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.

 

#GivingTuesdayNow – Together we…

…show up for kids

…are all in for kids (in school and beyond!)

…give thanks

…are grateful

…appreciate our community

…happy to give on #GivingTuesdayNow

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo is delighted to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow, which is a global day of giving and unity that was organized as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. Generosity in any form empowers us to make positive changes in the lives of others, and is a value that everyone can act on.

The tagline for #GivingTuesdayNow: “Together We…” is a perfect sentiment – CIS has elected to participate by giving thanks to our community for the kindness, generosity and collaboration which enable us to remain fully staffed and supporting students each and every day.

For this global day of unity and giving, members of our team each have reflected on an individual or group to recognize in some way. Whether it be volunteers who have gone above and beyond, graduating seniors who deserve some love, or any number of others in our community, CIS team members are eager to recognize some very special people. Here are just a few of the ways that CIS team members have elected to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow:

  • Recognizing seniors that the high school site teams have worked with by preparing celebratory yard signs and banners to post in yards and windows of graduating seniors
  • Sending hand-written thank you cards to community partners who are working on the front lines in our community
  • Sharing gratitude with corporate partners who have offered advice and support for navigating the complexities of running an organization during COVID-19
  • Encouraging neighbors to get involved by delivering sidewalk chalk for writing messages of gratitude and kindness for all to see
  • Writing a poem to share with a specific volunteer who has supported a student
  • Sending a “plantable” card to two special volunteers to thank them for planting seeds of kindness at a school
  • Sending e-cards to corporate sponsors who have extended kindness and understanding after we had to change our annual event
  • Preparing and sending virtual greetings to volunteers, partners and supporters

And much more! We are fortunate to be a part of this community that provides constant reasons to give thanks, and we’re delighted to take part in this global day of unity.

Together We thank you for being part of our community.

Take care of yourself and read

During this time of isolation and social distancing, it’s more important than ever to read. Did you know that reading can reduce stress in both children and adults? It’s good to know that during these anxious times, choosing to reading can be a powerful strategy to positively impact our emotional and physical health. When we open a book and read, our heart rate slows and we reduce tension that has built up in our bodies. A 2009 University of Sussex study discovered that reading reduced stress as much as 68%.

We asked CIS staff what they are reading during this most challenging time. Here’s what some of them shared:

I am currently reading Slan by A.E. vanVogt.

Cameron Massimino, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am currently reading The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, but I anticipate tomorrow I will be on book 2 of the trilogy, Before They Are Hanged.

Jenna Cooperrider, Associate Director of Site Services

 

I just finished reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Next up is One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. Historical Fiction is my favorite genre.  Happy reading all!

Carol Roose, CIS Site Coordinator, Washington Writers’ Academy

 

I am currently reading The World According to Humphrey written by Betty G. Birney. My daughter’s school is participating in “One School, One Book” and we are reading this book together.

Felicia Lemon, Development & Marketing Project Manager

 

I am currently reading Gemini Files by Blacc Topp, as well as listening (Audible) to Within The Shadows by Brandon Massey.  Next up is Elbert: The Uncaged Mind (The Black Series Book 2).

Artrella Cohn, Sr. Director of Community Engagement and Student Investment

 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Jennifer Miner, CIS Site Coordinator, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Our family is reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe together.

Angela Van Heest, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School

 

I recently finished Understanding Your Place in God’s Kingdom by Myles Munroe.

James Devers, Executive Director

 

I am reading The Stand by Stephen King.

Shannon Jones, CIS After School Coordinator at Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

I’m currently (re) reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. On a more personal note, I also just finished audio taping several children’s books to send (along with an “old fashioned” tape recorder) to my new grandson in Seattle – born last Friday. We included some of our daughter’s favorite books when she was a child – and one we knew her husband loved! Lastly, we included one of my favorite books, which my husband and I read together: The Invisible String by Patrice Karst – – which has never been more timely.

-Lauren Smirniotopoulos, CIS Site Coordinator, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

Our family is reading The Wingfeather Saga Series by Andrew Peterson.

Cara Weiler, Associate Director of Site Services

 

I’m re-reading Tranny by Laura Jane Grace.

Dana Flynn, CIS Site Coordinator, Northeastern Elementary School

 

I’m reading The Book of Gutsy Women by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton

Laura McCoy, CIS Site Coordinator, Washington Writers Academy

 

I am currently reading the New World Translation of the Holy ScripturesStudy Edition. I am currently in the book of Isaiah.

Tracie Hall, Finance Coordinator

 

I’m reading state and federal legislation resulting because of COVID-19!

Colleen Loc, Human Resources Manager

 

As a family we just finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We are also reading the Portage Public School’s “One School, One Book” and are reading The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz.

Nicky Aiello, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I am currently reading Core Knowledge and Competencies (Levels 1-4). They are standards set forth by the National Afterschool Association (NAA) that are categorized into 10 different content areas. I’m working on my AfterSchool Accreditation.

Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator, Maple Street Magnet School

 

I am reading The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

Joan Coopes, CIS Site Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary School

 

I’ve started Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces by Gail Griffin. (She taught at Kalamazoo College for 36 years.) I love it when books hook me from the first page and this one caught me with its first line.

Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I am reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Jane Asumadu, CIS After School Coordinator, Linden Grove Middle School

 

I usually pick a fiction and expository (usually about bees) to enjoy. Right now I’m reading Crossing the Tiber a journey of sorts and, optimistically looking ahead to summer, Under the Radar Michigan/The First 50.

Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary

 

I’m reading The Outsider by Stephen King.

-Debra Newsome, Senior Director for Finance, Human Resources, and Administration

 

I finished reading Who Moved My Cheese and The Present: The Gift for Changing Times by Spencer Johnson. I will start Positive Addiction by William Glasser, M.D. My pastor recommended it.

Maria Chalas, CIS After School Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary School

 

I am rereading The Book Of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  I love this book and have read it in part and whole many times. It helps me keep perspective in times of change.

-Carli Thompson, CIS Site Coordinator, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

Click here to read what a few of our CIS board members have been reading. Within this same post you will also find information on where to obtain fresh reading materials during this time of isolation. Take care of yourself and read!

 

 

Connectedness During a Time of Social Distancing

For the second week in a row, Jane Asumadu is our guest blogger. [If you missed her post last week, “The Community is Here With You,” you can find it here.] As CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School, Jane hopes to share her passion for education, particularly reading and writing, with students. As a Kalamazoo native, former Japan resident, and world traveler, Jane hopes to share her experiences with the community.

In last week’s post, I provided a list of some local and national resources available that support learning and the basic needs for students and families at home. This week, I want to look at our time at home through a different lens. How can we maintain emotional stability at this time?

In this post, I have compiled a list of some strategies and resources that promote physical and emotional balance. Before I begin, though, I must emphasize that I am by no means an expert on mental health. I simply want to share tips while I also walk this path with you all. 

Routines, routines, routines.

With people obligated to spend time at home, it may be easy to fall into weekend or summer break habits. While relaxation is always a healthy way to recharge, waking up late, being in pajamas all day, eating irregularly, and excessive time on screens for days and days can lead to the creation of unhealthy habits, especially for younger kids. So, how do we break that cycle? Establish routines at home. 

In an article in Psychology Today, comparative educational specialist Teru Clavel states that, “…this as an opportunity to establish new or revised house rules…” Now that many of us do not have the structure of our usual daily schedule, we should create a new one for our time at home. Younger children may need a schedule that shows when to eat, read, and play. Older children may need a schedule that states their responsibilities at home (chores) and due dates for assignments. Adults, too, may need to schedule their time as well. It could be a great way to finish that project from around the house or start that hobby you have always wanted to try. 

Below are parts of a example schedule provided by the CDC that shows what a structured day might look like for a family with young kids:

Family with 3 kids, twins age 4 and a 2 year old

  • Age 2
    • Wake up at 7:00 a.m. and have milk
    • Cartoons until breakfast at 8:00 a.m. Get dressed for the day
    • Snack at 10:00 a.m.
    • Lunch at noon followed by nap at 12:30 p.m.
    • Dinner at 5:30 p.m.
    • Bath at 6:00 p.m., followed by a story and a few songs in bedroom
    • Lights off by 6:45 or 7:00 p.m.
  • Continued for age 4
    • Bath time around 6:30 p.m.
    • Read or do something together, like a game or art project, around 7:00 p.m.
    • Potty, brush teeth, and then to bed by 8:00 p.m.

Establishing a routine at home creates structure. There are many creative ways to ensure that this time spent at home can also be a learning experience that supports growth. 

Disconnect to reconnect.

In last week’s post, I shared some online resources that support continued learning at home. This week, I want to add a little aside. Living in the Information Age, we have become dependent on the technological advancements that have taken charge of how our society and lives operate. In 2017, Common Sense Media reported that young teenagers spent an average of 5 hours in front of screens, not including school or homework. Imagine the amount of time they might be spending in front of screens when there is no school at all. There is a lot of research that has been done that discusses the impact of screen time on students and learning. Instead, I want to focus on ways to reduce that time. 

Jane’s suggestions to reduce screen time for students at home:

  • Limit academic learning online to one hour, two hours max
  • Schedule offline reading time, at least 30 minutes
  • Be aware of what your students are watching while online
  • Have TV time together
  • Journaling – 251 Creative Writing Prompts for Kids
  • Go outside and exercise! (of course, while maintaining social distancing)

Most importantly, reducing screen time can help with managing sleep for everyone. The blue light in LED screens has been proven to reduce the amount of melatonin released, which is what we need to have a proper night of sleep. The blue light essentially makes our brains think we are still awake and not ready to sleep. It is crucial at this time that we are as healthy as possible. Good sleep is a great defense against illness. 

Exercise and Mindfulness

Lastly, I want to suggest staying active and mindful. There are still ways to be active while adhering to Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe Executive Order. We can definitely go for a walk or run outside while maintaining a safe distance from one another. Everyone should go outside and to get some much needed Vitamin D. For those who want to stay inside and be active, great organizations like the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo have compiled a list of free resources available. Click here to access that list. 

Mindfulness is often misinterpreted as yoga and meditation. Although those are both great tools to practice mindfulness, mindfulness is simply defined as, “…awareness of one’s experience without judgement.” In an age where we are constantly bombarded with the opinions and drama of others, we need to find time to check-in and take care of ourselves. 

A few resources to practice mindfulness and self-awareness at home: 

  1. 25+ Mindfulness activities for Children and Teens – mindfulness in schools is often called social-emotional learning. Try out these exercises at home.
  2. Popular apps like Calm and Headspace offer free trial subscriptions to their seemingly unlimited mindfulness tools like guided meditation and help with sleep.
  3. If you or someone you know needs someone else to talk to, Gryphon Place will continue to offer 24/7 help to those in need. You can contact them at 269-381-HELP(4957) or call their 211 hotline if you need help locating other services like food, shelter, and mental healthcare. 

What Happens Now

It is a time to reflect and reconnect. In Teru Clavel’s article, COVID-19: 12 Preparations for Parents, Clavel points out the importance of communication and staying calm. We should be honest with each other. Not only about what is going on around us, but also what is going on within ourselves. So, continue to check-in with your neighbors and people close to you. Do not allow yourself to be bombarded with every news update and listen only to the facts from the CDC. Protect those around you and continue to look forward to the future. Stay happy and healthy.