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.

Awakening in Thanks

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said this. We share this same sentiment. Whether you have been a friend of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) for two months or two decades, we are thankful for you.

Thank you for your generosity and all the wonderful forms it comes in: giving your time, your talents, and your financial support and resources.

Students and their families may not know your name, but they are grateful for you and the gaps you fill, such as school supplies, new shoes, warm coats and boots, tutoring, mentoring, food, and physical and mental health services. The list of grateful goes on.

For as long as we have voices we will thank you for loving our 12,000+ kids and giving them the opportunity to be the best students and people they can be!

 

ONE GENEROUS COMMUNITY, 7,500 BACK-TO-SCHOOL SUPPLIES

This post is written by guest blogger, Sara Lonsberry. Sara is our basic needs coordinator with CIS Kids’ Closet, and she is passionate about community engagement and supporting all students in their growth and development.

Once again, our community has made a tremendous difference in the lives of our students and families by participating in our annual Back to School Drive.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our efforts to serve students looked quite different this year. We organized our first “Virtual Drive” allowing donors to “shop” our wish list of school supplies from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Thank you to the many community organizations and local businesses who supported! As a result of the combined generosity from our community, 7,500 school supplies were donated and $1,800 was donated to buy more! Based on developing needs, more headphones for virtual learning, more zipper binders, and more secondary grade backpacks will be purchased this year. Although students are studying virtually this fall, the need for quality school supplies remains a basic and pressing need, and it’s because of our community’s consistent commitment to student success that we’re able to meet these needs year after year.

CIS staff have found creative ways to distribute basic needs donations, like school supplies. Because CIS site coordinators are not able to “shop” the Kids’ Closet due to COVID-19 building safety restrictions, they are communicating routinely with our basic needs coordinator to receive up-to-date information about what’s in stock, place online orders, and then pick up their orders to make deliveries directly to students’ homes.

In addition, CIS is working with Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes to establish additional food pantries at various CIS sites throughout the district. At these “pop up” food pantries, students and families will also be able to pick up “grab-and-go” Kids’ Closet items, such as backpacks and pencil boxes pre-filled with school supplies. This is still in the works, so stay tuned as this distribution opportunity develops!

Overall, our Back to School Drive was a success thanks to the dedication of our community members. On behalf of our students, families, teachers, and staff, we are SO grateful for each and every individual, business, and community organization that contributed.

Interested in donating to support our mission of supporting students and empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life? For an updated list of Kids’ Closet needs, please click here.

Back to School in the Pandemic Era

School is back in session and it’s looking a bit different this year for our 12,000+ kids, depending on which of the three Kalamazoo Public School options families have selected for their children.

Whatever the option, CIS is still here, our mission remains the same: surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life. And thanks to your continued support, CIS staff are working hard alongside teachers, principals, and other school administrators, connecting with parents and local partners to reengage students.

Given these challenging times and the variety of needs arising throughout our community, we will be launching a new blog series in which we will cover a range topics and resources that we hope will provide support to you, our parents, families, and students. If you have an idea or would like to see a specific topic(s) covered (such as the arts, physical fitness, positive mental health), email Jennifer at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and let us know! We love hearing from our readers.

If you’ve been following us over the summer, you met folks like Rebecca Achenbach, who reminds us that each child and family is unique, and Maria Whitmore (Chalas), who challenges herself (and us) to walk through doors of new opportunities, Jessica Waller, who inspires us to do more, and Jerrell Amos, who is learning to adjust—and helps others adjust—when life throws a curve ball. And let’s be honest. Every one of our 12,000+ kids—and us— has been thrown an amazingly large curve ball with this pandemic.

So stick with us. We’ll continue to introduce you to your 12,000+ children and the caring adults like those we’ve just mentioned, who are living during this unprecedented time and helping to raise them.

Next week we can’t wait to introduce you to Rashon, a student from Milwood Magnet Middle School. He’ll teach us all about learning something new and “letting it flow.”

Thank you for following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. The journey continues!

Back to School Supplies – How You Can Support!

During these unprecedented times, we are faced with so many unknowns.

Among all the unknowns, we do know for certain that school supply distribution is needed for the upcoming year!

As school supplies are hitting the middle aisle in your local store, many in our community are starting to think about collection drives. Like many of you, our top priority is the health and safety of the families we serve, our generous supporters, KPS staff, and CIS staff. As such, we have set up a virtual collection drive this year! With students attending virtual classes this year, the need for school supplies may be needed more than ever!

This is new territory for us, so thank you for your flexibility and understanding.

Are you interested in supporting our back to school drive? It is simple…

  1. Visit our donation page: https://www.roonga.com/ciskalamazoo2020backtoschoolsupplydrive
  2. Select from the available items that have the biggest impact
  3. Follow through with the purchase of the items via the donation page

All items purchased through the donation page will be directly delivered to the CIS Kids’ Closet for distribution to students connected with the 20 CIS supported Kalamazoo Public Schools.

The drive is only open until August 28th!

As a friendly reminder, you are always welcome to support the CIS Kids’ Closet with a financial donation through our website and selecting the CIS Kids’ Closet on the donation page. Don’t forget, distribution of supplies requires “people,” support from our community through our general donations help to provide this service. We THANK YOU, our community of support for helping us meet the need of so many students!

Photo taken from 2019 donation made by Rose Street Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan

We See You, Seniors!

At the end of this 2019/2020 school year, we couldn’t shake students’ hands or pat them on the back to congratulate them for all the hard work they put in to receive their high school diplomas. To celebrate this year’s graduates, we had to get creative. Here are just three ways we’ve been celebrating and sharing their accomplishment with them, their families, and the Kalamazoo community:

1. In a “Celebrate the Class of 2020” series, we’ve been featuring graduates and sharing their post-graduation goals. Here are two of them:

You can check out the whole series by going to the CIS Facebook page, here.

2. CIS had individual yard signs printed with a big, beautiful photo of the graduate and delivered them to their homes.

3. We made a short tribute video to the graduating class of 2020. You can watch it here:

Congratulations Class of 2020! We are so proud of you!

In Schools, and Now Beyond

Today’s post is written by Felicia Lemons, Development & Marketing Project Manager. She originally sent this information out as an email to update CIS supporters as to how the CIS after school program has transitioned from in-school support to virtual support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the Communities In Schools (CIS), core work of integrated student support, CIS of Kalamazoo supports students through after-school programming. At 15 KPS schools, students benefit from additional academic support and enrichment activities beyond the normal hours of the school day.

We are proud to share that we continue to provide this much needed support, however virtually. I am proud of how our CIS staff have stepped in to fulfill the needs of our students and their families. When in-person learning was first cancelled our after school coordinators started connecting with their students and families to first make sure their basic needs were being met and connecting families to resources.  Now we are offering 10+ hours of programming every week to keep our students engaged during this time.” – Nicole Wilkinson, CIS Associate Director of Site Services

 

Food and Supply Support

Many members of our team continue to volunteer to participate at the KPS food distribution sites along with practicing safe distance porch drop-offs for families who are unable to make it to a distribution site.

This month, we have packed and delivered over 300 boxes of school supplies to students. Supplies include paper, pencils, craft tools – all for students and families who may not have the necessary supplies to complete the remainder of this school year at home.

Academic Lessons and Tutoring

CIS after school coordinators host virtual office hours to help with homework and offer academic lessons for students in math and English Language Arts. Many coordinators continue to connect with students for one-on-one tutoring for additional support.

Enrichment Programs

Special student clubs led by after school coordinators and youth development coaches are available for students. Fitness Club, Comic Club, and Sign Language Club are just a few examples of clubs that have transitioned to virtual clubs for student enrichment. In addition to our staff lead clubs, we continue to work with enrichment providers like Prevention Works, Live Your Song, and Trinity Prep Center to provide special engagement opportunities for students.

Family Engagement Programs

CIS facilitates family engagement nights for both parent resources and family fun. Family engagement includes an instructor led family paint party and an interactive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) night with the Air Zoo. Parent resources include programs with math and science resources through KPS, CIS-led information sessions about knowing your rights surrounding COVID-19, and so much more!

Field Trips

CIS team led virtual field trips for students include “visits” to the zoo, museums, and parks. Coordinators conduct Q&A sessions during the field trips for student engagement and interaction.

 

The after-school program is sustained and supported by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) grants.

The CIS After School Program continues to be a vital resource for students who can benefit from additional academic assistance, develop their strengths and interests, and connect with their peers and coaches during the pandemic. Your support of CIS makes it possible to bring additional resources like the 21st CCLC grants to our community for students. Interested in supporting students in Kalamazoo? Donate by clicking here.

 

CIS Supporting Students through this Pandemic

During this pandemic, with all Michigan schools closed for the remainder of this school year and many people out of work or with reduced hours, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) students and families are disproportionately more vulnerable than ever. To ensure that this pandemic does not widen gaps in equity and accessibility, CIS has been working hard to make sure students continue to have access to the resources and caring relationships they need to maintain the gains they have made this school year and to realize their full potential. During this challenging time, here are just a few examples of what that CIS support looks like:

 

  • Providing regular check-ins with students and families via phone and video calls to maintain relationships and to connect them to community resources for basic needs services and reliable information.
  • Passing out educational packets and books three days/week at schools and community distribution sites in cooperation with Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) as part of the district’s “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch meal distributions.
  • Packing food boxes at the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food pantry for distribution at their drive-through pick up sites.
  • Dropping off items (non-contact deliveries) for families that lack transportation to make it to a community distribution site.
  • Engaging with CIS partners as we work together to mobilize coordinated community support for all of Kalamazoo’s students and families.

    

“The needs of our students and families have increased exponentially due to the pandemic,” says Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo James Devers. “At the same time, the personal needs of staff, along with those of their family, friends, and extended circles have increased as well. And yet despite that, our CIS team have made heroic efforts to stay connected to and to support Kalamazoo’s students, families, and partners. We remain grateful for the outstanding friends and donors who continue to support us as we work to eliminate barriers in students’ lives so they can continue to succeed.”

In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to one member of our team, CIS Success Coach Nazhly Heredia-Waltemyer. You won’t want to miss it!  In the meantime, be sure to follow our CIS Facebook page, here, where we will continue to update you as to how CIS is responding to student/family needs during this crisis.