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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Pop Quiz: Omarion

2015-03-26 03.23.51-editWelcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Omarion Morgan, who is in seventh grade at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts. Omarion is featured in our recent CIS Connections. You can find out more about Omarion, what colleges he is considering and how he uses mindfulness techniques he’s learned in CIS after school to help him be a successful student in the latest issue of CIS Connections.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

In science, we learned about cells and how they make up the human body.

What are you currently reading?

I’m re-reading this book called A Long Walk to Water. It’s our all-school read.

What do you consider one of your strengths?

I never give up and I make people laugh.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A lawyer or a teacher.

What is your favorite word right now?

A. Just A.

Any reason?

No, it just popped in my head. But my favorite phrase is ‘Never give up.’

2015-03-26 02.46.04-editBehind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My mom and my dad and my two aunties and my grandma.

You have a lot of caring adults in both your school and home life. Tell me a little bit more about your family and how they help you succeed.

My mom encourages me to do my work. My dad helps me with my homework, too.  My grandma she never gives up—that’s where I get that from—and my two aunties are both loyal and nice.

Thank you, Omarion! 

 

Women Making Kalamazoo Better For All

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Pam (right) receiving her YWCA Women of Achievement Award from Carrie Pickett Erway, President and CEO of The Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Kalamazoo is bursting with strong, wonderful women.

Just last week, the 2015 award celebration for the YWCA Women of Achievement was held at the Radisson. Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo  was one of four women to receive the Women of Achievement Award.Kalamazoo Community Foundation sponsored her award and, as President and CEO, Carrie Picket Erway shared with the packed audience: In December 1999 Pam took on the challenge of developing a new organization from scratch, known as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Pam’s recipe to success was in using a national model to overcome the barriers that disrupted kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Under her leadership and vision, the organization has steadily grown to over 140 employees, serving 20 schools, reaching 1,300 students, coordinating 175,000 hours of service, and over 9,700 students receiving service through community partnerships coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Several of you have asked that we run the speech that Pam gave  that evening. We think you’ll find it straightforward and sincere, just like Pam. But, before we share it, just a few words about some of the other award winners with connections to CIS….

The YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement Award was given to Carolyn Alford. A former CIS board member, who, among many other volunteer and professional accomplishments, also served 16 years on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Trustees. She  reminded the packed audience that we can make an impact on our community “when we work together as one on behalf of others.” She definitely lives these words.

CIS and our kids have also benefited from the wisdom and expertise of former CIS board member and YWCA Woman of Achievement Sherry Thomas-Cloud. Currently, Sherry is the executive director of the Douglass Community Association.

(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn
(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn

The YWCA Young Women of Achievement Award was bestowed upon 19 young women from area high schools and organizations that show exemplary leadership through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, serving as role models, and academic achievements. Special kudos to our own Tiara Blair!

We are so proud of her and how she and all the Women of Achievement serve as role models for the next generation. In fact, later this week, Thursday, May 21st, our future women–over 2,000 3rd-5th grade girls–will pound through the streets as part of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run 5K. You go, girls!

Here now, is Pam’s speech:

I love this community!  I came here with my husband for his graduate school program, intending to stay one-two years. Now, 41 years later, I feel very blessed to be in this special place.  I have had the good fortune to have two careers here—one in mental health and one with Communities In Schools.  And in both, I have been extremely lucky to work with smart, talented colleagues who care about their work as much as I do—several have honored me with attending this evening.  A special thanks to Jennifer, Emily and Trella for nominating me for this award.  I want to thank my family—my husband, Don, my daughter Logan and my sons, Noah and JB; not only have they been very supportive of me, they embrace my work with Communities In Schools with their own time, talent and treasure. They conspired to surprise me with the special visit by Noah from Washington DC to attend this event. My very special friend, Tyreese and his mom, Renee, also enrich me every day by sharing their lives.  Thank you, Tyreese!

I so appreciate this award and the YWCA’s history of supporting and lifting up the women of Kalamazoo. To be a part of that group of women is inspiring to me.  To theKalamazoo Community Foundation for sponsoring my award, please accept my genuine gratitude. I really believe in “For good and forever”—it isn’t just a tag line—and so it is especially meaningful to have your support. Thank you.

Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.
Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.

I want every child in this community to benefit from its resources as much as I have, and as much as my children did—for the good of us all, forever for Kalamazoo and beyond.  And so my deep and profound appreciation includes in particular the Board members of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and our generous donors.  Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and taking this journey of faith and determination that together we will surround our kids with love and a community that continues to say “we believe in your ability to succeed.”

Finally, I believe my mother’s spirit is here with me.  She is the person who instilled in me a love of education, in spite of having to give up her own. Thanks, Mom—I am forever your grateful daughter.