Thank You, Friends

Today’s post is written by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Since the regular school year has wrapped up for students and teachers, and we are gearing up for the CIS Think Summer! program and KPS Summer School, it is a natural time to reflect on the 2015-16 school year. Gratitude is the overwhelming sentiment—for you, for our community. “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it,” wrote William Arthur Ward, “is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” So this is my expression of our sincere appreciation. As part of our community, you have chosen to lift up our children and youth as part of Communities In Schools. Thank you!

The important work of helping our kids succeed in school and in life does not happen without you. Your time, energy, talent and determination are essential investments in the future of the next generation and in the future of Kalamazoo. I believe the return on your investment is both measurable and immeasurable. The measurable part—-all of the graduates will have greater earnings, pay more taxes, be more well-prepared parents, and have better health outcomes, to name just a few—inspires us all to work harder to help more kids graduate. The immeasurable part—knowing how much you cared and how much each student felt cared for, converting tears of sorrow to tears of joy, listening to that graduate proudly announce he is the first in his family to graduate from high school—these are but a few of the priceless experiences that assure you will be back next year.

Did you know you helped grateful parents “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.”  We were able to step in because of you.

Our kids count on you and you have been there for them, even in difficult times. It has been an especially challenging year for Kalamazoo. Our community has been rocked by unexplainable tragedy. We’ve lost giants like Charles Warfield. Chuck had much to teach us and was always interested in learning from others, particularly our kids. Ed Gordon, one of the two founding board members of this organization, passed away last year. A member of the City Commission, Ed insisted that supporting our kids is a community responsibility and opportunity.

Each time you show up for kids—whether it’s to work, to volunteer, to partner, or to donate, you add to the foundation of others and you show our kids what it means to be a part of a community that acts together and takes care of one another. So, thank you for believing that CIS and the kids of Kalamazoo are a sound and worthy investment.

Think summer, think-think summer!  The learning and caring continue…

Thank you!

 

A Safe Place to Learn and Grow

A safe place to learn and grow. This is one of five CIS basics that we believe every child needs and deserves. Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Site Coordinator and today’s guest blogger, Emily Demorest, works closely with other CIS staff, the Kalamazoo Public Schools, volunteers, and community partners to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for all children. Here now is Emily’s open letter and reaction to a recent draft statement put forth by the Michigan State Board of Education.

 

I applaud the Michigan Department of Education for their bold step to support the rights and safety of LGBTQ youth in Michigan public schools. The State Board of Education’s Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for LGBTQ Students is a crucial step in ensuring all students in the state receive the education they deserve. We are tasked with supporting all students regardless of our personal feelings regarding individual identity issues.

Any LGBTQ students can share stories of marginalization or open hostility because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. At a time when young people are most vulnerable in their personal development, youth are experiencing issues with bullying, physical harassment, and difficulties accessing safe use of a toilet during the school day. Most are careful to share their true identities even with those they trust. As a CIS Site Coordinator, I work daily with students facing these challenges. All these young people want is to be safe and supported in their learning environment.

Students who do not feel that school is a safe and supportive environment have worse educational outcomes. According to research published by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network in 2013, LGBTQ students who perceive a hostile school climate are three times as likely to miss school and twice as likely to report a lack of interest in pursuing post high school education. Tragically, over half of students experiencing discrimination and harassment at school do not report the abuse due to feeling that exposing their identity to school staff will lead to further problems.

Do not all children deserve equal opportunities to quality education?

The full report is available by going here. Members of the public who wish to comment on the guidelines have until April 11th to express their support before the vote on May 10th.

 

 

Dearest Ms. Dodge

What better way to start the New Year than to reflect on that special person, that, even after all these years, you still carry within your heart? If you follow our blog, you know that Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to.

Today, we share a touching letter written by Carly Denny, CIS Site Coordinator and one member of the passionate and dedicated team at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Carly Denny began her career as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS last school year, using her creative talents to support the college going culture within Northeastern Elementary School and Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In her new role as a Site Coordinator, she says this: “We have amazing partners and volunteers—most of the volunteers come from the surrounding Oshtemo churches. They are pro-active and often reach out to CIS and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ The Prairie Ridge community, the teachers, and staff all support each other in every decision they make. It’s very obvious they care about each and every student here.”

Here’s Carly’s letter.

Dearest Ms. Dodge,

Even though it has been a long time since I have seen you, I still think about you often. As my very first teacher, you are the one that I have compared all future educators to. I was only two and a half when I  enrolled into preschool, much younger than my fellow classmates, yet you made me feel safe in an undiscovered environment and just as capable as the other students. Throughout my preschool experience you cultivated my curiosity and challenged me to be my best little self. Most importantly, you gave me my first taste of learning, which is something I continue to crave, even as I journey my way through grad school. I am not sure I will ever be able to properly thank you for being such an inspirational teacher and special person in my life. You helped shape the person I have become and for that I am forever grateful.

Love,

Carly Denny

Future CIS Site Coordinator Carla Denny with her inspirational teacher Ms. Dodge
Future CIS Site Coordinator Carla Denny with her inspirational teacher Ms. Dodge

 

Carly on her first day of preschool.
Carly on her first day of preschool.

Who is your Ms. Dodge? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

Educators on Parade

It’s Giving Tuesday, a way to reclaim this season and infuse it with true giving. #GivingTuesday does just that by generating conversations about how you can help, give smarter, and put personal philanthropy back into the giving season. How perfect then, that today’s post comes from Emily Kobza, our Director of Development & Business Engagement.

 

I took my son to his very first Kalamazoo Holiday Parade a few weekends ago.  To be honest, I had never been to this parade before so I wasn’t sure what to expect other than a marching band or two and the giant balloons that had been advertised.  While my expectations for the marching bands and the giant balloons were more than met, I ended up being surprised by something I didn’t expect – local educators on parade.

There were band teachers, scout troop leaders, dance teachers, football and cheerleading coaches, and school bus drivers.  There were color guard coaches, preschool teachers, and gymnastics coaches.  There were advisors of student clubs, choir teachers, and swim club coaches.  And they were all there on a Saturday morning walking with their students, supporting and encouraging them.

In this season where we pause to give thanks and reflect on our blessings, I am very grateful for the many, many men and women in our community who are helping young people to learn and grow every day.  Some of them have chosen this as a profession.  Others are volunteering.  All of them are helping to ensure that our kids can fulfill their promise.  Thank you to all of you.

And to the Kalamazoo Husky Club – I think you were my son’s favorite part of the parade.

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Seeing the World Through Mindful Eyes

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How do students learn how to pay attention? How did you learn to notice things? Jessica Smith is back this week as our guest blogger and she tells us about one technique some students are practicing to develop their attention skills.

 

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of mindful breathing. Now, I am going to discuss mindful seeing. When you are looking at your surroundings and the world mindfully, you are paying attention to every detail surrounding you.

While working with students in the mindfulness group, we practiced mindful seeing. The students were instructed to find an object in the room and focus on it while paying attention to specific details. Some of those details include:

The color of the object
The shape of the object
The details of the object (For example, does it have a distinct pattern?)

Imagine you are walking in a garden of flowers. Let’s say you find a purple lily that caught your eye. Instead of simply glancing at this beautiful lily, mindfully look at it. What shade of purple is it? Does it have any speckles? What does the texture of the flower petals look like?
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You may notice little speckles or dots, or the lines on the smooth texture of the petal. This is how you see mindfully.
You look for details that you might not notice if you were looking at the flower as you normally would.

Seeing the world around us mindfully can help us notice things we may not have noticed before. We become aware of details we may not have been aware of prior to using our eyes in a mindful manner. We may learn to appreciate our surroundings by noticing the small details. We might notice the smallest details in a painting at an art museum, for instance.

Ever since I learned the technique of mindful seeing, it has helped me pay closer attention to my surroundings. I notice the patterns in a ceiling and the smallest details while watching a movie or a TV show.

Once you start seeing the world through mindful eyes, your perception will be different in a good way. Mindful seeing helps us slow down and notice our surroundings more carefully.

The more we use our eyes mindfully, the more likely we will appreciate the beauty of our world and the joys in life.

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My next post will be about mindful listening. Stay up to date for CIS news and events through Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Remember to Breathe

Today’s guest blogger is Jessica Smith. AWestern Michigan University MSW student, Jessica interned  with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo last school year. As part of her internship, she wrote several blog posts about mindfulness for Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.  

In April, I wrote a blog post introducingmindfulness. For this post, I am going to discuss mindful breathing.

When we’re breathing, we often don’t think about it. However, paying attention to our breathing and focusing on it is what we call “mindful breathing” – paying attention to each breath we take.

This year at Kids In Tune, the students at Woods Lake Elementary learned about mindful breathing and how to do it. First, the students get into their “mindful bodies,” which is a comfortable position, whether it be sitting cross-legged or lying on their backs or stomachs. Next, they close their eyes or make “soft eyes,” which consists of looking at the ground or at something that calms them.

During mindful breathing, the students focused on each breath they took, while slowly breathing in and breathing out. It’s not uncommon for the mind to wander during the practice of mindful breathing. In fact, it’s normal. If your mind wanders while you’re practicing mindful breathing, all you need to do is acknowledge and accept that passing thought, then bring your focus back to your breathing.

Practicing mindful breathing can be very calming, reduces anxiety and allows you to take a “break” from the day, putting all of your focus on each breath you take. The more the students practiced mindful breathing, the easier it became for them. They practiced mindful breathing for periods of time as short as 30 seconds to as long as 5 or 6 minutes. The more they practiced mindful breathing, the more calm and relaxed the students appeared.

Simply taking a couple minutes of your day to practice mindful breathing is a great stress reliever. If you would like to try mindful breathing, here are the steps:

•             Find a quiet, relaxing place to sit cross-legged or lie down in a position that feels most comfortable to you.

•             Close your eyes or make “soft eyes.”

•             Inhale slowly, hold it for a few seconds, then let your breath out.

•             You can continue this for as short as 30 seconds or as long as 5, 10 minutes, whatever you feel is best for you!

In my next post, I will discuss mindful seeing.

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Seven Sweaty Statements on a Staple that Never Goes out of Season

pants-blowing-in-wind-300x168Today’s guest blogger is Laura Keiser. As the CIS Site Coordinator for King Westwood Elementary School, Laura knows all about sweating the big and small stuff to make sure kids are connected with the resources and people they need to succeed in school.

 

Whether it’s wet pants (spilled milk, fell in a puddle, had a potty accident), smelly pants (limited or no access to laundry facilities), or no pants (refused to wear anything but shorts to school in March and realized the error of their ways at recess) – sweatpants do matter. Sweatpants get a bad rap.  This unassuming staple of clothing worn by all those exercising, lounging, or otherwise needing a comfortable pair of pants doesn’t usually make the “must have” list in the fashion & style magazines. But did you know that sweatpants are one of the most important items donated to the CIS Kids’ Closet?  As a CIS Site Coordinator, I give out sweatpants every day to the kids in my school and I see the difference they make in helping our kids attend school every day, all day, with comfort and dignity.  Here’s why we think sweatpants should make the “must have” list!
7.  Sweatpants are inexpensive.

6.  Sweatpants are durable.

5.  The elastic ankles keep the bugs out.  (Just kidding!  We wanted to make sure you were still reading.)

4.  They can be pulled over other clothes to be used as an extra layer in the winter.

3. There are no pockets so you can’t sneak stuff to school – like your pet hamster.

2. They are “user-friendly” for younger students – no buttons, snaps, or zippers!

1. And the #1 reason – sweatpants fit a variety of shapes and sizes and both boys and girls.

 

So please consider being an avid supporter of sweatpants and donate a new pair or two to CIS Kids’ Closet today!

To My Dear CIS Family

Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015
Antasia Fareed (left) with her CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert at Champs 2015

To My Dear CIS Family,

One of the highlights at our recent Champs event: the closing remarks offered by Antasia Fareed. On behalf of students served by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), Antasia thanked everyone for their support. “Whether you know it or not,” she told the audience, “you are part of my CIS family.” She spoke from her heart, moving the crowd to tears and receiving a standing ovation. A number of you who were present requested we print her speech here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Antasia spoke without a written script but she agreed to try and capture the essence of what she shared with the audience.  Indeed, we all felt embraced by this daughter of CIS and hope you will too when you read what she has to say.

Dear CIS Family,

Hi. My name is Antasia Fareed. I am a Loy Norrix High School student. I am an 11thgrader, soon to be a senior. I have been working with CIS for about 11 years. What would I do without them?

When I needed clothes, they provided them. When I needed food, they gave that to me as well. I am so blessed to have this opportunity to have a second family. Like family, they provide for me. They give me a smile when I’m not confident in myself. I have been in this program since second grade and look what came out—a beautiful, confident woman.Antasia-at-podium-241x300

I never thought I could get this far but CIShas pushed me. When my grades slipped, they helped me bring them back up. That’s the main reason why I’m standing here before you with a 3.2 GPA. I never believed I could do it, but I did.

CIS means a lot to me. CIS grows children and I’m proof. To me, the “C” in CIS means carry, the “I” is improvement, and the “S” is society. As students, we want to carry ourselves with dignity. We should be prepared to help improve things when they are messed up, and I believe we will become equals as a society.

CIS has made me powerful and helped me become a leader. That’s why I will be an ambassador for Kalamazoo as I have been awarded a scholarship that will allow me to travel to our sister city in Japan for ten days this summer. That’s a great leadership opportunity. Mrs. Elnora, my CIS Site Coordinator, pushed me to get my stuff in as she believed that I could get the scholarship. And I did. I may have only known her for just one year, but it feels like forever. We always see eye to eye. I’m her helper and she’s mine. I always tell her to stop and breathe.

I’m just so glad that CIS was there for me and will continue to be there for me.

Thank you.

Antasia

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