Vote Yes For Our Kids

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

It has been many months since I last contributed to our CIS blog.  Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids consistently brings you relevant and interesting information each and every week. Jennifer’s steady and competent voice allows me the luxury of “dropping in” with a post when something inspires me to share my voice.  This is one of those times.

Tomorrow—Tuesday, May 5th—is a very important day in our County, a day when each of us as registered voters, can exercise a firm, clear YES! on behalf of our children. In addition to the state roads referendum, there is a local KRESA special education millage. Special education services in our county have been underfunded for a number of years. To meet federal and state law, local districts have had to redirect dollars from their operating budgets to cover the unfunded special education costs. It is critical that students with disabilities as well as general education students have their educational needs met to fulfill their potential. School districts across the county are funding approximately $11 million in special education costs from their general operating budgets, requiring cuts to general education services. Through the passage of the KRESA millage, special education needs can be fully funded and critically needed academic supports for general education students can be restored.

Our children need our full support, including an affirmative vote on the KRESA millage.  When we see each child as part of our responsibility and part of ouropportunity to make Kalamazoo a stronger community, we can lift up a whole generation.

Tuesday, May 5th we can go to the polls and exercise our civic duty, by fully considering the benefits of the KRESA special education millage. Decide whether it makes sense to you to provide local dollars for local schools and local kids. Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo regularly asks you to volunteer, to advocate and to donate resources to provide learning readiness strategies and to enhance learning support to the neediest of students.  We sincerely appreciate your significant contributions and hope you will continue to invest in our efforts.  For CIS to be fully effective in removing the barriers that keep students from succeeding, it is also essential that our schools and teachers have what they need—the core capacity to engage our kids in active learning. Please vote tomorrow.

And thanks for “listening.”

Pop Quiz: William Hawkins

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KPS Principal William Hawkins with CIS Site Coordinator Martha Serio during the 2015 Unsung Heroes Awards.

Welcome 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 Mr. William Hawkins, who has been serving as principal at Spring Valley Center for Exploration for the past two years. Prior to this he was at Woods Lake for the past fifteen years, five as principal and the first ten as a teacher. What you may not know is that he comes from a long line of educators. He grew up in Flint where his mother was a principal. His grandmother was a teacher as was his great grandmother. His own mother encouraged him not to go into education! It was a hard job then and it is a hard job now. In this instance, our 12,000+ kids are fortunate that a young man didn’t listen to his mother! (Mr. Hawkins said his mom is now happy with his decision to enter education.)

We popped this quiz on Mr. Hawkins back in November, during the first snow day of the season.

Alright, Principal Hawkins: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?  I’m always looking for facts. My wife tells me I should be on Jeopardy.  “How did you know that answer?” she’s always asking as we are watching the show. I do enjoy learning interesting facts and trivia. One day I might apply to appear on Jeopardy. I’d probably be in second place by the end of the show.

Tell us an interesting fact or piece of trivia. 

There is a new tree planted at the capital of Washington D.C. in honor of Emmitt Till.

What kind of tree is it? Do you know?

Sycamore.

What are you currently reading?

Currently I’m reading Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument. It’s that time of year when I’m in classrooms doing evaluations. I want to make the process meaningful for teachers and myself. The Charlotte Danielson model helps with that. It is a collaborative structure where there’s both a pre-observation and post observation conference. The process is reflective for the teachers. It’s not just me going through classrooms with a checklist. It is a collaborative process; teachers have input. The tool is designed to create an environment where you reflect on your process, improve in areas of weakness and build upon your strengths.

Speaking of strengths, what is one of yours?

For me? Dealing with parents. Communicating with parents and students and being the link that connects parents to the school.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Originally, I was going to be a professional football player and play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were my favorite team growing up. Lynn Swann, “Mean” Joe Greene….all the greats.

I’ll tell you a little bit of trivia about the Steelers. Did you know that they were the first NFL team to have a cheerleading squad?  

I didn’t know that. You need to be on Jeopardy.

I wouldn’t do well with geography questions. And I only know that bit of trivia because I lived in Pittsburgh for a time and one of my best friend’s mom—Norreen Modery—was a Pittsburgh Steelerette. So, back to you. What is your favorite word right now?

Achievement.

Tell us something more about you.

My experience in education—elementary all the way through high school –was a positive one. It is my goal to help the children that I serve have a positive learning experience as well. That is why I am in education. And being in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the home of the Promise, there is an extra added incentive to make education an enjoyable experience for all students.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

First and foremost my family: my mother, father, and grandparents. And then there was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hall. I remember we read the The Hobbit.

She read it to you?

No, we read it. “He can’t read that,” said a bookfair representative who was visiting the school. I read some of it to him and he was amazed. “I guess we have to get him the book, Lord of the Rings, now.” And he did.

That’s wonderful having caring adults encouraging you to really push yourself when it came to reading.

Yes. And then there was Mr. Alexander, my sixth grade teacher and the first male teacher I had. He motivated me, got the best out of me. High school was Mrs. Foster. She was my Spanish teacher and also the cadet teaching program teacher. This program gave me the opportunity to do a pre-teaching internship while I was still in high school. Mrs. Foster encouraged me to go further into education and encouraged me to minor in Spanish and it is because of her I am also certified to teach Spanish.

Thank you, Mr. Hawkins!

Mr. Hawkins is one of the people featured in the video that was created to celebrate the work of his CIS site coordinator, Martha Serio on her Unsung Hero Award. You can watch it here.

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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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