Rebecca Achenbach: Each Student & Family is Unique

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 Rebecca Achenbach who, in the Fall of 2019, stepped into the role of CIS Site Coordinator for Linden Grove Middle School. She also worked throughout 2020 CIS Think Summer, serving as the CIS Think Summer Quality Coach, in which she was responsible for ensuring high quality programming for the student participants.

Rebecca attended Nazareth College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Western Michigan University. She holds a liberal arts degree, a degree in early childhood education, a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and Geography, as well as a Masters in Family Life Education with a certification in Adolescent Development.

Since she was 21 years old, Rebecca has been connected to the Kalamazoo Public Schools one way or another. She first interned in a preschool setting and later owned and operated a preschool, offering before and after school programming for K-6 grade students. (Many of the students attended KPS.) She gained additional experience running before and after school programs (held in KPS schools) for the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo. She is also a proud KPS parent. Her daughter graduated from Loy Norrix High School in 2018, and her younger child will be starting at Norrix this fall. Throughout this time, she also worked closely with the theater and forensic programs on a secondary level.

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

Pop Quiz 

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?

During this challenging time I am realizing how much I love the extra time I have with my family, my music, my writing, my gardens, and the appreciation for all things simple.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS Site Coordinator?

The best part of being a CIS Site Coordinator is that I get to work with not only the students that attends Linden Grove, but their whole family units.

Given the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How are you continuing to support students during this challenging time?

The work is the same, but the needs look different, and vary more frequently. I feel barriers have increased for families, but as an organization we have thought creatively “out of the box” to meet the new needs that families have, or may come across. I feel the closure has allowed families to see more of a value of the services we provide, and I feel the connections have become so much stronger between CIS, families, and the school.

When it comes to CIS thinking “outside the box,” can you share more about that?

Thinking outside of the box to me in the CIS realm means not letting past experiences I have had determine how I will work with all my families. Each family and student is unique, and so each student and family I work with, and that process will be different, and you have to be prepared to try new things. I am glad I already had this mind set, as we move forward in our thinking, and how we will now work with families and our students that we may not actually have physical contact, or in person interactions with.

What are you currently reading?  

I am currently reading The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer and also The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

My favorite phrase, concept, quote right now is to remember to move in the Way, or the Tao.

To remember I (we) are merely instruments in the hands of the forces, and to try to live in balance with what is going on in our world around us. To stay in a state of balance, rather than a state of how I (we) think things should be. The more you can work with the balance, the more you can stay in the moment, enjoy present life, and allow yourself to not resist, but to ebb and flow in our current situation.

Anything else you want us to know?

I enjoy writing and music. I play piano, ukulele, percussion, and I sing. I also love theater, and working with students in a theatrical setting. [In her role as CIS After School Coordinator, Rebecca shared her passion for theater with the students, initiating a theater club at Linden Grove Middle School last year. She had the students finish the theater club using Zoom and is planning to offer the club virtually again this fall.]

Thank you, Rebecca, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

 

 

When Doors Open, Maria Walks Through

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 Maria Whitmore (Chalas), CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. We caught up with her just as she had finished serving as Program Director for CIS Think Summer for the middle school students.

Born and raised in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, Maria says it was love that brought her from the Caribbean to Kalamazoo in 2014. “I met a wonderful man online in an unexpected way, and here I am with my two children.”

Maria graduated from Caribbean University, a private university system in the Dominican Republic and graduated in 2007 with a degree in Education and Modern Languages.

When Maria arrived in the United States, her first job was at a greenhouse. “However, God never leaves his children alone, and El Sol Elementary opened its doors for me.” In the fall of 2016, when Maria’s son was in 4th grade, she stepped into the role as a Title 1 Paraprofessional. Around this same time, another opportunity opened so Maria also began helping extend the learning day for El Sol students by serving as a youth development coach for CIS After School.

With the support of Ms. Heather Grisales [principal of El Sol at that time] Maria also started taking the necessary steps to pursue a teaching position. But, Maria states, “God had another plan for me and things turned out differently. I was called to a different scenario. Because God is so caring, he opened another door for me: CIS.”

Maria with her son, Ramil.

Maria now serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. She had also worked during 2019 CIS Think Summer as a youth development coach. And when the pandemic did not stop CIS from opening its virtual summer doors to students, Maria went through those doors too, and served as the CIS Think Summer program director for the middle schools.

“I love working for CIS,” Maria says. “CIS believes in growing people, both kids and grownups. They offer opportunities, and I’m an example of it. They trusted me, and because of that, I’m where I am at right now.”

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

Pop Quiz

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?

Perseverance and optimism. I think those are the key for anything in life, especially during these challenging times. I remind myself to stay calm and stay positive.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS After School Coordinator?

I can share my knowledge with others, and at the same time, I can learn from them. I feel like a real teacher, which I love. I just love seeing the impact we have on kids when we work together.

Given the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How are you continuing to support students during this challenging time?

The hard part is keeping students engaged. We all know that a kid and a computer means video games; we have to fight that now.

I do like calling parents. That way we keep each other in the loop as to what is happening. It also gives us the opportunity to work closely together to support students and fully engage them in the learning process. And despite the challenges, kids are engaging. For example, I have three students who went back to their home country of Saudia Arabia. And yet, they continued to join their peers with their virtual learning throughout CIS Think Summer.

What are you currently reading?  

Don’t Die in the Winter: Your Season is Coming by Dr. Millicent Hunter.

 What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

I don’t see the glass half empty. I see it as half full.

Anything else you want us to know?

I am always working, even when sleeping! What I mean by that is that my engagement with the work that I perform is so exciting that I’m always busy figuring new things out as to how best support the youth that we serve.

Also, I like to play a game that helps me to relax after a hard day. It’s called Parshisi Star and is an online game that I have on my phone. When I was a kid, I used to play it as a table game, but now it’s available through your Facebook account.

I also love to cook. I am the kind of cook who doesn’t follow the recipe instructions. I base my dishes off my own tastes and everybody that has tasted my food loves it!

Thank you, Maria, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

MAUREEN CARTMILL: BEE-ing THERE FOR KIDS

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 Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator for Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts.

Maureen was born and raised on the east side of Michigan, in what is now known as Farmington Hills. As far back as seventh grade, she planned on teaching. Half-way through her undergraduate studies at Western Michigan University, with teaching positions becoming increasingly difficult to find, her mother, a first grade teacher, suggested she specialize. “WMU’s Speech Pathology and Audiology Department was number one in this half of the nation. I could work in an elementary setting. Decision made.” Maureen received a Bachelor’s in Speech Pathology and Audiology while minoring in Elementary Education. Then, the graduate degree she pursued in Reading ultimately transitioned to a Master of Arts in Counseling and Personnel.

After seven years with CIS, Maureen retires at the end of this month. Prior to CIS, Maureen supported students in various positions within Kalamazoo Public Schools. Maureen had been teaching at Chime Elementary for two and a half years when her career “took a detour.” Someone at Northglade Montessori Magnet School—where her daughters were attending school—discovered she was a certified teacher. She was hired and served as the permanent substitute in the school’s library. She then went on to Parkwood-UpJohn Elementary to serve as librarian [a position a certified teacher could fill if a media specialist were not available]. Over the years, funding for Maureen’s position changed, and her titles changed with it. No matter, she says, for “thirteen amazing years I specialized in reading support, coordinated the library, and ran building-wide literacy programs and events.”

While the entire CIS and KPS family will miss her presence, we feel good knowing that in  retirement Maureen will still buzz about doing good works and making the world a sweeter place.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?                                                                                            

My immediate and extended family are healthy. I feel fortunate. Several family members are essential workers. There is a 16 month old I have not held in almost three months. Visits with my mother are now through a window. But…we are all healthy and waiting to reconnect.

Constantly working on a phone and a computer is a strain. I yearn for barrier-free communication. Communities In Schools offers us a great deal of support to combat the isolation you can feel working from home. I appreciate that. I miss the Woods Lake staff and students. Oh, and I cook now.

What are you learning about yourself in all this?

Hitting the” pause button” has been healthy. Prior to Covid-19, I would be locked in third gear from early morning until late at night. Stationed at home I find that I enjoy the solitude. My children are grown. There is no music playing and the TV remains off during the day. If someone pops into my head, I call, right then, and check in on them. I make time for prayer. I appreciate simplicity. I know I am fortunate.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS Site Coordinator?  

Relationships. I’m involved with students through their entire elementary experience. I love watching them grow physically and emotionally. I love watching friendships evolve that could last their entire lives. With children, no two days are the same. You guide and support them through the rough days and celebrate and share hugs on the days they succeed. We are a resource. Our door is always open.

I genuinely love being part of a team that supports children through their personal journey as well as their academic journey.

Given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How have you continued to support students during this challenging time?   

Initially, it was a rush to make sure families had all the essentials they needed. I spent most of my day on the phone talking or texting with parents. The Kalamazoo Community was/is incredibly supportive. The list of resources for families grew every day.

Once KPS initiated their breakfast and lunch outreach and their virtual classrooms, I took a step back. Parents were overwhelmed with calls, texts, emails. The job of trying to educate within the home became a big responsibility. Currently, I feel my job has transitioned from basic needs to emotional support. Contact with students has diminished. When calling, I always begin by asking the parent how they are doing? How has the past week been for them? What can I help them with today? It helps me gain a better understanding of the climate within the home. I believe by supporting the parent, I am supporting the student. To promote some family activity, I dropped off board games to several of our families, old favorites like Sorry and Charades.

The students you work with had already been dealing with other stresses in their lives before this pandemic. And now, this pandemic layers on additional stress for both these young people and their families. How are students coping? Are you seeing any common threads as to how students are responding?  

Students are struggling. Consider that two thirds of a child’s waking hours were spent at school. School provided variety, structure, social connectedness, and physical and intellectual challenges. After two or three weeks, the novelty of a vacation begins to wane. Everyone misses their friends. Students who have cell phones are making some social connections. Families with one phone are at a disadvantage when the parent needs to take the phone to work. Parents who work from home must have their phones available to them. Not everyone has a computer, iPad, or WiFi. Students are lonelier and more isolated.

What are you currently reading?

I am not reading anything at the moment. I must keep my Master Gardener’s certification current, so I am watching webinars on pollinators, vegetable garden pests and diseases, and the proper pruning of fruit trees. Were you aware that there are many varieties of bushes and trees that are critical for the survival of overwintering bee colonies?

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

Initially, it was “One day at a time.” That has transitioned to “Be safe and take care of those you love.”

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go?

I will visit independent establishments. It will be a full-day event:

Coney Dog. We love the owners. Shout out to Katherine and Bill and son Michael.

Crow’s Nest. You have been closed too long.

University Roadhouse. A neighborhood destination.

O’Duffy’s Pub. The best place for Happy Hour with friends.

People who don’t know you, may not realize that you have been a beekeeper. What initially drew you to beekeeping?

I watched a swarm of bees cross our property and, like a tornado in reverse, the bees disappeared beneath an outbuilding 12 feet from our back door. No one we called knew how to remove them. (Close your eyes and don’t read the next few sentences.) We placed a shop vac hose at the entrance of the hole and began sucking the bees as the entered or exited the hive. Little did we know there were 40,000 to 60,000 bees setting up housekeeping. Guilt overcame us when the next day there was an article in the Gazette informing the public that honeybees were disappearing at alarming rates due to Colony Collapse Disorder. TURN OFF THE SHOP VAC!!! The public was invited to an informational meeting in Comstock. Shortly after, the Kalamazoo Bee Club was born. I was a convert. I bought my first “Nuc” of bees a year later.

How many times would you estimate that you have been stung?  

With my calm and disarming ways, I was certain I would never be a target. The answer is three.

Okay. Two more bee-related questions. Given your background in bees, what are your thoughts on these murder hornets having made it to the US? Also, can you share a fun bee fact with us?  

The Murder Hornet is one more potential challenge facing the honeybee. Currently we have no concerns in Michigan, but experts will be watching vigilantly. The image of hornets ripping the heads off honeybees and decimating bee colonies is a bit chilling. Michigan beekeepers are more concerned with such things as varroa mites, insecticides that make their way into pollen and nectar, and hive beetles.

Fun fact. Bees need to use the bathroom during the winter. It’s called a cleansing flight. As soon as there is a day that reaches 35-40 degrees, they’ll leave the hive to relieve themselves. You can see evidence of the flight in the snow just outside the entrance to the hive. You don’t want constipated bees.

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

My parents raised five children but it was my mother who held down the fort while my father had to travel. The five of us were born within three and a half years. I am the oldest. My mother was clever, resourceful, creative, patient, definitely outnumbered, and at times justifiably frazzled. She went back to teaching when I was in second or third grade. By junior high I would walk to her elementary school to catch a ride home. I loved to watch her teach. I look back now with the lens of a teacher and what seemed magical to me at the time was exemplary classroom management, moment to moment character education, and strong academic instruction. On her desk there was a word of the week which she integrated into daily conversation. Her students made those words their own. My favorite Barbara Loughlin reminder was “If you concentrate and cogitate, Mrs. Loughlin won’t have to reiterate.” She is the reason I decided on elementary education.

Anything else we should know about you? 

My faith sees me through both trials and triumphs. I’ve been blessed with an amazing family and friends that make me laugh. I have loved every job I’ve ever had because they’ve involved children and families. I’m a little concerned about the Detroit Tigers trajectory.

Thank you, Maureen, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

Jerrell Amos: Learning to Adjust When Life Throws A Curve Ball

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 Jerrell Amos, CIS Site Coordinator for Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts.

Born in Detroit and raised in Southfield, Michigan, Jerrell moved to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. He holds a bachelors degree in Secondary Education and a Master of Social Work. Jerrell has been with CIS since the 2017-18 school year.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?

I am holding up fine. Feeling well and in good spirits.

What are you learning about yourself in all this?

I love meditation. There is nothing better for the soul than a calm mind. Our family life is fast paced due to having two teenagers, and now a puppy. Being a father and a husband consumes the vast majority of my time. So having time to sit back and think allows me to a better person in all areas of my life. Spending time for myself seems selfish at times, but I know that I will be a better person for it. Everyone I come in contact with will hopefully benefit from my improvements.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS site coordinator?

Best part of being a CIS coordinator is interacting with the students and watching their growth and maturation. I also enjoy laughing and making people laugh as well. The students at Maple Street always provide me with a good, laugh daily. I am honored to know that they count on me during a crisis and as someone they can hangout with in a safe space.

Given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How are you continuing to support students during this challenging time? 

I have just focused on being that caring adult in their lives. Many of my students were not expecting to hear from the CIS guy. Many of my parents as well were thankful for me reaching out and checking in. My goal has been to continue providing that layer of support the students were used to having and to those who wanted it. I have been able to reach some of my students and family via phone, text, and email to check in and provide resources to help during these challenging times.

The middle school students you work with had already been dealing with other stresses in their lives before this pandemic. And now, this pandemic layers on additional stress for both these young people and their families. How are students coping? Are you seeing any common threads as to how students are responding?  

The trend I have been seeing with students has been boredom and anxiety. Students have been struggling with being confined to their homes and not being able to see friends and family. Also, students have expressed their frustration with school ending so abruptly and not having the closure they are used to.

What are you currently reading?

I have been reading a lot information and trying to educate myself regarding the pandemic. I have spent time learning new skills on a professional and personal level. I have taken advantage of several professional training opportunities regarding social emotional learning that focused on school-wide support and trauma. Also, I have increased some hard skills that have always interested me. For example, I have been researching woodworking and building things.

What have you recently built?

I recently built a queen size platform bed. My next project is a sectional sofa for my three season porch. My mom will be doing the upholstery for me.

Jerrell’s most recent handiwork.

What is your favorite word (or phrase) right now?

“Be selfish with improving who you are so that you can be an asset to others.” To me, this means that we have to spend time away from others to work on ourselves. You will have to sacrifice hanging with friends and loved ones in order to get to another level. The hope is that your family, co-workers, and team will benefit from a better version of yourself.

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go? 

I am such a homebody that I really have not yearned to go anywhere. I do miss interacting with people. So I would love to visit my family and friends.

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

I can’t just provide one person specifically. I have had so many caring adults in my life from my mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches and friends who has contributed to my success. The younger version of myself would have only said my mother. I do give my mother a ton of credit for my success, but as I have matured I realized that it took a village.

You have a son who is a high school senior and in this year’s 2020 graduation class. Not having the opportunity to experience the highly anticipated rituals and all the events and celebrations that normally goes along with graduation time, must be difficult. As a family, have you been able to or are you planning new ways to celebrate this important milestone?

At first it was hard to grasp the fact that we would not be able to celebrate like we planned. But, like I told him, sometimes life will throw you a curve ball and you have to learn to adjust to be successful. We discussed how this would help him to appreciate things more in life because you never know if you will get that opportunity again. Also, to never put something off until later. Appreciate the little things in life and show appreciation to the people who helped you along the way. Graduating from high school is a great accomplishment and should be celebrated, but hopefully it’s not the last great thing he does in his life. We hope to celebrate his college graduation, first career job, wedding, childbirth, buying a home, and whatever he sets out to accomplish.

We plan on having a drive-by celebration for him graduating from high school.

Thank you, Jerrell, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer: Finding Ways to Connect with Students During Time of Physical Distancing

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 Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer, CIS Success Coach for Loy Norrix High School.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Nazlhy moved to the Dominican Republic–where her family is originally from–when she was around three years old. She holds a bachelors degree in Industrial Psychology (equivalent to a Human Resources Administration/Management degree in the United States). In 2005, she returned to the United States with her children.  She lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan until 2018, when, as she puts it, “Love brought me to Kalamazoo.” She’s been with CIS since the summer of 2018.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you and your loved ones holding up during this pandemic? 

These had been difficult days. I’m a people person by nature and those that know me would say that I’m a hugger.  Since physical contact is not allowed, I’ve been trying virtual connections as much as possible. Talking with family and friends keeps me grounded and reminds me that we are all in this together. I heard something the other day that I really liked and I quote: “We must to practice social distancing but that doesn’t mean that we need to be socially distant.”

What are you learning about yourself (and/or the world) in all this? 

I have learned that we needed to stop! We were running a race against the truly important things in life. Humans were showing a lack of human feelings and humanity… Just waiting for the next reason to spend money, whether it was a holiday, a birthday, or just any sale…worried about giving “things” to our loved ones instead of giving love and time, forgetting about people and relationships… Our daily lives turned into calendars and schedules, and our eyes did not look beyond a screen. We forgot about essential things like love, compassion, care, goals, and dreams. We stopped dreaming and enjoying the little things.

Yes, we needed to stop. Unfortunately, we have been forced to stop. Now I look outside through my improvised home office and I can see nature smiling at these crazy times that we are living. Maybe that means something, just maybe.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS success coach? 

Relationships. The opportunity to be a resource for our students, to meet them where they are, to look beyond the struggles and help them realize that planning for the future starts today and that every day is a new opportunity to move forward and closer to reach their goals and dreams, to be better for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

As you know, your role as a success coach allows CIS to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. Within the school you provide that one-on-one coaching support a student needs to help them succeed in school and life. Now, given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How as a success coach are you continuing to support students during this time? 

During this time of insecurity when so many things are out of our control, human connections and relationships are extremely important. Making myself available for my students has been my priority. I’m providing information, answering questions, and sharing community resources. I’m saying happy birthday or just texting with them about anything–including TV shows, cooking, and baking. I’m helping them to stay focused on what’s next. Fall is around the corner and they need to be reminded that we will get back to “normal.”  My hope is that they learn from what we are going through and come out of this crisis more resilient, focused, and stronger.

The students you coach had already been dealing with other stresses in their lives before this pandemic. And now, this pandemic layers on additional stress for both these young people and their families. How are students coping? Are you seeing any common threads as to how students are responding?

Students are coping and dealing with this pandemic in very individual and particular ways depending on their own realities. I fear for some of them that have too many struggles to deal with on a regular basis during normal times. Not having the safety net that the school provides is the biggest challenge. At school, students are guaranteed learning, food, care, attention, support, relationships, and safe spaces… I don’t want to think about how it looks like now for our more vulnerable students, but I’m still reaching out and doing everything I can to connect and be there for them.   

What are you currently reading?

I just started re-reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The book tells the story of a young shepherd named Santiago who is able to find a treasure beyond his wildest dreams. Along the way, he learns to listen to his heart and, more importantly, realizes that his dreams, or his personal legend, are not just his but part of the soul of the universe.

What is your favorite word (or phrase) right now?

My word is vulnerability. My phrase is “This too shall pass.”

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go? 

OMG! I will drive up to Grand Rapids to see my kids and hug them. I miss our hang out times with great music and cooking Dominican food together.

Then I’ll go for some good sushi at Ando in Grand Rapids or Maru in Kazoo.

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

Without a doubt, my parents. Both of them!  I’m 50 years old and we still touch base regularly, several times a week, actually. I still ask for their input before I make a decision. Unknowingly, my parents equipped me with a tool box full of values that has become my “survival kit.” I didn’t know it until I came to the US in 2005 and faced a million struggles as a single mom, raising two kids in a totally unknown and different culture.

A funny note, my mom and I regularly have coffee dates. We both brew a cup of coffee at the same time and video talk like if we were together.

Anything else we should know about you?

Hmm. I have never watched any of the Star Wars movies and I don’t like superhero movies, either. Except for Batman. I like Batman. 

Thank you, Nazlhy, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Nazlhy (far left) at the 2019 Champs Celebration.

Catching Up with Elissa Kerr: One Sweet Conversation

Born and raised in Connecticut, Elissa Kerr spent much of her childhood “playing under the shade of two massive maple trees.” Not surprising given this former CIS site coordinator has just written a book that features maple trees! We ran into Elissa a few months back during an author event at Kazoo Books, where she was introducing a children’s book she’s written. She said, “I am very excited to embark on this new endeavor as it will allow me to get back to my roots and what I am passionate about—encouraging a child’s love of learning.”

No matter what endeavor Elissa undertakes, she says her two biggest supporters are her husband Ian and their two young boys.

Since it’s National Reading Month and Michigan’s Maple Sugaring days are upon us, we think it’s the perfect time to catch up to Elissa Kerr and get the scoop on her new book.

What brought you to Michigan?

I moved to Michigan in 2008 because my husband attended Western Michigan University. We fell in love with the area and have been here ever since.

You first got connected with CIS by serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with us, right?

Yes. I have a degree in elementary and special education. When we moved to Michigan I began working with CIS as an AmeriCorp VISTA. I supported both Arcadia Elementary School and Edison Environmental Science Academy. I then stepped into the site coordinator role at King Westwood for two years. And for the past eight years I have been employed by the State of Michigan and focused on supporting individuals and families.

What is one of your fondest memories from when you were working with CIS?

I think one of my favorite projects was setting up a publishing center at Arcadia. It was wonderful to have volunteers come in and support classroom teachers and promote the art of storytelling. The best part was watching kids find their voice by sharing stories they were passionate about.

What was your favorite childhood book?

It’s difficult to pick just one book! My favorite childhood author would have to be Beverly Cleary. I especially loved her character, Ramona. Her mischievous antics always sprung from a place of pure childhood curiosity.

What book are you currently reading?

I enjoy participating in Kalamazoo Public Library’s Reading Together event. I love the idea of learning and having a discussion on a topical subject as a community, so I will usually give their suggestion a try. I recently finished this year’s book, We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. [Jonathan Safran Foer’s presentation is tonight, Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at Chenery Auditorium at 7 pm.]

My guilty pleasures are mysteries, though, and I recently read The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.

Describe your book in one sentence, or two, if one is too hard.

The Sweetest Season follows a young girl and her father as they journey through the forest and work to transform sap to syrup.

Elissa’s book on display at Kazoo Books.

For your book, you must have done some research. If so, can you talk a little bit about that?

We are members of the Kalamazoo Nature Center and have attended their annual maple syrup festival for the past eight years. We take a picture of my kids every year in the exact same spot! Their volunteers and staff do a great job in teaching guests about the process of identifying maples, tapping trees, and boiling syrup. I did additional research as well, again, turning to my local library for additional books. I am a strong supporter of libraries.

The title of your book, The Sweetest Season, is short and sweet and hits just the right spot. At what point in your writing process did you identify this title? Is there a story behind coming up with the title?

Coming up with the title was probably one of the hardest parts for me. It did not come naturally. The story was completely written and illustrations were started before I had a title I loved. I was using the working title, Sugar Season. While informational, it was certainly not catchy or very whimsical. I made the change late in the process and am much happier with the title.

Do you have real maple syrup in your house right now?

Not currently. My family was enjoying a lot of syrup and breakfast foods, but sadly, they might be starting to get a bit tired of it. I did just find a recipe for a maple hot coco that I want to try, so I will probably be picking up some soon enough.

Can you tell us one or two interesting maple syrup-related facts?

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup. It’s not just sugar maples that can be tapped for sap. Many other varieties can be tapped, it’s just that their sugar content is not as high. I am really curious to try a syrup from another type of tree just to compare!

Are any of the characters based on or inspired by real people?

Though they aren’t based on real people, my characters have a love and connection to nature that I hope to inspire in others.

What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book?

Rhyming and meter. I always wanted to make a book that rhymes. Some lines came naturally, while others I would constantly rewrite.

What behind-the-scene tidbit in your life would probably surprise readers the most?

My husband has bright red hair and many people who know me assume that I chose characters who have bright red hair. In reality, it was completely the illustrator’s idea. Zoe Saunders felt the red hair would be a nice contrast to the melting winter snow.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

My favorite phrase right now is: Little seeds grow mighty trees.

Little seeds could be small acts of kindness, a smile on the street, or a simple idea. You never know what impact your small gesture makes in the lives of others. I hope this book is that little seeds that inspires others to go outside and connect more with the nature found right in their backyards.

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

I come from a family of educators and I would say my grandmother still embodies that teaching and nurturing spirit. I would certainly consider her one of the most caring adults in my life. She always has inspired a love of learning and encouraged me to share my gifts and skills. She turned 95 this year and seems really delighted to see my work on this project. I am thankful that it’s brought her so much joy.

You can find Elissa’s book, The Sweetest Season, at Kazoo Books. It’s also available for purchase on-line at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

Meet Teresa Miller

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 longtime CIS volunteer Teresa Miller.

More than a decade ago, Teresa, who has a background as a veterinarian technician and holds a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Michigan State University, walked into Edison Environmental Science Academy and started volunteering once a month with the Science Club. At that time, in 2007, she worked with Zoetis in Animal Health. Since 2017, she’s been employed with Stryker as an Associate Sourcing Manager. “I loved doing my volunteer work with the fourth and fifth graders. I thought I might have to give it up, though, when I started my new job, but I didn’t! I’m so lucky that Stryker allows me to continue to do this!” she says.

In fact, Teresa loves working with the students so much that she convinced her hairy, 105 pound friend, Cash, to volunteer as well. A Bernese Mountain Dog, Cash is considered part of the volunteer team who makes Science Club so successful. [Since we’ll be featuring some of the Science Club volunteers, we’ll bring you Cash’s interview this spring when he comes to visit the students at Edison.]

Born in Taylor, Michigan, Teresa, along with her husband, two children, two dogs, three cats, and two horses, now lives on a 10-acre property in Plainwell. “I love Kalamazoo and I love Plainwell. And, of course, Plainwell has the best ice cream!”

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

Pop Quiz

As you know, the Science Club has been going strong since 2004 when Zoetis scientist [and current CIS board member] Dom Pullo started the club. It’s such a fantastic way to enhance students’ learning of science, through inquiry and hands-on activities.

It’s fun volunteering with Dom and other volunteers, like Paul. [Paul Runnels will be featured in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.] The kids are great. They ask lots of question and they are amazing questions. We encourage that. Asking questions is how you learn. They are just so inquisitive. Science, for these kids, is like magic.

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect to volunteering?

Seeing the change and growth in the students. It’s rewarding to see the kids change from the beginning of our time together to the end. In the beginning, some are just there to get out of class, maybe wanting to do something different. At some point, that changes. They want us to come every week. When we do the slime project, there are always some kids who don’t want to touch the slime, but by the end, they are picking it up and playing with it.

What is a question you’ve asked recently?

When I started with Stryker, I had no manufacturing experience, so I asked a lot of questions. In particular, What are the different types of processing of materials?

So, for instance, when it comes to a hospital bed, part of the metal is bent metal. You do that by heating the metal to form it. And then, you have to use a different process to do another section, say with a laser to cut the holes where you want them.

Since I have gone from animals to manufacturing, I’m constantly learning something new every day and I love that. I never get bored!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I recently asked Alexa (my Amazon Echo) about dolphins.

Another question!

Yes! And I learned that their skin is so thick. I didn’t realize that but it makes sense as it would help them with body warmth. Orcas are dolphins and not whales. Because we call orca’s killer whales, I didn’t realize that either.

What are you currently reading? 

The last book I read was Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I read it before I saw the movie. I cried through the entire last chapter. The book before that was A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron. That’s a movie, too, about a dog who is reincarnated. Are you sensing a theme here?

What is your favorite word right now?

Service.

What’s something you looking forward to in 2020?

I’m going on a ten day cruise this spring to celebrate my daughter’s graduation. She just got accepted into Michigan State University (MSU)!

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

My dad. The support he gives me and how he teaches. He’s the kind of person who is always teaching, telling you why he is doing something a certain way.. When he was 19 he had started working for Ford and worked for them his whole life. With no real formal education after high school, he felt it was important to get an advanced education. So when I was growing up, he was always pushing me to go to college. It wasn’t an option. In fact, he was the one who got me to consider going into the animal field.

Thank you, Teresa, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Teacher Andrea Walker: An Open Book

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 KPS teacher Andrea Walker, known as Miss Walker by her fifth grade students at Woodward School for Science and Technology.

As a single parent, Miss Walker worked hard and raised her two children. Both are graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools, having attended the very school their mother has been teaching at for the past 12 years. Now grown and in college, one attends Kalamazoo Valley Community College and the other, Western Michigan University.

When you walk into Miss Walker’s homey and welcoming classroom, you can’t help but notice how she decorates her room with Nemo. She knows that the kids who swim through her class each year aren’t that different from Nemo, the adorable clownfish, and his friends who have challenges to navigate in life. As one of the many fantastic teachers at Woodward and throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Miss Walker is showing up each day for kids and helping them learn and grow.

She compares herself to an open book. Her life, as you will soon learn, is filled with interesting chapters, with pages yet to be written.

Alright, Miss Walker: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What is a question you’ve been asked recently?

[Laughing.] You don’t want to know that answer, especially the day after a full moon. [Note: We interviewed Miss Walker during her lunch break, the day after a full moon.]

Tell us, then, a question you recently asked.

Just yesterday, I asked my students, Where’s the empathy?

I want them to understand feelings and when someone is being mean to someone else, what is the appropriate response? It’s not to laugh, as that can hurt feelings. I want them to connect to each other and express understanding and empathy for what someone else may be going through.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished the book, Mermaid. I didn’t really like it and was surprised because I love Jodi Picoults’ other works. This just wasn’t an amazing read like her other ones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Seriously.

Seriously what?

That’s my word. Seriously. That’s what I often say to the kids, Seriously?

What are you curious about?

The overall depression and anxiety in our kids these days. It worries me.

Have you seen an increase in this over your 12 years as a teacher?

Yes, it’s been growing. There’s a lot of trauma kids are dealing with, as well as a lot of anxiety these days.

Does having CIS in your school help you as a teacher?

Oh, God, yes! CIS helps me tons as a teacher. And not only with the basics [school supplies but CIS provides that emotional and social backing that our kids need. During the day, CIS helps with such a range of things, from personal hygiene issues we might have with a student to tutoring support, and whatever else they may need. Oh, they just do so much. And having CIS after school as well extends the learning day and keeps students safe. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before, when we didn’t have CIS.

You’re also the leader teacher in CIS after school. What does that entail?

Yes, I’m the core teacher for the third, fourth, and fifth graders during CIS after school. That means I meet with the students for one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll reiterate the facts in math or ELA [English Language Arts] that they have been learning during the school day. We’ll go over strategies and skills and do pre-test preparation. We’ll also do some book studying. I also like to have them play learning games; they don’t realize they’re learning because it’s in the form of fun games.

When you were a kid, where did you grow up?

In Indiana, Portage. I’m originally from Hobart, Indiana and went to Hobart High School and then we moved to Portage, Indiana.

What brought you to Michigan?

I got a job working at Spencer’s Gifts. This was the one in St. Joseph, Michigan. And it was around that time I then started back to school. I was working nights at Lakeland Medical Center in the OB unit as a clerk.

Is that what brought you to Kalamazoo?

The Promise brought me to Kalamazoo. As a single mom, I knew it would be hard, if not impossible to pay for my children’s college education. So when I graduated with my associate degree from Lake Michigan College, my kids saw me walk across the stage. And then I packed them up, and we moved to Kalamazoo so they could get the Promise. I started working at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum as an interpretation specialist, assisting with tours and such. And then I started back to school to get my teaching certification at Western. I interned at Washington Writers’ Academy.

Poetry isn’t part of the American childhood education that it once was. Yet, poetry is important to you. You make a concerted effort to incorporate it into your classroom each year. Why?

I’ve always liked poetry. And you’re right, curriculums touches on it very little.

I love the awakening that occurs in my students when we do poetry. I love seeing the lights go on for them when, in doing and seeing things differently, pieces fall in place and start fitting together for them. I like bringing the work of Dr. Seuss into the classroom. I’ll tell them the story of his whole life and how things progressed for him. It’s an exciting way to engage them in learning. They’re interested in that and take it all in.

I really do love that awakening in the kids…the joy that goes with listening to and creating their own works of poetry,  that this is something they can create for themselves…you see it on their faces as they light up.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Math! I’ve only taught ELA for the past ten years. Because we don’t have our students switching classes this year, I teach it all to them. So I’ve been relearning math with the new curriculum.

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

I’m the only one in my immediate family who has gone to college. The person who pushed me to go to college was a nurse, Barbara Davis. She’s still a nurse and a friend of mine to this day. You’d be better as a teacher than a nurse, she told me. I’m a late bloomer.

At the hospital, we had this chalkboard up at work for noting announcements. I drew all the Sesame Street characters on it. Barbara said to me,  I think your calling is to be a teacher.

Huh, I thought. I had never even considered that possibility until she mentioned it.

She was right! From just the little I’ve been able to see you in action with your students, you are clearly born to teach. Yet, you didn’t see that in yourself until someone else pointed that out. Thank goodness she did!

You know, until talking about all this now, I didn’t realize how many different types of jobs I’ve held along the way to get there!

In the CIS Annual Report [recently out and can be accessed here] you are one of the people who shared what you are made of. You said you’re a book.

That’s right. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What books have helped shaped who you are?

Are you ready?

Uh, hope so.

All the Nancy Drew books, The Box Car Children, Are You There God? It’s me Margaret by Judy Bloom. Oh, I could go on.

The books I enjoy now with my students, oh, there are so many of them. But one of my favorites is Flush by Carl Hiaasen. It’s one of my favorites for school here because it is relatable and teaches about bullying. I also read aloud to them Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We had a “Wonder party” for our fifth graders. We closed down the hall, had a party, and cake. The kids loved it.

Thank you, Miss Walker, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.