Kalamazoo Central High School’s Assistant Principal Greg Straka was one of several Kalamazoo Public School staff who wrote alongside Kalamazoo Central, Loy Norrix, and Phoenix High School students. For today’s post, we share his lovely letter.
Dear Prayer, Hope, and Love,
I am writing this letter in deep appreciation of your groups many talents. It is your ability to work together in a life changing way that I would like to focus my attention.
In times when it seems all is lost, and there is nothing right in the world, the three of you are always there. I gain peace when I pray for my students. I see Hope shine her beautiful face in the eyes of Giants, as Hope also lives in me when I think of their future. Love is there also, as a quiet presence. A hug, high-five, handshake, and smile are evidence that my prayers are being heard and that my vision of a hopeful future in the loving, capable hands of our student leaders will eventually come to fruition.
Again, thank you.
In the months to come, we’ll publish a few works that students created during this workshop, so keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
It’s poetry month and we couldn’t let it slip by without posting a poem.
Poetry isn’t afraid to handle difficult topics. Ignoring, denying, or pretending that something doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes, we must name that which stares us in the face. By giving it a name and dragging it into the light, we see it for what it is. Samantha Hoehle does just this with her brave poem, “A Constant Battle.” A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, Samantha wrote this on the campus of Western Michigan University during a “Courage to Create” poetry workshop offered as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration.
A Constant Battle
Racism stares at me from across the table.
Callous, he tries to fill my head with beliefs that cut me to the core.
I do not want to live with him.
I do not want him to talk to me.
I wish he would disappear.
But he has dug his roots deep into the earth—
And while many of us try to uproot him,
Others create avalanches of hatred and ignorance
Pushing the dirt back into our holes,
Adamant he stays.
Racism reaches out his hand to “help” us,
Sneering upon rejection,
Blatantly stating he is in the right.
But no. He is wrong.
Racism tries to creep in, and I push him out, continuing to dig.
I will not let him turn me into something he would be proud to see.
I am not sorry.
And if you missed the two student poems we published back in January, you can find them here.
If you stepped onto the campus of Western Michigan University this past weekend and peeked into the “Brown and Gold” room you would feel hopeful about the future.
On Saturday, about 75 Kalamazoo Public School students chose to spend part of their day participating in a “Courage to Create” poetry workshop. “Courage to Create” is just one of a number of fun and educational offerings students can participate in, along with families, as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration. We love celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with young people.
“These kids are great!” said Elizabeth Kerlikowske, President of Friends of Poetry. She is right. Giants and Knights sat side by side, wrote poetry, and many shared their works aloud. The students were polite, kind, they took risks with their writing, and listened to each other. They set a good example for grownups!
What is the world is coming to? Love and goodness, for starters. Here are two terrific examples of what students created:
Love smiles and embraces me with the biggest hug. “I love you!” she shouts as we go on with the day. As we walk along, she is just singing that one song, “All you need is love, love, love.” As corny as she is, you can’t help but smile because Love just gives you the warmest feeling.
As we are walking, we see a couple fighting, so of course, Love walks up to them and asks, “Oh, where is the Love? Isn’t Love stronger than anything else? You must embrace it!” To my surprise, the couple turns to each other with the biggest smiles. “I love you!” they shout.
I guess Love is really unexpected.
-Saquaya Baker, a junior at Kalamazoo Central High School
I take Goodness with me wherever I go: to school, events, family functions, you name it. She is very popular! Her kindness makes others smile and want to be around her. She makes me a better person as well. When I have negative thoughts, she is always there to keep me in check because her motto is, “Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.” It’s a nice reminder every once in a while when I am in a bad mood.
However, Goodness isn’t always there to guide me. When I moved to Kalamazoo from Birmingham the beginning of my eleventh grade year, she left for some time. I think it was because I pushed her away. Anger and Depression took her place, but I did not want them there, so I asked her to be patient with me and come back because I could not get through my situation without her. To my great appreciation, she returned, all smiles, with the bright colors she loves to wear and the fantastic Dad jokes that can make anyone’s day just by hearing her laugh at them. We are the best of friends again and we are changing the world one smile and helping hand at a time.
-Sidney Washington, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School
In the months to come, we’ll publish a few more works created during this workshop, so keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
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 Principal McKissack, who is the new Principal at Hillside Middle School.
Principal Atiba McKissack hails from Detroit. He came to Kalamazoo in 1991 after graduating from Cass Technical High School. “My mom dropped me off and told me not to come back until I finished school. I ended up going to WMU for eight years…for a four year degree. [He chuckles.] I’m what I call an unintentional educator. It was not part of my master plan—I had plans to be an aeronautical engineer—but nothing brings me more joy than being in education.”
After doing a pre-internship in English at Milwood Middle School and his teaching internship at Milwood and South (not yet Maple Street Magnet School) he moved back to Detroit. A year and a half into teaching, he received a phone call from the legendary Dorothy Young, then principal at Hillside Middle School. “She brought me back as a sub. This was confirmation enough for me that I should be back in Kalamazoo. I’ve always loved the Kalamazoo Public Schools.”
Since that phone call, Mr. McKissack was reacquainted with and married the woman who would become his wife and has enjoyed serving Kalamazoo Public School students in various positions: ‘a stint’ as a drama teacher, technology support for the district, assistant principal at Loy Norrix and most recently, their dean of students.
Alright, Principal McKissack: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
It’s called the “101 Percent Principle.” The term comes from the book, The Leader’s Heart by John Maxwell. The principle is this: find that one percent that you can agree on and then devote 100 percent of your attention to that one percent. Too much time is spent focusing on what doesn’t work. Instead, it’s important to really devote time on identified potential rather than a problem. We need to spend time affirming kids for what they’re doing right, building them up and, in the process, we can then work on those other things that need support. Education is more than just math or science. It’s about the whole child…character building, social emotional growth, and affirming and growing potential.
Do you see Communities In Schools working with the community to address the needs of the whole child?
Absolutely! One of the reasons I value Communities In Schools is because they remove those barriers that keep kids from feeling whole.
As a principal, I have a wonderful senior site coordinator, Ms. [Precious] Miller I turn to. I can connect students to her with ease and their needs can be met. It just makes our work as educators easier. Ms. [Katherine] Williams, our after school coordinator, Ms. [Terra] Mosqueda, our VISTA, they are all so responsive. They never say no. They say, How can we help? What is the student’s name? Send them down to us. I keep my Communities In Schools folder right in front of me. [Principal McKissack jumps up from the conference table, runs over to his desk, and plucks a folder off of his desk.] Here it is!
Communities In Schools remove burdens that get in the way of education, whether it’s helping kids get glasses, getting food from the food pantry, it’s all done in a way that maintains the dignity of the child. It’s important that student know they can have needs without having to feel needy. They can feel whole and CIS helps them do that. Communities In Schools is living up to what they say they do and it’s so appreciated here at Hillside.
What are you currently reading?
We Beat the Streets, which is part of our whole school read. I’m also reading Intentional Living by John Maxwell. Maxwell’s book was gifted to me by [Loy Norrix Principal] Mr. Prewitt. Intentional Living lays out how to teach kids about compassion, decision-making, and how they can build long lasting friendships. It’s interesting, because in reading these two books at the same time I see parallels between them. The three male characters in We Beat the Streets face many challenges but are able to become successful—all three become doctors—through intentional living. They support each other.
You read pretty deep stuff.
I’m not a strong reader so I read a lot. I model for my kids, both my students and my children. It’s important to read. I’m always asking my students what they are reading. If they don’t have an answer for me, I ask them about their interests. It’s a good way to help them figure out what books will meets their interests. It’s a great way to start a conversation.
Recently, Hillside was well represented at the second annual MLK “Courage to Create” Celebration. A number of your students made it to the semi-finalist round, reading their work at Western Michigan University and taking a number of top prizes in the poetry competition.
Oh, that was wonderful. Just the pride I had in my students. Not the winning part, but I was overjoyed by the hard work they put into getting there—the reading, studying, the questions they asked. They didn’t give up. And at the event, even though they were nervous and scared—feeling what anyone would feel in that kind of situation, of giving a performance—they didn’t give up. They worked really hard.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to inspire the minds that will change the world. Honestly, I’ve come so far beyond where I thought I’d be that I have spent a lot of time looking back. I was told way early that I couldn’t go to college.
How horrible. Who told you that?
His last name was Albatross.
Albatross. How ironic.
He owned the Coney Island in Detroit. I remember it well. I was sitting at the counter. Other kids were there. He laughed at me when I said I’m going to college. I’m glad he did though. From that point forward I never forgot that moment. Sometimes God places barriers in your way so you can become stronger by overcoming them. I’m actually grateful. College was not an easy road for me but I did it.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My caring adult was—and still is—my mother. She saw more in me than I saw in myself and she wouldn’t let me forget that. She was the one who motivated me and to this day she motivates me. Today also happens to be her birthday.
Happy birthday to your mom! And thank you, Principal McKissack!