Pop Quiz: Stephanie Walther

Stephanie with students in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

 

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 Stephanie Walther, the former CIS site coordinator of El Sol Elementary School. Prior to her work with us, Stephanie served as a Peace Corp volunteer in El Salvador and taught in Honduras. Stephanie may have left Kalamazoo, but she continues to be all in for kids, having joined the Sante Fe CIS team in 2014 as the site coordinator at Aspen Community Magnet School in New Mexico.

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

POP QUIZ

Stephanie, you left your position as CIS site coordinator at El Sol Elementary School in 2014 and we still miss you. However, we feel good knowing you are still all in for kids and doing the same work at CIS of New Mexico. What drew you to New Mexico as well as continuing your work as a CIS site coordinator?

I was at a transitional point in my personal life and realized that staying in Kalamazoo wasn’t going to work out for me. It was very difficult for me to leave El Sol and CIS of Kalamazoo. I was surrounded by a community of support and I still miss everybody that I met out there.

While I was figuring out where I wanted to go next in my career, I often browsed the CIS National website to see if anything was available since I had had such a positive experience with CIS of Kalamazoo. It all still feels like a dream. I sent in my resume and heard back the same day. I instantly felt the same feeling of support from my phone conversations with the administrative staff here in Santa Fe. I knew we shared the goal of helping students achieve in life and succeed. I moved out here less than two weeks after accepting the job and I haven’t regretted one moment. Everybody I have met that works with CIS has such a good heart and I’m so happy to be able to continue to work with the organization and with people that share my vision for the youth in our country. As a site coordinator, I’ve realized the level of support needed in our public schools and the level of potential our students have. I feel lucky to be able to work with such amazing kids every day.

Stephanie (right) at 2014 Champs with CIS Board Member Jen Randall and CIS Champ Kawyie Cooper (middle).

We couldn’t help but notice on CIS of New Mexico’s website that there is a quote from your Gary De Sanctis, Principal  at Aspen Community Magnet School who says “So much of Stephanie’s work focuses on the social/emotional needs of our students and as a result so many more of our Aspen kids are able to focus and learn.” As you know, social and emotional needs are a big part of what CIS site coordinators in Kalamazoo work to meet. Can you  talk  about the social emotional needs your students face and what strategies and supports you are finding helpful to meet those needs?

As we all know, families go through their ups and downs. A lot of times parents and students are coming to a site coordinator during a difficult time in their lives. Difficult times happen to everybody.

Our job is to support the students and help them succeed in life. It seems very simple, but I find the most important part of doing my job is looking at each person as an individual human being that is going through life’s experiences. What works for one person doesn’t exactly work for another. Children also have different ways of taking on experiences and different supports in their homes. Working with the individual students and getting to know them is a big part. In Kalamazoo and in Santa Fe I’ve been lucky to work with several community partners to fulfill the social emotional needs of the students.  Getting to know the community and the resources available has been a lifesaver. We have been able to work on fulfilling the various social emotional needs of the students while they are at school and in a safe and caring environment.

Partnering with school staff to ensure we are working together to care of children’s social emotional needs is also key. It benefits the entire school community.

In your seven years as a CIS site coordinator–in both Kalamazoo and New Mexico–we know you’ve learned a lot about what it takes to helps kids succeed. If you could go back in time, what advice would you, now a seasoned Site Coordinator, give yourself starting out in this position.  

I would have given myself more time to let my caseload grow naturally. I was focused more on reaching a certain number of caseload students while I should have been focused on the individual needs of the students and the school. You cannot add a student to your caseload based on a test score or looking at their attendance.  It is important to talk to them and the people in their lives. Each year I find that building relationships with students and their families becomes more natural and I’m able to really gain trust with them.

What do you miss most about Kalamazoo?

I miss the access we had to wonderful mentors and tutors we had from Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. I know how much they impacted the lives of my students and acted as great role models. We just don’t have access to college students in Santa Fe. I miss the energy they brought to our students.

I also miss everybody at CIS of Kalamazoo and El Sol. There was such a great community feeling in the school and I always felt very supported by the staff members at the CIS main office.

We’re curious, what are you reading right now?

I’m reading The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. She has always been my favorite author and storyteller.

Stephanie, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!

Paying It Forward At An Early Age

20140506-DSC_7712 - CopyToday we celebrate the work of Kawyie Cooper who was honored at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jen Randall along with Stephanie Walther, CIS Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary School, presented the award. Following the award, Kawyie gave a speech.

If you saw our youngest Champ of all time coming down the hallway at King-Westwood Elementary School, you’d first be struck by her gigantic smile and bright eyes. As you’d get to know her a bit better, like her CIS Site Coordinator Laura Kaiser has, you’d find out what a caring, outgoing, friendly and hard working student Kawyie Cooper is. Over the past year, this fifth grader has embraced the CIS mission, empowering herself to take full advantage of the CIS resources Laura has connected her with to stay in school and achieve in life. Over a matter of months she made huge improvements in her reading, math, and behavior. How many grownups can boast that?

When AmeriCorps VISTA Maggie Orlieb started an Environmental Club, Kawyie enthusiastically got on board, serving as a positive leader within the group, full of ideas. “She really helped set the tone for the other kids,” says Laura. “She is a real leader.” This young leader is flourishing with the support of her parents, KPS teachers, and the efforts of yet another Champ, her tutor and mentor,Rosalie Novara. Funny, how that works, isn’t it?

20140506-DSC_7628Kawyie’s literacy teacher and 2010 Champ recipient, Ms. Killen, says this: “Kawyie has also made improvements in systems of organization and management.  She is able to arbitrate for herself, respectfully, when she disagrees with someone, and her classmates respect and admire her.” Ms. Cruz-Davis, her homeroom teacher, says this: “She is more responsible for her homework since the beginning of the year. Academically she has made improvements in allareas… “

It’s clear that Kawyie’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. When, during a school team meeting, the CIS Site Coordinator recommended that Kawyie serve as a mentor for a young student, the school team unanimously agreed.

20140506-DSC_7714Surrounded by a community of support, Kawyie is living out that CIS basic: an opportunity to give back peers and her community. She mentors a second grader, reviewing a daily checklist created by the CIS Site Coordinator to keep her young charge on track. Turns out, Kawyie is just what this second grade student needs: a caring, older student who is looking out for her, and always with that beautiful smile. With Kawyie’s support, this student is improving her own academics and behavior.

At the end of the day, the Site Coordinator will often catch a glimpse of Kawyie, taking her mentee’s hand, walking down the hall and out to the same bus they ride together.

Kawyie Cooper, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

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Llamas In Pajamas Go To Med School

Today’s post is written by Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives.

20140321-DSC_6072Pajama day at El Sol Elementary, complete with favorite stuffed animals, meets Mini-Medical School. It sounds crazy but that was the exciting combination that made Friday, March 24, a wonderful and memorable day at the school for students, teachers and guests.

El Sol students had a chance to get hands-on experience reading x-rays, cleaning (pretend) wounds, listening to heartbeats through stethoscopes, and peering into otoscopes to see the tympanic membrane, and who knows what else, in ears. They were able to talk to, learn from and examine medical residents from WMU Homer Stryker College of Medicine and medical students from MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The medical students and residents hosted six stations, each devoted to a separate health area.  Students visited each of the six stations in groups. Their final stop: a station where each student donned a child-size white coat and stethoscope and was photographed as a future medical graduate. What a great opportunity for our students who can all take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise®.

100_5120At one station devoted to bones, students had a chance to examine and read x-rays, and could also examine a model of the spine, feeling the small bumpy bones on the model and then feeling the same bones on their own spines. As well as learning about how to identify and repair a broken bone, students also learned about how to protect and strengthen their own bones so they can avoid breaks – by drinking milk, wearing a bike helmet, and wearing knee and elbow pads when skateboarding.

El Sol students also had a chance to show off their knowledge. One of the residents said he was impressed that a third grader knew where the smallest bone in the body can be found (in the ear, for those of us who aren’t so knowledgeable.)

20140321-DSC_6146Stephanie Walther, Communities In Schools Site Coordinator at El Sol, worked to schedule classrooms and ensure a smooth flow to the day. “The students really seemed to enjoy it and be engaged in what they were doing. They were learning and also having fun. The teachers were also very positive. One teacher said she hoped the Mini-Medical School will come back next year.”

A number of area legislators also stopped by and toured the Mini-Medical School. Senator Tonya Schuitmaker and Representatives Sean McCann and Margaret O’Brien had a chance to see the rich interaction between medical students and residents and enthusiastic elementary students who may one day walk in their shoes.

Thank you to the Michigan Osteopathic Association for the bringing the Mini-Medical School to El Sol and also to Dr. Joanne Baker who works so hard  to promote preventive medicine, health and physical fitness.

And those stylish pajamas and robes? One of the medical students said he wondered when he first arrived at the very casual attire. “I thought maybe it was how everyone dressed at the school.”

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