A Promise of Success

A Promise of Success“If I didn’t have CIS in my life, I would not be a senior right now,” says LaShawnda Melton. “I would have given up and dropped out.”

It’s hard to imagine that this bright young woman who is a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School was on the cusp of dropping out, but she was. Like the nearly two million teens who find their hunger for learning dampened by depression, LaShawnda found herself struggling just to get out of bed in the morning. It was during her freshman year at Central that the school, concerned about LaShawnda’s attendance, reached out to CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “She was facing, and continues to face, challenging situations,” says Deborah. “She is a fighter, though. I coach her, connect her to supports—but it’s LaShawnda who puts in the work. We can provide all the services students need, but for progress to occur, they need to take advantage of them. LaShawnda comes to me, she seeks help, and puts in great effort.”

“Ms. Yarbrough’s been there with me every step of the way,” explains LaShawnda. “When I didn’t want to talk with anyone else, she helped me get my attendance and grades straight. Ms. Yarbrough, she acts like your momma. She pushes you. When she sees you doing wrong she fusses at you. She won’t help you if you don’t help yourself. She feels your pain.”

LaShawnda readily ticks off a number of resources and opportunities that her Site Coordinator has connected her to over the past four years: “JUMP [Just Unleashing My Potential focused on health & wellness, homework assistance and more, funded through The Greg Jennings Foundation], I’ve Got Next [a mentoring approach to attendance, made possible by AT&T Michigan], field trips, and college visits. Every year she connects me with counseling through WMU and Family & Children Services, dental services, tutors, and even school supplies when I’ve needed them. Ms. Yarbrough also led me to Ms. Aguilar, our Dean of Students, and she has been really helpful. She really cares and, just like Ms. Yarbrough, keeps me on track even with stuff going on in my life.”

On track to graduate this spring, LaShawnda wants to become a nurse practitioner and is considering Wayne State, Grand Valley, or Eastern Michigan. “I’m so thankful for The Kalamazoo Promise®,” she says. “I see my family struggling and The Promise gives us a lot of opportunities. I wish I could find the founders and thank them.”

LaShawnda shows her thanks every day by showing up to school and doing her best. It’s having a CIS Site Coordinator at her side, along with a combination of supports and the caring adults who provide them, that keeps her “not just focused on school but also thinking about my future.”

“It is amazing to see her resilience,” says Deborah, “and it is an outstanding testimony that through it all, she will be graduating and taking advantage of The Promise. I’m so proud of LaShawnda. This is just the beginning for her.”

All of the great work you’ve been reading about is made possible by people like you who volunteer with or donate to CIS. Please invest in local students and be a part of more success stories like LaShawnda’s.

Make a gift to CIS today.

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Roots And Wings

Today’s post comes from James Hissong, a former teacher within the Kalamazoo Public Schools. James is our Quality & Evaluation Coordinator.  He works within the downtown office and out at the CIS school sites, making sure we capture the right information. James assists us in using data to improve our programs, recording the services provided, and sharing the impact the community is having by working through CIS.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting  Communities In Schools site coordinator, Deb Yarbrough, at Kalamazoo Central High School. Although our meeting was intended to be a data review session for Deb, I found myself on the receiving end of a lesson that day.  As we scrolled through logs of services she has helped facilitate at the school this year, our meeting had to be put on hold several times as she attended to the needs of multiple students. It was during these moments that I was able to witness the true motto of a site coordinator with CIS (and the title of another great book); “Whatever it takes.”  Upon leaving, Deb began telling a story about a young woman who had just received her acceptance letter to Michigan State University.  Her story was like so many I have heard since joining the CIS team.  Life has given this student every excuse not to succeed but with the support of her school, the Kalamazoo community, and those working incredibly hard to connect the two, a life filled with opportunity awaits.

This young woman’s story of overcoming obstacles, never giving up, and rising to new heights brought the theme of a book that I am currently reading full circle in my mind.  The book is titled “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings,” by Kenneth Ginsburg.  Before I go any further I need to explain one important detail to someone who might be reading this.  Yes, I am reading a parenting book although I myself do not have any kids, and, no mom, I do not have any sort of related announcement to make!  Let me explain.  Part of the reason why I enjoy working for CIS is because  our focus is on the whole child.  I see the importance in the range of resources offered through CIS, from distributing basic needs items, providing services for the physical and emotional health of children, offering enriching experiences, and, of course, reinforcing academics as well. I believe all of these services can help contribute to build resiliency, or the power to overcome, in our students.

In his book, Kenneth Ginsburg focuses on what he calls the “7 C’s of resiliency.” He believes that competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control all form an interlocking web of skills that contribute to whether or not children are able to achieve success, even in the face of adversity.  In this book, he lays out both relatively simple and more complex ways to build these skills.  To sum up how a few of these “C’s” are interrelated, Ginsburg writes that, “Children need to experience competence to gain confidence. They need connections with an adult to reinforce those points of competence. They need character to know what they should contribute to their families and the world, and character is forged through deep connections to others. Contribution builds character and further strengthens connections.”  Many of these terms were exactly what I had the pleasure of watching take place in Deb’s interactions with her students.  As a community, I truly believe that if we can find ways to continue to impact these non-cognitive abilities, we will continue to hear more success stories like this one student from Kalamazoo Central.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in helping children succeed, not just the parents out there.

So while I may not have a child myself, as part of the CIS team, um, mom, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about my 12,000 kids… just kidding (kind of).