Pop Quiz: Precious Miller

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. During the last week of school, a beautiful June day, we sat down with Precious Miller, who was wrapping up her first year as the Communities In Schools Site Coordinator at Hillside Middle School.

FB_IMG_1467148577246 (2)In 2010, Precious interned with CIS at Kalamazoo Central High School. She later served as a Youth Development Worker for the 2011 CIS Think Summer! program. With her Bachelors and Masters in Social Work from Western Michigan University, Precious served as a case manager with Casemanagement of Michigan before rejoining the CIS team in October 2015, this time as a CIS Site Coordinator for Hillside Middle School. This past January, Precious and her husband (and former CIS Site Coordinator), Derek Miller, welcomed their son, Kai, into the world.

As we were about to spring this quiz on Precious, Shania Armstrong, a sixth grader looking forward to CIS Think Summer!, popped into Ms. Miller’s office. When she learned her site coordinator was being interviewed for the blog, she had this to say: “She’s an awesome person. She’s nice and I like her a lot. She makes me smile. Since I’ve met her, she’s been building up my confidence…”

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m learning how to balance caring for my kids at school and caring for my son at home.

What’s the secret?

Leaving school at school and being present in the moment. I practice mindfulness. When I’m with Kai, I catch myself thinking about the kids and all I need to do at school, and then it’s flip-flopped when I’m with the students. So, I remind myself to stay in the moment.

Favorite word right now?

I’m going to go with awesome because I hear it at least twice a day and I say it 10,000 times a day. If I see two kids skipping class, I say, “I see two awesome kids going to class.” And they do.

What are you currently reading?

I’m just about to start reading In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt. My VISTA, Terra, gave it to me. It’s about children growing up with AIDS. I understand that AmeriCorps ties into it, servicing a community that needs advocacy.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a community changer, starting with one student at a time. My work doesn’t stop—whether I’m here or not. It can happen at the grocery store, the park, anywhere, and I’ll see kids that need a little reminder that they’re awesome.

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

Diane McKinney. She was my inspiration when I attended Creston High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was the school social worker. I remember going to her office every day at lunch. And while I didn’t need anything in particular, I remember I just wanted to be with her. I loved how she nurtured my becoming a woman and I can’t even articulate how she did it. It was really her presence that spoke to me. I love how she cared for me.

I can’t help but think about that young woman, Shania, and what she had to say about you. Here you are now, giving back in a manner similar to Ms. McKinney.

I had no idea I did that for Shania. Like so many kids, she just needs a little bit of hope in realizing who she is.

Thank you, Precious!

Over this past school year, we’ve introduced you to members of the wonderful CIS Site Team at Hillside. We kicked it off with Principal McKissack. If you missed the post, you can find it here. Read about CIS After School Coordinator Katherine Williamson here and CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Terra Mosqueda here. Former Youth Development Workers Nicholas Keen and Fred Myles were also featured. Nicholas won’t be returning in the new school year as he has relocated to Hawaii to accept a teaching position, and Fred’s business has really taken off. Good for them, but our loss! While we and our kids will miss them both, we wish them all the best.

Hillside and other schools need energetic and enthusiastic youth development workers to serve in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday). Help us recruit for kids! If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go here.

Pop Quiz: Nicholas Keen  

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 Nicholas Keen (pictured on right) who is in his second year with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, serving as a Youth Development Worker at Hillside Middle School.

Nicholas grew up overseas and refers to himself as a ‘Foreign Service brat.’ “I got my start in Haiti, then Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Czechoslovakia, and Croatia. Intermittently, I’d come back to America, but the breadth of my youth was overseas.” Nicholas eventually went to Kalamazoo College, graduated and started working for Communities In Schools.

Nicholas says that because he was always moving throughout his youth, he developed a “nuanced ability to adapt.” This propensity to talk to strangers, learn how to make friends, and comfortably enter new settings helped him jump easily into his work as a Youth Development Worker.

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve been doing ballet for a while and just nailed how to do a pirouette. Consistently, that is.

 

What’s the secret?

Doing it over and over again until it happens. You have to keep practicing, isolating each of your body movements, such as keeping your weight over the hips while rotating. You isolate the movements but also need to address each of them at the same time. It’s more of an ongoing learning process. It’s also enthralling.

 

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Blood Memory by Martha Graham.

 

Favorite word right now?

Rapacious.

 

What does it mean?

Aggressive greed.

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I would love to be a freelance artist or become an educator for studio art classes at the college, high school, middle school and maybe even elementary level.

 

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

Fortunately, I’ve had many. But my stepfather has been one of the more significant caring adults in my life. He came into my life when I was ten or eleven. I’d been without a father for four or five years and he applied more structure than had prevailed in our home. My mother was a foreign service officer within the US Embassy and quite busy. We were living in extravagant houses and my mother had to bear the weight of frequent gatherings. We had a cook, a housekeeper and privileges that my brother and I didn’t understand. We had a lot of freedom and up to that point, my brother and I were basically raised by wolves. My stepfather put a backbone into our life. He made us accountable and helped us apply a systematic balance to life.

 

Thank you Nicholas!

 

Our kids need more Youth Development Workers, enthusiastic individuals like Nicholas, to step up and serve in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday). If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go here.

A Day Off With A Day On

CIS After School…making beautiful tiles at Art Bayou
CIS After School…making beautiful tiles at Art Bayou

I can’t stop thinking about a recent Friday. It was  a no school day for Kalamazoo Public Schools and my son was quite excited by this fact. He loves school but we both were looking forward to the fun day we had planned together.

First on the agenda, a visit to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. We wanted to check out the temporary exhibition “Kalamazoo for the Union” and then hit the Planetariumshowing of Sky Legends of the Three Fires to learn three stories about the night sky from Native American people of western and northern Michigan. After that, lunch out and then a visit to the Kalamazoo Public Library.

As we bundled up to head out, I couldn’t help but think of all the kids for whom a day off from school is a day off from learning, a day off from having a warm meal. You’re a lucky kid, I told him. Some kids don’t get opportunities to do these kinds of things.

Anyway, we came out of “Kalamazoo for the Union,” the temporary exhibit (check it out before it leaves town in May) and started down the stairs. There was a woman, her back to us, talking to a group of elementary students, all standing in line, eager to go into the Kalamazoo Direct to You exhibit of Kalamazoo history. I was impressed by the children’s behavior. My son was impressed by what the woman said. “Mom, did you just hear what that lady told the kids? She told them to touch stuff!”

Creating more beautiful tiles at Art Bayou
Creating more beautiful tiles at Art Bayou

The woman continued preparing the students, asking them to pay attention to what they would be learning. “Remember to tell us what you learn about. We want to know what you discover!” she exclaimed and sent them, all wide-eyed into the exhibit. At just that moment she turned her head and I realized it was Calli Carpenter,CIS after school coordinator from Arcadia Elementary School! And there wasAmeriCorps VISTA Bumeun Lee. Later, at the Science in Motion exhibit, we ran intoYouth Development Worker Aleena Robinson and CIS after school coordinator Alexis Arocho from Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Students were busy exploring science through the hands-on exhibits. When we came out of the planetarium show we ran into CIS after school coordinator Jay Gross from Spring Valley Center for Exploration, CIS after school coordinator Phillip Hegwood from Woodward and dozens of others as students sat on the floor, eating lunch, talking and laughing.

Tiles students made at Art Bayou
Tiles students made at Art Bayou

Lindsey Westfall, CIS after school coordinator for Northglade Montessori noted that, for a number of students, it was their first visit to the museum; they were amazed that the wonders it held were right in their hometown. What a beautiful thing to behold. Young people from all over Kalamazoo having an opportunity to fully explore all the museum has to offer.

“These school kids are really good,” one parent commented to another as we left. And they were. While I credit the students, I also credit our staff.  Everywhere I turned our kids were being supervised by CIS staff who were calm and positive and the kids were modeling their behavior. Staff had clearly prepared the students before and throughout the field trip so it would be an enriching experience.

When I shared these impressions with CIS Directors of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey and Linda Thompson, I learned that, because so many students (over 200) were eligible to participate in the field trip (to reinforce their 90% or better attendance rate for school day and CIS after school program) the museum was just one location of several. Some students tapped into their inner artist while painting tiles at Art Bayouand others, for the first time ever, sank tiny fingers into bowling balls and unleashed energy down the lanes at Airway Lanes.

“Thank you for giving us an opportunity to work with Communities In Schools today!” said Art Bayou owner, Palee Haney. “I think the kids had a lot of fun painting their tiles.” They did. As one student said, “It was just so peaceful.”

CIS after school coordinator for Washington Writers’ Academy Deondra Ramsey noted that at Airway Lanes it wasn’t just about bowling. “Students had a chance to interact with each other as well as staff on a different level, whether it was bumper cars, bowling, team work with laser tag, or playing together on some of the other games.”

Even staff got in on the fun! (From right to left) CIS After School Coordinators Jay Gross and Phillip Hegwood, AmeriCorps VISTA Cankeeshia Stegall, Youth Development Workers George Khamis and Bri Fonville
Even staff got in on the fun! (From right to left) CIS After School Coordinators Jay Gross and Phillip Hegwood, AmeriCorps VISTA Cankeeshia Stegall, Youth Development Workers George Khamis and Bri Fonville

When one student who had never bowled before discovered he loved the sport, DaMarceo Thomas was there to help hone this new found passion. A Youth development worker for CIS, DaMarceo worked one on one with the blossoming bowler, sharing techniques and tips, like proper stance, what pins to target, how to hold the ball, and how much power to put behind the release. “Listening and focusing attention can be a challenge and yet this student listened intently. It was really fun to see,” said Deondra. While most students bowled two rounds and moved on to other activities, he spent over two hours bowling and learning from his mistakes. “The more he played, the better he got.”

I am reminded of what Mickey Ciokajlo, editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette and mlive.com/kalamazoo wrote once, “CIS serves as the glue that ties together and coordinates the many services that we already have available in Kalamazoo.” Kalamazoo is rich in resources. Unfortunately, not every kid is as lucky as mine and able to tap into these resources. But this is what CIS is all about. We have friends, donors, partners, and volunteers who support CIS and allow us to replace luck with opportunity. A day off with a day on.

Youth Development Workers: Making An Impact

CAM01512To say that things are hopping at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo as we prepare for the upcoming school year is probably an understatement. A few weeks back, our six weeks of CIS Think Summer! wrapped up. This academic and enrichment program served over 150 first through ninth graders and also included Kids in Tuneparticipants. CIS is now gearing up for the upcoming school year by hiring, hiring, hiring! The majority of these job openings are for youth development workers. These positions will be filled by enthusiastic, energetic individuals who  dedicate themselves to helping students in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday).Youth Development Workers, like their title implies, work hard to develop the strengths and talents of our youth by involving and empowering students in their own development. These enthusiastic caring adults are passionate about helping Kalamazoo Public School students succeed in school and in life. We thought you might like to meet one of them…

My name is Danaequa Yarbrough. I am a fourth year student at Western Michigan University. I am majoring in Social Work and Public Relations with a minor in Dance. I have been working with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) for two years now but I started back in 2007 volunteering at Edison Environmental Science Academy where my mom was serving as the CIS Site Coordinator. After my volunteer work, I decided to go ahead and apply to be a Youth Development Worker with CIS. I started my journey at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

Ever since I became a YDW, I’ve been able to impact the lives of many students. Through my work as a YDW as well as a dance club instructor, I’ve been able to connect with so many youth in the Kalamazoo community. My favorite part of being a YDW is getting to see the progress of my students from the moment they started until the end of the program. There were definitely times where I felt like I wasn’t getting through to the kids, but then watching them finally understand that math equation or getting that ‘eight count’ in dance club was always a reminder that my dedication to these kids wasn’t in vain.

The kids who come through CIS After School program and Think Summer! impact my life just as much as I make an impact on theirs. They remind me every day that every child deserves a chance to succeed and by being a youth development worker, I am contributing to their success on a daily basis. That’s why I love my job!

Danaequa, we thank you for your passion and continued service with CIS.  

We thank all the many wonderful people in our community who help our children grow through th
eir role as a YDW. We also welcome the many new YDW’s who are joining with us this new school year to make a difference for kids. A special shout out to First United Baptist Church. You opened your doors on Saturday, August 9th and helped us host a successful job fair, paving the way for more children to be connected to caring adults.

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.

_DSC0503

Developing The Future Through Love

CIS Youth Development Worker, Justina Franklin, running a “hands on” craft project at Lincoln.
CIS Youth Development Worker, Justina Franklin, running a “hands on” craft project at Lincoln.

Today’s post comes from Bonnie Terrentine. Bonnie is the CIS Site Coordinator at Lincoln International Studies School. Her post sheds light on the vital role Youth Development Workers have in helping our children grow. These individuals are, like their title implies, working hard to develop the strengths and talents of our youth by involving and empowering students in their own development. Step into any after school program (these 21st Century Community Learning Centers, funded by the Michigan Department of Education, are running throughout ten Kalamazoo Public School buildings) and you will find them assisting students with academic and enrichment activities.

When I ask Justina Franklin why she does this work, she says simply, “I adore and love working with children. There is no better mission—nothing better than I can think of—for me to be doing.” We are fortunate to have someone as seasoned as Justina Franklin serving as a Youth Development Worker here at Lincoln. (She has been a director of after school programming and has also been a former enrichment partner with us through Dr. Carol Hogan’s Campus Kids program.)

Loving, giving, always concerned about what she can do better for kids, Justina Franklin is a mentor for kids and grown ups alike. That is because she gives from her heart. Parents adore her. Communication is important when it comes to our work at CIS and she helps in my role as Site Coordinator, by calling parents, writing letters to communicate how their child is doing. Parents love her for this. The kids love her, too because they know she loves them. As one child put it, “She tough, but she loves us.”

Various projects generated by Justina Franklin.
Various projects generated by Justina Franklin.

She tutors students throughout the day, comes up with incentive plans to help children take an active role in their learning. She never gives up on any kid, and always reminds them about the Kalamazoo Promise®. “It doesn’t come to you by just thinking about it,” I’ve overheard her say. “You have to work hard and learn to read and write and do your math. And then you will get the Kalamazoo Promise®.”

She serves as a leader with other after school staff, helping the team organize and prepare programming for the children. She has taken money out of her own pocket to decorate rooms and make them inviting for the children. She has helped develop a number of after school programs that really engage the kids. She runs a successful scrap book club for 15 children. She has created a cooking class to reinforce the math they are learning from their teachers during the school day. Within the cooking class, students measure, create, and apply their math skills in fun ways. She incorporates discussions about nutrition, portion size, table manners and etiquette. She is imparting to our children the building blocks that make them not just a successful student, but a future successful employee and productive member of our community.

A creative person with a lovely temperament, Justina Franklin is someone who serves as a role model—and not just for children. She challenges each of us to be all that we can be, for she is always thinking the best of people and encouraging them to do their best. She actively looks for every opportunity to help a child, seeing this not as “work” but as a privilege. This is what the business of a Youth Development worker is all about. This is what we should all be about: caring and developing the best in all of our youths. Just like Justina Franklin.