Math, Music, And Refrigerators

_DSC0746Today’s post is written by our CIS friend and partner, Kalamazoo College Professor  Dr. Eric “Rick” Barth.

newspaper-clipping-of-Ricky-BarthLet’s begin with an old clipping from my home-town newspaper, dating back to the 1960s (right).

The picture shows a small-town businessman (my father) watching as a toddler (me) pushes on the side of a refrigerator, equipped with a long-forgotten bit of technology that was meant to make an easy job of moving, and cleaning behind, heavy kitchen appliances. I’m pretty sure that gadget never caught on with the buying public, but my dad always had his eyes open for the “next big thing” and hey, you never know…

This story could go lots of ways from here: how about “That was the day I learned the importance of cleaning under my fridge”? Instead, when I see that yellow newspaper, I think “That was one of the many days in my life that I got the chance to try something big and, because of all the supportive people around me, didn’t have to worry that something good wouldn’t come of it.”

That toddler spent the next 30 years working in Dad’s appliance store and studying in rural Kansas public schools, getting his degree at music school from the University of Kansas, getting married, working in more appliance stores, getting his Ph.D. in mathematics, moving to New York City and finally to Kalamazoo with two little boys of his own, to teach at Kalamazoo College. That history is a series of big opportunities, big changes, big challenges, big trials, and big joys. All big things that I was able to attempt without (much) fear because of all the supportive people around me.

Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park
Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park

What’s the next big thing? For me it’s combining my work at the College with my role as Curriculum Director at Kids in Tune. KiT is a family business for sure. The founder and director is Liz Youker, a fellow KU music alum with an unmistakable can-do spirit. My son Thomas started the Woods Lake Elementary cello club while in high school and merged that into the brand-new KiT program when it began in 2011, teaching in the program until last fall when he went off to music school. My wife Deb Faling — we met in music school at Kansas and have been collaborating on one crazy thing after another for almost 30 years — is the KiT associate director. And we spend so much time and work so closely with site coordinator Donielle Hetrick and ISS director of elementary sites, Linda Thompson, that they merit status of at least honorary “favorite cousins”!

So what happens at Kids in Tune that makes us all invest so much? How about this as an example: One day after we’d been rehearsing a portion of Mahler’s Symphony #1, a group of students came to me and asked “When do we start Symphony #2?”. It was clear to me in that moment that those kids were experiencing the power of great art in their own way and that they were seeing their life in the program as a great adventure where they are confident that every hard-earned and well-deserved discovery is followed by another one. I hope that by bringing our best to KiT students every day, we provide the opportunity for all 85 of them, every one, to try big things with an expectation that something great will happen, and without any worry that it won’t.

One Man’s Charitable Odyssey

100_4111-edit no tonyWe recently welcomed a most amazing and interesting person into our midst. Imagine making it your personal mission to seek out and perform a charitable act in every state throughout this country that you haven’t yet visited (37 to be exact). Sounds almost impossible but that is exactly what one man has set out to do. And here in Michigan, we were fortunate to have him touch down in Kalamazoo. He came bearing gifts and distributed much needed items out at Woods Lake Elementary School. But, we’ll let him tell you about his visit in his own words. The following post originally ran last week on his own blog site, 37people.

This week I continued my journey of giving, but it was just a short week with only two more states visited. Despite it being such a short week, I think that I am now starting to learn more about what this journey of giving really means to me and how it is changing the way I think about what I am doing. First I’ll tell you about MI (followed by IN), and you will see a common theme that was very evident this week (something I’m starting to hear more about lately, across various organizations). I will then talk about this common theme in a bit more depth (I’ll start explaining it in this MI post and finish it in my IN post) and what it has started me thinking about for the future.

On Monday I had the sincere pleasure of visiting the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) in Kalamazoo, MI. I don’t think I could do a better job of explaining what CIS does than what they have on their site, so let me start with that:

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) brings together the support of hundreds of volunteers and local organizations to meet student needs at school–before, during, or after class–so that outside problems interfere less with learning and plans to stay in school and graduate on time.

100_4096-edit (600x800)CIS works within the Kalamazoo Public Schools system, determining school and student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources to students.  Whether it’s tutoring in math, a pair of eyeglasses, a new pair of socks, a backpack full of food for the weekend, or a safe place to hang out after school, when these needs are met, students can concentrate on learning.

One of the after school programs CIS coordinates is called Kids in Tune (KIT), and I was able to visit their KKIT program being run at a local school.  KKIT is “a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” and I was able to provide some needed supplies for this program: five cello and five violin bows (these are one of the items that frequently need repair or replacement); 10 Suzuki cello and 10 Suzuki violin CDs (every student who learns to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on their cello or violin has a special graduation ceremony and receives their own copy of the CD to take home and listen to); and 37 song flutes (used by the 1st grade students as they learn the musical basics prior to starting on the traditional orchestral instruments).

Let me briefly explain why I did not stop smiling during my entire visit.  I was first taken to one of their special graduation ceremonies where a 3rd grade girl, who only picked up a cello in June, was about to play an advanced version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in order to graduate to the next level.  And to top it all off, she was playing in front of an audience with a guest from NJ (talk about added pressure!). Well she did a fantastic job and put on an amazing performance. At the end of her performance, when her instructor notified her that she had graduated, I was given the honor of presenting her with a Suzuki cello CD :-)

My next stop was to a class learning the violin, also made up of very young children. I arrived towards the end of their lesson where I was then treated to a very special performance. I cannot begin to explain how impressed I was at not only the way they played, but also how well they were being taught too. It was clearly evident on their little faces how much they were enjoying the experience.

100_4107I have actually jumped ahead a bit, so let me take a step back while at the same time summarizing my thoughts about this day.  Before going to the school, I spent some time talking to the amazing people who work at and run CIS at their office. What they do (as I quoted above), and the model that they have employed to do this is something that really resonated with me. It is such a simple but powerful concept – bring what the students need right to them by partnering with the right groups and people.  And it’s so much more than just music of course (but I’m super happy music is a part of it!). I asked CIS about some of the positive benefits they have seen as a result of this model. One thing they have found is that attendance at school is up with students being much more interested and engaged in school, which of course makes perfect sense. But let me talk about something else.  Earlier I mentioned a common theme for this week. I found the following talking about KIT:

It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment.  As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more. Like how to express her feelings better. I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”

I think there are enough articles out there extolling the benefits of a strong family, and strong family participation in education, that has a direct correlation with student success and graduation rates. To me, this is the real strength of this truly wonderful program and the people who run it. Not only are they bringing positive change to the lives of these students, but they are also positively impacting their families. This is something I will come back to in my IN post.

But I do want to mention one last thing. I was told about The Kalamazoo Promise®, and once I explain it I think it will perfectly tie all of this together. In 2005 a group of anonymous donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to pay up to 100% of the tuition to a Michigan college or university for any Kalamazoo public high school graduate! And therein lies the challenge for Kalamazoo – getting their students to graduate and be accepted for post-secondary education. This is exactly why an organization like CIS is so valuable to the Kalamazoo community.

Check out his blog, 37people, to see where else his journey is taking him.

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

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.

Pop Quiz: Interns

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 have compiled some answers from the newest members of our CIS family: our 2012/2013 interns! We have 13 fabulous college students from Western Michigan University School of Social Work (five working on their Masters and four working towards their bachelors) and four from Western Michigan Music Therapy. Here they are, in no particular order (drum roll, please): Sarah Thompson, Luke Norcross, Lauren Buckley, Courtney Maynard, Calli Carpenter, Brad Hatfield, David Malinowski, Courtney Neff, Jordan Snellenberger, Juna Spencer, Natalie Schneider, Lyndsay Nuyen, and Robyn Hoffenblum.

Alright, interns: pencils out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

  • Cell phones don’t work well when they fall into fish tanks
  • A lot about the Amish community and their customs when it comes to leaving the community
  • I learned a little bit about CEU’s (Credit Educational Units)
  • I need to be able to speak up if I need something
  • Some new Michael Jackson songs
  • I’ve recently learned a lot about audio technology involving synthesizers, mixers, speakers, etc.
  • How to play “Big Black Car” by Gregory Alen Isakov
  • The process for mandated reporting
  • The top twenty music hits
  • What the third “W” in “BW3” is for (beef on weck)

 

What are you currently reading?

  • Working Poor in America
  • Married to the Military
  • Odd Girl Out
  • Hunger Games
  • Unbroken
  • Music therapy research
  • A family therapy book by Virginia Satir
  • Pride & Prejudice
  • Team of Rivals
  • Middlesex
  • The Subterraneans

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • Someone that somebody else will look up to
  • Working in a veteran’s hospital with combat soldiers with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]
  • Social worker
  • A licensed MSW (Master’s in Social Work) with my private practice working with families and couples.
  • School Social Worker
  • Mother and wife
  • Working with children in a hospital setting
  • A practicing music therapist
  • Psychologist
  • A successful music therapist working in a psychiatric hospital who also conducts research

 

What is your favorite word right now?

  • Fantastic
  • Flow
  • Clasp
  • Anxious
  • Buddy
  • For real
  • Extrapolate
  • Yes
  • Moxie
  • Rafiki (means friend)

 

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

  • Starting my internship
  • I would like to make a positive influence with the students I work with this year.
  • My wedding
  • Homework
  • Applying to grad school
  • Will this weather ever be consistent?
  • Spring break
  • My need to learn more popular [musical] repertoire
  • Upcoming national music therapy conference
  • Attacks on American Embassies

 

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

  • My mom always said that she hoped at any given point in life, if asked, she would want to be able to say she was growing, transitioning, and learning. I admire this.
  • My mom has made a big difference in my life by always giving me love and support, especially when I need it the most. She wants me to succeed.
  • My dad—always told me I can do whatever I want to do as long as I work hard at it.