Tommy Lasorda once said, “There are three types of baseball players: Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happens.” The young men who make up the Kalamazoo College Baseball Team and choose to volunteer with CIS are the kind who make things happen.
Since January 2013, these players have been stepping up to the plate to support students at Edison Environmental Science Academy, both during the day and as part of the CIS after school program. Students and teachers alike look forward to the players coming each and every week. These young men can be counted on to be present and fully engaged with the students. Step into the school and you might find players serving as tutors, playground friends, and offering classroom support. After school, they might be sharing dinner, conversations, and participating in recess activities with students.
While faithfully serving at Edison, some have gone on to extend support to students at other CIS sites. Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator for Woodward School for Technology and Research, says that the two teammates supporting the Woodward students “show their passion and dedication to the students as much as if they were on the field practicing. They give 110% and the students always love when they come to volunteer.”
Edison’s CIS Site Coordinator Keely Novotny and After School Coordinator Stacy Jackson both say that it’s the team’s on-going commitment to building relationships, to mentoring and tutoring that is making a meaningful impact in the lives of the students.
The team’s head coach, Mike Ott, nurtures that sense of commitment, creating an environment in which the Hornets experience success as a team both on and off the field. Although the players maintain a full school schedule and admirable grade point averages, in addition to their baseball practices and games, they make it a priority in their busy schedules to connect with the KPS students. Some players have been that consistent presence since their freshman year and are now seniors, preparing to graduate.
Both school and CIS staff love how the students eagerly anticipate the arrival of the players. Even before the school bell rings to announce the start of day, it’s not uncommon to spot a first grader seeking out the CIS Site Coordinator and ask, “Mrs. Novotny, is Jack coming today?” Each time, she’ll say, “Yes, he’ll be here” and each time, he and all the other players prove her right.
I can’t stop thinking about a recent Friday. It was a no school day for Kalamazoo Public Schools and my son was quite excited by this fact. He loves school but we both were looking forward to the fun day we had planned together.
First on the agenda, a visit to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. We wanted to check out the temporary exhibition “Kalamazoo for the Union” and then hit the Planetariumshowing of Sky Legends of the Three Fires to learn three stories about the night sky from Native American people of western and northern Michigan. After that, lunch out and then a visit to the Kalamazoo Public Library.
As we bundled up to head out, I couldn’t help but think of all the kids for whom a day off from school is a day off from learning, a day off from having a warm meal. You’re a lucky kid, I told him. Some kids don’t get opportunities to do these kinds of things.
Anyway, we came out of “Kalamazoo for the Union,” the temporary exhibit (check it out before it leaves town in May) and started down the stairs. There was a woman, her back to us, talking to a group of elementary students, all standing in line, eager to go into the Kalamazoo Direct to You exhibit of Kalamazoo history. I was impressed by the children’s behavior. My son was impressed by what the woman said. “Mom, did you just hear what that lady told the kids? She told them to touch stuff!”
The woman continued preparing the students, asking them to pay attention to what they would be learning. “Remember to tell us what you learn about. We want to know what you discover!” she exclaimed and sent them, all wide-eyed into the exhibit. At just that moment she turned her head and I realized it was Calli Carpenter,CIS after school coordinator from Arcadia Elementary School! And there wasAmeriCorps VISTA Bumeun Lee. Later, at the Science in Motion exhibit, we ran intoYouth Development Worker Aleena Robinson and CIS after school coordinator Alexis Arocho from Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Students were busy exploring science through the hands-on exhibits. When we came out of the planetarium show we ran into CIS after school coordinator Jay Gross from Spring Valley Center for Exploration, CIS after school coordinator Phillip Hegwood from Woodward and dozens of others as students sat on the floor, eating lunch, talking and laughing.
Lindsey Westfall, CIS after school coordinator for Northglade Montessori noted that, for a number of students, it was their first visit to the museum; they were amazed that the wonders it held were right in their hometown. What a beautiful thing to behold. Young people from all over Kalamazoo having an opportunity to fully explore all the museum has to offer.
“These school kids are really good,” one parent commented to another as we left. And they were. While I credit the students, I also credit our staff. Everywhere I turned our kids were being supervised by CIS staff who were calm and positive and the kids were modeling their behavior. Staff had clearly prepared the students before and throughout the field trip so it would be an enriching experience.
When I shared these impressions with CIS Directors of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey and Linda Thompson, I learned that, because so many students (over 200) were eligible to participate in the field trip (to reinforce their 90% or better attendance rate for school day and CIS after school program) the museum was just one location of several. Some students tapped into their inner artist while painting tiles at Art Bayouand others, for the first time ever, sank tiny fingers into bowling balls and unleashed energy down the lanes at Airway Lanes.
“Thank you for giving us an opportunity to work with Communities In Schools today!” said Art Bayou owner, Palee Haney. “I think the kids had a lot of fun painting their tiles.” They did. As one student said, “It was just so peaceful.”
CIS after school coordinator for Washington Writers’ Academy Deondra Ramsey noted that at Airway Lanes it wasn’t just about bowling. “Students had a chance to interact with each other as well as staff on a different level, whether it was bumper cars, bowling, team work with laser tag, or playing together on some of the other games.”
When one student who had never bowled before discovered he loved the sport, DaMarceo Thomas was there to help hone this new found passion. A Youth development worker for CIS, DaMarceo worked one on one with the blossoming bowler, sharing techniques and tips, like proper stance, what pins to target, how to hold the ball, and how much power to put behind the release. “Listening and focusing attention can be a challenge and yet this student listened intently. It was really fun to see,” said Deondra. While most students bowled two rounds and moved on to other activities, he spent over two hours bowling and learning from his mistakes. “The more he played, the better he got.”
I am reminded of what Mickey Ciokajlo, editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette and mlive.com/kalamazoo wrote once, “CIS serves as the glue that ties together and coordinates the many services that we already have available in Kalamazoo.” Kalamazoo is rich in resources. Unfortunately, not every kid is as lucky as mine and able to tap into these resources. But this is what CIS is all about. We have friends, donors, partners, and volunteers who support CIS and allow us to replace luck with opportunity. A day off with a day on.