For the past five years, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at Western Michigan University has been working through CIS to funnel six to eight volunteers from their society to support Kalamazoo Central High School students. Two times a week, these engineering students consistently share their time, talents, as well as their stories with our students. Together, they build upon each other’s work, constructing something bigger than themselves.
Principal Valerie Boggan loves seeing the positive impact they have with students. We share her appreciation for this partnership. These engineering students create enthusiasm around learning and shine a light for our kids. The National Society’s mission is: to increase culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community. To see this mission in action is powerful and shines a light for our students.
Working with young people is like building a very important building, something bigger than the Empire State Building and more impressive than the Eiffel Tower. Through their very presence and listening, these engineering students are inspiring our kids to be the best students and people they can be. A young person realizing their full potential is a more impressive sight than even the great pyramids of Egypt.
At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, The Edison Science Club was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC Benefits and Miller-Davis Company. Edison Environmental Science Academy’s CIS Site Coordinator Cameron Massimino introduced us to these Zoetis-led volunteers who champion children. [If you missed this virtual event, you can click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November.]
For 16 years now, science-minded volunteers make monthly visits to Edison Environmental Science Academy. Initiated by Zoetis Senior Scientist Dom Pullo, the volunteers enhance about 27 fifth graders’ learning of science through inquiry and hands-on activities.
In Science Club, students become scientists! Wearing lab coats and lanyards, and occasionally donning goggles and gloves, students extract DNA from peas, investigate circuit theory, study water filtration, and more. Thanks to a grant from Zoetis, CIS was able to purchase state-of-the-art microscopes so students can view specimens close-up.
The Science Club even recruited Cash, a very friendly and hairy, 105-pound volunteer. Cash assists Zoetis veterinarians (Dr. Theodore Sanders, Jr. – DVM, MS, MBA, DACLAM Executive Director Animal Research Support, Dr. Marike Visser – DVM, PhD, DACVCP , and Dr. Paul Reynolds, DVM – Retired) in demonstrating animal check-ups. [Cash sat down for an interview with us and we’ll be publishing that conversation in the near future.]
In addition to Dom Pullo and the three veterinarians noted above, the Edison Science Club has been supported by a number of dedicated volunteers over the years, including: Blair Cundiff, Jacqueline Killmer, Shannon Smith, Teresa Miller, Joshua Kuipers, Stacey Wensink, Sherry Garrett, Kelsey Lammers, Kelly Turner-Alston, Kelly Kievit, Matthew Krautman, Brianna Pomeroy, Tiyash Parira, Tobias Clark, Lisa Yates, Elizabeth Graham, Ben Hummel, Clark Smothers, Adam Schoell, Rose Gillesby, and Thomas Berg.
Fifth grade teacher Mrs. Rocann Fleming says both students and staff LOVE the science club. These dedicated volunteers, some who’ve now retired or moved on from Zoetis, still show up and inspire young minds. Their passion for science is contagious.
“I’ve learned,” says one student who dreams of becoming a veterinarian, “there’s a lot you can’t see in this world that is real—like bacteria!—so wash your hands.” “Well, I’m going to be a scientist,” says another girl. “I’m not sure what kind yet, but probably a woman scientist!”
Edison Science Club,thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.
Bring out the snacks and get ready to throw some confetti at your computer screen! Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) hosts its annual Champs event tonight, Tuesday, October 27th at 6 p.m. and you can be a part of it! Just go here, to https://ciskalamazoo.org/champs. This year will look a bit different as CIS has elected to host a virtual celebration. For those who can’t watch tonight, the celebration video will remain on the CIS website through November.
Kalsec is the presenting sponsor for this event which honors community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality. “When I think about CIS, I think about an organization supporting education in every possible way,” says Dr. Scott Nykaza, CEO of Kalsec, Inc. “I think about equity and how CIS levels the playing field so that all students are set up to succeed, and I think about the kindness of our community.”
That kindness will be on full display during this thirteenth year of celebrating those who are making a difference in students’ lives. This year’s Champs who support our Kalamazoo Public Schools students are:
Mikka Dryer, CIS volunteer
Science Club facilitated by Zoetis, CIS volunteers
Family Health Center, a nonprofit, CIS health partner
Western Michigan University National Society of Black Engineers, CIS higher learning partner
Howard Tejchma will be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established by Gulnar’s family to honor her long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and work as a CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School. This award recognizes CIS volunteers who emulate Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children. For the past decade, Howard Tejchma has been working with a small group of Arcadia students during lunchtime. His fifth grade “lunch bunch” looks forward to his weekly visits in which he facilitates games and weaves in life lessons.
The CIS Board will also be honoring Dr. Sandy Standish with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. For 32 years, Dr. Standish shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all 4-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.
Keep following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. In the weeks to come we we will bring you more about these fabulous receipients.
This post is written by guest blogger, Sara Lonsberry. Sara is our basic needs coordinator with CIS Kids’ Closet, and she is passionate about community engagement and supporting all students in their growth and development.
Once again, our community has made a tremendous difference in the lives of our students and families by participating in our annual Back to School Drive.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our efforts to serve students looked quite different this year. We organized our first “Virtual Drive” allowing donors to “shop” our wish list of school supplies from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Thank you to the many community organizations and local businesses who supported! As a result of the combined generosity from our community, 7,500 school supplies were donated and $1,800 was donated to buy more! Based on developing needs, more headphones for virtual learning, more zipper binders, and more secondary grade backpacks will be purchased this year. Although students are studying virtually this fall, the need for quality school supplies remains a basic and pressing need, and it’s because of our community’s consistent commitment to student success that we’re able to meet these needs year after year.
CIS staff have found creative ways to distribute basic needs donations, like school supplies. Because CIS site coordinators are not able to “shop” the Kids’ Closet due to COVID-19 building safety restrictions, they are communicating routinely with our basic needs coordinator to receive up-to-date information about what’s in stock, place online orders, and then pick up their orders to make deliveries directly to students’ homes.
In addition, CIS is working with Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes to establish additional food pantries at various CIS sites throughout the district. At these “pop up” food pantries, students and families will also be able to pick up “grab-and-go” Kids’ Closet items, such as backpacks and pencil boxes pre-filled with school supplies. This is still in the works, so stay tuned as this distribution opportunity develops!
Overall, our Back to School Drive was a success thanks to the dedication of our community members. On behalf of our students, families, teachers, and staff, we are SO grateful for each and every individual, business, and community organization that contributed.
Interested in donating to support our mission of supporting students and empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life? For an updated list of Kids’ Closet needs, please click here.
Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids visited Milwood Magnet Middle School back in January of 2020 to learn more about the Japanese Culture Club. Below is the article we were going to run in the Spring issue of CIS Connections. While the pandemic disrupted the publication schedule for our newsletter (we’re in the middle of pulling the Fall issue together for you!), we still want to share this piece with you.
While much has changed with the pandemic, one thing that remains the same is that our 12,000+ kids love learning. This article is a good reminder of that.
JAPANESE CULTURE CLUB
The school day had just ended. In one section of Milwood Magnet Middle School, CIS After School was getting underway. In another part of the school, students were wiping down tables in Mr. Patrick Woodley’s room. The social studies teacher had packed up papers and books and turned over his room to CIS.
“We’re getting ready for our sensei,” explained Akyra Mabon. In Japanese culture, it’s a sign of respect to do this for your teacher. Sensai,” she clarified, “means ‘teacher’ in Japanese.”
“Konnichiwa, De’Asia,” announced sixth grader De’Asia English. “Konnichiwa is how you greet somebody in Japanese. It’s the afternoon greeting, so, I’m basically saying, “Hi, I’m De’Asia.” I like saying ‘Konnichiwa, De’Asia.’ I like how that sounds.” De’Asia also sees benefits to studying a different culture. “I just love that we’re learning how to speak Japanese in the club,” she said. “It’s great to learn new things. You’ll get further in life in ways you may not know. You could go somewhere or meet someone who is outside of the United States and if they speak a different language, like Japanese, you could speak with them!”
Since 2013, WMU’s Soga Japan Center (SJC) has worked closely and in a variety of ways with CIS to enrich students’ understanding of Japanese culture during and after school, and as part of CIS Think Summer. “I’m so lucky to have found CIS,” said Soga Japan Center Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto. She first started as a CIS volunteer 10 years ago and it’s this support as both a volunteer and partner “that has helped me with connecting with schools and students.”
During the 2019/2020 school year, CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best connected twenty interested Milwood Magnet students to the Japanese Culture Club. During the club, Michiko has engaged them in a variety of activities, such as calligraphy, language, origami, learning to sing Japanese pop songs, ordering food off of a Japanese menu, and discussing Japanese society and culture.
When Michiko steps into Mr. Woodley’s classroom, she was accompanied by several club members who had greeted her at the school’s entrance. Even after a full day of learning, it was clear these sixth and seventh graders were eager to dig in and learn Japanese culture. “The students really take to Japanese language and culture when given the chance,” said Missy. “…Michiko has a wonderful way of tapping into students’ natural curiosity about the world,” On this particular Wednesday, Missy had arranged for two new students to check out the Japanese Culture Club to see if it might be a good fit for them. They picked up quickly, singing along and asking questions like, “Are names pronounced the same in Japanese as they are in English?” [The answer: not in all cases. For instance, explained Michiko, if you have an “R” in your name, it will be changed to an “S” sound in Japanese.]
What did the student visitors think by the end of the session? “It was kind of weird at first,” said one, “but then I really started having a good time. I liked how we were laughing and that I was already started to learn Japanese.” “It was good, fun, and a new experience,” said the other.
Both agreed they would be coming back.
[If you missed last week’s post, you’ll want to check out Rashon’s interview here with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. As one of the 2019/2020 Japanese Culture Club members, he’s still learning and growing even though he and his classmates are currently not in the school building.]
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 Rashon Keys, one of 20 Milwood Magnet Middle School students who had been part of the Japanese Culture Club during the 2019/2020 school year. Thanks to CIS longstanding partner Western Michigan University Soga Japan Center, students interested in exploring Japanese culture had the opportunity to stay after school one day a week to learn Japanese language, songs, calligraphy, origami, and more. CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best connected the students with WMU Soga Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto who facilitated the Japanese Culture Club.
When Ask Me About My 12,000Kids popped in to do this quiz, the pandemic was not yet upon us and singing was still safe to do. On this particular day, Michiko was introducing Rashon and his club mates to the Japanese lyrics of a popular Anime song, “My Hero Academia.”
“This is very difficult,” she told them as she projected a YouTube video on the whiteboard. “We will practice this for several weeks.” She started singing: I keep my ideals alive when destiny calls!
Rashon, picking up the Japanese lyrics quickly, started singing and swaying to the upbeat music.
“Oh, this song is hard. I can barely sing it!” Michiko said, on their third practice.
“You’ve got to let it flow,” encouraged Rashon. “Just let it flow!”
In this spirit of reciprocity, the students and their sensei (teacher in Japanese), ran through the song several more times, their voices and confidence flowing.
Alright, Rashon: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What was it that interested you in becoming part of the Japanese Culture Club and what have you come to appreciate most about being part of this club?
I like learning, so I’d say I probably like everything. Yes, everything!
I especially like the people. They are all pretty cool. [Rashon waved his hand towards CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best, WMU Soga Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto, and then the entire class.] Everybody here is cool. We’re learning new things here and I like to do that. That’s why I decided I should go to the Japanese Culture Club in the first place.
You’ll have the Kalamazoo Promise when you graduate high school. Though it’s a ways off, what are your thoughts as to plans after high school?
I’m going to go to college and play football. And when I retire—when I’m 25, though I might be 28—then I will go into the military so I can provide for my family in the future.
It might take a long time, though. I might fail in bootcamp. But I can go back three times.
What is a question you’ve asked lately?
Will we be speaking Japanese by the end of this class?
English/Language Arts. I have Ms. [Carol] Kimbrough. She’s one of my favorite teachers. She’s my sixth hour English/Language Arts teacher…She’s not just demanding to be demanding, you know? She’s demanding in a fun way, in a way that helps you learn.
What is your favorite word right now?
In Japanese or English?
In Japan, it’s the word “above” which is ue.
In English, it’s “Hey, Mom!” I’m always saying that. “Hey, Mom! Let’s get something to eat.” “Hey, Mom! Let’s hang out.” “Hey, Mom!”
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom, my dad, and everybody else that, like them, supports me.
Thank you, Rashon, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
[Next week’s post will provide a glimpse into the 2019/2020 Japanese Culture Club. Also, be on the lookout for our CIS Connections newsletter as you will get a taste of some of the virtual clubs that students will have the opportunity to take advantage of this school year.]
During these unprecedented times, we are faced with so many unknowns.
Among all the unknowns, we do know for certain that school supply distribution is needed for the upcoming year!
As school supplies are hitting the middle aisle in your local store, many in our community are starting to think about collection drives. Like many of you, our top priority is the health and safety of the families we serve, our generous supporters, KPS staff, and CIS staff. As such, we have set up a virtual collection drive this year! With students attending virtual classes this year, the need for school supplies may be needed more than ever!
This is new territory for us, so thank you for your flexibility and understanding.
Are you interested in supporting our back to school drive? It is simple…
Select from the available items that have the biggest impact
Follow through with the purchase of the items via the donation page
All items purchased through the donation page will be directly delivered to the CIS Kids’ Closet for distribution to students connected with the 20 CIS supported Kalamazoo Public Schools.
The drive is only open until August 28th!
As a friendly reminder, you are always welcome to support the CIS Kids’ Closet with a financial donation through our website and selecting the CIS Kids’ Closet on the donation page. Don’t forget, distribution of supplies requires “people,” support from our community through our general donations help to provide this service. We THANK YOU, our community of support for helping us meet the need of so many students!
CIS Think Summer! is underway and Jessica Waller helped Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) kick off programming—virtual this summer, due to COVID-19—by offering a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students. CIS Think Summer! is organized by various career themes, the first of which is focused on food and food-related careers. As you’ll quickly discover, Mrs. Waller was the perfect person for the job.
Jessica (Savage) Waller is a proud Kalamazoo native and graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS); Mrs. Waller attended Northeastern Elementary, South Junior High School (currently known as Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts), and Kalamazoo Central High School. Mrs. Waller’s parents always stressed the importance of getting an education and served as examples for her through their professions. Her father was employed at the state of Michigan at the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center as a Mobility and Orientation Instructor and as an adjunct instructor at Western Michigan University in the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies and her mother owned a day care.
Upon graduating high school, Mrs. Waller earned a full scholarship to Western Michigan University. At first, she was not sure what she should major in and her mother suggested Business. Later, Mrs. Waller discovered the Food Marketing major. This would allow her to work in the food industry which is a plus because she loves all kinds of food!
Mrs. Waller has been employed with the Kellogg Company for 21 years. She started as an intern and has held several positions within the company along the way to being promoted to her current position of Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division. Mrs. Waller is proud to work for an organization that values Diversity and Inclusion. These two core company values can be traced back to the founder, W.K. Kellogg. For example, the company added love notes in braille to one of their signature products, Rice Krispie Treats; Mrs. Waller was instrumental in this project. Mrs. Waller stated “Inclusion is in our DNA. Everyone is important, and we want each child to be able to feel loved, supported and acknowledged.”
When Mrs. Waller is not busy developing exciting selling stories for customers, she is spending time with her family which includes seven children ranging from the ages of 24 to two years old.
Mrs. Waller also recently spent time with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Her interview follows.
As part of your presentation—which, by the way, was extremely well received by the youth (and grownups) in attendance—you discussed product innovation. It seems that innovation has a natural relationship with diversity and inclusion. Love notes in braille on Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Treats is an excellent example of this. Innovation, like diversity and inclusion, just doesn’t magically happen. Kellogg’s obviously puts work into living out the values of diversity and inclusion. That effort involves creative thinking, listening, and strategizing. Can you speak more about this relationship of diversity, inclusion, and innovation?
Diversity and Inclusion (or D&I) is in the DNA of the Kellogg Company. It started with our founder, WK Kellogg, who was really the Father of the Cereal Category. His persistence resulted in a tremendous amount of innovation, products we now enjoy daily around the breakfast table. Despite many challenges along the way, WK did not give up, and that persistence clearly paid off after many decades of hard work and commitment. At the heart of his work, he solidly believed in changing the world for the better. As part of that, he believed in investing in others, often quoting, “I’ll invest my money in people.” And that he did.
Today, thousands of employees globally still live by the core value set forward by WK. Diversity and Inclusion efforts are at the heart of everything that we do. We have eight different Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Kellogg that represent different areas of focus, and these groups work to ensure that every employee can bring their best self to work every day. I served for the last five years as a Co-Chair for one such ERG, Kapable, which focuses on those employees that might be disabled (or differently-abled as we like to say) or might have family members who are. One of the initiatives we helped lead within Kapable was an inclusivity effort within the Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes campaign, which resulted in the release of Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes stickers for both blind and autistic children. These stickers can be placed on the top of Rice Krispies Treats and share a special message of love and recognition for children as they return to school. Because love and inclusivity are the most important school supplies, aren’t they?
Yes, you are correct, innovation doesn’t just happen, and neither does diversity and inclusion. They all take hard work, persistence, and a determination to never give up. When paired together, they can change the world, just as WK aspired to do. Hope is not a strategy—we all have to get involved—and I am personally committed to pushing for a better tomorrow.
What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?
I am learning that I haven’t done enough. I was raised by socially progressive parents who always believed in community involvement, engaging in the service of others, and equality for all, and so all three of us kids have carried that forth as a way of living and representation within our own communities and families. I thought that I was doing my part by not being closed-minded and by engaging in work that encourages inclusion and diversity. As I have done some reflection over the past several months, I have recognized that simply isn’t enough. It’s a start, but in order to truly make the world a better place, it’s going to take aggressive action, activism, loud voices, persistence, teaching of our children, and most importantly…listening.
I’ve also learned that every challenge brings forth an opportunity for unity. COVID-19 presented an immediate challenge globally, one that quickly divided us all into our own separate homes and lives and significantly changed our former lifestyles as we knew them. Yet we saw the best of humanity rise up as people helped one another get access to food supplies, deliver groceries, tend to our children, visit the lonely, and countless other ways of uniting for good. Then we have the rising unemployment rate, which can quickly divide the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Again, another place where I have seen the best of people, rising up to help one another with the necessities for their families, extend arms of employment, sharing of resources, etc.
I would also point to the civil unrest this country has seen come to the forefront as of late with the horrific slayings of several black fellow Americans. While this is yet another example of terrible divide, we see the unity coming to life with people of all walks of life and ethnicities taking to the streets and demanding equality. It’s a pivotal point of change that is long, long overdue, and I will stand with my family to take a part in every one of those opportunities for unity. My prayer is that we all engage in unification opportunities within our own communities and drive to deliver a better world for us and for our children.
Do you have a sense that American’s snacking habits have changed as a result of the pandemic?
Absolutely—people are eating more and eating differently. We are constantly engaging consumers to understand this evolution. COVID-19 created this vertical upheaval in the American way of life that has greatly impacted how, when and why people are eating. We know that 89% of shopper buying habits have changed since the start of COVID. More people are buying online, perhaps having groceries delivered, perhaps shopping in another Channel (type of store) versus where they have traditionally shopped. They certainly stocked up more, at least for a period of time, than what they had in the past, and as a result, they are eating more. I know that’s true for me! Being home 24/7 with a house full of kids that would otherwise be so actively engaged in school and community activities has left us eating more food at home instead! We find that to be true broadly across the US.
What will be most interesting is watching what consumers do after this pandemic settles a bit…will they go back to their former ways or be forever changed? We will be anxious to see!
What is one of your favorite snacks?
Cheez-It Extra Toasty, hands down! I love them.
Thinking back to your days as a KPS student, can you tell us about a teacher(s) who influenced and inspired you?
There were so many that I would honestly feel bad if I called out any one in particular. I rattled off nearly a dozen in my mind as the question was asked. There are many excellent teachers in KPS, and everywhere for that matter. We don’t value them enough in this country, and that has to change. Without teachers, where would any of us be?
What are you currently reading?
I just finished a book called Top Down Day about a family that lost a loved one and how they processed and coped. I lost my Dad nearly five years ago now to brain cancer, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and struggle with that tremendous loss. That book really helped me recognize that many of the personal and painful things I have felt with the loss of my Dad are ‘normal’ feelings. One never knows what to expect in the face of tragedy I suppose, but I’m learning everyday how to cope. I miss him terribly, we all do. But at least I can hold onto the wonderful example and teachings he instilled in me of being kind to others always. As long as I uphold that, he lives on.
What is your favorite word or phrase right now?
“Just do it.” A former leader in my church said that often, as does Nike, of course. We all need to get up off our couches and out from behind our computer and phone screens and get involved. Don’t overthink the ‘buts’ and ‘whats’…just do it. Do what you know is right.
Anything else you want us to know?
I’m so grateful for this opportunity to engage tomorrow’s leaders. So thank you for that. If I can ever help in any way, count me in!
Thank you, Mrs. Waller, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.