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.

Pam Dalitz: In School 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 Pam Dalitz, a CIS volunteer at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, or, as she refers to the school, her “second home.” Pam also serves on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC), advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.

Pam, who is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, retired one and a half years ago “from a bunch of careers.” She started as a recreation therapist, went back to school and became an exercise physiologist working in the physical therapy department at Borgess. Eventually, she attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s nursing program. She worked 12 years as a registered nurse and then retired from the health field.

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

How to teach kids to read. I didn’t really know how to do that until taking this SLD reading class. The SLD way is so different than how I learned to read as a kid. I’ve tutored multiple students and I’m currently only working with one SLD-mentored student. [To learn more about SLDRead, go here.]

Any tips you can impart when it comes to helping kids read?

Take the SLD reading course! Be open-minded. It is amazing.

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading a lots of kids’ books, particularly The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey and Henry and Mudge and the Sneaky Crackers by Cynthia Rylant. I’m also reading a John Muir biography but I’m not reading that one to the kids, though. And I just picked up The Hot Cripple by Hogan Gorman from the Parchment Community Library.

What is your favorite word right now?

‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ That’s my favorite phrase at the moment: ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I’ve been saying it a lot. But a favorite word? ‘Unbelievable!’ For a while, I was into ‘macabre.’ I’m off of that one now. Oh, ‘Whoa’ is another favorite. I like words!

Tell us a bit about your volunteer work with CIS.

I’m the kind of person who bores easily, but the kids make it so interesting and the work is really inviting. [CIS Site Coordinator] Martha Serio is a great boss! Also, it’s nice that there isn’t tons of paperwork.

Do you help Martha with paperwork?

No, I just go in and work with the kids, tutoring them. I also help in Ms. [Chyna] Campbell’s second grade classroom. Sometimes I’ll help with classroom papers, but now paperwork is much more fun than when I was a nurse and charting to help the hospital get reimbursed for units of morphine. By the way, Ms. Campbell is an amazing teacher and I admire her so much. She has her stuff together, and at such a young age!

I also like working with Martha. She is energetic and I find her easy to get along with because she’s very direct. I don’t have to guess what she wants. I get anxious if I don’t know what is expected of me and she lets me know. Martha goes above and beyond. She really cares, making sure students’ needs are met, whether it’s for academic, or social and emotional support. She’s always getting hold of their parents so everybody is working together to attend to the needs of the kids.

How often do you volunteer at Spring Valley?

I help in the second grade classroom two days a week. I also tutor several children two days—sometimes three—a week. I have a warm spot for kids that struggle in school. I really like working with them.

Where does that warm spot come from?

As a kid, I was given the diagnosis of ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]. I struggled, too. It was hard for me to stay focused, stay quiet, and stay in my seat. I would try and work in my seat and then I’d find myself across the classroom. Oh, there I go again, I’d think. I knew what was expected of me, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be seen as “the bad kid,” but I was…

Those that have struggled in school sometimes end up being the best support for kids. So tell us, what made you decide to choose CIS as a way to share your time and talents?

I got into volunteering with CIS thanks to my hair salon, Honoré! They really should get credit for it.

We love Honoré Salon! They are a great CIS partner. [Read here how Honoré Salon, a 2016 Champ recipient, supports kids through CIS.]

I go to Kristin Peterson who—every time—does a wonderful job. I recommend her and Honoré to everyone in our community. Shaun Moskalik, the owner, I love him! Anyways, Honoré collects coats each year for CIS. I started buying up a few coats and bringing them into the salon and donating them to the cause. Then, one time, while getting my bangs cut by Mindy [Meisner], she started telling me about her volunteer work with CIS. You should talk to CIS about volunteering, she said. Kristin, Shaun and Mindy, they all encouraged me to follow up with CIS.

Even though you’ve retired from nursing, you still carry that health background with you when you work with kids. Do you have any thoughts on the health of children these days?

Yes, I worry about our kids’ health. When kids don’t have set bedtime hours, they often come to school exhausted. I’ll ask kids what their bedtime is and some say 7:30 or 8 o’clock. But others, the tired ones, are staying up late and playing video games.

I also ask students what they like to do, and while some mention playing sports, many—far too many—identify sedentary activities, like video games and watching television. You don’t hear much more about kids gathering informally to play outdoor games. I’m a huge Red Rover fan and I probably still have ruptured organs from playing that game! But seriously, that sedentary lifestyle worries me. I wonder about the heart disease and diabetes we’ll see in the future.

I must say, though, I do love seeing the healthy snacks, like fruits and pretzels, available in the school. That’s a good thing.

As a former exercise physiologist, do you see a connection between learning and movement?

Definitely. Activity is huge for learning. It gives the brain a boost in oxygen, it reduces stress, and can help kids rest their eyes a bit. There is this Go Noodle program that Spring Valley uses and the kids love it.

Never heard of it. What is Go Noodle?

They are little videos, about two minutes each, that can easily be played during the school day. It lets kids take a small break, get up and Go Noodle to burn off some steam. I think they have videos geared to all grade levels, maybe even for grown-ups. Basically, kids “noodle” for relaxation and can then re-focus. The kids love it and so do I!

Where is someplace you like to frequent in the community?

Bow in the Clouds Preserve. It’s the 60 acres of land preserve behind Nazareth Campus. Also, the Kalamazoo Nature Center. I love to hang out there.

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

My dad was definitely one of my caring adults. He was a huge role model for me. He ran an industrial laundry. He worked 12-14 hour days but always had time to do fun, recreational activities.

Bertha Walker also comes to mind. She was a community mental health social worker and we worked together at Crisis Stabilization (which is part of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services but was affiliated with Borgess Hospital at that time). She was the senior staff. She was no nonsense and was all about our team getting the work done. We never doubted that she cared about us or the patients we served. She’s been gone now over eight years.

When you think back on 2018, what is one of your fondest memories that you carry with you into this new year?

My first year following retirement was last year, so I got out the bucket list. As part of a mission trip, I got to go into the gypsy camps of Romania last year and that amazed me. I also went dog sledding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That is something I wanted to do my whole life!

What are you most looking forward to this year?

My other volunteer is with the Sierra Club and I’m looking forward to some local and national trips with them. When I see a hint of spring, that means we’re getting closer. I can’t wait! I also love walking my dog. It’s a simple pleasure, just walking my little dog.

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

Steve Brewer: Celebrating the Small Victories of Student Success

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 CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Steve Brewer was barely walking when he toddled off to Tubingen, Germany with his family. (His father had been awarded the John Wesley Scholarship to live in Germany.) After several years, the family returned to Lebanon, New Jersey. Eventually, the family settled in Spring Arbor, Michigan.

A graduate of Spring Arbor University, Steve majored in sociology and minored in philosophy. Steve served two years, beginning in 2015, as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Edison and Northeastern elementary schools. Last year, he began as the CIS Site Coordinator for Northglade Montessori Magnet School and was the assistant coordinator for Literacy Buddies. As a full time CIS Site Coordinator, Steve is currently supporting Northglade as well as providing daytime and after school support to Edison Environmental Science Academy. While every school has its own unique culture, Steve says both schools share a passion for helping students learn and grow.

We met up with Steve at Northglade where he was meeting and greeting students in the hallway. It was just before Thanksgiving when we popped this quiz on him.

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

Pop Quiz

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

One of my favorite times of the day is lunchtime. That’s when I check in with the students to find out how they are doing. Sometimes, I’ll just sit with them, sometimes eat lunch with them, or we might have lunch together in the CIS space.

I really like that we are doing important work. It’s work that wouldn’t be done if we weren’t here in the schools. It’s also good to know we are making an impact. Sometimes, it may not always be noticeable because often it’s small steps being made along the way. You know the saying: progress is made in inches instead of miles. It’s important to look at the big picture and recognize the small victories.

Can you share a small victory?

One of my small victories is that a student is now bringing his back pack to school each day. He wouldn’t bring it last year.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being a site coordinator?

We still don’t have enough resources to take care of everybody. Take Northglade, for example. We have 224 students. We are not one of the higher poverty schools in the district, yet at least 70 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. By that measure, we may not have the highest need, but 70 percent is still 70 percent and that translates to a lot of needs. The community works with us to meet them, but it is still a challenge. For instance, our kids need coats and boots. Warm Kids—a great, long-time CIS partner—is providing us 20 brand new coats and 17 boots. That is wonderful. Still, we have more Northglade students who could benefit from these types of basic needs.

[As if on cue, Don Keller, a Northglade parent, enters the CIS room to donate several “Wish List” items for CIS Kids’ Closet, including some much needed coats. “I know that some of my kids’ friend’s may be in need of these items,” he says, as CIS intern Jessica Teske-Harden steps in to assist with the donation. Even though the Keller’s own children may not be the direct beneficiary of resources provided, Keller points out that his kids benefit when their classmates have their needs met. “We appreciate that CIS is in the school and that my wife and I can play a part.”]

The Kellers stopping by to support students through CIS Kids’ Closet.

You were meeting and greeting students in the hallway first thing this morning. Plus, you have had parents stopping into the CIS office. Can you give us a glimpse of what else goes on in the day of the life of a site coordinator?

I find first thing in the morning is a great way to connect with kids and get a sense of how things may be going. That’s why I’ll also stop into the cafeteria as students are eating breakfast. It gives the students the opportunity to reach out about something that may be on their mind. For instance, today two students needed CIS help. One involved a boot situation and one student just needed to connect and talk a little. Which reminds me, I have several calls to make about coats and boots and other basic needs!

Let’s see, what else is going on? I just completed the community feast spreadsheet and turned it into Trella [Artrella Cohn, CIS Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment] so that 45 of our school’s families can have a thanksgiving meal they might otherwise not have. [While CIS staff like Steve are identifying families and doing the necessary paperwork, Hands Up Foundation, a fabulous CIS partner, works hard year-round raising the funds to make sure KPS—as well as families with children in the surrounding area—have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. This year, they provided over 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners to KPS families.]

Every day is different. Like right now, I have glasses on my mind. I’m in the process of reviewing a vision list. Every school year, throughout KPS, first, third, and fifth graders are screened for vision and tested to see if they need glasses. As a site coordinator, I’m looking at results and following up with parents whose children need further follow up. I’m calling them to see if they were able to get an appointment, if they need some kind of assistance with this, or we can help in any way. I’ve already set up an appointment for one family based on one of these calls.

I’m also working on student support plans for each of the students we serve. Jessie [Teske-Harden], our CIS intern through WMU School of Social Work, has been helping with these plans. She’s a great support for our kids.

I also have a little bit of work left to do for Girls on the Run. For our school’s team, I’ve identified two Girls on the Run coaches. One is a teacher and one person is with CIS After School. Both had expressed interest in doing this so that made it easy. I just gave them our partner’s website information they needed to register. Now I need to work on finding one or two more volunteers to serve as assistant coaches.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Decaf coffee isn’t caffeine-free, it just has less caffeine.

What are you currently reading?

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Sleep. I can’t get enough.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

Shakespeare’s Pub. My band plays there a lot in their lower level, and also I like to watch comedy there.

What’s the name of your band?

I’m in two, actually. One is called Bike Tuff, and the other is Pack Sounds. I play drums in both. Both could be considered kind of punk/alternative bands.

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

My dad. He gave me the several pushes I needed to get through college when it got tough.

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

Northglade Montessori Student Loves Learning

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 Alysse, a fifth grader at Northglade Montessori Magnet School.

The third oldest of eight children, Alysse enjoys school and learning. She loves being part of CIS After School and is looking forward to attending Hillside Middle School next year.

This interview took place in Northglade’s CIS room.

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

Math. We’re doing times and division.

What are you currently reading? 

Some chapter books. I really like princess books.

What is your favorite word right now?

Alysse!

What do you enjoy doing?

I like working at math and science and social studies.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

A special education teacher. I’d like to teach.

Do you have any favorite teachers who have helped you along the way?  

My teacher, Ms. [Amy] Callahan. She helps us with our work and she’s nice. And she gives us popcorn. 

Alysse with Mr. Steve

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

[CIS After School Coordinator] Ms. Ashley [Serio]. She works in the after school program. I’ve known her for three years. She’s nice and she helps us with our homework and lets us read books…And Mr. Steve [Brewer], too. He takes people to his office and helps them. He’s caring. 

[Tom Talbot, who keeps Northglade looking good, stopped in to pick up a mop and bucket.]

Tom: Just need to clean up a little accident in one of the classrooms.

Alysse: Did someone throw up? 

Tom: They did. It’s getting to that time of season. Hey, I don’t think you’ve ever thrown up in all these years you’ve been here.

Alysse: I haven’t! Not ever in all these years. I never threw up in first or second or third or fourth and now fifth grade. That’s what? Almost six whole years of not throwing up! 

Mr. Steve: I haven’t thrown up either! 

[Alysse giggles. Tom heads out of the room with mop and bucket.] 

While it’s great that you haven’t thrown up in school, it’s even better that you are enjoying school so much and like working hard. What do you like to do when you aren’t doing school work? Do you have any hobbies?

I like playing outside. Also, going to the grocery store and getting snacks. I like playing on my tablet and playing in snow. 

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

Then What Happened? A Conversation on Reading and Writing with Joe Novara

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 CIS friend, Joe Novara.

Joe was born and raised in Detroit. He and his wife Rosalie settled in Kalamazoo in 1975. Their three daughters all went through the Kalamazoo Public Schools, graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School. One daughter went to University of Michigan and two went to Michigan State University. The Novaras are grandparents to seven, soon to be eight, grandchildren.

As a young man, Joe set out to become a priest, attending Gregorian University in Rome, Italy where he studied theology (in Latin). A retired corporate trainer and freelance writer, Joe has written many books for youth and adults. He has donated more than a dozen of his works to Story Shares, a non-profit organization devoted to inspiring reading practice and improving literacy skills.

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Fish are unpredictable. Last year at this time, my son-in-laws and I were catching steelhead and salmon in the Kalamazoo River. They were jumping all around the boat. This year, fishing in the same location—downstream from the Allegan Dam—we didn’t see one and we didn’t catch any. Now, what’s interesting is that at the Allegan Dam this year, the fish are jumping like crazy, but not downstream. You can’t count on them!

What are you currently reading?

I like popular fiction. I appreciate an interesting story. I’m also getting fussy as I get older. If I’m reading a book I think isn’t good, I put it down. I like to find something to sink my teeth into, and then I’ll read the whole thing.

What’s the title of a book you’ve sunk your teeth into, lately?

The Trespasser by Tana French.

What is your favorite word right now?

Truth. There is so much deception involved these days, I’ve been thinking about truth and lies in terms of politics and the elections, wondering, “Who’s lying, here?” So, truth!

A favorite restaurant in Kalamazoo?

We like to go to Saffron, especially for their lunch.

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

A classmate of mine. We were in seminary school together and he connected with me and helped me through a time of transition in my life.

I planted some trees in our backyard and call them Charlie’s Grove. He passed away a while ago, but for some reason I’ve been thinking about him recently…Charlie was generous in sharing his insights and observations. “Read this book,” he’d say. “Here’s what I’m thinking.” “What are you thinking about?” “Think about this.” One of the books he suggested was quite influential in helping me decide where I was and where I was going.

On your website, you say that “Writing is about sharing.”

I don’t think of the writer as a mad scientist up in their tower writing all alone. As a writer, you need people to read and interact with your work. Life is about sharing and conversation and so is writing. Delayed conversation, you could say! Writing is what you could have said if you thought about it later. You can form your thoughts and share what you see happening around you. It’s a way to be mindful of what’s going on in your life…

Where have the years gone? people will say. I like to say, It’s gone into my writing. Writing is a way to digest and share what’s gone on in your life. Writing allows you to track life, digest it, and reshape it, if you want.

If writing is sharing, what would you say reading is about?

There are three parts to that. Writing is a craft. It’s as much fun to do it well as sewing or any other craft. When we are reading, we can appreciate someone’s craft, and learn from it.

The second part is that reading bring insights. Reading helps tune you into what others are seeing and learning.

Plus, there is also the fun of simply reading a good story, to experience the emotion, puzzle, and satisfaction of a good story well told.

As you know—you’re the one who told us about this resource!–Story Shares is a non-profit devoted to inspiring reading practice and improving literacy skills. They stock their library with what they term “Relevant Reads”—books that are both compelling and approachable for struggling teen and young adult readers. We counted, and they have 13 of your stories on their on-line shelves. Tell us how you got involved with Story Shares.

I never wrote my stories with reluctant readers in mind. I wrote those stories aiming at the young adult market…. My writing is pretty straightforward. For many of the stories I sent to Story Shares, they’ve assessed them at a third and fourth grade reading level. Story Shares does a nice job of identifying the work in terms of grade levels, readability, and relevance.

How do you think of or define the term, “reluctant reader?”

Reluctance comes from a number of things. It could be a kid who struggles in reading. I have to decode everything and I need to work hard to do this, so I’d rather watch a movie. Or, it’s hard to sit still and focus. I’d rather be walking around than sitting here and reading.

When it comes to reluctant readers, subject matter is especially important. If you don’t hit that right on the head, these kid are going to say, This story doesn’t say anything to me so why should I bother to keep reading? If this book was a television show, they’d change the channel. Relevance is key.

What advice do you have for parents of reluctant readers?

Read to them. Let them see you reading. It’s important to model it and get them used to the medium of reading with books.

One really important thing I did with our girls as they were growing up—I think this would work well with kids whether reluctant readers or not—is encourage them to create their own stories. When it was bedtime, I’d get our girls to tell their own stories. I’d encourage them along by asking, Then what happened? So then they are roasting marshmallows and then what? A squirrel stole the marshmallow! Wow! And then what happened? She went up a tree? And then what did the squirrel do? And then? And then?

Asking “What then?” can spur imagination and get kids thinking and looking for secondary meaning in things. It’s no longer just, Here’s what I see or Here’s what it is. It becomes, What else do I see?

When we can get kids to see second possibilities, that’s the basis of appreciating poetry, metaphor and images, film, literature, and art. One of the secrets to encouraging possibilities and stoking imagination is to tell children jokes. Often, jokes involve double meanings. Kids like learning that words can convey more than one meaning and, in the process, they learn that there is more than one way to get at something.

What you are talking about—helping kids go beyond and search for that second “right” answer reminds me of the book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, which speaks to the role imagination plays in problem solving. So…anything else we should know? Any project you’re working on?

I have a book coming out today, as a matter of fact. It’s an e-book published by Gypsy Shadow.
I’m Here is about silver romance between older people in a retirement home.

Doesn’t sound like it would meet the relevance factor for reluctant readers.

[Laughs.] You’re right about that!

One last question. How does it feel being married to a Champ? [Joe is married to CIS volunteer Rosalie Novara. She received a Champ award in 2014 and you can read more about Rosalie, here.]

Joe and Rosalie at the 2014 Champ Celebration.

[Laughs.] I love it! I think it’s marvelous to be married to her. Her mind is so sharp and her energy is so high. She’s always looking for ways to help out in the community, like tutoring through CIS. She’s also certified as an SLD Read tutor. Rosalie is marvelous, and I say, more power to her!

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