I am

marigoldHere is a lovely poem written by seven-year-old Sevati. She wrote this during the CIS Think Summer! program.* Sevati attends Woods Lake Elementary School: A Magnet Center for the Arts. She is also part of Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, a partnership among The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Communities In Schools. What a talented young lady!

 

 

 

I am

I am a seed
I wonder what I will be
I hear sounds
I see dirt in the ground
I want to be a beautiful flower
I am a sprout

I pretend I’m not there
I feel lonely when I don’t have friends
I touch my eyes
I worry I’m not going to grow
I cry when I’m sad
I am a stem

I understand I’m growing
I say I can be whatever I choose
I dream I’ll be a beautiful flower
I try not to cry when I’m sad
I hope I’m a flower
I am a beautiful flower

                      -Sevati

 

*CIS Think Summer! is funded by the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers).

Introduction To Mindfulness: How It Helps Students

Today’s guest blogger is Jessica Smith, Western Michigan University MSW Intern at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. 

Jessica-300x300My name is Jessica Smith, I am an MSW (Masters of Social Work) intern at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary through Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I graduated from Ferris State University in May 2014 with a Bachelor of Social Work and a Bachelor of Science in Technical and Professional Communication. I am pursuing my School of Social Work certificate and I will be graduating with my MSW in April 2016.

Since I began my internship with CIS, I was invited by Deb Faling of CIS to help run a mindfulness group at Woods Lake Elementary School, which hosts the after school program, Kids In Tune.

Prior to helping run the mindfulness groups, I was not aware of just how useful mindfulness can be in helping with concentration, focus, managing emotions and creating a more peaceful environment. I’ve practiced it myself and have noticed it has a positive effect on my thoughts and feelings.

What exactly is mindfulness and how does it help students?

Mindfulness is defined as, “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” (Source: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition)

Many students in the mindfulness group have expressed positive feelings about the activity. Students have said they feel more “calm” and “relaxed” as a result of practicing mindful behaviors and mindfulness-oriented activities.

I’ve observed that students in the mindfulness group are indeed calmer, more aware of their feelings, their environment and demonstrate compassion towards themselves and others. They have demonstrated more patience and appear to be more “present” in the exact moment they are in.

I will be writing a series on mindful activities the students of the mindfulness group at Kids In Tune have been doing all year long:

Upcoming topics of mindful activities:

• Mindful breathing
• Mindful seeing
• Mindful hearing
• Mindful walking
• Mindful eating

My first post in the series will be about mindful breathing, which will be published in the upcoming weeks. Check out “Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids” for the latest on CIS news and events.

Twelve Days Of Kindness

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12 Days of Kindness Calendar

We’re taking the next two weeks off from blogging and will return here to meet up with you again in January. To tide you over until then, we thought we’d share a really cool and kind idea: the Twelve Days of Kindness.

In December, each day after school, students at Woods Lake began focusing on acts of kindness. As part of Kids in Tune (a partnership of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and Kalamazoo Public Schools) one student has been reading out loud the day’s theme to the rest of the students and then everyone practices that theme. Students carry forward the themes of each day, adding to their musical and kindness repertoire. Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives says the students have responded overwhelmingly to the activity. “Each day, a number of teachers, staff, Kids in Tune volunteers have had opportunities to pass out ‘kindness coupons.’ There were a variety of incentives associated with the Twelve Days of Kindness, including rounds of applause from their fellow Kids in Tuners. It’s been fun for kids and grown-ups, alike!” The themes, which Deb and Eric Barth came up with and incorporated into December programming were:
A1_EveryDayPlease and Thank You Day

Be Kind to Your Instrument Day

Kind Smiles Day

Kind Words and Compliments Day

Kind Listening Day

Be Kind to Your School Day

Post-it Notes of Kindness Day

Kindness Crafts Day

Kindness Chain Day

Write Kind Letters Day

Be a Kind Helper Day

Culmination of Kindness Day

When was the last time you did something kind? What acts of kindness have you benefitted from? Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that “you cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” So, during these next few weeks, let’s all do some kindness while we still have time. See you back here in January.

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One of the many kindness letters written

Math, Music, And Refrigerators

_DSC0746Today’s post is written by our CIS friend and partner, Kalamazoo College Professor  Dr. Eric “Rick” Barth.

newspaper-clipping-of-Ricky-BarthLet’s begin with an old clipping from my home-town newspaper, dating back to the 1960s (right).

The picture shows a small-town businessman (my father) watching as a toddler (me) pushes on the side of a refrigerator, equipped with a long-forgotten bit of technology that was meant to make an easy job of moving, and cleaning behind, heavy kitchen appliances. I’m pretty sure that gadget never caught on with the buying public, but my dad always had his eyes open for the “next big thing” and hey, you never know…

This story could go lots of ways from here: how about “That was the day I learned the importance of cleaning under my fridge”? Instead, when I see that yellow newspaper, I think “That was one of the many days in my life that I got the chance to try something big and, because of all the supportive people around me, didn’t have to worry that something good wouldn’t come of it.”

That toddler spent the next 30 years working in Dad’s appliance store and studying in rural Kansas public schools, getting his degree at music school from the University of Kansas, getting married, working in more appliance stores, getting his Ph.D. in mathematics, moving to New York City and finally to Kalamazoo with two little boys of his own, to teach at Kalamazoo College. That history is a series of big opportunities, big changes, big challenges, big trials, and big joys. All big things that I was able to attempt without (much) fear because of all the supportive people around me.

Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park
Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park

What’s the next big thing? For me it’s combining my work at the College with my role as Curriculum Director at Kids in Tune. KiT is a family business for sure. The founder and director is Liz Youker, a fellow KU music alum with an unmistakable can-do spirit. My son Thomas started the Woods Lake Elementary cello club while in high school and merged that into the brand-new KiT program when it began in 2011, teaching in the program until last fall when he went off to music school. My wife Deb Faling — we met in music school at Kansas and have been collaborating on one crazy thing after another for almost 30 years — is the KiT associate director. And we spend so much time and work so closely with site coordinator Donielle Hetrick and ISS director of elementary sites, Linda Thompson, that they merit status of at least honorary “favorite cousins”!

So what happens at Kids in Tune that makes us all invest so much? How about this as an example: One day after we’d been rehearsing a portion of Mahler’s Symphony #1, a group of students came to me and asked “When do we start Symphony #2?”. It was clear to me in that moment that those kids were experiencing the power of great art in their own way and that they were seeing their life in the program as a great adventure where they are confident that every hard-earned and well-deserved discovery is followed by another one. I hope that by bringing our best to KiT students every day, we provide the opportunity for all 85 of them, every one, to try big things with an expectation that something great will happen, and without any worry that it won’t.

One Man’s Charitable Odyssey

100_4111-edit no tonyWe recently welcomed a most amazing and interesting person into our midst. Imagine making it your personal mission to seek out and perform a charitable act in every state throughout this country that you haven’t yet visited (37 to be exact). Sounds almost impossible but that is exactly what one man has set out to do. And here in Michigan, we were fortunate to have him touch down in Kalamazoo. He came bearing gifts and distributed much needed items out at Woods Lake Elementary School. But, we’ll let him tell you about his visit in his own words. The following post originally ran last week on his own blog site, 37people.

This week I continued my journey of giving, but it was just a short week with only two more states visited. Despite it being such a short week, I think that I am now starting to learn more about what this journey of giving really means to me and how it is changing the way I think about what I am doing. First I’ll tell you about MI (followed by IN), and you will see a common theme that was very evident this week (something I’m starting to hear more about lately, across various organizations). I will then talk about this common theme in a bit more depth (I’ll start explaining it in this MI post and finish it in my IN post) and what it has started me thinking about for the future.

On Monday I had the sincere pleasure of visiting the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) in Kalamazoo, MI. I don’t think I could do a better job of explaining what CIS does than what they have on their site, so let me start with that:

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) brings together the support of hundreds of volunteers and local organizations to meet student needs at school–before, during, or after class–so that outside problems interfere less with learning and plans to stay in school and graduate on time.

100_4096-edit (600x800)CIS works within the Kalamazoo Public Schools system, determining school and student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources to students.  Whether it’s tutoring in math, a pair of eyeglasses, a new pair of socks, a backpack full of food for the weekend, or a safe place to hang out after school, when these needs are met, students can concentrate on learning.

One of the after school programs CIS coordinates is called Kids in Tune (KIT), and I was able to visit their KKIT program being run at a local school.  KKIT is “a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” and I was able to provide some needed supplies for this program: five cello and five violin bows (these are one of the items that frequently need repair or replacement); 10 Suzuki cello and 10 Suzuki violin CDs (every student who learns to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on their cello or violin has a special graduation ceremony and receives their own copy of the CD to take home and listen to); and 37 song flutes (used by the 1st grade students as they learn the musical basics prior to starting on the traditional orchestral instruments).

Let me briefly explain why I did not stop smiling during my entire visit.  I was first taken to one of their special graduation ceremonies where a 3rd grade girl, who only picked up a cello in June, was about to play an advanced version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in order to graduate to the next level.  And to top it all off, she was playing in front of an audience with a guest from NJ (talk about added pressure!). Well she did a fantastic job and put on an amazing performance. At the end of her performance, when her instructor notified her that she had graduated, I was given the honor of presenting her with a Suzuki cello CD :-)

My next stop was to a class learning the violin, also made up of very young children. I arrived towards the end of their lesson where I was then treated to a very special performance. I cannot begin to explain how impressed I was at not only the way they played, but also how well they were being taught too. It was clearly evident on their little faces how much they were enjoying the experience.

100_4107I have actually jumped ahead a bit, so let me take a step back while at the same time summarizing my thoughts about this day.  Before going to the school, I spent some time talking to the amazing people who work at and run CIS at their office. What they do (as I quoted above), and the model that they have employed to do this is something that really resonated with me. It is such a simple but powerful concept – bring what the students need right to them by partnering with the right groups and people.  And it’s so much more than just music of course (but I’m super happy music is a part of it!). I asked CIS about some of the positive benefits they have seen as a result of this model. One thing they have found is that attendance at school is up with students being much more interested and engaged in school, which of course makes perfect sense. But let me talk about something else.  Earlier I mentioned a common theme for this week. I found the following talking about KIT:

It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment.  As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more. Like how to express her feelings better. I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”

I think there are enough articles out there extolling the benefits of a strong family, and strong family participation in education, that has a direct correlation with student success and graduation rates. To me, this is the real strength of this truly wonderful program and the people who run it. Not only are they bringing positive change to the lives of these students, but they are also positively impacting their families. This is something I will come back to in my IN post.

But I do want to mention one last thing. I was told about The Kalamazoo Promise®, and once I explain it I think it will perfectly tie all of this together. In 2005 a group of anonymous donors pledged tens of millions of dollars to pay up to 100% of the tuition to a Michigan college or university for any Kalamazoo public high school graduate! And therein lies the challenge for Kalamazoo – getting their students to graduate and be accepted for post-secondary education. This is exactly why an organization like CIS is so valuable to the Kalamazoo community.

Check out his blog, 37people, to see where else his journey is taking him.

Pop Quiz: Liz Youker

Liz Youker, Kalamazoo Symphony OrchestraAs Director of Education for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Liz Youker has been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping to establish Kids in Tune (KIT)—a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra—at Woods Lake Elementary School: A Magnet Center for the Arts. Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Initiatives credits Liz’s steady and supportive presence with helping to imbed KIT within the school culture. “Liz is the heart and soul of KIT,” Deb says. “Without her, the program would literally not exist. Her thoughtfulness, her vision, her warmth and her work ethic helped to bring this program to Kalamazoo and to the very lucky students of the CIS after school program at Woods Lake.”

Over tasty tea and coffee at Caffé Casa, I sprung our pop quiz on Liz. She didn’t miss a beat. (Pun intended.) See how she did and then check out Rhino Media’s brand new video about Kids in Tune.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m so focused on KIT…..let’s see…I love to cook, so a lot of my learning is happening in the kitchen these days. Over the summer I learned how to make yogurt. The process is simple, and once you get the hang of it there are limitless variations. It would be a money saver too, aside from the few batches that don’t turn out so well and nobody will eat… Next I’m going to try homemade mozzarella.

What are you currently reading?

I have two little ones so I’m reading a lot of children’s book. Mostly fairy tales. And I’m reading the same books over and over again.

What’s your favorite fairy tale?

My daughter’s favorite is Hansel and Gretel. She’s four years old and really enjoying fairy tales. I thought they might be too scary for her but she is into scary-spooky things right now. Reading these tales is helping my daughter explore her world a little more; concepts like dark and light, good and bad, how people can be nice and mean all at the same time. And these stories all have a resolution at the end that wraps things up.

Your comments remind me of a book I read a while back called Psychological Immunity. The premise being much like you are talking about, that it is by reading fairy tales to our children that parents help build resiliency, innoculating children to the darkness that exists in the world. If you weren’t reading fairytales all the time, what would you be reading?

I’d be going back over the classic literature that I absorbed quickly in college but didn’t have the luxury of delving into more deeply at the time—they say education is wasted on the young. I’m at a point in my life when I’d love to go back and re-do those college courses that I flew through.

Liz and Barry Kalamazoo Symphony OrchestraWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

I think about this a lot. I’m in a very administrative role with my work at the Kalamazoo Symphony. But coming from a long line of teachers, I feel like the natural evolution of things is to finally become a teacher after all these accumulated experiences. I admire teachers. I observe such impressive teaching on a daily basis, at Woods Lake and with the preschool teachers working with my own kids. So, perhaps my destination is to become a teacher. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll start over some day and learn to sing harmony in a blue grass band.

What is your favorite word right now?

Proleptic.

I’ve never heard of that term before.

It’s an interesting word, meaning something like: playing dress up or where you actas if you are before you become that something. Play the part and then you become it. This is of interest to me because of my work with Kids in Tune. We want the kids to consider themselves to be a musician, to be part of an orchestra before they are actually performing at that level. Act as an orchestra until you become one. We are helping kids seriously adopt an identity and a role that they can grow into over time.

If I can pick two, my other favorite word is “iterative,” which means a process where you circle back to the beginning often, picking up more each time. With every repetition or iteration you learn something new, it brings you to a new level of understanding. It’s another part of our approach at Kids in Tune—to play Beethoven’s 9th at the beginning, but to keep coming back to it periodically to experience it with a new level of understanding. So I have two favorite words right now, but they are related.

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

What has been on my mind? Let’s see…The importance of assuming and expecting the best of others. At Kids in Tune we have high standards for the students. It’s important that we all have not just an expectation of excellence, but an assurance, a positive attitude that accompanies the expectation. The students know we believe in them and that they can achieve what we expect them to achieve. So the way in which we support students is important. We must know, believe and expect that they will rise to the challenges presented them. As supporters of these students, we must not come from a place of doubt.

You’re a pretty deep person.

(Liz just smiles, laughs lightly.)

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

I’ve been fortunate to have lots of them. So when I think back on that somebody who, in retrospect, made a bigger impact on me than I realized at the time, I’d say it was my fifth grade teacher, Carol Mitchell. She knew that we were dealing with an illness, my mom was going through chemotherapy and she offered to take me out one afternoon. She took me to a museum—it had a dinosaur exhibit— and dinner. I still remember the outing and what I ordered. She might have invited me under the premise that it was a reward for good work at school….looking back I know that she realized I was a student who was in a difficult place, going through things at home. She took time out of her weekend, going above and beyond to help a student. She made me feel special and gave me confidence. She offered me an experience I might not have otherwise had.

Tuning Into Music And Possibilities

_DSC0518Today we highlight the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, honored this past spring at the sixth annual Champ Celebration.  (This is the fifth installment of a nine part series.)

At Woods Lake Elementary School: A Magnet Center for the Arts seventy-eight first through fifth graders are enrolled in the CIS After School Program (funded by the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.) Here, after school, they have a safe place to learn and grow, receive a hot meal, get homework help, and then, thanks to the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, tune into music and possibilities within themselves.

The children are literally surrounded by caring adults who repeat the same chorus: one of building resilience through the artful combination of mastery, unconditional acceptance, and high expectations. This song every child deserves to hear is on the lips of Liz Youker, Director of Education for the KSO, it’s in the steady beat of Jennifer Barliment and the KSO Board of Directors.

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra’s love for music is transforming children and a school. It is a powerful change that overflows into the children’s home environment. As one mother tells us, “My daughter may be learning music but she’s also learning so much more. Like how to express her feelings better. I’ve noticed that, because of Kids in Tune, we communicate better as a family.”

_DSC0579Because Kids in Tune is a trio, a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra it is impossible to pull an individual note out of a symphony and say, “Ah, this is it. This is the note that captures the success of Kids in Tune because, just like the orchestra, everyone has a part to play. Children are forging noble identities because of the actions of many: the Kalamazoo Public School teachers and Principal Mitch Hawkins who stay after school to watch their students perform. Because of the custodian who took vacation time to play her cello with the kids, the CIS Site Coordinator who moves between piano and cell phone calls with parents without missing a beat. Youth Development Workers moving effortlessly between homework help and violin or flute lessons. The Kids in Tune curriculum director who wields chalk by day at K College and a baton in the afternoon. The four KSO teacher artists who read children like they read music, having the wisdom to stop a lesson when a child is struggling to find out what is going on. Volunteers, Service Learning college students, and high school students…the notes go on.

The Kalamazoo Symphony’s commitment to this Kids in Tune partnership, their innate understanding that it takes practice and then more practice after that to get it right is an inspiration to us all.

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, we thank you for helping students stay in school and achieve in life.

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It’s A Wonderful Life

The President of Communities In Schools, Dan Cardinali, was in Kalamazoo early last week to see our partnership with Kalamazoo Public Schools in action.  We kept him busy during his two day visit. He, along with the State Director Jeff Brown, visited Edison Environmental Science Academy, El Sol Elementary, Loy Norrix High School, Arcadia Elementary School, and Woods Lake Center for the Arts. (To learn more, look for an article on the visit in a future edition of The Excelsior.)

In between these school visits, a number of us gathered at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to celebrate Mr. Cardinali’s visit and the work this community is doing through CIS. We titled the event “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I’m posting below the opening remarks made last Tuesday by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Given recent events and the mourning that is taking place throughout our country, these words take on even more meaning.

We titled this afternoon’s event after the 1946 Frank Capra movie, It’s a WonderfulLife. Why? Because it’s December and it is cold outside. But, even more so, this classic movie which stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, celebrates the goodness of life. It reminds us of the impact one individual can have in transforming lives, how a person’s actions—both big and small—can have ripple effects which wash over an entire community, making it a better place to live.

Kalamazoo, like the cinematic town of Bedford Falls, is an amazing place. Here in ourtown, Dan, we want you to know that we dream big. We want all our children to live life wonderfully. This community has embraced the CIS mission and owns it–surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Here, we want every child to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise®. Life here IS wonderful.

But not all of us are fortunate enough to be living it wonderfully. Like any other place in America, our town is not immune to poverty, racism, all those things that creep into and eat away at the soul of a city. Here in Kalamazoo, way too many of our citizens are living below the poverty level. For many of the children, wonderful is just out of reach.

Remember in the movie, that bridge? The one upon which George Bailey finds himself all alone on that cold night, the one upon which he contemplates ending his life by falling into the icy waters below?

That bridge doesn’t just exist in some black and white movie. It stretches far beyond us, casting long shadows across our country. It is a bridge built on hopelessness and illiteracy, paved in unmet needs and bolted firmly in place by despair and poverty. Children who believe they have no other place to stand find themselves, just like George Bailey, on the edge of that bridge. Far too frequently a child is slipping away from us, dropping out of school. Wonderful is just too far out of reach.

Just like the movie, though, there is good news in the midst of troubled times. The good news is that the world is filled with caring people. Kalamazoo is steeped in resources of the heart. As CIS folks, we see this everyday, our Site Coordinators and partners who are on the front lines working with teachers and other school staff, reaching out to children who are about to plunge into the icy waters below, and in some cases, salvaging the children who have already slipped through the ice. The good news is that we have each other. Together, we are an army of opportunity, clothing our children in hope, feeding our children with love, and helping our children learn.

By the end of the movie, George Bailey is surrounded by family and members of his community. He had some help in getting to that point. George Bailey had Clarence the angel. The Kalamazoo Promise® is our Clarence the angel, for it is a gift, a miracle. But, just like the movie, even angels need help. You, me, all of us together are what gives wings to the Promise.

In the movie, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. Here in Kalamazoo we can imagine that every time a bell rings, a child is being lifted up–a child is staying in school and succeeding. A wonderful life is within reach because of all of you and hundreds of others in our community.