A Story of Success: The Gift of Achievement

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For eighth grader DeKarieon, the CIS support he’s received over the past three years at Hillside Middle School has done more than put him on the road to success in school and life. He’s also giving back by assisting other students and connecting them to CIS so they can get on track too.

“CIS has helped me with school,” he says. “I’m doing better academically. It’s helped me adjust my attitude and control my anger.” Upon meeting this calm and steady young man, it’s hard to imagine that behavior could have gotten in the way of his academics, but it did. “I would get in a couple of fights here and there,” explains DeKarieon. “My attitude, my anger, it just got in the way and I’d always be off.”

What made the difference? Getting connected to CIS. “Especially [CIS After School Coordinator] Ms. Katherine. She helped me mellow out…And then I could focus and get my homework done. I left for a while,” admits DeKarieon, as his desire to play sports conflicted with the after school support. “But then my grades started slipping again. I really want to get past high school and so I decided to come back…people like [CIS Youth Development Workers] Ms. Jay and Mr. Alex, they really helped me understand my homework and keep me focused.”

Through CIS, DeKarieon has learned to tap into his strengths to help him calm himself down and focus. “I’ll read a book, draw, or write.” DeKarieon notices a positive difference but says he isn’t yet where he wants to be. As he puts it, “I’m only half-way there.”

DeKarieon’s hard work is not going unnoticed. Ms. Jessica Jeffrey, who has been his science teacher for the past two years notes, “DeKarieon is a wonderful, polite, hard-working student. He has shown much growth and maturity in the time that I have known him. I am very proud of his accomplishments and I look forward to seeing all of the wonderful things he will do in the years to come!”

Precious Miller, CIS Site Coordinator at Hillside says, “DeKarieon is a true leader. He’s brought in several of his peers to my office. Some are in need of school supplies or some other basic need, others need snacks and some kind of support. He also advocates for students he thinks could benefit from the CIS After School Program.”

CIS After School Coordinator Katherine agrees. “He shines,” she says. “If he sees a student going off the rails, especially the younger ones, he speaks up. He’ll say, ‘Come on guys. Quiet down and listen.’ DeKarieon really is a leader. He is a kind person. He’s sensitive to other people’s feelings, and he reaches out to them.”

Empowered to succeed, thanks to the combined investment of his school, a supportive family, and the community working through CIS, DeKarieon’s future looks bright. Upon graduating from high school, DeKarieon is looking forward to taking advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise. He loves to write and tell stories and one day hopes to become a published author. He plans to attend Western Michigan University and study journalism.

If this is what “half-way there” looks like—striving to be his best as a student, exploring his gifts as an artist, writer, and musician, and helping others along the way—we can’t wait to see what it looks like when DeKarieon reaches the finish line!

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

Make a gift to CIS today.

This story was featured in our 2015-16 Annual Report. Click here to read the full report. 

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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Doing What It Takes To Get Her Promise Back

IMG_2959When JacQuese Steele graduated from Loy Norrix High School in 2008, she headed off to Michigan State University, fully intending to use the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise® to obtain a degree.

Bonnie Terrentine, CIS After School Coordinator for Lincoln International Studies and former Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program (KAAAP) staff  knew JacQuese as a young student at Chime Elementary, then Milwood Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, and then Loy Norrix High School. “She was extremely bright,” recalls Bonnie. “Talented, too. Even when she faced obstacles, she kept on going. She’s very resilient, a pioneer, really, as she was the first in her family to head off to college. I remember she had really supportive grandparents. She was just a great kid.”

JacQuese recalls Ms. Terrentine fondly and says that when she was in fourth grade, the KAAAP mentor she was connected to, Carol McGlinn, changed her future. (Initiated in 1992 by the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, KAAAP was later absorbed by CIS. It matched elementary students to a mentor committed to seeing the young person through high school graduation.)

JacQuese started doing better in school thanks to the tutoring support she received from her mentor. “I wouldn’t be able to read if it wasn’t for her [Ms. McGlinn]. She saved my reading life. She saved me.”

Yet, the transition from high school to college was challenging. “Going off to college was hard for me,” recalls JacQuese. “My family loved me. They were in support of me going and said, ‘Do it!’ but that was it. I needed someone to guide me. I needed help with the how. I realize nobody has a blueprint for you but when you go to college you need a game plan. I felt like I just got dropped off. ‘Do good,’ they told me. Okay, but how? What are the steps I need to take to get through college?”

A talented woman with a variety of interests, JacQuese found herself changing direction frequently and switching majors. While at Michigan State, she studied Communications, Interdisciplinary Arts and Humanities, Religious Studies, Social Work, and Theater.

It was at the start of her fifth year of college, her degree in sight, that things began to unravel. JacQuese’s grandfather, a great ally and whom she was very close to passed away on her first day back to school. To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, JacQuese was robbed. “My bank card was stolen and my entire bank account was wiped out. I was very depressed. I couldn’t pay the rent. I didn’t know what to do.” So, when a new opportunity arose, JacQuese dropped out of college and headed to Atlanta to “chase my singer-songwriter dream.” While JacQuese experienced some success with her musical career she ultimately determined “it ended up not being the opportunity for me that I thought it would be.” As she puts it, “The music industry, well, let’s just say snakes aren’t always low in the grass.”

Recently, JacQuese decided to return to Kalamazoo. Through Facebook, she connected with her former middle school math teacher, Diane Lang. They met for lunch, caught up, and talked about JacQuese’s future. Afterwards, with JacQuese’s blessing, Diane reached out to friend and Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Pam Kingery. Was there a way for JacQuese to get her The Kalamazoo Promise back?

And before September faded into October, JacQuese, with Diane Lang at her side, met with Bob Jorth, Executive Director of The Kalamazoo Promise®. Thanks to Bob, JacQuese got the information she needed and is now doing what it takes—including making a recent trip to Michigan State University—to finish what she started.

JacQuese couldn’t ask for a better cheerleader at her side—and someone to help navigate the how questions all college students have—than Diane Lang.

“This kid has tons of talent and positive energy,” says Diane. “She just needs to finish up her degree. I’m proud of her.”

“This time, I’ll be going back to college,” says JacQuese, “just  a little wiser.”

 

The Promises You Keep: CIS Connections

20150815-DSC_6724On Saturday, August 15th in beautiful downtown Bronson Park, this community celebrated the ten year anniversary of The Kalamazoo Promise®. At our CIS station we heard a mantra of thanks offered throughout the day:

“I wouldn’t be in college right now if it wasn’t for The Promise.”

“I still can’t believe we have this awesome gift in our community.”

“How can I help support The Promise through CIS? Can I volunteer? What can my business/organization do?”

But, it was what happened before the event, even before the park filled with people, that underscored the beauty of this tremendous gift.
While attempting to put up the tent, we were approached by a stooped, old man in dingy clothes. After explaining the event, the man replied: “I’m just a street person,” as if to apologize for his presence. “I don’t have kids in the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Am I even allowed to come to this event?”

“You are a part of this community,” we told him. “That means that you are also a part of The Promise. Help us celebrate!” His face lit up. He seemed to stand a little straighter. Before he left, he gave us the one gift he had—he generously blessed us.

There were a variety of community volunteers working together and our tent would not have been set up without their help. The recent words of Von Washington Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations for The Kalamazoo Promise® came to mind. He said, “The celebration in the park is designed for everyone in the community to come out, have some fun and revel in being a part of a city that enjoys this wonderful asset.”

No city, like no person, is perfect. We need each other to lift the tents that separate us from each other. The Promise is a wonderful reminder that we too, must be generous and give, however and whenever we can. We are responsible for each other and for making sure all of our kids can take advantage of the profound gift of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

So many of you work together with us to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them the hope and belief that they can succeed in school, graduate, and be prepared for life.

We thank you!

If you are reading this newsletter, you are a part of The Promise. Want to play a bigger role in helping Kalamazoo Public School students stay in school, graduate and be prepared to take advantage of the gift of The Kalamazoo Promise®? Volunteer, donate, or, partner with CIS today! Help us keep our promise.

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Fall 2015

About This Blog

This blog is a journey. Here we will share insights, challenges and successes of one communities’ response to confronting the drop out crisis. Ultimately, this blog shines the light on our children, who, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles, with the support of caring adults, are succeeding and able to take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

We at CIS think we have the best jobs in the world. As one of 181 affiliates throughout the United States, we have the privilege of being housed within eighteen KPS school buildings and seeing children succeeding every day due to the efforts these empowered kids and this community put forth. This blog is an attempt to bring you along with us.

As we say in our “About Us” page, “We want to introduce you to your 12,000 children and the hundreds of caring adults who are helping to raise them.”

So, dear reader, take hold of our hand. Together, we will walk into the lives of our children, peek into their classrooms, slip into their after school programming, stand by their side as they are tutored, have teeth cleaned, are fitted with glasses, provided with a food pack, or struggle to come to grips with a parent’s untimely death.

Along the way we will meet the talented teachers, hard working principals, and dedicated community volunteers and partners who are empowering our children to succeed. We will stop along the roadside of this winding path and celebrate our collective successes.