Introduction To Mindfulness: How It Helps Students

Today’s guest blogger is Jessica Smith, Western Michigan University MSW Intern at Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. 

Jessica-300x300My name is Jessica Smith, I am an MSW (Masters of Social Work) intern at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary through Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. I graduated from Ferris State University in May 2014 with a Bachelor of Social Work and a Bachelor of Science in Technical and Professional Communication. I am pursuing my School of Social Work certificate and I will be graduating with my MSW in April 2016.

Since I began my internship with CIS, I was invited by Deb Faling of CIS to help run a mindfulness group at Woods Lake Elementary School, which hosts the after school program, Kids In Tune.

Prior to helping run the mindfulness groups, I was not aware of just how useful mindfulness can be in helping with concentration, focus, managing emotions and creating a more peaceful environment. I’ve practiced it myself and have noticed it has a positive effect on my thoughts and feelings.

What exactly is mindfulness and how does it help students?

Mindfulness is defined as, “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” (Source: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition)

Many students in the mindfulness group have expressed positive feelings about the activity. Students have said they feel more “calm” and “relaxed” as a result of practicing mindful behaviors and mindfulness-oriented activities.

I’ve observed that students in the mindfulness group are indeed calmer, more aware of their feelings, their environment and demonstrate compassion towards themselves and others. They have demonstrated more patience and appear to be more “present” in the exact moment they are in.

I will be writing a series on mindful activities the students of the mindfulness group at Kids In Tune have been doing all year long:

Upcoming topics of mindful activities:

• Mindful breathing
• Mindful seeing
• Mindful hearing
• Mindful walking
• Mindful eating

My first post in the series will be about mindful breathing, which will be published in the upcoming weeks. Check out “Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids” for the latest on CIS news and events.

Caring Adult: Olivia Gabor-pierce

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Nicholas Baxter, about to embark on his AmeriCorps VISTA journey with CIS, is seen here, taking his Oath of Service.

It’s time again to think back to when you were young and in school and recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, who, even after all these years, you still carry within your hearts?

Members of the fabulous CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy have been taking up the challenge and sharing their caring adult. You’ve read about Principal Julie McDonald’s, CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters‘ caring adult. As I was preparing to run the post on AmeriCorps VISTANicholas Baxter’s caring adult, he informed me that he didn’t have a caring adult in his elementary or high school years and “so I chose the most attractive elementary teacher I had and although I do remember her being nice and, well, memorable she is not my most caring adult. I don’t recall anyone being a caring adult until college…”

NickSo, here now is Nick’s reflection about his real caring adult…

At Western Michigan University I had a German professor named Olivia Gabor-Pierce. She was the first person I ever met who spoke four languages and wrote books. She was incredibly intelligent and challenged our intellects inside and outside of class. We thought critically about the language we were learning; she loved that.

Throughout my entire college career she was always the professor who was able to ground me in a few words. No matter what was going on or how stressful things were, her caring, open, and loving demeanor instantly calmed life around us. She was the first person who ever truly pushed my abilities beyond what I thought possible, she saw things in me I never was able to see.

Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.
Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.

She told me I must go to Bonn.  “You must go to Bonn,” she said. It became a meta mantra that was engrained in my subconscious until I actually did go and realized a whole new perspective on life. Because of her heart always being open to her students, my eyes were opened to the world and for that I thank her and believe she deserves the spot of my caring adult.

Nicholas A. Baxter, AmeriCorps VISTA

Caring Adult: A Letter To Ms. Diane Lang

20150519-DSC_5883It’s time again to think back to when you were young and in school and recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, who, even after all these years, you still carry within your hearts?

Members of the CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy took up this challenge. A few months back,  Principal Julie McDonald’s letter was featured. Today, we share a letter written by CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters, another member of the passionate, talented, and dedicated team who infuse Edison Environmental Science Academy with hope, love, and learning. and in the weeks to come, we’ll share a few more of their letters. Stacy’s letter, just like her, gets right to the point:

Dear Ms. Lang,

As we completed this mindfulness activity on thinking back to a person who made us feel special, cared for, and helped us realize that we could accomplish everything/anything, my mind instantly came to you.

You showed me that hard things (algebra) don’t always have to be hard. That enjoying life and celebrating small achievements were very important. I have translated these teachings into most of my life experiences.

You showed me the importance of logical thinking and problem solving. Although I haven’t always used these skills (on myself), I’ve always considered it my gift to others. You always had high expectations for me.

I thank you sincerely for the gift you gave me wayyyyyy back then, a gift  that I didn’t even realize I was receiving!

Love and Forever Grateful,

Stacy Salters

 

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!

Partners on a Solid Footing

shoesToday’s post is written by Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives. Heather Haigh, Executive Director of First Day Shoe Fund originally ran this piece in their Fall 2014 newsletter.

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) and First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) go back a long way. In early 2000 Valerie Denghel was a tutor at Edison Environmental Science Academy with CIS. Valerie noticed that many of the children she saw at the school didn’t have appropriate shoes for school. So Valerie began buying shoes for one child at a time. Valerie went from buying shoes for individual children to creating the First Day Shoe Fund. CIS has partnered with FDSF since its beginnings to help identify children in need of shoes and to create the infrastructure needed to get the shoes onto little feet.  In 2005 CIS and FDSF partnered to distribute 160 pairs of shoes. This Fall we worked together to distribute 1,654 pairs of new shoes to students.

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo has been serving  students in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2003.  Our mission is to surround students with a  community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.  We are part of a nationwide network of passionate professionals  working in public schools to remove barriers that get in the way of student success, smoothing the path toward graduation.

We work to connect the right resources to the right students at the right time. CIS works closely with Kalamazoo Public Schools to reach those students most in need of services, many of whom live below the poverty level and face significant risk factors.

shoes2This year CIS will serve 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools, including 15 schools that will offer after school programming under 21st Century grants. We think of our site coordinators, who head up our site teams in the schools, as the bridge that connects community resources to students in the buildings. Site coordinators work to bring resources available to the whole student body (what we call Level One services) as well as having a caseload of between 50 and 75 students who receive more targeted services such as individual tutoring, mentoring or counseling, based on an assessment of the student’s needs. The site coordinator leads a team that might be made up of a VISTA, a social work intern or a health intern.

CIS values the partnership we have with First Day Shoe Fund. The FDSF focus – of providing new shoes to children in Kindergarten through third grade to ensure that children have both the physical comfort of correctly sized shoes and the sense of pride and belonging that comes with having appropriate footwear to start the new school year – meets a basic need. New shoes are one of the many pieces of the puzzle that fit together to help all of our children achieve the Promise.

Open Letter To Kids’ Closet Supporters

So many cool things can happen while waiting in the checkout lane of the grocery store. Here’s one thing you need to check out today: the below post. It is written by our own Emily Kobza, CIS Director of Development & Business Engagement.

100_6403Dear Kids’ Closet Supporter:

You donated items or made a monetary gift to our Kids’ Closet sometime in the past to help make sure that kids in our community have the basic clothing, school supplies, and personal hygiene products that they need so they can attend school comfortably and with dignity, ready to focus on learning.  You never had the opportunity to know who benefited from your donation or what need it met – you just did it and trusted us to make sure that the student who needed a winter coat, a backpack, or a pair of sweatpants would be able to get that item.  I want to share what this meant for one student.

A manager of a local business contacted me in early September to let me know that they wanted to donate a couple hundred travel-size personal care products to the Kids’ Closet.  We made arrangements for me to pick them up later that week.  As she was helping me load the donations into my car, the manager shared her shopping experience with me.  She was excited that she had been able to take advantage of both a sale on these items and a promotion so she could get 260 items for the price of 200.  As a fan of Extreme Couponing, I was impressed!

100_6412 - EditThe cashier at the store helping to ring up these items was interested in why she was purchasing such a large quantity of personal care products.  The manager explained that her business was donating these items to the Kids’ Closet of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo to make sure that students were in school every day and able to focus on learning without the distraction of being embarrassed about their personal appearance.  As she pushed her shopping cart away from the checkout lane, the cashier thanked her for making this donation.  The manager said something along the lines of “Thanks, but I really like doing this, and I know it makes a difference for kids.”  The cashier said, “No, I really want to thank you for what you’re doing because my child benefited from the Kids’ Closet.”  She went on to say that her child came home from school last year with a small bag of items.  She said she was a single mom and while she had a job, sometimes it was still hard to get everything her kids needed.  She really appreciated the help that the Kids’ Closet had provided to help meet the basics for her child.  Needless to say, the manager and I both got teary-eyed as she relayed this experience to me.  She said, “I knew that this made a difference, but to hear it directly from someone who it made a difference for was really amazing.”

Project Coordinator Sandy Dee (left) and Hiemstra’s Vice President Todd Totzke (center) dropping off donations from their “Stuff the Bus” collection. CIS Director of Health Initiatives Donna Carroll is on right. Thank you Hiemstra Optical!

We know you don’t get to see the smiles on kids’ faces or hear them or their families, say “thank you,” but I wanted you to know that your donations are making a difference.  On behalf of the thousands of kids who have accessed the Kids’ Closet, thank you for your generous support.

100_6439Last year, CIS distributed over 13,000 Kids’ Closet items!  Interested in removing barriers to learning by helping to fill Kids’ Closet with new clothing, personal hygiene products, and school supplies for K – 12 students? It’s a  great  opportunity for our local businesses and faith-based organizations to get involved in helping our students achieve in school and in life. Contact Emily at ekobza@ciskalamazoo.org for to find out how you, your business, or service-oriented group can help.

Sailing the Sea Of Success

20140506-DSC_7608Today’s guest blogger is CIS graduate and former CIS board member, Ricki Harris. Ricki graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 2012, and later that year she graduated from Naval Station Great Lakes. Her former mentor, Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites, was there to celebrate with her. (Artrella shared her memories of meeting Ricki when she was just nine years old and how their lives have intersected over the years. If you haven’t read that beautiful post, you can find it here. Ricki’s “Story of Progress” was also featured in the 2010-11 Annual Report. )

Ricki, whose official title is DC3 (SW/AW) Harris, now serves as a Damage Controlman for the Navy. She has been nominated for the Blue Jacket Sailor of the Quarter and has received a Letter of Accommodation from her Commanding Officer.We are proud of Ricki and her accomplishments. We admire her perseverance, intelligence, warmth, modesty, and bravery. Not everyone can spread their wings and fly around the world. So when Ricki came back to visit us a few months back, we were so happy to see her and bombarded her with questions. Her decision to enter the Navy has given her a chance to see the world. We wondered. What were some of her favorite places? Why? How did visiting those places change (or not change) the way she sees “the place” of Kalamazoo? What exactly does she do as a Damage Controlman? What is it that sticks out for her as something that has (or is) influencing her growth as a young woman? What advice does she have for Kalamazoo Public School students? She was kind enough to write this post so we could share this with you…

DSCF8433Since graduating and leaving Kalamazoo, I’ve been to the Philippines, Jebel Ali Dubai, Jordan, Eliat Israel, Singapore twice, Bahrain, Hawaii, and Oman. My favorite places would have to be Israel, Singapore and Dubai. If you are on the fence about what you want to do, then the military may be a great choice. It doesn’t matter what branch you choose as all of them have different expertise and can offer good experiences. Whatever you do, think about the decision. Make sure it’s something you love or can grow to love.

In Israel, I got to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land and experience the different religions that were there—which was an eye-opener since I’m not too religious. Singapore was very clean and offered different religious sectors, such as “Little India” and “Chinatown.” In a sense, it was like having a little taste of India and China. The people were very friendly and spoke  English very well. Dubai is probably one of the richer countries the world has. They have one of the world’s biggest malls and their King even came on board our ship! With all the lights and night life, you would think the party never stops there. It’s a beautiful city and a nice place to vacation. Being overseas and visiting all of these places made Kalamazoo seem super small, though nothing takes away from how beautiful downtown Kalamazoo is with the older neighborhoods and big houses. Plus Kalamazoo College is so beautiful…

My role within the military is as a Damage Controlman. I’m responsible for the ship’s integrity. This means fighting fires, and combating casualties on the ship. We are the first responders to any casualty on board a ship. We teach people how to do our job and we also work with chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) warfare equipment just in case there was ever a CBR attack. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, but I love it.

Being in the military has greatly influenced me. I have received training that would cost a fortune in the real world. It has given me endless possibilities that I would not have had otherwise, especially right out of high school.

My experience with the military has also shown me how to deal with people. The military is a melting pot. Befriending the people I meet has helped me learn and understand other cultures. Altogether, it is a learning experience. People may like you or just down right hate you. That will happen where ever you go in life. As long as you put your mind to it and do what’s right, you will succeed. If you do what you’re supposed to do, you will get recognized.

I would encourage any student who is in school to continue with school. Work hard and make the best of it. Thanks to the Promise, you have your education paid for. I came to KPS in fourth grade so I still received a large amount of the Kalamazoo Promise®. I would also encourage high school students to attend AP Courses. I took roughly about six, and I even tested out of Economics and Algebra.

You’ll be surprised what you can do if you put your mind to it. YOU have to want to do it, though.

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Pop Quiz: Principal Frank Rocco

Today’s guest blogger is Daquayveon Edmonson, a fourth grader at Woodward School for Science and Technology. His favorite thing to learn about in school is science. His favorite book is the one he currently has checked out from the Woodward library: Tucker’s Countryside. Daquayveon interviewed his Principal, Mr. Frank Rocco for today’s blog post.

Woodward became a CIS site this past fall and we appreciate learning what this Kalamazoo Public School Principal is learning, reading, and thinking about, so thank you, Daquayveon! In the weeks to come, we will also be featuring Woodward’s CIS Site Coordinator, Jen DeWaele.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I watched the show CosRocco and DEmos last night and it was amazing to learn about the many, many solar systems and other planets that are being discovered.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading four different books right now. The one I’m spending the most time with is a math book. It focuses on ten different ways to help teachers learn how to best teach math to each of their students.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A professional baseball player.

What is your favorite word right now?

Patience.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately? 

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I can get Woodward to be the best school in Kalamazoo. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can bring in to the school to help everyone—the teachers, the students, so everyone can do the best job they can.

Behind every successful student–and grownup–is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?

My grandmother is someone I talk with regularly. She helped to raise me, and is someone who I’m still pretty close with.  She keeps me going.

Math, Music, And Refrigerators

_DSC0746Today’s post is written by our CIS friend and partner, Kalamazoo College Professor  Dr. Eric “Rick” Barth.

newspaper-clipping-of-Ricky-BarthLet’s begin with an old clipping from my home-town newspaper, dating back to the 1960s (right).

The picture shows a small-town businessman (my father) watching as a toddler (me) pushes on the side of a refrigerator, equipped with a long-forgotten bit of technology that was meant to make an easy job of moving, and cleaning behind, heavy kitchen appliances. I’m pretty sure that gadget never caught on with the buying public, but my dad always had his eyes open for the “next big thing” and hey, you never know…

This story could go lots of ways from here: how about “That was the day I learned the importance of cleaning under my fridge”? Instead, when I see that yellow newspaper, I think “That was one of the many days in my life that I got the chance to try something big and, because of all the supportive people around me, didn’t have to worry that something good wouldn’t come of it.”

That toddler spent the next 30 years working in Dad’s appliance store and studying in rural Kansas public schools, getting his degree at music school from the University of Kansas, getting married, working in more appliance stores, getting his Ph.D. in mathematics, moving to New York City and finally to Kalamazoo with two little boys of his own, to teach at Kalamazoo College. That history is a series of big opportunities, big changes, big challenges, big trials, and big joys. All big things that I was able to attempt without (much) fear because of all the supportive people around me.

Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park
Dr. Barth conducting KIT performance at Bronson Park

What’s the next big thing? For me it’s combining my work at the College with my role as Curriculum Director at Kids in Tune. KiT is a family business for sure. The founder and director is Liz Youker, a fellow KU music alum with an unmistakable can-do spirit. My son Thomas started the Woods Lake Elementary cello club while in high school and merged that into the brand-new KiT program when it began in 2011, teaching in the program until last fall when he went off to music school. My wife Deb Faling — we met in music school at Kansas and have been collaborating on one crazy thing after another for almost 30 years — is the KiT associate director. And we spend so much time and work so closely with site coordinator Donielle Hetrick and ISS director of elementary sites, Linda Thompson, that they merit status of at least honorary “favorite cousins”!

So what happens at Kids in Tune that makes us all invest so much? How about this as an example: One day after we’d been rehearsing a portion of Mahler’s Symphony #1, a group of students came to me and asked “When do we start Symphony #2?”. It was clear to me in that moment that those kids were experiencing the power of great art in their own way and that they were seeing their life in the program as a great adventure where they are confident that every hard-earned and well-deserved discovery is followed by another one. I hope that by bringing our best to KiT students every day, we provide the opportunity for all 85 of them, every one, to try big things with an expectation that something great will happen, and without any worry that it won’t.