  You allowed me to be a typical 7th grade girl – moody and well, a 7th grade girl.   You would talk about choosing friends wisely and being true to yourself.  As an adult and an educator, I now see that you took every advantage of “teachable moments.” By the time I started 8th grade, I was a new person, no longer as shy, knowing who I was (at least as much as a teenager can), and chose my friends wisely.  Most of my best friends are friends of 30+ years!

Thank you for taking this shy, 12 year old under your wing and allowing me to fly.  You were an integral part of my decision to become a teacher.  I hope I have made a difference in my students’ lives just as you have mine.

Thank you so much,

Julie (Sharick) McDonald, M.A.

Principal
Edison Environmental Science Academy
Kalamazoo Public Schools
 
 

Who is your Mr. Blink? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

And, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read the Story of Success within our freshly published annual report, take a few minutes to learn how KPS Principal Julie McDonald, her fabulous teaching staff, CIS staff, and other caring adults are helping Johnny succeed. Hint: To address the needs of the whole child, it often takes more than one person, one organization or resource. Johnny identifies a number of caring adults that have empowered him and gives a special shout out to: The Kalamazoo Promise®, Friday Food Packs (made possible thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes), First Day Shoe Fund, the Edison School Based Health Center (staffed by Family Health Center), Open Roads, and WMU College of Aviation.  These last two resources are offered as part of CIS After School Programming funded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

 

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

 

Thank You For Being Mashed Potatoes

Today’s post is written by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Her words can also be found on the front page of our latest CIS Connections.

Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo
Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

No one orders gravy without the mashed potatoes. No one buys a set of special tires without owning a car to put them on. You don’t buy an extra gig of memory when you don’t possess a computer. Likewise, Communities In Schools wouldn’t seek after school grants if it didn’t have basic core services within the schools—whole-child, integrated student support.

Communities In Schools was recently notified that ALL THREE after school grants for which it applied have been selected for funding by the Michigan Department of Educationbeginning the 2014-15 school year. Those grants, funded for five years, will provide significant extra learning support in fifteen schools—nine out of its ten current after school sites and six new elementary sites.  And, yes, the grants do represent a substantial dollar amount—more than ten million over the five year period. Of course, this is a huge accomplishment for CIS, Kalamazoo Public Schools and the partners who collaborate with us. We couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity!

BUT, after school services are not the CIS core integrated student support strategy that is basic to our mission—to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.  After school services are an example of a very important, narrow but intensive strategy for providing critical academic support to a targeted group of students within each selected school. It does give us a critical opportunity for daily contact with students to support homework completion, provide tutoring and practice for key academic skills and a safe, supervised setting while parents are working. It makes a substantial impact on the students who participate.

Core to a whole-child, coordinated service strategy, is a site coordinator who is available to organize and connect the community’s resources to a wider group of students within a school, students who have needs beyond academics, and who most often have very limited socio-economic means to meet those needs—dental, vision, food, clothing, school supplies, mental health, etc.  Why do I point this out? Because it is our KALAMAZOO FUNDERS and DONORS who make possible the core of what Communities In Schools is and does. If you are one of those funders and donors, your support is essential in allowing us to leverage other resources—the gravy if you will—to provide critical extra support to some students, while maintaining the basics to greater numbers of children.

Yes, ten million dollars, even over five years, is a lot of money.  But it goes to a very specific and narrow purpose—the special set of tires—and cannot be used to support our core services.  For that core set of services, we are continuing our Promise Me Campaign.  For that core, we are dependent on you, Kalamazoo.  For that, we thank you for being the mashed potatoes.  

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

Out On A Limb

100_3410-edit“Stop singing!” my son has been begging me. But I can’t  stop singing the beautiful song (Out on a Limb) I heard last week out at the CIS Think Summer! program.

If CIS had a theme song, I thought to myself, it would be this song written by Jon Gailmor. “Let’s go out, out on a limb. Show ‘em the beauty of the world we’re in. Take a chance, grab a partner and dance–out here, out on a limb…” Jon himself performed the song (my son would have much preferred Jon’s pitch perfect, clear and soulful voice) which ends with these words: “Every child is a miracle–tall, strong, short or fragile. Being there to love ‘em’s the least we can do. Lift ‘em up where they can see the view.”

Jon Gailmor, according to his website, ”was born in New York State and failed to grow up in Philadelphia.”  Jon lives in Vermont now but last week, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo had the honor of hosting this most talented, funny and down-to-earth singer/songwriter at CIS Think Summer! out at Hillside Middle School. (The CIS Think Summer! program is made possible through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st CCLC Community Learning Centers.)

Jon was struck by “how much the kids are really enjoying themselves. It’s clear how much they love being here and how important CIS is to them in their lives.” He praised the CIS coaches, Site Coordinators, and CIS partners who are doing what it takes to make a difference for children. “Thank you for going out on a limb for these kids,” he said, addressing the crowd who had gathered last Thursday at Hillside’s cafeteria to hear the performance.

Just how did this artist-in-residence program play out? Each elementary grade level and Kids in Tune (a partnership with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools) reflected with Jon on what they have been learning during the summer program. The students then worked to identify an area to focus in on and their topics ranged from The Kalamazoo Promise® to protecting drinking water and helping others. The children got busy developing lyrics, setting them to music, and recording their original compositions.

Jon GailmorTheir work with Jon culminated in a performance before peers and grownups of their new compositions. Jon pointed out that “each of the songs had something to do with Kalamazoo. They composed every lyric, every note. I just choose the key and play the melody to accompany them…I’m always in awe of what kids can do.”

The children titled their five performances as follows: Big Brains and Big Goals (1st & 2nd Graders), A Promise of Hope (3rd Graders), The Six Pillars of Rock (4th Graders), We Know What to Do (5th Graders), and Changing Our World (Kids in Tune). Each of the students will soon be receiving a cd of their songs (thanks to Absolute Video) and we will be featuring the lyrics and songs with you in future blog posts.

For Nicole Barrow, whose daughter Zaria attends Think Summer!, the performance was nothing short of amazing. But her expectations were high to begin with. “This is a place kids can learn and they are learning a lot. My daughter comes back home each day from the CIS program tired and excited. We love that! I have confidence and trust in the staff, knowing they are each looking out for my daughter and all of these kids.”

A special thanks to Casey Gershon, a former Vermont resident, who planted the seed and wrote the grant that introduced Kalamazoo and our kids to Jon Gailmor. Funding for this artist-in-residence program was made possible through the generosity of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. We are grateful to them for helping kids and grownups alike love where we live! Guitar Center, thank you for providing the equipment necessary to rock our kids’ worlds, which in turned, rocked us adults.

Jon GailmorJon Gailmor, we appreciate you reminding us that adulthood is often overrated. Even more importantly, as CIS Site Coordinator Stacy Salters put it, “Great things are living inside our children. Thank you, Jon, for tugging the greatness out of them.”

And a most special thanks to our awesome kids of Think Summer! You have created songs with powerful lyrics that dream boldly and challenge us grownups to live up to the Kalamazoo you sing of:  “there’s no better place in the nation.”

May we all go out on a limb for each and every one of you.