James Devers: The Conversation Continues

James Devers

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 Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s New Executive Director James Devers. When the CIS board selected James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we introduced him briefly to you back in June with this post. And if you read our most recent back to school issue of CIS Connections, you know even more about James, such as what book changed his life. Here’s some of our conversation that, due to space issues, didn’t make it into the newsletter.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you often ask yourself? Or perhaps it’s a question you’ve only been recently asking yourself?

I’ve been gone from Kalamazoo for 23 years. Since coming back in September of 2017, in processing the reality of my journey, I’ve been thinking about this play on the question, Why me? I’ve been thinking about how skill, talent, ability, and circumstances don’t always line up. The reality is that, where I’m at now and the place that I’m going as executive director is a result of something bigger than me. I believe I’ve been preparing for this journey all along even though I didn’t know it was coming.

…I come from a family of laborers. I was not introduced to the corporate world or much of any of the experiences I have encountered. All of it is a discovery. I’m grateful and humbled by the journey and where I now find myself.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I was at the Douglass Community Association recently and noticed the “1919” imprint on the corner of the building. It’s a good reminder that the black community has had a presence in Kalamazoo, and it goes far back. For instance, in 1968 Judge Pratt, a native of Kalamazoo became the first African American judge in Kalamazoo County. And, of course, Douglass Community Association is celebrating its 100th birthday!

What are you currently reading?

The Bible. That’s my go-to book….I like that the stories illustrate the human experience and show the flaws of people as well as their triumphs. Despite their flaws—despite our flaws—we can do great work.

Do you have a pet peeve?

The thing that bothers me most is when people are mean to other people. That really gets me.

Can you tell us about a person who opened a door for you and impacted you as a leader?

I was planning to obtain my Masters in social work. While working at Ohio State, I had just finished my first year working towards that degree and contemplating taking a year off to complete the second year (clinical work). A Ms. Rivers reached out and invited me to talk with her. I thought I was just going to meet with her for a conversation, not realizing it was an interview, at the end of which she offered me the principal position within the school that she had helped to found. I really had to think about that. Here I was, working for The Ohio State University and did I want to give that up and risk doing something I’d never done before, working as a principal in a small school? I’m so glad I accepted her offer to be principal. Even though I was working in the field of education, Ms. Rivers brought me into the public school sector in a deeper way, and it changed the trajectory of my life.

I appreciated working under somebody who had her passion. She was a former school counselor—had served in that role for 30 some years before “retiring.” She had so much energy and passion at that stage of her life. She could have chosen to ride off into the sunset, but she didn’t. And though she was in her mid to late 60s, I had a hard time keeping up with her!

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

My mother has always been that caring adult for me, but I must say that I did not come to appreciate the significance of her influence until a lot later in life.

While there have been a number of caring adults along my path, those relationships were not so much a sustained and consistent over time. Rather, it was moments of influence from different caring adults that helped shape my thinking and my actions. During my childhood we did lots of moving around. I went to a number of different KPS schools: Woodward, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School [the school is gone now, replaced with the Wilson Recreation Area, an open field and playground on Coy Avenue], Spring Valley Center for Exploration, and Washington Writers’ Academy. After that it was Milwood and Hillside Middle Schools. Even when I attended Kalamazoo Central High School and KAMSC [Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center], we still moved around.

What is your favorite word right now?

It’s not so much a word as an expression, I consider myself a made-man versus a self-made man. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” …I, like anybody else, had no control over my family that I was born into. I’ve had my share of crazy experiences as well as opportunities that have been presented along the way. So that expression is an acknowledgement that there lot of things are bigger than me, and that I don’t necessarily deserve the credit for who I am or what I have accomplished to this point in life.

For instance, my mother didn’t have experience in a lot of the areas I was going to walk into when it came to high school and college. She had dropped out of high school at age 16 [she later went back to school and earned her GED]. But she gave me responsibilities that, in looking back on it, shaped me. In her own way, she guided me. I was the oldest of five and would often be in charge of caring for them. Also, we were always moving around and going to different schools and thus found ourselves being around different people. Those childhood experiences made me and helped me become who I am today.

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

Be on the lookout for the CIS newsletter to learn more about CIS Executive Director James Devers. Also, James was recently interviewed by Encore Editor Marie Lee for the September issue of the magazine. Pick up a copy at one of these locations or read it on-line here.

Conversation with Julie Davis

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 Julie Davis. As we’re on the heels of Administrative Professionals Day and on the cusp of our 12th Annual Champs event, we thought it would be fun to meet up with this former KPS secretary and Champ (once a Champ, always a Champ as we say at CIS) of ten years ago and see what she’s up to these days.

“The sound of men playing horseshoes was part of the soundtrack of my childhood,” Julie Davis says, recalling her “idyllic years” spent growing up in the farming community of East Lynn, Illinois. She smiles as she recounts formative years spent driving tractors and “helping” with baling hay. “And I was watching—without knowing I was watching—equipment break down and seeing someone use some random thing that had been laying on the ground to make it work.”

Without realizing it at the time, Julie was learning to make do with whatever tools you have—or don’t have—in any given situation. Her knack for making things work—no matter what life throws at her—has served her well, both in her personal and professional life. As a single parent, she raised two beautiful daughters, Jodie and Abby, and happily watched as they got degrees from University of Michigan and Syracuse University, respectively. Throughout her 33-year career as a school secretary for Kalamazoo Public Schools Julie made things work on a daily basis; eight years at Loy Norrix High School and then 25 years at Arcadia Elementary School.

Julie retired in June of 2017. Three months later she was diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer, one in each breast. She underwent two different kinds of treatment and is doing fabulous now (as you’ll see, she did fabulous even then). She enjoys traveling often to Washington, D.C. to play with her two grandchildren, Sam, seven, and Norah, four.

We almost didn’t meet up with Julie at Anna’s House. In fact, we walked right by her. While her trademark shoulder-length blond hair has been replaced by short, white hair, her smile, joyous spirit, and laughter haven’t changed a bit.

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

Pop Quiz

It’s so different to see you sitting and just relaxing. In your role as secretary at Arcadia Elementary School you were always non-stop.

I loved every second of every day! I have so many fond and funny memories of working at Arcadia. And so many stories!

Will you tell us a story?

Sure. I’ve got thousands of them!

There was this first grader who zipped his neck into his coat. Thankfully, it was a plastic zipper. I told him, “I’m going to get this unstuck for you but it’s going to hurt. But I’ll do it really fast.” He gave me the okay and I grabbed a bit of his neck and the coat and we did it. And off he went. We were best friends after that. I still remember his name. Eric.

And here’s another story. A third grader wanted me to pull her tooth out. This was in the 90s. ‘It’s not ready, honey,’ I told her, but she wanted that thing out. She was adamant and wouldn’t go back to class until I pulled it. I know anticipation can drive kids crazy. So I put on a rubber glove, pinched as hard as I could and out came the tooth. It made that cracking sound when it came out, the kind of sound that says it wasn’t quite ready to come out! The next day, I received a percentage of what the tooth fairy brought her—a dime and three pennies.

And then there was a time….

Here’s a 2002 award Julie received from appreciative parents for “going beyond the call of doody.” Let’s just say it involved helping with a search effort per doctor’s orders. Julie found the quarter.

Okay, bear with me. It’s going to take a minute, but there is a question at the end of this.

Okay.

You received a Champ award back in 2009. Gulnar [Husain, who served as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia at that time] rightly described you as kind and compassionate. She wrote: “Her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control.” So, what’s your secret?

I think it’s not really even a secret. I’m just thankful I was in a job that I was designed to do. If only everybody could be in that position! That is a wish of mine. That everyone could get up, brush their teeth, go out and behave as themselves, and accomplish something for others at the same time. I was designed for my job. I loved my job. I was just out there being myself and it seemed to work for everybody. [She laughs.]

CIS partners would often comment how you always made them feel at home. I won’t ask you what your secret is, but how do you do that, make people feel at home?

I think, by nature, I’m relaxed most of the time. However, at a fairly young age, about 14, I learned that if you act at ease, it puts others at ease. Having learned to be relaxed in any situation has served me well throughout my life, including my time at Arcadia, especially with regard to the daily interactions I enjoyed with families whose language I could not speak.

As you know, Arcadia is a wonderfully diverse school. I’m so thankful I got to be with people of diverse cultures because getting to know these families changed my life. It changed me for the better. When you are relaxed, it opens you up. Because I was relaxed I could embrace and feel those differences. I loved how those differences moved within me—and moved me.

I grew up in a farming community where the only diversity was the age of the farmer. To have the chance to meet people from other countries and cultures was so enlightening. How I grew! That is something I miss, not having an opportunity to be in regular contact with these enriching relationships.

From your perspective as a former secretary, what was it like to have CIS in your building?

I can’t separate what CIS does from the people. People like Gulnar, of course, who was CIS. I think of Gulnar, and even before and after Gulnar—of the character you need to have to be really committed to the CIS mission. The CIS people worked with students who had needs. Their time and energy spilled over to everybody, not just those on a “list.”

Everyone I know whose been involved with CIS has fit. They’ve shown a commitment and dedication to children and their families, and that stood out to me. I’ve seen that commitment in those who didn’t have to be there, such as the college students volunteering through CIS. When I was their age, I couldn’t imagine being committed to something other than trying to get through my classes. These young people could have been home and enjoyed spring break, but instead they wanted to stay and work with kids. I loved seeing that kind of dedication in the CIS staff and all the volunteers and partners. They were in school with us wanting to do this because of their love for children and watching them succeed.

What have you found to be the most surprising about retirement?

I’m really good at being lazy. I was so busy every day at Arcadia; who knew that lazy would work for me so well! So lazy is what I’m doing at the moment.

Do you have a pet peeve?

Oh, yea! Tailgaters. And let me tell you, pet peeve isn’t the word for it. Because I wouldn’t say to a pet what I would say to a tailgater.

What are you curious about?

[Starts laughing.] I’m curious about thousands of things, but a funny one, just sprang to mind. I was working at Loy Norrix. This was before cell phones. I had to be there at seven. And there was a girl at the payphone every morning. Back then, Loy Norrix had a phonebooth inside the building, in the hall just down from the office area where I worked. I was always curious about who she was calling.

Maybe your curiosity can finally be satisfied. Maybe there is someone reading this right now who knows something!

Wouldn’t that be something? Let’s see, it would have been between 1984 and 1992 that this happened, practically every day during the school year.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

[Laughing.] I’ve learned that after a certain age you can come across something that is really interesting, something that you didn’t know, and a few day later, somebody asks you, “What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?” and you can’t recall what it is. I’ve learned lots of interesting things since I’ve retired, but can’t recall one of them now!

Can we talk some about your experience with cancer?

Sure. I’m open about it. You know, when I received the diagnosis, the first thing out of mouth was, “Lord, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get some glory out of this somehow.” I tell you, when you have peace and joy, life is good. It doesn’t matter what comes your way. With faith, you can say, “Well, this is unexpected” and you move forward.

I was going to ask, “How and in what ways did the cancer diagnosis change your perspective?” But it sounds like this experience hasn’t changed your outlook on life in any way.

My outlook has remained the same. It didn’t rock my faith foundation. I thought, “Okay, so I have cancer. That’s what’s happening now.” I knew God was going to walk me through it. The biggest challenge came with handling the side effects of some chemicals and that gave me insight into other people’s experiences and I’m thankful for that empathy.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading my Bible in the book of Acts. I’ve read it a billion times, but now, suddenly going through it this time, it’s like oh, my gosh! I’m relating to what the first Christians experienced… We come at it knowing how it ended. When you know the ending, you don’t get all anxious. But they didn’t know the ending.

Although I’m reading the Bible exclusively right now, I really enjoy reading a variety of genres. I think my all-time favorite is Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

What is your favorite word right now?

Since you want just one word, it would be content. If you wanted to know why I’m content, that would take lots and lots of words.

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

My parents, George and Helen.

Here’s one story about them. Everybody that crossed their path was drawn to them. They married in 1933 and lived in a little house in the country…Dad had a job with A&P in their warehouse, He went to work one day and the owner pulled him and the one other employee, Joe, aside and said, “I have to cut you both back to half time.”

Dad came home that evening and told my mom, who was pregnant at the time, that he lost his job. He had given his half to Joe so he could have full-time work. How he explained it to her: “Joe has two kids. We have a cow, chickens, and a garden so I feel we’ll be okay.”

That’s who they were. That story is as much about my mother. They just both shook it off, said okay, and went on.

Sounds a lot like you!

[Julie laughs.]

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

.

Ashley Serio: Former Promise Scholar Lifting Up Future Promise Scholars

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 Ashley Serio, who serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Northglade Montessori.

Ashley began her career with CIS almost six years ago, first as an AmeriCorps VISTA, then as Youth Development Worker (YDW), serving at both Northglade and Edison Environmental Science Academy. She has also worked in CIS Think Summer for five years.

Ashley grew up in Kalamazoo and attended Spring Valley Center for Exploration and then went on to Milwood Magnet Middle School. Upon graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, Ashley used the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship to attend Western Michigan University. She graduated in 2016, earning a degree in university studies with a focus in business, health, and family consumer science.

Back in February, we popped over to Northglade and popped this quiz on her. Alright, Ashley Serio: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

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

Getting to know the kids and build meaning relationships with them. I love helping them grow and seeing that growth, well they inspire me and my staff in many ways. They help us grow, too. It’s just awesome to watch.

How have the kids helped you grow?

They make me want to be more patient, more present, and more aware of everything. I’ve come to understand that everyone’s experience impacts them differently and it’s important to be aware of those experiences.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being an after school coordinator?

Not feeling like I can ever do enough for the kids. I want to be there even more for them, provide them more, and there is a limit to what I can do within the confines of this role.

As a graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, who were some of your favorite teachers?

My favorite high school teacher was Mr. [Christopher] Bullmer. He passed away last year. I did slam poetry and had him for language arts.

He had a positive impact on a lot of kids, didn’t he? I’m a little surprised, though, that you took his slam poetry class. I’m trying to picture you doing slam poetry.

Until very recently, talking in front of people was one of my weaknesses. I’d just get so nervous. But with my work at CIS, I was encouraged both by Cara [Weiler] and Ms. Stacy [Jackson] to do this very thing. They both pushed me beyond myself. I’m now doing trainings and sharing information with others. I’m becoming comfortable with doing this…The work that I do is so ingrained in my life now, it comes naturally. We all struggle, no matter how much we come to know and learn. But, as a CIS after school coordinator, I do have confidence in what needs to be done and I enjoy sharing that passion with others, too.

So, back to your KPS teachers. In addition to Mr. Bullmer, any other favorite teachers come to mind?

Oh, yes, definitely! At Spring Valley, it was Ms. Julie Jones, my second grade teacher, and Kairi Hokenmaier, my third grade teacher, and Michelle Larson, my fifth grade teacher. At Milwood Magnet Middle School, two of my favorite teachers were Mr. Atiba McKissack [now principal at Hillside, you can find his pop quiz here] and Ms. Dawn Kahler.

Did your favorite teachers have any overarching characteristics?

They were each dedicated to their jobs. They built quality relationships with their students, while also showing us that they were learning along the way, too.

I also think it says something about them, the fact that, to this day, they are working with kids one way or another.

The way you just described your favorite teachers reminds me of you—the focus on building relationships and life-long learning.

Oh, my! I can only hope I can be as good with kids as they have been. To think that I could teach kids as well as they did…wow. I mean, I’m not a teacher like them, but I’m still helping students, just in a different way.

[A CIS volunteer enters the CIS room. Ashley immediately rises to greet Ariel Slappy to see how everything is going. Ariel, a student at Western Michigan University, came to volunteer with CIS through her “Teaching as a Profession” class.]

Ashley Serio with CIS Volunteer Ariel Slappy

Your colleague, Steve Brewer, gave us a glimpse of what his work as CIS site coordinator looks like during the daytime [his interview here] at Northglade. Can you give us a glimpse of what an average afternoon in the life of a CIS after school coordinator is like?

Every day is different! I should also say that while Steve and I have different roles within the school, we work well together and we’ll each step out of our own role to step into each other’s role to get things done. For instance, you could see he was busy elsewhere in the building so I stepped in to assist our new volunteer. He does the same for me.

CIS After School Coordinator Ashley Serio sorting through CIS Kids’ Closet items with CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer

The term “after school’ is in your title, so the assumption might be that you are just in the school after the school day is over. But here you are, and it’s not even noon!

Yes, typically I’m checking in with students during day, to see if they are okay and if they are able to get their work done. I want to be fully present with the kids and after school staff so I use this time for program preparation and doing data work, planning for field trips and lessons and activities—all before program time begins. And then, it’s two and a half hours of after school programming with the kids.

What does that look like for you?

When the school day is over, our students—we have about 50 in the program—come into cafeteria and the staff and I greet them. I’m always with students during dinner time. I take attendance, the students wash their hands and have dinner. For Black History Month, we decided to try something new, so I’ve been reading a book aloud to the students for ten minutes each day. We’re reading Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia.

After the students finish eating they go to recess. I take that time to clean up, go back to the CIS office and catch up on paperwork. Following recess, the students split up into three groups and go into their classrooms for their Core Time. I float around, going in and out of each of the rooms, and supporting however necessary. Sometimes, a kid may need some time away from their group so I might bring them back to the CIS space and they can do what they need to do to regulate themselves and then get back to their room.

Tell us more about what Core Time looks like for Northglade students.

On Mondays, our focus is on SEL [Social and Emotional Learning], Tuesdays it is STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], and Wednesdays is ELA [English Language Arts], and then, on Thursdays, the students participate in clubs.

Each class is focusing on something different. But across the board, we’re all focused on self-management and relationship building. We’re exploring our personal emotions and what they look and feel like, how we can interact kindly and help each other. This has become a regular part of what we do on a weekly basis. We’ve found, through trial and error, some great ways to engage students in ways they find meaningful.

Can you share an example?

Sure. Last week, in [Youth Development Worker] Ms. Paige’s group, the students did a bucket-filling activity. The idea behind this is that we feel good about ourselves when we are kind to others. We can build up others by filling them with kindness. When others’ buckets are filled up, that helps to fill up our own bucket. If we are mean to others, it not only spills out their bucket, but it spills out our own as well.

So, for the activity, the kids each made their own buckets and randomly selected the names of three other students. They then wrote something positive about each student and put the slip in their bucket. This was all done anonymously.

That makes sense. The anonymous bucket activity encourages the kids to respond in a more intrinsic way, rather than being driven to “be kind” for some external reward. It’s not about “Oh, look, see what I wrote about you!” It’s more about, “I felt good writing something nice about you.”

Yes! And the kids love doing this and reading what is in their bucket!

So after Core Time in which we are doing various activities like what I just described, the kids move into Homework Time. Again, I’m checking in here and there. I’m helping wherever necessary. Kids have all different kinds of needs, so you need to meet those needs in different ways. I might find I need to work one-on-one with a student or work with a group of students who might be confused about something related to their homework.

You mentioned Thursdays are club days. What clubs do you currently have going on?

The kids get to select two options for their clubs. Right now we have “Around the World” which focuses on learning different places and cultures food, languages, customs, and traditions. We have “Olympic Club” where kids can learn about different winter Olympic sports and how to play them. We also have “Animal Club” where kids are learning about different animals. The Kalamazoo Nature Center is partnering with us on this and coming in to help us learn more about animals.

Principal Mogaji, whom we recently interviewed [interview can be found here if you missed it] said that she appreciates how you take the Montessori philosophy into account when running the CIS after school program, so that children receive a consistent message as their learning stretches into the after school hours. Can you share an example of how you do that?

I do work hard to extend what they know in the school day into after school as much as possible. We avoid extrinsic awards, for example. Also, the rules and norms we go by are aligned with the school day. The Northglade students worked to develop these so we are essentially going by what they chose to develop, such as being peaceful with our bodies, respecting each other, the environment, and the school. We talk a lot about that.

What are you currently reading?

Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’m not very far in yet, but it’s good. It’s interesting to hear about her life from her own perspective.

What are you becoming?

A better version of myself, although I don’t know what that means yet.

What is your favorite word right now?

Love.

What do you love?

The kids that I work with. Food. Sleep. My friends and family.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

In the summer and spring I like to be outdoors, so I enjoy visiting Asylum Lake. Also, I like to go any place that has good food. I like to be comfortable warm, and fed.

What places for good food?

Saffron, Crow’s Nest, and Studio Grill. I’m vegan so my options are limited. Those restaurants have a great selection for that.

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

My mom. She’s always been there for me. Most of my life it’s just been her and me. She’s supported and encouraged me. And obviously, I’m a lot more like her than I ever thought I’d be! We both do the same job and love it! [Ashley’s mom, Martha Serio, is on her thirteenth year as the CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In 2015, she received National CIS’s Unsung Hero Award.] I never thought I’d want to do the same work as my mom. I grew up watching her be stressed out worrying about the kids. But as soon as I started working the CIS summer program, I loved it. And working for Ms. Stacy [Jackson] during that time helped me definitely figure that out.

Anything else we should know about you?

I’m not usually very good talking about myself, I guess! I mostly work, sleep and eat. I do like to travel. I want to go to Italy within the next year.

Why Italy?

It’s beautiful from all the pictures I’ve seen. I’ve been to Paris, London, and Berlin. I studied abroad in college and loved Europe in general. So, Italy is next!

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

Teen Living Life With Courage and Hope

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 Annie Jett, a seventh grader at Hillside Middle School.

Prior to Hillside, Annie attended fifth grade at Lincoln and kindergarten through fourth grade at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Annie is “loving my educational experience at Hillside.” With her positive attitude, this student who thinks deeply about many subject matters has a bright future ahead of her.

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

Pop Quiz

What is your favorite subject?

Life skills. It is helping me become a more advanced person. The class helps me not only now with how I can see and do things but, how in the future, what I’m learning will help me in the different environments I find myself in when I’m out in the world.

Any favorite teachers?

In elementary school it was Ms. [Carla] Waller. She’s retired now, but she was my teacher at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Also, Ms. [Suezann] Bennett-Sheldon. She teaches life skills here at Hillside. She’s really helpful and teaches you different ways to approach things. She also is able to figure out different ways to help you learn.

How has CIS figured into your educational experience?

CIS has been there for me. The people care. When I was at Northglade, Mr. [Derek] Miller was my site coordinator. And when I got to Hillside, his wife, Ms. Precious [Miller] was my site coordinator.

You had the Miller team!

Yes, they were both very helpful, responsible, and respectful. They especially help me calm down my anger when I was mad. And when my father passed away in 2017, Ms. Precious was there for me. We had just finished doing a Prevention Works program when my granny came down to the school that day and told me my father had passed in a car crash on the highway… I went into a coma…I felt paralyzed. I felt that way for weeks, like I couldn’t move.

Ms. Precious was there. She even came to my classes when I was sad and down. She helped me get through it before she went to Western.

And now Ms. Jody Sikkema is your CIS Site Coordinator.

Yes, and I have found the same connection with her, just in a different way. Ms. Jody helps me find different ways to handle my emotions. She’s gotten me involved in Grief 101 with Ms. Cate. Ms. Cate has helped me a lot. The Grief 101 group [offered through Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan] has connected me with more people who have the same thing. At first, I was even scared to talk about it, was going to bust down……It helps to be surrounded by other people that have similar situations. I was stuck in my shell and Ms. Cate has helped me open up.

I know how to handle things, but I also know that some times are just going to be hard, like the 13th of every month…[the date of her father’s death]. All together, Ms. Precious, Ms. Jody, and Ms. Cate have really, really, really helped me a lot with this.

Your father’s death is such a huge thing to deal with. In talking with Ms. Cate recently for the upcoming CIS newsletter, she said that grief is something that never goes away. You learn to live with it.

That’s right. And that’s what I’m doing every day.

Annie with Ms. Mariah Adamy, WMU School of Social Work student interning with CIS. “Ms. Mariah is very open and it’s easy to talk to her,” says Annie.

What is something you’ve recently learned?

That I can make more connections with others and that is good to do for me. I might be afraid to talk to you because I don’t know you, but I still am talking to you.

You are putting yourself out there.

Yes. And I’m becoming more mature and more wise about my decisions. When my dad was here, he always knew how to put me in check. Now I’m learning how to do that.

What is your favorite word right now?

Courage. If it wasn’t for courage, I’d still be down and wouldn’t have others to lift me up. I think about courage every day. It comes up in different forms, you know? Like, I might call my granny and she helps me, lifts my spirits up.

I love my family and education, but at the end of the day I still have to deal with one of my parents gone. I’m moving along and finding new paths every day to take. That is the way of courage.

What are you currently reading?

The Hate U Give. It’s our all school read at Hillside.

What would you ask the author, Angie Thomas, if you got the chance?

I would ask Angie Thomas, “How were you able to do this so well? How were you able to compare real life to the life you have created in your book?” She really was able to capture real life—and the world of black and white—so real, like. How was she able to do that?

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

Every adult I know and see. Even if I don’t know you, I can see how you are caring. That’s one of my special abilities.

Also, my principal, Mr. McKissack. I think of him as my uncle because he knows me and has known my family a long time. He was a teacher when my mom was here at the school. And even though he’s not my real uncle, he cares like a real uncle. He’s helped me through things, too. He’s the kind of person I like to be around.

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

In our Spring 2019 CIS Connections, you can learn more about Annie, Ms. Cate, and the partnership between CIS and Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.

Cate Jarvis: Built for Helping Kids in Schools

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 Cate Jarvis, School Grief Support Counselor.

Since 2006, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. From the beginning of this partnership, Cate Jarvis, one of Hospice’s School Grief Support Counselors, has been supporting grieving students. She runs eight-week sessions of “Grief 101” in seven to ten Kalamazoo Public School buildings each year. By the end of this school year, she will have held fall, winter, and spring sessions at Hillside Middle School, Kalamazoo Central High School, Loy Norrix High School, Lincoln International Studies School, Washington Writers’ Academy, Woods Lake Elementary, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, Woodward School for Technology and Research, and Prairie Ridge Elementary School.

Originally from Detroit, Cate was surprised to find she had made her way to Kalamazoo. “I grew up in the city of Detroit and everything was there,” she says. “I didn’t know that there was anything past Ann Arbor!” Cate holds degrees from Western Michigan University, a bachelor in Family Studies and Masters in WMU’s Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. We met up with Cate at Walnut & Park Cafe in downtown Kalamazoo.

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

Pop Quiz

There are many definitions of grief out there. Author and undertaker Thomas Lynch says, “Grief is the price we pay for being close to one another. If we want to avoid our grief, we simply avoid each other.” How do you define grief?

Grief is a natural process that you go through when you have lost someone or something. Not just death of loss of a loved one, but it could be losing one’s sense of safety and losing a sense of how one functions in the world due to a variety of things: incarceration, foster care, recent changes in home or school. Who am I going to be without this person? Who is going to take care of me? In that process of grieving, you can feel many different emotions, such as anger confusion, sadness, and relief.

Then why is it, when grief is a natural process, does it seems we have a tendency in this society to rush past or avoid grief? Even the very terms we use when referring to grief, like “get over it,” suggest we want to quickly brush it aside. Is this an accurate perception? If so, what do we lose out on by not fully embracing loss?

I think that’s an accurate perception. It’s not a comfortable subject to discuss, so often, people just don’t. What do we lose out on not embracing hope? That’s a good question. Two of the big one’s we potentially lose out on is resilience and the ability to be connected to other things and people. …We go through grief because we are connected.

When it comes to grief, you never get over it. You live with it. You let it be. Sometimes grief is going to be more and sometimes it’s going to be less.

What does a grieving child look like? How does grief manifest itself differently in children than in adults?

In kids, usually you see behaviors like withdrawing, sadness, and anger. They may appear worried and a lot of times you see an underlying agitation—they can’t sit still and may get frustrated easily. Adults can have these same behaviors but they have more life experience and cognitive ability to keep that contained. You may see crying with both kids and adults, as well as depression, substance abuse, a sense of hopeless, anxiety and worry, and a stressed-out presence.

With adults, they may believe that their grief will be a burden to someone. I see this in the teen years but not with the younger children. That makes sense: as we get older, we take in societal messages about how we should or should not express our grief. We learn that often people don’t know how to respond. And so, in some instances, we may try and keep that burden to ourselves.

How should we respond to someone who is grieving?

Acknowledge the loss. Acknowledging is better than not acknowledging it. Saying something is better than not saying anything at all.

In talking recently with a mother whose adult child is dying, I was reminded that grieving is hard work. She was exhausted. She mentioned that she could easily be consumed by her grief. One way she was trying to keep this from happening was consciously trying to be more child-like in the way she was dealing with her grief. You know, how sometimes kids seem to be sad one moment and then minutes later they are laughing and enjoying something. Grownups, on the other hand, may feel guilty. How is it that I can feel joy or happiness in this time of sadness?

Yes, kids can compartmentalize their grief. With grief, kids dip their toe in the water a bit. You might be giving a long explanation to a question they’ve asked about the loss they are experiencing and then they are like, So what’s for dinner? They process information differently than adults. Adults process it all the time, whereas kids are processing it in chunks of time.

… I like that idea of being childlike with grief, that’s probably very healthy. Giving yourself space, time, love, and self-care, it’s important to do that. People who are grieving need a break from grief.

As you’ve been working with children over the years, any surprising insights about loss or grief?

It’s surprising the amount of grief and losses that a young child or teenager experiences…It also makes you realize that we are made for it.

You’re saying we’re built for grief.

Think about it. Think of the losses you’ve experienced throughout your life. If you took those out, what would be left? I realize that’s a philosophical way to look at it, but it is stunning to consider how much loss our kids endure. It is endurance; it’s a marathon.

Think of a child—elementary school age—who has witnessed her mom being arrested. So she goes to live with her granny, and then a few years later, when she’s in middle school, her granny dies. That right there is a lot of loss to deal with…

I’ve been doing this work for so long—and that is one of the great things about our partnership with CIS in the schools—is that I will see this student when they are in elementary school. CIS may again refer that student when they are in middle school or again in high school. Grief and loss is processed at developmental levels. So what a child may experience as a third grader, they may struggle with that loss again—in a different way—as a teen in junior high school, and then again in high school.

That loss keeps coming back up is a common and natural part of the grieving process. Say that student is now a senior. Senior year, everything changes. There are many milestones, they are getting ready to graduate, and the very people who are supposed to be there and help them navigate and celebrate these milestones aren’t there. They are missing their mom who isn’t there to guide them through the process. It can be overwhelming.

What are you currently reading?

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells and Mindfulness for Teens by Dzung Vo. I just finished reading The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson. Put that on your to-do list if you haven’t read that yet. It’s about the great migration and told from three vantage points.

Any favorite places in our community?

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s public preserves, like the Portman Nature Preserve. Also, Al Sabo Land Preserve.

Favorite word?

It’s more like a phrase: let it be.

We can learn to let grief be. Not everything is fixable and that’s okay. There is a big word that captures this idea somewhat, and that is acceptance. But I don’t like that word.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve learned about Bondi Beach in Australia. It’s somewhere I want to go. It’s east of Sydney and there is a whole culture to it. Big surf, big waves. Looks like a good time.

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

I would say it has not been just one person, but rather a collective, usually always women and they are either my age or a little older than me. They give me perspective and offer somewhat of a mentoring relationship, but it’s not an official mentoring relationship. These women have a little bit more life experience than I do, and they walk me in off the edge. I respect their opinion and insight. I appreciate that they have faith in me.

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

Learn more about Cate and what she has to say about the Hospice partnership with CIS in our upcoming CIS Connections.

Young Leader Oriented Towards the Future

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 Zechariah, an eighth grader at Hillside Middle School.

Zechariah and his family moved from Noblesville, Indiana, to Kalamazoo when he was in third grade. He finished out his elementary education at Lincoln Elementary School and now, as an eighth grader, is looking forward to starting Kalamazoo Central High School this fall.

CIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema has known him since his elementary years. She says, “Ever since I’ve known Zechariah, he has been a respectful, thoughtful, and nice kid. It is wonderful to see how he has grown into a leader.” In addition to working hard in school, Zechariah is a WEB [Where Everybody Belongs] leader, using his leadership skills to orient and support sixth graders at his school.

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

Pop Quiz

What is something you’ve recently learned?

I learned this a couple days ago, that when people talk to me, it’s good to be patient and wait. You don’t want to rush it.
I have patience, but when I’m mad, I get really mad. But not for long, though.

Favorite Subject?

Math.

Any favorite teachers?

Ms. [Heather]Hart [now Heather Ballines], my fifth grade teacher at Lincoln. Also, Mr. [Gregory] Orr. He’s been my social studies teacher in sixth and seventh grade. I really like how, when he gave us assignments, he’d break down the work to where everybody could understand it.

How has CIS figured into your educational experience?

In lots of ways it has. Mentor-wise, work-wise, and how I’m feeling-wise. CIS asks you how you are and make sure you have what you need. If I need something, I can turn to Ms. Jody. She’s like a mentor to me. She is very caring, respectful, and has a lot of patience. Also, she’s hard working. She is a person I can go to for anything.

I really appreciate the focus on careers. With Ms. Jody, we’ve had some good discussions. She’s open-hearted, gives honest feedback and I like that. We talk about career stuff, she’ll ask questions, share steps we need to take, and based on what we want to pursue, will tell us about different colleges.

What are you currently reading?

The Hate U Give, as part of our all school read.

[In a few weeks, find out right here at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids what Zechariah and other students would ask the author, Angie Thomas, if given the chance. And they just might! The Hate U Give was also selected as the 2019 Reading Together Book. Thomas is coming to Kalamazoo on Wednesday, April 17 to talk about her book with the community at 7 p.m. at Miller Auditorium. A book signing will follow. Admission is free.]

What is your favorite word right now?

Technology. I want to eventually go to school for computers and technical engineering. I was thinking Western Michigan University, but I’m not sure yet.

Any particular interests or hobbies?

I like to be on the go, to travel and go places, like to Indianapolis. Sometimes, I just like to hang out and be on my electronics.

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

My mom, Ms. Jody, and my grandma. My mom, she keeps me going and motivates me. She went to college, she’s succeeded and wants me to do the same. As for my grandma, I like that she likes to see the good in me. And just like my mom, she also succeeded in school and college.

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

Zechariah with CIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema

On Track to Realizing Her Dreams

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 Nejaya Moore, a 2018 graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School. A CIS alumna and Kalamazoo Promise Scholar, Nejaya is currently enrolled at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC), working on her Associate degree, and planning to pursuing her life-long dream of becoming a police officer. She’s looking forward to entering the 16-week basic police training academy offered through the Kalamazoo Law Enforcement Training Center at the college.

“She’s smart. I knew she could do it!” says CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider.

We found Nejaya in the KVCC library with her nose in a book. She was a good sport and let us pop this quiz on her. [Nejaya is featured in the recently released CIS Annual Report, found here. She reflects on CIS and the many opportunities community supports that have helped her succeed. You won’t want to miss it!]

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I like to do random research on astrology because I’m obsessed with Chinese zodiac signs. I found out that lucky numbers can tell when your expiration date is and your lucky days. Learning more about astrology is one of the things on my bucket lists.

What else is on your bucket list?

Skydiving. Also, speaking in front of a huge crowd. I want to see what that feels like.

What are you currently reading?

10th Anniversary by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro. It’s part of a series. I started with the 12th book in this series, The 12th of Never, then read the 11th book in the series. I’m going backwards!

Thinking back on your years at KPS, who was one of your most influential teachers?

Ms. [Kelly] Killian. She was my fifth grade teacher and is one of those teachers who always inquires of their students. She wants to know about you. She really cares…Not long ago, I was out at King-Westwood picking up one of my younger brothers. She saw me and immediately recognized me!

What is your favorite word right now?

Cheese. I really don’t like cheese because I’m lactose intolerant, but it’s just a really fun word to say. Cheese.

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

Quite a bit of people. [CIS Success Coach] Ms. [Jenna] Cooperrider, for sure. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be in college right now. She’s helped me with a lot more than just school, too…she provided me a warm coat on a cold day…she’s given me good advice on my love life.…Ms. Cooperrider is understanding, adaptable, and she won’t judge you on where you come from.

Also, one of my former teachers, Ms. [Sharon] Sankarsingh. In elementary school—I went to King-Westwood—I got picked on for wearing glasses…Only two or three in my class had glasses then…I would purposely break them so I didn’t have to wear them. That made my academics much worse. I didn’t start wearing glasses until high school. When Ms. Sankarsingh noticed, though, she put a stop to the bullying. She also moved me to the front of the class. I didn’t like that then because I didn’t want to sit in the front. I wanted to sit in the back and not be noticed as much, but that was bad for my eyes. And my grades. Now I understand why she did what she did.

You are a Kalamazoo Promise scholar!

When I first heard about the Kalamazoo Promise, I thought, That’s cool, but I didn’t’ quite have a full understanding of what it was all about. I was just a kid…But yes, I have 100 % percent of the Promise. It really helps with school. Without it, most kids I know wouldn’t be going to college. Books are expensive. It really helps that the Promise can also help pay for my books. Just for my math book, well, it cost $170!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A police officer. I’ve always wanted to be a police officer and help people. For a brief time, though, I considered becoming a teacher because they help, too. I wanted to be the kind of teacher that understands kids and is cool.

Any advice you have for your younger self? Other students?

Put the main thing first: your education. There were moments I needed to take advantage of and catch up on school work, but I chose to do something else. So, I’d say: pay attention to education more than playing around with friends.

Anything else that might be interesting to know about you?

I wrestled in eighth grade, and joined the wresting team again in high school, in my twelfth year…I was one of two girls.

That’s courageous to put yourself out there like that.

Not really. Living with four brothers, I’ve always been constantly wrestling with them.

Thank you, Nejaya!

You can learn more about Nejaya in the CIS Annual Report.

Principal Amira Mogaji: Guiding Leaders of Today and Tomorrow

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 Principal Amira Mogaji.
Principal Mogaji was working as the CEO/Head of School at a Montessori school in her hometown of Philadelphia when she was recruited by Kalamazoo Public Schools to lead its Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Now in her eighth year as principal, she says, “I love making a difference here and helping our students achieve the Kalamazoo Promise.”

Principal Mogaji serves on the Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism (ABAR) committee at both the school and district level. Her leadership extends beyond the district as she is a board member for Montessori for Social Justice as well as the American Montessori Society (AMS), the national board governing body for American Montessori schools in the U.S. and abroad.

She and her husband, Olatubosun, have six children at home. This includes: one KPS graduate who is in WMU’s aviation flight science program, two who attend Northglade, and three “little, little people,” including two-year-old twin girls.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough, she is also working towards completing her dissertation for a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Management.

We met in the school’s Peace Room. Peace education is an essential component that is infused throughout a child’s Montessori education. Mogaji’s own passion for engaging in peace and justice work flows through her work, home, and community life. Peace and justice isn’t something that just happens. It is challenging, hard work and, as you will discover, Mogaji doesn’t take the easy way out when conflicts arise. Instead of choosing to disengage or yell back with an unkind remark, Mogaji, always mindful of the example she is setting, responds from a place of peace.

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

Pop Quiz

You clearly enjoy welcoming students in the morning, don’t you?

Greeting kids in the morning is my favorite part of the day. I love to see their faces and feel their energy coming into the building. I can quickly discover if someone is struggling and it’s an opportunity to check in with parents, too.

Two days a month I’m not here as I have meetings and I miss it. Otherwise, I’m out there in rain, snow, monsoon, you name it. Everybody deserves a hello and it may turn somebody’s day around. It’s important how you come into the building.

I’m always struck by the sense of peace and zen-like atmosphere of your school. As the leader of the building, I’m sure you have a hand in creating this environment. You seem to radiate peace.

Thank you. I’m not always zen, as my kids can attest to when I am trying to get ready for school each morning. [She laughs.] Hurry up, we can’t be late! For the most part, though, things don’t ruffle me.

What does ruffles you?

Dishonesty bothers me a lot, to the point that I have to manage how I manage that feeling. In my personal life, if I find you to be dishonest, I’m not going to bother with you. I’m a bubbly person and I love everybody until I find you to be dishonest. That said, when it comes to my work, I don’t have the right to not give 100 percent of myself. I must be intentional and give everybody the same support.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

When twins learn how to, one: get out of their cribs and, two: open the door, your life changes forever. Life as you know it, is over. [She laughs heartily.] I haven’t slept since Wednesday!

What are you currently reading?

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve been reading a lot of articles about it [like this one].

It’s nice for this book to come out; some things can’t come from people of color. [The author and anti-racist educator, Robin DiAngelo, is white.]

It helps to explain the difficulty of doing anti-bias/anti-racism work. People who want to do this work—and I believe everybody has good will—but you find people automatically start blocking things and they become defensive. I see it all the time. They want to do the work and then they get stalled. The book helps explain this.

Anti-bias/Anti-racism work is not something that is not done to people. But rather, it is what you do with yourself, in your own journey of self-transformation. All of us need to go through it and become the best we can be. This book can help with that. I have friends who are white who love the book and it is helping them on their journey and I have friends of color who love it as well. It’s helping them, too.

May I ask what, as a Muslim woman, has been your own experience with bias and racism?

I’m always randomly selected at airports. I have been yelled at and told to get out of this country and go back home. My car has been vandalized in the Walmart parking lot. I was in the doctor’s office with my children and in the waiting area we were yelled at and called terrorists. Unfortunately, over the past few years these kinds of things have been happening more often.

That is stressful. How do you handle that?

I carry my passport at all times. And when it comes to flying, since I’m always randomly selected I have to add an additional hour and a half or more to my schedule so I won’t miss my flight…

Honestly, it stresses me out to think that some people are afraid of me… My self-care is walking around Walmart and buying things I don’t need [laughs heartily]. In fact, I was there recently and one of the ladies who worked there informed me she was okay with me being covered. This I can handle, she said. But if you had all black on, I wouldn’t like that. I’d be afraid of you. A lady who worked at Walmart felt she could say that to me, in front of other people.

Incredible. How do you respond to something like that?

The way I see it, my job as a person—as a covered, black, woman—is to set the best example I can so that when situations like that occur, people will think, Oh, that was a nice lady. You need to set a good example and give a good experience to people. You may be the only contact they’ve ever had with a Muslim.

Where else, besides Walmart, do you like to frequent in the community?

The public library. Always!

What is your favorite word right now?

Intentional. I try to be intentional in everything I do. My second favorite word is kindness.

Can you tell us, from your perspective as a principal, what it is like to have CIS in your building?

I love CIS! My experience has been very positive. Over the years, we’ve had a few staff and they have all been strong people. I’ve been most appreciative about the people and the way in which Pam [Kingery] and those helping with staffing Northglade do this. CIS understands that we are a unique school. All schools are unique, but we are really unique and CIS takes that into consideration. They have always invited me to come in and participate in interviews.

The way CIS operates in the building, whether it’s during the day [post about CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer here] or when Ashley [Serio] is running the after school program, it doesn’t feel like a separate entity. We’re working together to support kids. I laugh with the CIS staff every day. We have fun! It’s those relationships that children see—between CIS staff and the teachers and administration—and how we are all here together. We’re a family. Children can’t go to mom because they don’t like what dad says. We are one, collective voice.

CIS really remove barriers for children. It’s just a wonderful program!

What drew you to Montessori?

I knew of it when I was a student at Chestnut Hill College and had learned some about the philosophy having taken a Montessori class in elementary education. But I fully appreciated the beauty of it when I was a CEO/Head of School in a Montessori school in Philadelphia. It was in a very poor area with a high percentage of socio-economically disadvantaged students. It was awesome working there…

Montessori is a great way to educate children in an urban setting. That is the reason why I’m here: on the northside of Kalamazoo, in a Title I, American Montessori Society accredited Montessori public school, providing high quality Montessori education to children who would not otherwise have an opportunity to have it.

We have one of the lowest behavioral referrals in the district.

Why do you think that is?

There is a level of respect children have for each other here. That is because Montessori emphasizes respect for self, for others, and for the environment. We focus on the whole child and our children have opportunities to meet Montessori outcomes which are not all academic, such things as responsibility, global citizenship, and self-regulation. They learn to walk to the bathroom without the whole class—in kindergarten they are learning that. They have freedom within limits and as self-directed learners, they are figuring out how to prioritize their work, a skill some students may not learn until college! So while our children are learning to read, write and do math, it is also important to learn things like, How do you care for others? How do you help someone in need? What if someone is hungry?

We all recently learned that one in six children in Kalamazoo go hungry. We know this because the upper elementary students researched hunger, they wrote persuasive essays, and went from class to class sharing what they learned. Hunger, they said, is not justice. The children collected food and donated it to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.

A Montessori education provides opportunities for those kind of conversations to exist. We support the children in what they want to learn more about—whatever that is. We all have a place in the world and it’s our job to find out what our responsibility is in it.

My husband says Islam is a way of life. It’s not about ‘when do you pray?’ It’s more about what kind a person you are. It’s about giving back to the world. The same is true for Montessori. It is a way of life. It’s about how you treat children, giving them opportunities, and meeting them where they are at—that is very important. Follow the child. That is a famous Montessori quote: Follow the child.

Not necessarily an easy thing to do.

When children do get off task, we have conversations, reflecting on how can you be respectful to yourself? Others? Your environment? You are not getting all you need because you are not doing your work. So what do you need? What is it you are not getting? These are the conversations we have with each other and that is the beauty of it.

With Montessori, we’re offering children options in their learning environment. Today, do I want to read sitting in a chair or work on the chalkie [a moveable table] or floor? That’s one less argument to have. We don’t have to be on their backs all day.

I happen to think we have the most wonderful children in the world!

What’s your philosophy of leadership?

A leader is there to serve, and to serve everyone. Leaders set a good example and model the expectation…We have lots of leaders here—students and teachers—and my job is to grow the leaders in this building.

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

Obviously, my parents. And I have a really wonderful and supportive husband who gives me the strength I need to take risks. I trust him and he’s wise. He doesn’t just say, Go for it. He says, You should do this because of a, b, and c reasons. Take, for example, my being on the board of directors for the American Montessori Society. I never would have submitted my application and run, except for his encouragement. While I wasn’t sure about it, he pointed out that they contacted me about running. They’re reaching out to you about doing this because you are the best, he’d said.

I never would have put myself out there like that, in that arena of running for an elected position, without his support. He really has been most influential in my life. We’re partners in everything.

I have to add that my children make me want to be my best self. While they don’t say it, we are models for our children… If I see them fussing or not being kind—of course, sometimes it may be a developmental stage—but I can’t help but wonder, what in the environment is causing the child to act this way? Have I been fussy lately? Do I need to adjust myself? That’s a Montessori way of thinking.

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

In the weeks to come we’ll be featuring Ashley Serio, a graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools and Northglade Montessori’s CIS After School Coordinator. In the meantime, practice peace with yourself, your neighbors, friends, and strangers at Walmart.