Get Ready To Celebrate Our Award Winners

Grab a handful of confetti and a beverage of your choice. Now get ready to toast those who will be honored at the 2021 Champs Celebration! Hosted by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), this event will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, May 12 at 5 p.m. It will be livestreamed from the Radisson and you are invited to enjoy this annual celebration via the CIS Kalamazoo YouTube channel. Here is the livestream link.

For more information about the event visit: www.ciskalamazoo.org/champs

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.

This year’s Champs who support our Kalamazoo Public Schools students are:

Kathy Hogg, CIS volunteer

Kalamazoo Public School Information and Technology Team, school partner

School Food Services Team, school partner

Dr. Qiji (Jim) Zhu, CIS volunteer

Pam Dalitz will be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award which recognizes CIS volunteers who emulate Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children. Prior to the pandemic, Pam Dalitz supported students in Ms. Chyna Campbell’s second grade classroom at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. She continues to support students and families by delivering food packs, technology equipment, and basic need items.

The Late Mrs. Dorothy P. Young will be honored with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. Mrs. Dorothy P. Young spent her entire career educating students, empowering families, and developing teachers. Employed by Kalamazoo Public Schools for 37 years with most of those years serving as principal of Hillside Middle School, her impact spans across generations. In addition to nearly four decades serving as an educator, consultant, and administrator for KPS, Mrs. Young also served heavily throughout the community, ensuring that many students, especially students of color and students living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods had access to the resources to help them succeed academically.

As a new element to this year’s celebration, the following CIS staff will be recognized for their exceptional collaborative work during an unusual year of remote service: Dana Flynn, Samantha Darby, Carli Thompson, Shannon Jones, Katherine Williamson, Phillip Hegwood, and Jane Asumadu.

To access a digital copy of this year’s program, you can find it 2021 CIS Champs Celebration Program – Digital Copy.

While waiting for tonight’s program to start, you can watch two special Champ video messages from our good friends and partners at the Kalamazoo Promise and Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Click here for message from Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri, Kalamazoo Public School Superintendent.

Click here for message from Von Washington, Jr., Kalamazoo Promise Executive Director of Community Relations.

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

 

What Do I See?

This is the third installment of our Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) blog series in which we cover topics and resources that we hope  provides support to students and families during these challenging times. The two previous posts are: Staying Fit While Socially Distancing and 3 Easy Science Projects Students Can Do at Home. 

These days, most of us aren’t traveling many places and taking in new sights. What Do I See? is a fun way to get some culture and practice writing at the same time.

Right now, The Kalamazoo Valley Museum has a wonderful virtual tour called Filling in the Gaps: The Art of Murphy Darden. Mr. Darden is an artist who lives in Kalamazoo and for many years has used his artistic talents and love of history to shine a light on people, places, and events that we all need to know about to help fill the gaps in both our Kalamazoo and nation’s history.

Here’s how to play What Do I See?

  • Round up some family members, some paper, and pencils or pens.
  • Go on a virtual tour of this exhibit by visiting it here. You will find that the museum has organized the exhibit into three areas: “A Broader History of Kalamazoo,” “Civil Right’s Heroes,” and “American’s Forgotten Black Cowboys.”
  • After having a chance to explore some of Mr. Darden’s works, each person participating in What Do I See? selects one piece of Mr. Murphy’s artwork or one of the artifacts he has collected. Do not yet let each other know what you have picked.
  • Study the piece. Wonder about it. Ask yourself questions. (What do you find most interesting about it? What colors do you see? What type of feelings live in this piece? Use your imagination to wonder what happened moments before. What is going to happen?)
  • Now, using paper and pencil (or pen), write down some words and phrases to describe what you see. You can write your description as a poem or a story. You may decide you want to pretend to be something within the piece (like a horse, a tree, or a cowboy hat) and write from the perspective of that thing.
  • There is no right or wrong way to do this! All you have to do is use some words to tell the story in your own way.
  • Take turns reading aloud what you have written.
  • See if others can guess what piece of art or artifact you selected. See if you can guess what they described.

This same process can be done with other exhibits that are available. While there are many exhibits out there, here are three more local places you may want to consider:

  • The Black Arts & Cultural Center is hosting a virtual gallery of local artist Linda Manguiat-Herzog. Throughout March you can go here to tour her work.
  • The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts has several interesting exhibits going on now. Their current exhibit information can be found here. While several pieces can be found on their website, if you plan to go in person, first check here for their temporary hours and visitor guidelines.
  • The Ninth Wave Studio’s virtual gallery features a variety of artists and can be visited by going here.

Or, if you and your kids want a break from screen time, you can even stroll about your house, identify a picture, a photo, a painting, or an interesting knick-knack to write about.

Have fun learning, writing, and sharing! If you are in kindergarten through twelfth grade and end up writing a poem you think needs to travel beyond your family, consider submitting this month to Poems That Ate Our Ears. It could end up on a bus or in a book (story about that in Encore here). You’ll find contest rules here at Friends of Poetry. If you are any age and feel quite satisfied with whatever you wrote and want to share further, Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids would love to see it! You can send your piece to us at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org. Who knows. We might, with your permission, publish it on our blog.

Note: The photograph used at the top of this post comes from photographer Janine Kai Robinson who posted this on Unsplash. You can also play What Do I See? by visiting her virtual gallery of photographs she maintains here.

A Parade of Ugly For a Good Cause

We may not have the annual holiday parade or the Holly Jolly Trolley this year, but Kalamazoo has a parade of ugly sweaters! If you follow this blog or have walked around downtown enjoying the Christmas lights, you probably already know about the 2020 Ugly Sweater Contest and Exhibit.

“Given these challenging times, we had to reimagine this event,” says Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) Executive Director James Devers, in referencing the ugly sweater party that CIS has hosted for the past five years. The event brings awareness to the CIS “whole child” approach of supporting students, which includes providing essentials that—when missing—can get in the way of learning. “We had to figure out a new way to raise both awareness and funds for the work we do throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools.”

Reimagine, indeed. Toss in loads of creativity, a handful of mannequins, and a host of elves, er, sponsors, and you have one friendly, yet ugly competition and exhibit to help support the 12,000 students CIS works with throughout the year.

Kalsec is the presenting sponsor helping to transform this Ugly Sweater event into a new and beautiful thing. Kalsec CEO Scott Nykaza says, “There is, quite simply, no better way to support the success of students in Kalamazoo than through supporting efforts performed by everyone at CIS.”

In addition to presenting sponsor Kalsec, the following sponsors have each designed and hand-crafted ugly sweaters for CIS virtual and storefront exhibits to help raise vital funding for students: Abraxas/YMCA of Kalamazoo, Edwards Garment, Fifth Third Bank, First National Bank of Michigan, Friends of Poetry, Humphrey Products, Husted’s Farm Market, Rotaract of Kalamazoo, Unifab Corporation, VIP team at CIS, and WMU Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Some of the ugly sweaters on display at the Exchange Building.

Thanks to in-kind sponsors PlazaCorp (providing the storefront window) and Memories Bridal & Evening Wear (providing the mannequins), the community can visit these unique sweaters in person now through December 18th. The window display is located downtown at the Exchange Building, on the southeast corner of W. Michigan and S. Rose, across from Bronson Park. These ugly creations are also being featured on the CIS Facebook page during “12 Days of Sweaters.

The sweaters are also on virtual display, here on the CIS website through the end of December. You can visit the sweaters virtually or in person and then cast your vote for the ugliest sweater. Each dollar donated in support of a sweater is considered a vote. The first $2,500 raised will be kindly matched by Kalsec. Voting concludes on the last day in December and, at that time, the sweater with the most in donations/votes will be crowned the winner.

“The sweaters may be ‘ugly,’ but the cause is beautiful,” says Devers. “Every vote, which translates into every dollar given, supports students in our community, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life. It doesn’t get more beautiful than that.”

[You can catch this recently aired video of Devers speaking about the event with Fox 17 here.)

#GivingBack on #GivingTuesday at CIS of Kalamazoo

Today is #GivingTuesday: a “global day of giving” fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Last year, CIS of Kalamazoo launched an initiative to do the “giving” on #GivingTuesday, surprising an individual who has gone above and beyond for students in each school building with a card and gift from the CIS site coordinator. The huge smiles and joy we witnessed last year ensured that it would become an annual activity.

We’re thrilled to continue this initiative in 2020. Though it may look different, our purpose remains the same: to honor and recognize someone at each school who is going above and beyond. Each CIS site coordinator has selected a KPS staff member who has demonstrated a commitment to working with CIS to help students succeed and/or make sure students’ needs are met. A personal note and e-gift card will be sent to each recipient. Check out the descriptions below to learn about the inspiring work being done by school staff.

This year has been especially challenging for schools and school staff, and we also want to take a moment to say thank you to EVERY individual who has worked so hard for students. From all of us at Communities In Schools, thank you. We are proud to partner with you.

Arcadia Elementary – Donia Ali has been a true partner for CIS when it comes to connecting to Arcadia’s Arabic speaking families.  She has the best interest of Arcadia students and families in her heart with all that she does. Thank you, Donia, for all you do for Arcadia students and families!

Edison Environmental Science Academy – Head Secretary, Tonya Orbeck, is the most helpful head secretary we could possibly imagine. She always has a million things to do, and yet always finds the time to help in whatever way she can. She is truly the embodiment of teamwork and selflessness.

El Sol Elementary – Secretary, Graciela Arevalo, is a bridge between El Sol staff and families. She is a vital resource to distributing information to families and maintaining a connection between El Sol families and CIS.

Hillside Middle School – Melinda Long, Counseling Office Secretary, is a constant support to CIS at Hillside. She is always very positive and cheerful. Ms. Long works tirelessly as the secretary for the counseling office; she is patient and compassionate when working with students and her professionalism and demeanor makes her a wonderful role model for the young people she supports every day.

Kalamazoo Central High School – Bilingual Home School Liaison, Rebeca Arevalo-Visuet, has been a precious resource. She helps communicate with families where English is a second language. She consistently responds to requests for assistance. Rebeca makes our jobs and the jobs of many other KPS staff much easier. The service she provides is priceless. We are especially grateful!

King-Westwood Elementary – There is no task too big or too small for Jennifer Diget, King-Westwood secretary. Whether it is getting information about a family, accepting a delivery, getting instructions on how to do absolutely anything—or who to contact for absolutely anything—Ms. Diget is the one to call. Not only is she willing to help with anything, she always does it with a smile. She is priceless!

Lincoln Elementary – TaKarra Dunning goes above and beyond to serve the students and families of Lincoln Elementary. As the school’s Behavioral Specialist, she not only helps to support families with clothes, food, and visiting homes, she also supports staff by thinking outside the box to get the job done!

Linden Grove Middle School – Kelly Reimink at Linden Grove has been the missing link necessary in connecting us to students and families. While we’re working remotely, she has been the LG staff member keeping us in the loop about resources available to continue our connections with students and families. Her extensive knowledge and diligence allow us to continue the good work that we do.

Loy Norrix High School – GSA advisor and Library Media Specialist, John Krieder, is always there for students in any capacity. He is always in good spirits and welcomes everyone with a smile.

Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts – Our secretaries, Dillon Boyd and Nicole Degraaf, have been allies for CIS from the day they both entered Maple Street. Their willingness to connect families to CIS whenever possible helps to seamlessly provide much needed services to students. We really appreciate them for being kind-hearted and available when we have questions or if we need anything. We are grateful for all that they do. Thank you!

Milwood Elementary – Leroy Green, Behavioral Aid at Milwood Elementary, is awesome! He is the rock of our school. He is respected and loved by all; the school would not be the same without him!

Milwood Magnet Middle School – KPS IT Specialist, Jacob Cieslak has been a necessary lifesaver when helping CIS implement our groups, CIS After School, GSA newsletter, and more! His patience and willingness to be available whenever we need him has helped us to reach students. He is dedicated to CIS and our students.

Northeastern Elementary – Judy Morin, the Behavioral Specialist, has constantly supported CIS and our students since we’ve started working together. She frequently refers families that are in need to our office. Ms. Morin is extremely devoted to our students and is passionate about what CIS can do to help. She is always promoting us, our services, and utilizing them for students in whatever way possible.

Northglade Elementary – Principal Re’Qwal Duckworth has worked hand in hand with CIS through the pandemic. Through meeting with site coordinators to help meet students’ needs, delivering supplies to students, making home visits, and leading the site and students in the midst of a global pandemic, Mrs. Duckworth shows a commitment to working with CIS and helping students succeed. 

Parkwood Upjohn Elementary – Paraprofessional, Jane Metzler, has spent many years working within our school district. Ms. Metzler has readily made herself available to assist in meeting the needs of our students.  When we moved to remote learning in the spring, Jane could regularly be counted on to deliver food and school supplies to students without hesitation.  Special Education teacher, Ms. Forbes, says that Jane is “amazingly compassionate and caring.  She goes above and beyond to make sure the students have not only academic resources, but also words of encouragement.  She is a true gem.”

Prairie Ridge Elementary – Home Support Specialists, Terry Hess and Amy Triemstra, have gone above and beyond to coordinate with CIS staff to make sure our work has the greatest positive impact for our kids, families, and staff. They are the glue that holds the school together. The Prairie Ridge CIS team is so grateful to them both.

Spring Valley Elementary – School Psychologist, Michelle Youngs, goes above and beyond to make sure that our students’ needs are met and is always there to support staff with encouragement. She truly does understand the CIS vision and what an important role we are in the students’ success and well-being.

Washington Writers’ Academy – Ms. Joy Vandepol and Mrs. Yolanda Kirk do everything possible to help the school run smooth. They are a great team and always going above and beyond to help and support me (CIS site coordinator, Fredrick Daniel) as I am new in this position. When frustrations and uncertainties kick in, they help to calm things down. I love them to death.

Woods Lake Elementary – Teacher, Alex Miller, is always advocating for her students. She is always going above and beyond to make sure her students are logging on with her every day. If students are not logging online, she is trying to figure out why and identifying anything they may need in order to be successful!

Woodward School for Technology and Research – Kindergarten Teacher, Asha Epp, regularly goes above and beyond to make sure her kindergarten students feel at home with her and in her classroom. During COVID times, this has been no different. Asha makes deliveries, ensures ALL students are feeling connected to each other and to the class, and works tirelessly to build that loving and accountable classroom culture that is essential to learning, especially during these hard times. Asha is an essential part of the Woodward Wolf Pack, and we are grateful to be able to honor her and say “Thank You” for being so strong for your students and the school community!

 

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.

 

VIRTUAL COLLECTION DRIVE TO SUPPORT STUDENTS BACK-TO-SCHOOL NEEDS

While school is shaping up to look a lot differently this school year, one thing that hasn’t changed is that students still need basic school supplies to start their year off strong. This year, to make it safer and easier for the community to provide students which much needed school supplies, CIS has launched a virtual collection drive.

“Given these unprecedented times, we felt it paramount to review our current guidelines for donation collections and distribution to the 20 CIS supported Kalamazoo Public Schools,” says Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo James Devers. “Our top priority is the health and safety of the children and families we serve, our generous supporters, KPS staff and CIS staff.”

Now through August 28th, supporters can participate in the virtual collection drive by shopping on-line for items like notebooks, pencils, scissors and more. Donations can be made by visiting the donation page here. These purchased supplies will be delivered directly to the CIS Kids’ Closet for distribution.

While CIS highly recommends the virtual collection as the way to support students’ back to school needs, if individuals or organizations wish to support in alternative ways, they can reach out to us by going to the “Contact” page on our website, found here.

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.