Making Sure Kids Finish Strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do you handle those situations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitalizing on Your Investment

CIS Seniors at Board Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can CIS be better?

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

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

 

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

Pop Quiz: O’Neal Ollie  

O'Neal Ollie
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

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 O’Neal Ollie who is the CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School. CIS Success Coaches allow Communities In Schools to have a larger footprint in larger schools. CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows CIS to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. For students who need a moderate degree of support, having that one-on-one coaching support from O’Neal Ollie can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal then headed to school in Riverside, California and later returned to Kalamazoo, graduating in Sports Management from Western Michigan University. Today, O’Neal and his wife Terri are proud KPS parents of son Bass, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School who is also enrolled in college, and daughter, Symphony, who graduated from Kalamazoo Central, was honored by the YWCA in 2014 as a Young Women of Achievement, and is now in her third year at Michigan State University. O’Neal notes that “it’s my wife Terri who keeps all of us on track.”

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

POP QUIZ

O'Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni
O’Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Oh, my goodness. I learn so much stuff. For a person that thinks he knows everything, well, that is a tough one. Okay, I learned about dual enrollment. That is the process of enrolling a student in college while they are still completing high school with eligibility to play high school sports. My son is a senior at Kalamazoo Central and plays three sports.

Favorite word?

At this time of the year, it is football because my son is in his senior year.

What are you currently reading?

Sports Illustrated, because of the Olympics, which were so good with swimming, gymnastics, and track.

You graduated from Kalamazoo Central. Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Vern Davis and Clarence Gardener. Also, Coach Don Jackson. He taught PE, probably one of my biggest mentors in school. Mr. Davis was a math teacher and Mr. Gardner was general business & accounting. Both coached as well.

My counselor was Nelson Stevenson and he was my main man. He enrolled me in Upward Bound. That was my introduction to college. We stayed on Western’s campus-in Bigelow Hall-for eight weeks. I learned the social aspects of college and thought, this is going to be great! I have life-long friends that I made from attending Outward Bound.

Mr. Davis made you feel so good about yourself. He made it easy to learn. It probably helped that he was a former NFL player. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles and was All-American. I had his class fourth hour. “Don’t ever make me come look for you,” he’d say.

Coach Gardiner’s business and accounting was the most useful class I’ve ever taken. I still write my checks the way he taught me in school. When I went to college, I majored in accounting until I changed to sports management.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve always been interested in school and sports administration. But, regardless of all I’m doing work-wise, I can’t forget I’m a dad. I learn a lot from my son and daughter.

Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O'Neal
Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O’Neal

Like what?

Things I never expected to learn, like, what it means to go prom dress shopping. That is a whole process and it’s a family event.

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

My mom, my second mom, and my third mom. I have eight older siblings and my oldest sister, Ida Buchanan, was a secretary in my building when I was in high school. I would much rather my mother than my sister Ida get a hold of me. She did not play. Still doesn’t. She still works, going between Hillside and Linden Grove Middle School.

My mom, I always appreciated how hard she worked and the way she had a way of breaking things down to make us understand things. One of my favorite quotes she said was when I came home crying one day. “You’re crying because folks are talking about you?” she said. “You start crying when folks stop talking about you.”

Thank you, Coach Ollie!

We continue to talk about O’Neal Ollie in our soon to be released newsletter, CIS Connections. O’Neal and his CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker, share their insights about helping students get on track to graduation. And if you missed Montrell’s interview with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, you can read it here.

We are an open book

Today begins National Reading Month. In anticipation of all the fabulous literacy activities kicking off throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) staff once again prepare by asking each other: What are you reading?

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick.

-Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Site Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

 

I am reading the Mindful Manifesto by Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell and I love it!

-Missy Best, Site Coach & Mentor 

 

I am currently reading From Babylon to Timbuktu- A History of Ancient Black Races Including The Black Hebrews, written by Rudolph R. Windsor.

-Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator, Loy Norrix High School

 

I just finished Memory For Forgetfulness, by Mahmoud Darwish, which is a poetic account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut. I’m now reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and How The Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev.

-Kaitlin Martin, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I just finished Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, which is a case study and research summarization of how people are dating now that technology is involved. I laughed out loud on every page. Everyone on my flight on Tuesday morning thought I was crazy. Now I am going to start reading Sick In The Head by Judd Apatow.

-Elyse Brey, Director of Elementary Sites

 

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel.

-Keely Novotny, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading the first volume of a collection of graphic novels by Jaime Hernandez entitled Love and Rockets. Very fun!

-Katherine Williams, CIS After School Coordinator, Hillside Middle School

 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

-Stephen Brewer, AmeriCorps VISTA, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am reading…Tales of a Female Nomad  Living at Large in the World by Rita Gelman and We Need New Names by No Violet Bulawayo. Here’s to Good Reads….

-Lauren Longwell, AmeriCorps VISTA Lead

 

I am reading In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt. It’s about Gail’s volunteer experience at my uncles orphanage in Cambodia.

-Terra Mosqueda, AmeriCorps VISTA, Loy Norrix High School & Hillside Middle School

 

I just finished M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A. Through narratively linked poems, A. Van Jordan tells the story of MacNolia Cox. She won the 1936 Akron, Ohio Spelling Bee and then became the first African American to reach the final rounds in the national competition. It’s beautifully written and reads like a play. Now onto reading Nora Webster by Colm Tóibin.

-Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I am currently reading The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Stacy Schiff. It is a psychologically thrilling nonfiction account that is rather dense with facts and light on sensationalism. In other words, readers really have to commit, but the payoff has been well worth it.

-Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

The book I currently started dissecting again is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness written by Michelle Alexander; a former director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California and past director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. The New Jim Crow is about the US prison system, its rise to have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and how, when systems are created, the social views those systems are predicated on can play a huge role in the systems operation.

Sure to polarize people to one side or another of an already controversial topic, this book is great at inspiring critical reflection on one of Modern America’s major topics!

-Nathaniel Wolfe Easlick, CIS After School Program Coordinator, Milwood Elementary

 

I’m currently reading and listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living:  Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. This book details Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, which in many ways, forms the foundation of mindfulness practices in the United States. I’m also reading The Whole Brain Child, by Dan Siegel, which offers specific strategies for helping kids to integrate the various parts of their brain to help them manage socially and emotionally.

-Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives

 

I am currently reading: The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. A wonderful science fiction classic that deals with computer programming, nano-technology, and the limits of artificial intelligence.

Re-reading: Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell, John J. Ratey. A fantastic strength’s based model and, in my opinion, a great read for both those with ADHD and those who work with or love those with ADHD.

Also, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is my book club read this month. A fun read so far, it also has poignant themes about the treatment of people living in elder care communities.

-Ellie Galas, CIS Site Coordinator, Linden Grove Middle School

 

I just finished The Wright Brothers and am currently reading two books: Connection Culture by Michael Lee Stallard and Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline, the author of Orphan Train (the community read this year).

-Mary Oudsema, Special Projects

 

I’m currently reading The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 3 by Charlie Adlard and Robert Kirkman. It’s a collection of the graphic novels that the television show is based on. If you like the show, you’ll love the graphic novels – they’re amazing!

-Donielle Hetrick, CIS After School Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

I have been reading a lot of articles lately on trauma-centered approaches to working with youth as well as other research papers on program design. But, I am about to crack into two books, Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males and Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women both by Freeman A. Hrambowski, III, Kenneth L. Maton and Geoffrey L. Greif.  Mr. Hrambowski was a keynote speaker at the National Summer Learning Associations training in October in Baltimore.

My book club, The Lovely Ladies of Literature, is voting in a little over a week on our next read.

-Artrella Cohn, Director of Secondary Sites

 

I am currently reading The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield.

-Tamiko Garrett, Site Coordinator, Milwood Magnet School