Dr. Sandy Standish: Shining Her Light For Young People

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, CIS Board President Namita Sharma presented the 2020 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by Zoetis, to Dr.  Sandy Standish. A decade ago, this prestigious award was established by the Communities In Schools Board to honor Diether’s extensive contributions to his adopted home of Kalamazoo and in particular, his service and genuine concern for the children and young people of our community.

Those of you who’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Standish know she’s dedicated her life to the education of young people. For thirty two years she shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, it wasn’t in her to “take it easy.” Instead of hiding her light under a bushel, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s, better known as KCReady4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all four-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.

Parents want their children to be on solid footing when they start kindergarten. Yet, not every child is at the starting line with their peers. Not all families have the luxury or the means to access high-quality early care and education. At CIS, because we are in a similar business—creating systems of support for students kindergarten through twelfth grade—we’re particularly impressed with her remarkable work over the years of rallying this collective effort. To change mindsets about the way we work together to support and educate our children, to change the landscape of how things are done—or not done—requires vision, a teamwork mentality, passion, and more.

With her usual grace, humor, and expertise, she has been a fearless advocate for early education, because Dr. Standish knows this: Children who receive high-quality early care and education do better in school and life. In that safe and consistent space, they learn basic skills, as well as social and emotional skills, all building blocks for future success.

Sandy, in naming you the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence recipient for 2020, we give you this Blue Hydrangea Bulb blooming out of a vintage base, a symbol of your award from the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board.

Dr. Standish accepting the 2020 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.

Thank you for educating our children, and for illuminating a pathway for Kalamazoo county to continue to support some of our youngest citizens. By shining your light, you have made our community a brighter place for all.

Dr. Sandy Standish, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.

Building Our Future: National Society of Black Engineers

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the National Society of Black Engineers was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey Products and Lake Michigan Credit Union. Kalamazoo Central High School’s CIS Site Coordinator Jennifer Miner introduced us to this dedicated group of college students who champion children. [If you missed this virtual event, you can click here to watch the Champs Celebration. At the 29-minute mark,  Max Doggett,  current External Chair of the Western Michigan chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, accepts the award on behalf of his team.]

For the past five years, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at Western Michigan University has been working through CIS to funnel six to eight volunteers from their society to support Kalamazoo Central High School students. Two times a week, these engineering students consistently share their time, talents, as well as their stories with our students. Together, they build upon each other’s work, constructing something bigger than themselves.

Principal Valerie Boggan loves seeing the positive impact they have with students. We share her appreciation for this partnership. These engineering students create enthusiasm around learning and shine a light for our kids. The National Society’s mission is: to increase culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community. To see this mission in action is powerful and shines a light for our students.

Working with young people is like building a very important building, something bigger than the Empire State Building and more impressive than the Eiffel Tower. Through their very presence and listening, these engineering students are inspiring our kids to be the best students and people they can be. A young person realizing their full potential is a more impressive sight than even the great pyramids of Egypt.

National Society of Black Engineers, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.

 

Cultivating Future Scientists: The Edison Science Club

Zoetis Senior Scientist Dom Pullo during the virtual Champs Celebration.

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, The Edison Science Club was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC Benefits and Miller-Davis Company. Edison Environmental Science Academy’s CIS Site Coordinator Cameron Massimino introduced us to these Zoetis-led volunteers who champion children. [If you missed this virtual event, you can click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November.]

 For 16 years now, science-minded volunteers make monthly visits to Edison Environmental Science Academy. Initiated by Zoetis Senior Scientist Dom Pullo, the volunteers enhance about 27 fifth graders’ learning of science through inquiry and hands-on activities.

Photo credit: Freshwater Photography
Photo Credit: Freshwater Photography

In Science Club, students become scientists! Wearing lab coats and lanyards, and occasionally donning goggles and gloves, students extract DNA from peas, investigate circuit theory, study water filtration, and more. Thanks to a grant from Zoetis, CIS was able to purchase state-of-the-art microscopes so students can view specimens close-up.

The Science Club even recruited Cash, a very friendly and hairy, 105-pound volunteer. Cash assists Zoetis veterinarians (Dr. Theodore Sanders, Jr. – DVM, MS, MBA, DACLAM Executive Director Animal Research Support, Dr. Marike Visser –  DVM, PhD, DACVCP , and Dr. Paul Reynolds, DVM – Retired) in demonstrating animal check-ups. [Cash sat down for an interview with us and we’ll be publishing that conversation in the near future.]

As Edison students look on, Dr. Theodore Sanders, Jr. demonstrates an animal check-up (photo taken last school year).

In addition to Dom Pullo and the three veterinarians noted above, the Edison Science Club has been supported by a number of dedicated volunteers over the years, including: Blair Cundiff, Jacqueline Killmer, Shannon Smith, Teresa Miller, Joshua Kuipers, Stacey Wensink, Sherry Garrett, Kelsey Lammers, Kelly Turner-Alston, Kelly Kievit, Matthew Krautman, Brianna Pomeroy, Tiyash Parira, Tobias Clark, Lisa Yates, Elizabeth Graham, Ben Hummel, Clark Smothers, Adam Schoell, Rose Gillesby, and Thomas Berg.

Dr. Paul Runnels accepting the Champs award for his team.

Fifth grade teacher Mrs. Rocann Fleming says both students and staff LOVE the science club. These dedicated volunteers, some who’ve now retired or moved on from Zoetis, still show up and inspire young minds. Their passion for science is contagious.

“I’ve learned,” says one student who dreams of becoming a veterinarian, “there’s a lot you can’t see in this world that is real—like bacteria!—so wash your hands.” “Well, I’m going to be a scientist,” says another girl. “I’m not sure what kind yet, but probably a woman scientist!”

Edison Science Club, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.

Mikka Dryer: Grateful For the Opportunity to Volunteer

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Mikka Dryer was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. Milwood Magnet Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best introduced us to this CIS volunteer who is a champion for children. [If you didn’t get a chance to learn about the great work Mikka is doing with students in Dr. Brandy Shooks’ ESL classroom, click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November. Mikka’s award is at the 14:33 minute marker.]

Mikka Dryer, 2020 Champ Award recipient

Born and raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mikka lives in Portage with her husband Cory. She says she’s “grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer with CIS as my job as Supervisor of Community Health, Equity and Inclusion at Bronson provides me the flexibility to do so.

We sat down with Mikka at Milwood Magnet Middle School, shortly before the pandemic hit and schools were closed.

You’ve been volunteering out at Milwood Magnet Middle School for the past four years, with the last three of those years supporting a small group of young ladies who are part of KPS teacher Brandy Shook’s ESL [English as a Second Language] class. How did you come to volunteer through CIS?

When my daughter was in middle school and upper hours, I had an hourly job and couldn’t take off time from work to volunteer in her classroom or at her school. With my job now, as a salaried employee, I have that flexibility and wanted to start volunteering through CIS. For me, it’s a way to give back to kids whose parents are in the same position I was in…I know there are parents just like me, that want to volunteer in their child’s school but just can’t give back because of their job.

I want to give back and am grateful I have the opportunity to do this now, even though I couldn’t do it with my own daughter.

What insights have you gained from volunteering?

There is a difference between raising my own child and coming into a volunteer experience where you are interacting with kids you don’t know. So I’m learning about them and asking them questions. It’s not intuitive to me because I don’t know their lives and what they are going through and dealing with. I’ve gained understanding and tolerance. Also, as I’m walking through the halls and the bell rings, it brings me back to my own middle school days. Some things haven’t changed.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a book called On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. It’s a young adult book and the follow up to her book, The Hate You Give. I’ve really enjoyed both of the books. I wanted to read her latest book because last year, we all read The Hate You Give as an all-school read. We really bonded over they book. [We ran this post about last year’s Reading Together book and how students had lots of love for The Hate You Give.]

What is your favorite word right now?

Through an equity lens.

I say this and think about this often in the work I’m in. I’m always considering what I’m doing through an equity lens. Am I considering all people, all voices, historical events, oppression, people who have had experienced life in different ways than me? Am I taking into account the whole situation? Whether I’m at work, volunteering, or how I’m spending my money, am I approaching what I’m doing through an equity lens?

Taking into account the whole situation and various perspectives is a much fuller way to experience life.

Yes, you feel fuller because you are considering others and their perspectives, not just one’s one. I can relate to people better because of it.

What question have you asked recently?

Can you tell me more about that? Why do you feel that way?

I’m trying to ask more questions at home. At work and out in the community I’m accepting, tolerant, and open, but at home, well, it’s a space I need to work on. I want to be more tolerant and understanding of my family members and asking them questions helps me do that. And they are less likely to shut down. Instead of responding with “Get over it,” “That’s not important,” or “Move on,” I’m trying to ask more questions and really listen to what they have to say.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

I love walking my two dogs. I love Portage trails, being out in the sun and walking outside trails, biking paths, and enjoying the sunshine.

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

As a young person growing up, I’d definitely say my parents, James and Tako Keller. They had five kids and I was the middle child. They loved and supported me, and still do. I had a good childhood even though I probably wasn’t the easiest adolescent to parent, and yet they still supported me. They have always had my back.

Anything else should we know about you?

My daughter Nayah wants to open her own bakery one day and I’m happily obligated to be her taste tester. She recently moved out on her own, and one thing I’ll miss is having tasty treats at least three times a week!

Thank you, Mikka, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

2020 Award Recipients Honored Tonight

Bring out the snacks and get ready to throw some confetti at your computer screen! Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) hosts its annual Champs event tonight, Tuesday, October 27th at 6 p.m. and you can be a part of it! Just go here, to https://ciskalamazoo.org/champs. This year will look a bit different as CIS has elected to host a virtual celebration. For those who can’t watch tonight, the celebration video will remain on the CIS website through November.

Kalsec is the presenting sponsor for this event which honors community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality. “When I think about CIS, I think about an organization supporting education in every possible way,” says Dr. Scott Nykaza, CEO of Kalsec, Inc. “I think about equity and how CIS levels the playing field so that all students are set up to succeed, and I think about the kindness of our community.”

That kindness will be on full display during this thirteenth year of celebrating those who are making a difference in students’ lives. This year’s Champs who support our Kalamazoo Public Schools students are:

Mikka Dryer, CIS volunteer
Science Club facilitated by Zoetis, CIS volunteers
Family Health Center, a nonprofit, CIS health partner
Western Michigan University National Society of Black Engineers, CIS higher learning partner

Howard Tejchma will be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established by Gulnar’s family to honor her long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and work as a CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School. This award recognizes CIS volunteers who emulate Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children. For the past decade, Howard Tejchma has been working with a small group of Arcadia students during lunchtime. His fifth grade “lunch bunch” looks forward to his weekly visits in which he facilitates games and weaves in life lessons.

The CIS Board will also be honoring Dr. Sandy Standish with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. For 32 years, Dr. Standish shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all 4-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.

Keep following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. In the weeks to come we we will bring you more about these fabulous receipients.

 

Celebrating Our Community of Support

Thank you for being part of our community of support and tuning into our message from Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Executive Director, James Devers.

Today, April 15th, we intended to come together to celebrate the 13th year of honoring those in our community of support that are champions for kids. We have a wonderful group of community members being honored this year.

Although we can’t celebrate with you today, please know we are grateful for each of you.

We look forward to celebrating together on October 6th.

Thank you to our sponsors of this year’s Champs Celebration for your kindness and understanding.

Presenting Sponsor:

Champion Sponsors:

Fifth Third Bank

Maestro

PNC

Schupan

Zoetis

Award Sponsors:

Abraxas

BASIC Benefits

Chase

Humphrey Products

Lake Michigan Credit Union

Miller-Davis Company

Cap & Gown Sponsor:

633 Group

Ascension Borgess

Bronson Healthcare

Comerica Bank

Consumers Credit Union

First National Bank of Michigan

Seelye Automotive

TowerPinkster

Unifab Corporation

Honor Roll Sponsors:

BDO

BKC | Brink, Key & Chludzinski

Consumers Energy

CSM Group

DeMent & Marquardt, PLC

Dimplex Thermal Solutions

LKF Marketing

The OnStaff Group

Welsh & Associates, Inc.

Pop Quiz: Gary Heckman

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 CIS volunteer Gary Heckman, who is also a 2019 Champ recipient. [If you didn’t get a chance to read about the great work Gary is doing with middle school students, click here for that post.]

Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best (left) & Shannon Jones (right)

Upon retiring three years ago as the plumber, electrician, and steam operator for Manchester University, this grandfather of four has plunged himself into a new campus of learning as a CIS volunteer at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best has come to rely on him and says the students have, too. She says he is “an irreplaceable part of the team.” Gary modestly says, “I do a little bit here and there.” One of the biggest “little bits” he does is supporting students academically by serving as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class.

Gary grew up in rural Indiana, twenty miles northeast of Fort Wayne, near the tri-Lakes. As he puts it, “Only preachers and teachers had degrees in my town that was not even really big enough to be a town.”

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

Pop Quiz

How did you become involved volunteering with CIS?

When I retired, I wanted to do something in the schools. I did research and found that CIS is the way to do it. [In “retirement,” Gary still works two days a week doing building inspection services for Oshtemo and Coopers Townships.]

What insights have you gained about kids from volunteering?

The other day with the students, we were sitting around the table having a conversation about tides and oceans and stuff. I learned a number of the kids here haven’t been to the Great Lakes, haven’t gone 40 miles from their home. They just haven’t done stuff like that. It’s bothersome how poverty creates a lack of opportunity for kids.

I’ve also noticed how some of the toughest kids are the ones whose moms have band-aids and candies in their purses. They keep their kids going. Their moms really support them…I know there are a lot of dads and grandpas out there and I’d love to see more of them volunteering in the school. These kids, particularly the boys, could benefit from greater male involvement.

[Come on, dads and grandpas! Join Gary and sign up here today to become a CIS volunteer.]

What are you currently reading?

Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. The author, Michael Sorkin, is an architect talking about his daily walk to work; it’s all very deep into city history and the architecture he encounters during this twenty minute walk.

I just finished From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel Dennett; he’s a philosopher and linguist. And before that, I read Enlightment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steve Pinker.

Once every year or two, I’ll read some fiction, but nonfiction is what I enjoy reading most.

What is your favorite word right now?

Blower door.

That’s a new one! Nobody has ever told us that is their favorite word!

I’m doing a blower door test on a house tonight.

I have one foot in the building trades and one foot in academics. [He chuckles.] As a former plumber, electrician, and steam operator at a small college, I also have a degree in sociology, which is, as I say, the dismal science. It’s the study of social problems and yet, you don’t do anything about it.

But you are doing something about it.

[Nods head affirmatively.] I guess that’s right.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

The Air Zoo. I have a membership—the grandparent plus two—and love going there. I wish I could take all the kids there!

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

I have a couple of mentors, Tom and Jim. One taught innovation and entrepreneurship, and the other heads an award engineering firm. Also, growing up, I had two Kens who I’d consider mentors.

What characteristics would you say these mentors have in common?

They saw the real world, they had broader views, patience, and innovation. Every one of them could get things done. I should add that I have had some moms and ladies in there, too, who have been caring adults and influenced me. One of my teachers as well as the neighbor mom next door. She was elegant and even though she never went to college she was all about education.

Anything else should we know about you?

I was not a strong student in middle school. And yet, here I am! [CIS Site Coordinator] Missy makes this volunteer experience fun. She intentionally works hard at this, and supports us, knowing that volunteering can sometimes be frustrating.

It’s not necessarily easy work, is it?

That’s right. But I’m enjoying it. I like working with the kids. Missy and [CIS After School Coordinator] Shannon [Jones] are wonderful and the teachers and principal are all great to work with, too. Principal Mark Tobalski is terrific and really provides strong leadership for the school.

Thank you, Gary, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Champ recipient Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best & Shannon Jones

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.

No Time to Volunteer? You Still Can. Just Ask Jennifer Swan.

Jennifer Swan (center) congratulated by John Brandon (left) and Sara Williams (right) with Champ Award for Swan’s Snack Emporium.

As Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Jennifer Swan’s work schedule makes it difficult for her to volunteer on a weekly, consistent basis. Yet, she wanted to help kids stay in school and succeed in life. She came up with a creative solution and developed the Swan Snack Emporium which supports CIS Kid’s Closet. True to her name, Swan is helping children connect with their inherent beauty and value by giving kids the basics they need to stay in school and learn with dignity. Swan Snack Emporium received a 2019 Champ award and earlier this summer we featured that here.

Today we bring you a conversation Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids had with this creative CIS volunteer (which originally ran back in 2017.)

Since 1953, TowerPinkster, a design firm, has been creating vibrant places for people to live, work and play. As you know, TowerPinkster has received a number of awards. TP was named one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” (National Association of Business Resources). TP was also awarded “Best Firm to Work For in the Nation” (ZweigWhite). From your perspective, what makes TP the best and the brightest?  

What I think makes us the best are the people. We are like a family. We have two offices, in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and although it’s a little harder these days—we’ve added quite a few new people to both offices and I don’t get up to the Grand Rapids office as much as I used—we used to know everybody and know everything that everybody is doing.

TowerPinkster is a family culture and we have a lot of fun. It’s not just coming to work. It’s coming in to work with your friends, what seems like brothers and sisters, more often than not. It’s a great environment and we have a ton of fun here.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I learn something every single day with my job. There are always new things happening in the construction industry, whether it’s new process or new people you work with. There’s not just one thing that I can give you that is something that I’ve learned because I learn every day on my job. Every single day I learn from contractors and learn from the construction managers on the project site. I learn from project managers here, even our interns that come in who know the new tech stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always learning.

What are you currently reading?

While I don’t have time to sit down and read a full book right now, I get on the internet and I read a lot of blogs and news articles.

Besides Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, what are your ‘go-to’ blogs?

The type of blogs I turn to are ones that I can learn new things related to my work and to learn how other people are doing things so I can make myself better and faster at my job.

What is your favorite word right now?

My favorite word right now is strength, not like muscle strength but strength as in being a woman in a male-dominated field. You have to have a lot of strength and tenacity to go on job sites and be with a lot of men that are very experienced in the construction industry. I don’t build stuff, but I know how stuff is supposed to go together. It’s being able to hold my own on job sites and here in the office. I mean, the guys here are great and they’re very, very easy to work with and nobody’s ever like, You’re a girl and you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important to always have an understanding of what you’re talking about.

What’s your story behind getting into this line of work?

I think I got into this line of work because of my mother. When she was growing up, she and many women of that time were taught that women could be a secretary or go into teaching. I think she always wanted to be an architect because she was always, always sketching house plans at home. My dad was in the construction industry and in the summer he sometimes would take me with him and I would get to go to a construction site. I was always very interested in the construction architectural field just being around that growing up. So when I was in high school I took some drafting classes and just fell in love with it all.

I didn’t go to be an architect because growing up my family we didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t go to U of M or any of the big colleges for that. I chose a smaller school—Baker College—as they had an architectural technical program.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

There’s so much to do! I come from a really, really, small town called Langston. There’s a party store, a church, and an ice cream place. So to come to Kalamazoo and there are restaurants, bars, festivals, and so many things to do and just so much to pick from…it’s wonderful!

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

My mom is definitely 100% my caring adult. She supports me with everything I do. I grew up in a single family household. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 so my mom raised my brother and me. She had a really strong work ethic and would work late nights and weekends because she was the only income that we had. She worked really hard and I pride myself on being like my mom because, like her, I have a very strong work ethic. Her being a single mom and raising two kids by herself; it’s just always been an inspiration to me. If she can do that, then I can do anything.

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

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.