What We are Made Of

Angelo’s Mosaic Portrait

Just last week, the national CIS office unveiled What We are Made Of. This collaboration between pop artist Jason Mecier and CIS students has resulted in 3-D mosaic portraits of students that are currently on display at Touchstone Gallery in Washington D.C.  To bring this unique project to everyone, a virtual, interactive version is available here. It’s worth checking out!

We love thinking about what we’re made of. We invited CIS staff to be part of this project. We asked them to tell us what item represents part of what they are made of. Here’s what a few of them said:

Hiking boots and bologna sandwich

My well-worn, hiking boots have been a trusted support, emotionally, as well as physically—encouraging my love of travel and immersion into various communities, along with my best pal, Lisa. And, of course, without the grounding of a bologna sandwich, all experiences would be less than.

-Jenn Miner, CIS Site Coordinator, Kalamazoo Central High School

A suitcase

I made my first journey as an infant with my parents to come to the United States after being adopted by them. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to travel to other places and those experiences have helped me grow as a person and learn to appreciate differences and other points of view.

-Emily Kobza, Sr. Director of Development & Business Engagement

Photo of family

I come from a large family with a supporting and loving mother who I know has shaped the person I am today…caring, giving and loving. Because of the strong love and relationships I have with my family, it makes me the mother and Site Coordinator that I am today.

-Martha Serio, CIS Site Coordinator, Spring Valley Center for Exploration

Coffee

I’m made up of coffee. With a four-year-old and nine-month-old, this mama needs all the help she can get.

-Felicia Lemons, Development Coordinator

Sand Dollar

Its simple shape reflects who I am – what you see is what you get, nothing is hidden. It especially connects me to the salty waters of my Caribbean roots and reminds me of who I am and where I came from.  I have a sand dollar pendant that I always wear and has been with me since I left my home and family many years ago to explore “new waters”… a challenge bigger that I ever imagined… It also reminds me of our human nature and how it doesn’t matter if we are fragile and quiet, we still strive to be resilient, beautiful and unique in our own special way.

-Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer, Success Coach, Loy Norrix High School

What are you made of?

Creativity: An Ingredient in Every Child’s Cupboard, Pt. II

As we discussed in last week’s post, experts who study creativity remind us that creativity is not a magical component bestowed to a lucky few children. By virtue of belonging to the human family, we are all innately creative. That means creativity can be taught and nurtured. But how do we do this?

Fortunately, there are countless ways to unlock and strengthen a child’s innate ability to be a creative thinker. Here are just three ideas.

1. Play the “What else can it be used for?” game.

Round up a common object, such as a stone, a leaf, or a pencil. Spend five minutes listing as many uses for this common object as possible. Not only can this be fun, but a recent study has found that this “alternative use task” can actually improve problem solving!

This finding makes sense. By making the familiar strange, we can see a common object (or problem) from various perspectives. We create fresh views and interesting connections when we imagine possibilities.

One tip: Have kid(s) do this independently. Some studies have found that brainstorming in a group actually produces fewer—and less interesting—ideas than listing them alone. (Brainstorming can still be a good thing for other activities.)

On your mark, get set, go!

2. Find the second right answer.

Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head, says that “By the time the average person finishes college, he or she will have taken over 2,600 tests, quizzes, and exams. The right answer approach becomes deeply ingrained in our thinking. This may be fine for some mathematical problems where there is in fact only one right answer. The difficulty is that most of life isn’t this way. Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers—all depending on what you’re looking for. But if you think there is only one right answer, then you’ll stop looking as soon as you find one.”

Rarely is it the first idea that pops in our mind the best idea. Encouraging kids to look for a second, third, fourth, and even the twelfth right answer, stirs creativity. It builds receptivity to new ideas and considering problems from various viewpoints. Encouraging this type of open-minded thinking also offers a side-benefit: not falling in love with one particular way of doing something.

One simple way we can help kids search for a second right answer is to pay attention to the type of questions we ask. Do we frame questions so that they are open-ended and invite more than one answer?

Why else do you think that might be? What other reasons could there be for that? What other ways could this problem be solved?

[Bonus material: We get better answers if we ask better questions. For example, how many of us have turned to a child we love and asked, How was school today?   This terribly uninspiring question—asked by many well-intentioned grownups—tends to elicit responses like “Good.” Okay.” “Hmmphf.”  Can you think of a better way to ask this question? Let us know and if we get some interesting questions, we’ll test them out with kids and share their responses in a future post.]

3. Practice being impractical. 

Too often, as grownups, we can find ourselves in a “Be Practical” mindset. We shouldn’t waste time devoting energy to useless activities, right? We should be productive, right? For Von Oech, “Be Practical” is a mental block to creativity and can easily be knocked down by posing “What if?” questions. And the sillier, the better.

What if trees grew upside down, with their leaves in the ground and their roots in the air?

What if we walked backwards all day?

What if you could fly for one hour every day?

Asking silly “What if?” questions and answering them (there is more than one right answer!) stretches the imagination. Kids love coming up with these types of questions and answering them. At the same time, it prepares their young minds for asking/answering questions and generating fresh ideas to challenges (both big and small) that will arise throughout their lives.

Remember, each one of us and our 12,000+ kids has creativity as an ingredient in our cupboard. We just need to take it out and use it. We’ve just shared three recipes. Now get cooking!

 

Creativity: An Ingredient in Every Child’s Cupboard

We recently ran a post, “Curious about Curiosity? noting that, among other things, curious children are better able to grasp basic math and reading than their less curious comrades. Another success ingredient, closely linked to curiosity and also associated with higher academic achievement, is creativity.

What do we mean when we speak of creativity? While uninspiring definitions abound, consider these three definitions on creativity and creative thinkers:

  •  “…. imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena.”  -Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head
  • “… a process of becoming sensitive to problems, deficiencies, gaps in knowledge, missing elements and disharmonies as well as identifying, searching for solutions, making guesses or formulation of hypotheses, and possibly modifying and restating them, and experimenting to find results and finally communicating the results.” -John E. Penick, researcher who has studied the relationship between academic success and creativity, author of Teaching with Purpose: Closing the Research- Practice Gap
  • “… the process of bringing something new into being. Creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life. The experience is one of heightened consciousness: ecstasy.” -Rollo May, existential psychologist and author of The Courage to Create

Neuroscientist Tina Seelig teaches courses in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship at Stanford. Too often, she says, the creative process is viewed narrowly, associated with only the arts. She has developed an “Innovation Engine model” to help us think about creativity as both an internal (attitude, imagination and knowledge) and external (resources, habitat, and culture) process. She also offers several intriguing ideas to unleash creativity. You can watch her “Crash Course in Creativity” TEDx talk here.

Before we help kids unlock their creativity, it makes sense to first consider our own relationship with creativity. Here’s some questions to toss around. You can ask these questions in the context of yourself, your team, school, family, or business.

  • Do I/we value creativity?
  • How do I/we think of creativity? Do I/we need to expand my/our view of creativity?
  • When asking a question of others (or ourselves), do I/we wait for that second, third, or fourth right answer?
  • Do I/we tend to explore or judge/shut down unique and odd-ball ideas and questions?
  • How do I/we model creativity? (This doesn’t mean breaking out the oil paints and creating the next Mona Lisa. Rather, dragging out questions like: Do I allow myself to play with questions? Do I ask open-ended questions? Am I willing to take risks with sharing ideas, even if they seem a bit whacky?)
  • Do I/we reward creativity? If so, how?
  • What am I/What are we doing to nurture a culture of creativity in within the home/school/business environment? Am I/Are we doing anything to stifle creativity?

Come back next week, and we’ll offer specific strategies for strengthening children’s innate ability to be creative thinkers. Who knows, you may even reclaim the creative genius locked away inside yourself!

The Gift of Presence

 

“The gift of presence is a rare and beautiful gift. To come – unguarded, undistracted – and be fully present, fully engaged with whoever we are with at that moment.” – John Eldredge

 

 

Winter break is almost here. One of our 12,000+ kids can’t wait. He’s looking forward to spending time with his dad. It’s a good reminder that one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is the gift of ourselves. Holidays can be a fun, yet hectic time. It helps to take a minute and breathe in. Breathe out. And be present.

Wondering what fun things there are for kids to do in Kalamazoo over the winter break? Check out this list of “40+ Things To Do During Winter Break Around Kalamazoo” that KZOOkids pulled together.

And of course, on December 31st from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, there is much to enjoy at the annual New Year’s Fest: music, magic, comedy, exhibitions, fireworks, and food. There will be a ball drop & fireworks at midnight in Bronson Park. For event information, go here.

As the days get darker and colder, the holidays can also be a time of stress. People can be affected by feelings of hopelessness, depression, and negative mood. It’s good to know that Gryphon Place has a 24-hour HELP-Line. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, dial 260-381-HELP (381-4357). There is someone who will listen, help you sort through your thoughts, let you know where you can turn for help or can directly send help to you, to help get you through the moment, the hour, the night.

We’re taking a blogging break at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids and will return with fresh, weekly posts beginning Tuesday, January 8th. Until then, be present and take care!

Curious about curiosity?

“It is so important to allow children to bloom and to be driven by their curiosity.”                                -May-Britt Moser, neuroscientist

 

Curiosity, that desire to know, may have been blamed for killing the cat but it can contribute to academic success. Did you know that recent studies have found that higher curiosity is associated with higher academic achievement?

Curious children are better able to grasp basic math and reading than their less curious comrades. Researchers at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the Center for Human Growth and Development (their finding published this year in Pediatric Research) have found that the relationship between a child’s curiosity and academic achievement was not related to a child’s gender or self-regulatory capacities. In addition, the more curious the child, the more likely he or she may perform better in school– regardless of economic background. In fact, the lead researcher in this study, Prachi Shah, said that “the association of curiosity with academic achievement is greater in children with low socioeconomic status.” Shah goes on to say that “promoting curiosity in children, especially those from environments of economic disadvantage may be an important, under-recognized way to address the achievement gap.”

Curiously enough, a different study published just this year in Journal of Child and Family Studies, found that teens who are curious also tend to be more self-compassionate. This makes sense. If a teen is open to exploring and appreciating new experiences, it follows that the teen may be more kind and accepting of his or her self.

Curiosity is the perfect fuel that drives us to seek and learn, innovate, and create. Curious children are more aware and open to trying things and failing, and learning from those mistakes. Curious kids explore, notice, make connections, and, as other studies suggest, grow up to be curious adults who are non-defensive, non-critical, emotionally expressive, and experience positive relationships with others.

Yet, we all have met people who seem to move through life with a low or empty curiosity fuel tank. Dr. Todd Kashdan, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University, has studied curiosity for decades. He says that a lack of curiosity is a breeding ground for such things as discrimination, ignorance, and rigid conformity.

What specific steps can we take to further cultivate curiosity in our children—and ourselves—so that we can thrive and learn to the greatest extent possible? Well, that’s a post for another time. So, keep coming back. Meanwhile, stay curious!

Trotting out Thanks

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”          -Novelist Elizabeth Gilbert

What are you thankful for?

At CIS, we are thankful for you. Your support puts CIS Site Coordinators in the schools, directly in the path of students. So when a student is in need—thanks to you—we are able to step in and work with school and community partners to address needs in a coordinated and accountable manner. Thank you for your generosity and all the wonderful forms it comes in: giving your time, your talents, your financial support and resources.

We know parents are also thankful for your support because you “fill the gaps” for their children. As one parent put it, “I want the best for my child but I can’t give them all that they need. I’m so grateful that CIS connected my child to the services she needed.”

Students and their families may not know your name, but they are grateful for you and the

…backpack filled with school supplies you placed on their back at the start of the school year.

…new shoes you slipped on two hurt feet. “These ones don’t have holes or pinch my feet!”

…tutor who visits weekly to help with reading.

…warm coat and boots you provided.

…Thanksgiving meal they will share and enjoy with their family.

The list of grateful goes on.

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

Go vote and then read this post.

“Volunteering,” someone once said, “is the ultimate exercise in democracy.”

Why? Because when you choose to volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.

You join with others to help creating a community of hope, one in which all children can fulfill their promise. By giving just one hour a week of your time you help students in Kalamazoo Public Schools:

Stay and succeed in school
Improve in math or reading
Gain self-esteem and confidence
Have food for the weekend
Be ready for college and a career
Fulfill his or her Promise

Did you know that you are one of 43,000 community volunteers throughout the CIS network who, in 2016-2017, donated your time to 1.56 million students served by 131 affiliated organizations in 25 states and D.C.?

Thank you for casting your support of our 12,000+ children.

Interested in joining forces with our fabulous volunteers? You can change the life of a young person right here in your community by signing up today

Five Fun Fall Facts

Here’s a list of five fun fall facts to enjoy while you sip your pumpkin spice latte or other favorite fall beverage.

One.

This past September, the national organization of Communities In Schools welcomed NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal as the newest member of its national board of directors. “Every kid, no matter where they’re from or how much money their parents make, deserves the opportunity to get a good education,” said O’Neal. “My education was critical to my success on and off the court. Being in school gave me self-discipline and showed me the importance of hard work. I always knew that when my playing days were over, nobody could take my education away from me.”  You can read more here.

Two.

Fall ushers in a number of opportunities for students to participate in sports. However, by middle school, 70 percent of students have dropped out of organized sports. The number one reason? It isn’t fun anymore. The good news is that there is a roadmap to fun. A study a few years back found that being a good sport, trying hardand positive coaching came in as the top three most important factors to having fun in youth sports. Winning ranks near the bottom (coming in at 48 out of 81 identified indicators of fun).

 

Three.

John Brandon, partner services coordinator for CIS of Kalamazoo shares this fact: “Fall is when most of our school supplies are donated, and what we receive during this time will be most of what we have to distribute throughout the school year.”

Four.

What does Michigan have in common with Alabama, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Iowa, and Rhode Island? According to Candy Store.com, candy corn is our number one choice for Halloween candy. In Michigan, Starbursts ranks second, and Skittles third. To see the most popular Halloween candy state-by-state, check out their interactive U.S. map here. As long as we’re on this topic, did you know that candy corn hasn’t always been called candy corn? It was first called “Chicken Feed.” It came in a box with a rooster drawing and the tagline read: Something worth crowing for.

Five.

Here’s a fun fall fact worth crowing about: Communities In Schools is the nation’s largest provider of Integrated Student Supports. (To learn more about our unique model, go here.) That is a fun fact all year round!