Jenee McDaniel: One of Many Afterschool Professionals We Hold in Our Heart

Did you know that it’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week? Did you know that, throughout the U.S., an estimated 10.2 million children participate in afterschool programs each year? Did you know that for the past 13 years, CIS of Kalamazoo has helped students succeed in school through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and currently serves 750 students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle school sites? CIS After School is available thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.*

Thanks to all of our wonderful Afterschool Professionals. Whether you are a CIS After School Coordinator, a Youth Development Worker, an Instructional Lead, an Evening Custodian, Bus Driver, Food Service Worker, a CIS Volunteer or Partner supporting our kids in one of the 15 after school sites, we thank you for extending our reach as a community into after school hours. None of us could not do this work without the support of Kalamazoo Public Schools: the KPS Administration, Transportation, Food Service, and the many Principals and Teachers. Thank you for supporting us as we provide high quality programs that focus on student success.

One way to honor and lift up the great work being done with kids by all afterschool professionals is to shine the spotlight on one of our own. So today, we feature Jenee McDaniel. She’s been with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) since 2010 and is the CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School.

A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Jenee attended Lakewood Elementary ( K-3 school that closed back in 2004), Edison, Milwood Middle, and graduated from Loy Norrix High School. Jenee moved to Detroit and obtained an associate’s degree at Wayne County Community College. She also lived in Cincinnati for a time. She moved back to Kalamazoo when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. We’re glad her mom’s doing great—and has been in remission for a long time now—and we’re glad Jenee chose to stick around Kalamazoo. Jenee continued to further her education, obtaining both her BSW and MSW in the School of Social Work at Western Michigan University.

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

                                                         POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

I keep learning more and more about myself. Just how to be more in tune with what is really important, and sweating the small stuff less.

What are you currently reading?

I’m studying for my clinical licensing exam so I’m looking over materials that relate to theories, medication, best practice, that kind of stuff.

What is your favorite word right now?

I honestly don’t have a favorite word.

You’re the first person we’ve interviewed who hasn’t had a favorite word!

[Jenee’s teammate Tamiko Garrett has briefly entered the room.] What about, “Hey, boo?”

That is a go-to greeting that I use often. LOL.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

The Promise. I also like the stance that our mayor and the city commission have taken and the commitment to being a city of welcome to all. With the political climate the way it is right now, I love that the city is taking this stance.

Thinking back to your student years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

In elementary school, when I went to Edison, my favorite teacher was my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Pulley. I believe she is still teaching or just retired from Spring Valley but she had been my teacher at Edison. I really connected with her. As an African American teacher, she looked and talked like my family and me. She was relatable, firm but fair, and you just knew that she cared. Not just that, but she would check up on me throughout my life; she’s the kind of person that remembers you after you’ve left and grown.

At Milwood Middle, it was my science teacher, Mr. Chuck Pearson. I’ve always liked science but the way he facilitated our class, he just made science so fun. In high school, my favorite teacher was Coach [Dob] Drake. I hated history and he taught history. The way he presented it, though, you couldn’t help but enjoy the class. He jumped on tables, things like that, and made it fun to learn. It was always a show and you always learned something. He was a good teacher. I never minded going to his class and I never once fell asleep. Still, today I hate history but I loved that class. Besides learning history, I learned something else from him: it’s the way things are presented that can make the difference.

Can you tell us something about yourself that people may be surprised to know?

I’m a sensitive person. Some people would find this really hard to believe!

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

My caring adult has been a combination of my mom, dad, and grandma. My mom was very structured and consistent. She may not have been a hugger, but she taught us how to be independent, responsible, accountable, and to maintain things. My grandma—she was a Southern woman and lived with my mom—she was business-like, and even though she had a lot of health issues, she taught me so many lessons and life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, self-respect, morals, and compassion. My dad did not live in the home with us but he was always just around the corner. Some would consider him more “street” but he was always available to us and always involved—which I consider a blessing—because that was not the case for so many around me growing up. He has always been about family. He was also the kind of dad who shows up for things. He came to all my school events, cheered the loudest, which was embarrassing then, but I appreciate it now. He was a man’s man, but I learned about feelings and emotions from him. He was affectionate, gave me compliments, told me he loved me, and it was always okay to not be okay.

Outside of my family, I would have to say Barb Howes has been that caring adult for me. School has always come easy to me but after getting my BSW, I was tired. I had a family situation that was going to require a lot and I didn’t want to go on to graduate school at the time. But because of Barb Howes, I did. She believed in me, knew I was capable, and expected nothing less from me.  Knowing all the obligations I had with family, she offered me a graduate assistantship and was an advisor, mentor, confidant, and still is one of the best people I have ever met.

Jenee, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids! And thanks for your on-going committment to helping our kids learn and grow in an after school setting!

We continue to talk with Jenee in our recently released newsletter, CIS Connections. Jenee and her CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett, share insights into what it takes to work together to help students stay in school and be successful.

*The federal budget for 2017-18  proposed by the President completely eliminates funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. To learn more and find out what you can do to assure our kids can continue to learn in the after school hours, read the latest “Double” themed issue of CIS Connections.

 

 

What Is Your Small Happiness?

img_7288sWelcome 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 PJ Buchholz, a third grade teacher at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School.

At Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we feel fortunate to work closely with wonderful and wise Kalamazoo Public School teachers like Ms. Buchholz. Ms. Buchholz is also featured in the CIS Annual Report and shares some of the benefits she sees by having CIS in her school. That report will be out soon, so be on the look out for it.

Alright, Ms. Buchholz: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve been hosting international students for a while. It’s very interesting. I’ve learned that we’re all so different in our cultures but we’re all so the same in our hearts.

I also learned about small happiness. One of the girls I’m hosting had to write a speech about how to be the best at something. She pondered this for quite a while and then wrote about “How to be the best at being happy.” She practiced her speech with me and said, “Happiness is not one big happy day but many small happinesses, like a compliment and a joke, coffee and dark chocolate.” She ended her speech by asking, “What is your small happiness?” Just wonderful.

In today’s environment of high stakes testing, a highly political culture, and working with students/families who struggle with getting their basic needs met, it is more important than ever to find our small happiness and help others  to find theirs. I’ve even started regularly asking my students, “What is your small happiness?”

Speaking of questions, according to Josef Albers, “Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” What other questions do you love to ask your students?

What are you good at? What do you love? What do you love to do? What do you think about when you play? Who do you play with? What do you like to play? How did you organize that? What are you going to do next about that? If you could ask one person, who would you ask?

Favorite word?

I have a series of favorite words right now: Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right?

ESPN’s series, The Undefeated, recently featured President Barack Obama. In this town hall format, he said we need to ask ourselves these three questions every day: Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right?

What are you currently reading?

I am Malala. It’s a memoir by the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai. I’m also reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I’m really into elder care and raising children. I see similarities between them.

How so?

My parents are getting up there. I see how they can become nervous and scared about things. It’s important to honor their ambiguity and their uncertainty about things. You have to do that with children, too.

What is one of your favorite things about being a teacher?

One of my favorite things is seeing how caring children are for other children. It’s why they like Harry Potter, right? It’s the children against the adults working together to figure things out. When you can get them to include the adult, when you can be part of their alliance too, be in it together, that’s really special. I just love seeing the inner circle of children working and playing and seeing the alliances they have for each other.

What is the hardest thing about being a teacher?

Knowing you can’t do everything, that it’s not possible to take care of every need and be efficient and be political and address every need in the classroom setting. Sometimes, you’re so busy dotting all the I’s and crossing the T’s that you have to just have to sit on the rug. You need to sit down and do great work with kids.

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

Kevin Campbell. He was my principal when I team taught sixth grade out at Spring Valley [Center for Exploration] with Dawn Kahler. Dawn has also been one of those caring adults for me, a mentor…Dawn is a science teacher now at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

We really explored and learned and had a lot of educational opportunities. We took advantage of them together, on behalf of students. Kevin recognized our skills, strength, and passion and always came knocking on that side of us, never the deficit side.

I want to be a strengths teacher and not a deficit teacher. I want to teach to students’ strengths and they both helped me teach to my strengths. My time with them made me want to continue to grow in this area and network, and be with other people who are like that. Coming at students from a strength-based approach, you don’t worry so much about crossing the I’s and T’s.

Also, another caring adult and mentor was Mary Hoyle. I worked with her throughout my 24 years in the Kalamazoo Public Schools—first at Woodward, Spring Valley, and later Milwood Magnet. I miss her. Mary taught me to be a fierce advocate…she was a good friend.

We miss Mary, too. Thank you, Ms. Buchholz.

And a big thank you to all you teachers out there who show up every day for our 12,000+ kids.

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Making Headlines With Good News: Literacy Buddies In Schools

IMG_5450The annual STAR awards were held last week. STAR, which stands for Sharing Time and Resources, is a partnership between Volunteer Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Gazette which, since 1986 has been recognizing the contributions of outstanding volunteers who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism.

This year, 3,292 volunteers were nominated for STAR Awards. Their 2014 combined giving was 70,949 hours. What a wonderful community we live in!

Here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, we share with you one of those nominations:  Literacy Buddies, nominated within the “Youth Group Volunteer” category. Come back in two weeks, when we’ll feature CIS volunteer Patrick “Pat” Early, nominated within the “Adult Volunteer” category. The final winners within each of the 14 volunteering categories can be found here.

Actually, come back this MONDAY. For the past three years we have run our posts on Tuesdays but are making an exception to run a special Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids post from two passionate people who put kids first. You won’t want to miss it.

Literacy Buddies, which began in 2011 thanks to a State Farm grant awarded to CIS, pairs high school students with second grade students in order to improve reading, writing, homework, and vocabulary skills. Acting as positive role models, high school students offer one-on-one support to help motivate success for younger kids.

In 2014 the Kalamazoo Public high school students participating in the program volunteered 580 hours at Spring Valley Center for Exploration and Arcadia Elementary School.

An opportunity to give back to peers and the community is one of the five basics CIS believes all kids need and deserve. Literacy Buddies does just that. Older students see themselves as leaders; they see themselves as having something to offer their community and as part of that community. While the program provides younger students with a learning link to what high school might be like for them, it also teaches older students lessons in responsibility and commitment.

 Demond Jackson, a high school student and third year participant in Literacy Buddiesat Arcadia, said, It’s a really great program. I recommend it to anyone. It’s been a great experience. I didn’t have anyone to help me at this age. Now I’ve been giving back and have grown attached to working with these kids. I love seeing their smiles. I love helping them understand their work and giving them someone to look up to. I don’t plan to stop.”

IMG_1622eDeborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central, echoes the tremendous growth she’s seen in her students after participating in this program. “They come back year after year. They stand a little bit taller when they see themselves giving back to their community. A student just told me today ‘This is the best year yet!’”

Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended a three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall recently held in New Orleans. Sitting on a panel there, she stated her experience in high school: “I’m not a leader, I’m a shy introvert—no one is going to follow my lead…. Communities In Schools told me, ‘You do have leadership qualities, you are a leader.’ But I didn’t embrace that until [participating with] Literacy Buddies.” Given the opportunity to work through her fears in order to emerge as a role model, Dominique, like many of the current high school buddies, has developed self-confidence and owns her leadership skills.

IMG_1292eeLiteracy Buddies is lifting the self-esteem and confidence of all students who participate in the program. As  Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley says, “The impact goes beyond the academic piece. Relationship building made a difference on both sides…The program also teaches high schoolers how to give back and shows young children that it’s not just older people who can participate in community service.”

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Shout Out To Secretaries

Here’s a not so well-kept secret: secretaries make the world go ‘round. If you are a parent, volunteer, or partner with us you know that the secretary is often the first face you encounter upon entering a school building. The role of the secretary is key not only to the overall functioning of a school, but to the success of our community partnerships and volunteer efforts. To all administrative professionals sprinkled throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, thank you for all you do. You help us surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Given that Wednesday is Administrative Professionals Day in the United States, we thought we’d share what a few of our CIS staff have to say about their schools’ secretaries:

Angie Boyd and Karen Brooks provide me with prompt and accurate information whenever I need it, have a great sense of humor, communicate with me when they notice students in need of services, and always do what they can to support the services offered through Communities In Schools.

Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood Elementary

 

Our secretaries are amazing! Mrs. Zook and Mrs. Vandyke are thoroughly committed to our students and they take every opportunity to connect them to CIS and other resources. We couldn’t do it without them.

Emily Demorest, CIS After School Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

 

Spring Valley’s secretary, Mrs. Prevo, is very supportive of CIS and we appreciate all of her assistance.

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator & Jay Gross, CIS After School Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration

 

A special shout out to Gail Bunschoten:  Northglade Montessori Magnet Elementary has a very caring secretary. She delivers superior customer service and always has a smile on her face. She’s a fantastic caregiver for the students who visit! Thank you.

Brenda Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA, on behalf of CIS Site Team at Northglade Montessori

 

Julie Davis is a lot of things to students, staff, and parents, at Arcadia. When it comes to CIS, she is there for whenever and whatever we need. When we seek her wisdom, she always offers her full attention. She provides proof-reading skills to notes we send home to parents. She is always helpful. We can’t help but leave her office laughing and feeling lighter. Thank you, Julie, for all things tangible as well as invisible that you provide!

Gulnar Husain, CIS Site Coordinator and Calli Carpenter, CIS After School Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School

 

Pam Storher and Joy Vandepol are amazing at their jobs and all the in between. During our massive all-building move they were instrumental in keeping everyone on track with information that we needed to know. Once in the new building they worked hard to make students and parents feel welcomed and reassured about the changes. Pam and Joy are always willing to put their work on hold to hear what we need and are always on top of getting us the information quickly. Our day to day lives would not run as smoothly or efficiently without their help. We appreciate their tireless work to help our students, families and staff be successful!

Elisabeth Finch, CIS Site Coordinator and Deondra Ramsey, CIS After School Coordinator at Washington Writers’ Academy

 

A special shout out to Ann Campbell and Sheri Ferrari: Parkwood Upjohn Elementary has the best “Dynamic Duo” in the world. They demonstrate compassion and deliver superior customer service to everyone who comes through the front doors. They greet everyone with a warm smile and have a warm approach to whoever graces their presence. They always carry themselves in a professional way. Thank you both.

Brenda Johnson, AmeriCorps VISTA on behalf of Parkwood CIS Site Team

 

Mrs. Carol and Mrs. Peggy of Edison elementary

You know the names of 386 kids by face
teachers, staff, volunteers and all others who’ve tread
the path from silver door button to sign in sheet.
You answer an endless amount of questions with a smile.
Those you know not are looked into honestly
and you lend your aid without batting an eye.

Any parent or disgruntled child can be calmed,
any hungry late-comers fed from your secret goodie drawer,
any creature loved, even our therapy dogs,
any phone calls taken, made or transferred,
any accident or problem solved.

Mrs. Peggy, dear, you’ll be missed.
To stay, we wish you could be convinced.
From your colleagues and kids
we love you and will never forget you, even off the grid.
Our own Edison awesome, always remembered, our best.

To the two on the front lines—
both dearly beloved, one nearly retired—
thank you both for being amazing.
Shout out to you two, our favorite secretaries.
You both have caring hearts, positivity, and give of your time.
You’re both truly cherished and inspire our lives.

Nick Baxter, VISTA, took the sentiments of his CIS Site Team at Edison Environmental Science Academy Gerald Brown, CIS Site Coordinator & Stacy Salter, CIS After School Coordinator and wrote the above poem. 

These (photo below) are the secretaries that we adore at Woods Lake. We could never navigate a day without them. XXOO

Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator and Donielle Hetrick, CIS After School Coordinator at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

Fabulous-Secretaries

Pop Quiz: William Hawkins

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KPS Principal William Hawkins with CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio during the 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards.

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 Mr. William Hawkins, who has been serving as principal at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past two years. Prior to this he was at Woods Lake for the past fifteen years, five as principal and the first ten as a teacher. What you may not know is that he comes from a long line of educators. He grew up in Flint where his mother was a principal. His grandmother was a teacher as was his great grandmother. His own mother encouraged him not to go into education! It was a hard job then and it is a hard job now. In this instance, our 12,000+ kids are fortunate that a young man didn’t listen to his mother! (Mr. Hawkins said his mom is now happy with his decision to enter education.)

We popped this quiz on Mr. Hawkins back in November, during the first snow day of the season.

Alright, Principal Hawkins: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?  I’m always looking for facts. My wife tells me I should be on Jeopardy.  “How did you know that answer?” she’s always asking as we are watching the show. I do enjoy learning interesting facts and trivia. One day I might apply to appear on Jeopardy. I’d probably be in second place by the end of the show.

Tell us an interesting fact or piece of trivia. 

There is a new tree planted at the capital of Washington D.C. in honor of Emmitt Till.

What kind of tree is it? Do you know?

Sycamore.

What are you currently reading?

Currently I’m reading Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument. It’s that time of year when I’m in classrooms doing evaluations. I want to make the process meaningful for teachers and myself. The Charlotte Danielson model helps with that. It is a collaborative structure where there’s both a pre-observation and post observation conference. The process is reflective for the teachers. It’s not just me going through classrooms with a checklist. It is a collaborative process; teachers have input. The tool is designed to create an environment where you reflect on your process, improve in areas of weakness and build upon your strengths.

Speaking of strengths, what is one of yours?

For me? Dealing with parents. Communicating with parents and students and being the link that connects parents to the school.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Originally, I was going to be a professional football player and play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were my favorite team growing up. Lynn Swann, “Mean” Joe Greene….all the greats.

I’ll tell you a little bit of trivia about the Steelers. Did you know that they were the first NFL team to have a cheerleading squad?  

I didn’t know that. You need to be on Jeopardy.

I wouldn’t do well with geography questions. And I only know that bit of trivia because I lived in Pittsburgh for a time and one of my best friend’s mom—Norreen Modery—was a Pittsburgh Steelerette. So, back to you. What is your favorite word right now?

Achievement.

Tell us something more about you.

My experience in education—elementary all the way through high school –was a positive one. It is my goal to help the children that I serve have a positive learning experience as well. That is why I am in education. And being in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the home of the Promise, there is an extra added incentive to make education an enjoyable experience for all students.

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

First and foremost my family: my mother, father, and grandparents. And then there was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hall. I remember we read the The Hobbit.

She read it to you?

No, we read it. “He can’t read that,” said a bookfair representative who was visiting the school. I read some of it to him and he was amazed. “I guess we have to get him the book, Lord of the Rings, now.” And he did.

That’s wonderful having caring adults encouraging you to really push yourself when it came to reading.

Yes. And then there was Mr. Alexander, my sixth grade teacher and the first male teacher I had. He motivated me, got the best out of me. High school was Mrs. Foster. She was my Spanish teacher and also the cadet teaching program teacher. This program gave me the opportunity to do a pre-teaching internship while I was still in high school. Mrs. Foster encouraged me to go further into education and encouraged me to minor in Spanish and it is because of her I am also certified to teach Spanish.

Thank you, Mr. Hawkins!

Mr. Hawkins is one of the people featured in the video that was created to celebrate the work of his CIS site coordinator, Martha Serio on her Unsung Hero Award. You can watch it here.

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Singing Loudly And Proudly Of Unsung Heroes

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Kalamazoo at 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards in New Orleans, LA. Also pictured, Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman of Communities In Schools, Inc. (left) and Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, Inc. (third from right at back).

Question: What does Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and California have in common with Kalamazoo, Michigan?

Answer: They have CIS Site Coordinators and public schools who have just received the prestigious Unsung Heroes Awards.

The Unsung Heroes Awards annually honor CIS site coordinators, and schools and communities that partner with Communities In Schools to change the picture of education in America. CIS site coordinators work in more than 2,200 K-12 public schools serving 1.3 million young people and their families every year. Together, site coordinators, schools and communities keep kids in school, and this award recognizes those that are doing whatever it takes to eliminate barriers and never giving up, on anyone.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Spring Valley Center for Exploration Principal William Hawkins, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

Last year, you may recall, Kalamazoo was one of four communities in the country given a “Community of Excellence” award by National CIS. This year, Kalamazoo won in two areas!

Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

“I am truly honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award,” said Serio. “I love being a Site Coordinator for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I am able to connect students with over 40 fabulous volunteers and community partners they need to succeed because of the support I receive from my Principal, Mr. William Hawkins and the Spring Valley teachers, staff, parents, and CIS staff. Here at Spring Valley, we are all a team.”Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past nine years, is one of five individuals to receive an Unsung Hero Award.

Arcadia Elementary School, committed to the CIS model for more than 13 years, was one of four sites honored in the school category by the national Communities In Schools’ network. The award highlights successful implementation of the proven site coordinator model in a partner school.

(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.
(From left) CIS Site Coordinator Gulnar Husain, CIS Director of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey, Arcadia Principal Greg Socha, KPS School Board President Patti Scholler-Barber.

“Arcadia Elementary School is a shining example of what can happen when we work together for kids. This award is shared by all of us—The Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, our volunteers, partners, and donors—all dedicated to meeting students’ needs,” said Pam Kingery executive director, CIS of Kalamazoo. “Along with the talented KPS teachers, staff, and administrators, we will continue working with the community to serve the students at Arcadia as well as students in the nineteen additional KPS schools that CIS is in.”  You can watch the Arcadia video by clicking here.

In addition, Dominique Edwards, a Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and former CIS Board member, attended the three-day CIS Leadership Town Hall and also made Kalamazoo proud—serving on the Mission Possible: Communities In Schools Alumni panel. Keep reading Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and you’ll learn what she is up to. (We had a chance to pop our “pop quiz” on her as she waited in the New Orleans airport for her flight home.)

Pop Quiz: Andrew From Spring Valley Center For Exploration

IMG_2188I recently sat down with Andrew Hedgpeth, a second grader in Mrs. McCurley’s class at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. He is also in his second year with the Writer’s Workshop, a program run by a group of CIS volunteers. As Andrew explains, “Every Wednesday during recess time about five of us meet in the library and work on our books. The first time that I started doing this, I knew [CIS Site Coordinator] Ms. Martha put me in the perfect place. I love to write and have been doing it for a long time now.” Andrew has authored three books so far and dedicates his latest, Twice the Basketball, “to my family and my cousin Ethen.” The book begins and ends with Andrew eating a hotdog. “I really like this ending,” Andrew says and then with a laugh, adds, “Hotdogs, too!”

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

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

You can write about anything you want to write about when it comes to writing. I have written about basketball, a type of vegetable, and the first book I ever wrote was about monster trucks. I’m part of the writing workshops where we do a lot of things to make books and so I’ve written about a lot of things. I write books in my class also. Writing is one of my favorite things to do.

What are you currently reading?

Books about aliens and interesting things like that. In fact, I wrote a book called Alien Invasion. I wrote it all by myself with no helping.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I will go to the one my mom went to.

What college is that?

I can’t remember but I’ll definitely go there. See, I want to be a professional book writer. I will write about funny things and send them to my friends and family and they will send them on to their friends and families so a whole lot of people will read my books.

What is your favorite word right now?

Just one word?

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Illustration featured in Andrew’s book, Twice the Basketball

That’s kind of hard for a writer to think of just one word isn’t it?

Yes it is!

Well, then, what are a few of your favorites?

Aliens, monster trucks, basketball, lions, and horses.

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

Playing my last game of basketball. I am undefeatable.

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

My mom, my dad and some of my family. They help me spell words and do those kind of things to help me be a good student. My teacher, Mrs. McCurley, and my classmates all care too. And all the writing workshop people. Ms. Martha, too.

We Can’t Have a Strong America with Weak Kids

Hunger, by its very nature, takes bites out of academic success. When a child is hungry, it impacts that child’s ability to learn. It’s harder to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, it’s difficult to focus on reading, and to regulate behavior. A chronically hungry child is worried when and where their next meal will come from.

I had written the above words and then met Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. Actually, we didn’t really meet and Mr. Shore has no clue who I am. I was just one in the crowd when he stepped out to the podium the day after the Awards of Excellence celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s just that he was so engaging, funny, and thoughtful that I felt like we met. He said a lot of important things in his speech but what has stuck with me is this: “We can’t have a strong America with weak kids.”

In America, there are 11 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade who live in poverty. That is, as Mr. Shore pointed out, a lot of children coming to school in a state of distress, sitting at their desks “fundamentally compromised in their learning…plopping them in front of a great teacher” does not solve the problem. If anything, it is, in the eyes of Mr. Shore “setting children up to fail.”

Since 2003, here in Kalamazoo we have learned that if we can send kids home with food on Fridays, they return to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn.

Thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Friday Foodpacks have been one of the “tools” CIS Site Coordinators pull out of their tool box of resources to help. Just last school year, 750 elementary students received a weekly foodpack while food pantries served students in El Sol Elementary and all six secondary schools.

As third grade Kalamazoo Public School teacher P.J. Bucholtz puts it, “No amount of love in the world can fill an empty tummy.” Only food can do that. And it is only because of the efforts of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, Anne Lipsey, the entire KLF staff and their board that our Site Coordinators, with the support of many organizations and volunteers can get Friday Foodpacks into the hands–and tummies–of our hungriest of children. For students like Charles (not his real name), it can make all the difference.

Identified this year by his CIS Site Coordinator as someone who could benefit fromFriday Foodpacks, Charles was looking forward to receiving his pack. At the same time, it so happened his school, like many schools, was engaged in a food drive. So when Friday arrived and his Site Coordinator gave him his first ever foodpack, he informed her he was going to donate all of it to the food drive. After all, he knows what it feels like to be hungry. He is hungry a lot. Weekends especially.

She looked into eager eyes and in her wisdom said, “How about this time you pick one thing from your bag to donate? Just this one time, okay?”

He loved the idea. So, he parted with one item and then went home, with dignity and food still in his pack.

Upon hearing this story, CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery replied, “Loaves & Fishes is about feeding hungry people, but it is also about dignity.” How true. One of the hunger stories noted on the KLF website quotes someone as saying, “KLF volunteers always made me feel like somebody instead of nothing.” Our Site Coordinators and community volunteers are doing the same thing within the schools. Providing both access to food and embodying the KLF values: respect, diversity & inclusion, stewardship & accountability, integrity, collaboration, urgency, and service.

By working through us within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes taps into the heart of one of our values or what we refer to as a “CIS basic”:  that all children deserve a healthy start in life. And, for one little boy, who, according to the Site Coordinator is now eating every last crumb in his pack, it spoke to another CIS basic, the opportunity to give back to peers and community.

We are thankful for the ongoing commitment of members of this community who make it possible for our children to arrive to school on Monday more focused and ready to learn. Milwood Christian Reformed Church (MRC helped pilot this program back in 2003) both carry out the foodpack distribution at Milwood Elementary and financially support this program. And when MCR volunteers Helen Anderson and Thelma Vantill go on vacation they find people from the church to step in while they’re gone. Mt. Zion financially supports the foodpacks at Northglade. Workers who are part of the MRC Industries sheltered workshop pack food into bags for Edison and Spring Valley each week. Out at other KPS schools, our kids rely on CIS volunteers like Allison Leonard (Parkwood Upjohn), Rose Blackwood (Prairie Ridge), and Cortney Afton (Lincoln) to make sure the packs get to kids in time for the weekend.

CIS Site Coordinator Leslie Poucher Pratt refers to these foodpack volunteers as “All Stars.” We couldn’t agree more.

Director of Volunteer Services, Abby Nappier, says we still need a number of volunteers to help deliver foodpacks to children within several schools. So, if you or someone you know may want to volunteer, click here.

There is, Mr. Shore reminds us, much work to be done when it comes to eradicating child hunger. Until then, we will only be as strong as our weakest child.

A version of Charles’ story first ran in Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes newsletter. You can find it here.