Please Pass the Grits

We’ve all experience challenges and setbacks. It’s a part of life. Yet, some kids have had more than their share of unwanted and un-asked-for difficulties.

Resilience is the ability to respond in a healthy and productive way in the face of adversity or stress. It’s part of the social emotional learning continuum. Researchers have discovered that adults who overcome adversity have at least one thing in common: someone in their childhood who believed in them and stood by them. Resilience researcher and psychologist Julius Segal referred to this “charismatic” adult as someone “from whom a child gathers strength.”

A critical element to school success is a student developing a close and nurturing relationship with at least one caring adult. Students need to feel that there is someone from their school whom they can turn to and who will advocate for them.

Dr. Robert Brooks, who studies resiliency, outlines six ways grown-ups can be charismatic adults for children.

  1. Identify and appreciate a child’s “island of confidence.” While charismatic adults don’t deny a child’s problems or difficulties, they acknowledge a child’s strengths—their islands of confidence. Always begin with the strengths.
  2. Accept children for who they are. Accept the child for who they are and not who you want them to be. One way to do this is to listen to children. Give them focused, undivided attention builds their sense of confidence. You are sending the message: You are important.
  3. Involve children in problem solving. Problems are meant to be solved. Give kids opportunities to solve them. It’s hard to be resilient when  you don’t know how to proceed when confronted by a problem.
  4. Offer opportunities to contribute to the well-being of others. This is one of the CIS basics!
  5. Help children recognize mistakes as an opportunity for learning.
  6. Provide positive feedback and encouragement. Catch kids being good. When they do something right, let them know it.

Speaking of grit, if you haven’t seen this interesting and gritty Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, you might want to check it out here. A professor of psychology, her research finds grit a key predictor of success.

Now get out there and pass our kids some grits!


Note: An earlier version of this post was first published in Ask Me About My 12,00 Kids back in 2014.


History Gallops into Kalamazoo

April is National Poetry Month and so it seems the perfect time to share a poem with you. A number of poems were created during a recent Family Fun Poetry Night that was hosted virtually by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Before writing their own poems, students, family members, and CIS staff first learned about ekphrastic poetry, in which a poet describes a piece of art. They studied “Clouds over Miami” a painting by local artist Mary Hatch and then the poem written by local poet and CIS volunteer Elizabeth Kerlikowske who was inspired by the painting. [You can view that artwork and poem from their book, Art Speaks: Paintings and Poetry, by going to this website.]

Everyone then reflected on CIS students’ artwork about community and wrote their own poems. After participants shared some of their efforts, they then worked together to generate this poem:


Community poem inspired by Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”

History gallops into Kalamazoo.
Wearing a suit and tie and fur coat,
History eyes our community and rumbles deeply
in a British accent, “Diversity wins!”
History returns two days later and never leaves.

      -written by CIS students & their families


Hungry for more poetry? The Kalamazoo Poetry Festival will be holding its annual festival this coming Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17. All events are virtual and free. To learn more and register in advance to participate in any of the events, go here.

And if you didn’t get the chance to see Amanda Gorman recite her poem, or you just want to listen to it again, you can do so by going here.


Phillip Hegwood: Becoming His Best Self

As Phillip is now spending lots of time in his home office connecting with kids, he designed and painted a fun backdrop that you can see in this photo we took during this Zoom interview.

Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Phillip Hegwood is a proud graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools. After attending Lincoln Elementary and Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts (then called “South”), Phillip continued on to Loy Norrix High School. With the support of the Promise, Phillip went to Western Michigan University and obtained a degree in general studies along with three minors: English/Language/Arts, social studies, and music.

As part of the second graduating class to receive the Kalamazoo Promise, Phillip is now Maple Street’s CIS After School Coordinator, giving back in the very school that nurtured him as a youth.

Prior to stepping into his role with CIS, Phillip worked ten years with the YMCA in their before/after school settings and summer camps. During those last three years, he ran the Y’s Prime Time at Winchell, a before- and after-school care for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Now, with seven years under his belt as CIS After School Coordinator—the first three with Woodward Elementary and the last four with Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts—we wanted to introduce you to this passionate and caring man.

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

Pop Quiz

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

I’m learning that I really miss being in school. I really miss being with my students. But, I’m holding up okay. I bought a house in December and have gotten hit with major house things that need to get fixed. I’m also cooking a lot and trying to focus on me and what I can and can not control. Also, staying home has shown me that my outside drama disappeared. I don’t need it and I enjoy it. I’m using this time as an opportunity to work on me.

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

For me, the best part is that I’m able to provide different opportunities for the students that they can’t do normally during the school day. I love that we can offer students a variety of clubs. I think back on the trip we did with students and their families to see a Detroit Tiger’s game. Many had never been to a professional sport’s game before. I like that I was able to provide that, and other enrichment experiences, like attending Lion King at Miller Auditorium. It’s great that we can work with different enrichment providers throughout our community to provide our students with these types of experiences.

Plus, I have to say that the food at Maple Street is really good. Our head lunch lady at Maple, Lisa Saville, also helps with planning the menu for the CIS after school programs we have throughout KPS. She is super awesome, supportive of our after school program, and great to work with. Over the years, I’ve learned that to do after school well, you need three main people to help you: secretaries, janitors, and lunch staff.

They make it or break it, right?

Yep! And at Maple, we have a great team.

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

I’ve paired up with the other CIS after school coordinators who support our middle schools. Mondays through Thursdays I’m supporting Maple Street students with homework from 12 to 12:30 p.m. For after school, the coordinators and youth development coaches have been working together to provide a variety of opportunities for students. So, from 4 to 4:30 p.m., we offer social emotional support time. For that, I’m focused on just my Maple Street students. And then, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. it is club time for students from all four of our sites. With all of us working together, we have way more opportunities to offer students.

One thing we’ve learned is that students are on the computer nine to four most ever day so it’s important to make things hands-on as much as possible to keep them engaged. For instance, we have Magic Club right now.

Magic Club! Are you a magician?

No! But I was in contact with this magician who has been on Penn & Teller. With Covid, she has created videos so we’ve been using these videos to introduce the magic tricks and then we practice and perform the tricks in front of each other. It’s been a hit with the students. We’ll have anywhere from 20 to 25 students attending every Tuesday and Thursday.

We also host special evening events for students and their families, like this Friday we will have a magic show. We also have a movie night coming up and a cooking night where everyone will learn to make minestrone soup. We’ll have new clubs starting up next week. Over a period of six weeks, students can choose three clubs every day (Monday through Thursday). Three of our enrichment providers, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, and BeadVenture will be offering clubs and we’ll also have an engineering club, a college prep club, a fitness & nutrition club, travel club, student advisory council, and gaming club.

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

Honestly, it really varies on a case-by-case basis. Some of my students are thriving with virtual learning and some we need to get back in school as soon as possible. The main thing they have in common is that they just miss their friends.

What are you currently reading?

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I just started it.

I just saw a Ted Talk Brown did on the power of vulnerability. Does she talk about that in the book?

I don’t know. I’ve only just started it. There is a workbook that goes with the book so I’ll be doing that too. I’m reading it to help make me a better me.

That’s a good goal. If we all strive to be our best selves, the world only gets better. So, what is your favorite word or phrase right now?


As in…

Everything is just ducky. How are you doing? Ducky. How’s everything been? Ducky.

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, what is one of the first things you will do?

Knowing me, it’s probably going out for a really nice dinner or to play darts with friends.

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

My mom. Hands down. My mom, Kathy McIntyre, is truly one of my best friends now. I think also, with her being a former educator—she worked twenty plus years with KPS—anytime I had an issue as an adult in a school setting, I could go to her for advice as to what I should do. Along the way, we’ve been able to trade different skills with each other.

Anything else we should know about you?

I play four instruments. I started playing trumpet in fifth grade. In college, I ended up minoring in music. The bassoon and trumpet are my primary instruments. I’ve also picked up the clarinet and French horn throughout the years.

Oh, and I’m trying to eat a more plant-based diet. One that is more vegetarian/vegan.


I still like cheese and a good steak from time to time. I can’t give that up, but I try to eat this way three to four days a week.

And I love my middle school team! I’m also a work in progress: I’m just trying to be a better me.

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


CIS Ugly Sweater Competition and Exhibit – Vote Today!

Vote Today!

Donations = votes!

As sweater images become available, the below listings will be updated accordingly.

Kalsec Sweater: Vote Here

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Sweater: Vote Here

Edwards Garment Sweater: Vote Here

Fifth Third Bank Sweater: Vote Here

First National Bank of Michigan: Vote Here

Humphrey Products Sweater: Vote Here

Husted’s Market Sweater: Vote Here

Friends of Poetry Sweater: Vote Here

Kalamazoo Rotaract Sweater: Vote Here

YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo Sweater: Vote Here

Unifab Corporation Sweater: Vote Here

WMU Office of Diversity and Inclusion Sweater: Vote Here

#GivingBack on #GivingTuesday at CIS of Kalamazoo

Today is #GivingTuesday: a “global day of giving” fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Last year, CIS of Kalamazoo launched an initiative to do the “giving” on #GivingTuesday, surprising an individual who has gone above and beyond for students in each school building with a card and gift from the CIS site coordinator. The huge smiles and joy we witnessed last year ensured that it would become an annual activity.

We’re thrilled to continue this initiative in 2020. Though it may look different, our purpose remains the same: to honor and recognize someone at each school who is going above and beyond. Each CIS site coordinator has selected a KPS staff member who has demonstrated a commitment to working with CIS to help students succeed and/or make sure students’ needs are met. A personal note and e-gift card will be sent to each recipient. Check out the descriptions below to learn about the inspiring work being done by school staff.

This year has been especially challenging for schools and school staff, and we also want to take a moment to say thank you to EVERY individual who has worked so hard for students. From all of us at Communities In Schools, thank you. We are proud to partner with you.

Arcadia Elementary – Donia Ali has been a true partner for CIS when it comes to connecting to Arcadia’s Arabic speaking families.  She has the best interest of Arcadia students and families in her heart with all that she does. Thank you, Donia, for all you do for Arcadia students and families!

Edison Environmental Science Academy – Head Secretary, Tonya Orbeck, is the most helpful head secretary we could possibly imagine. She always has a million things to do, and yet always finds the time to help in whatever way she can. She is truly the embodiment of teamwork and selflessness.

El Sol Elementary – Secretary, Graciela Arevalo, is a bridge between El Sol staff and families. She is a vital resource to distributing information to families and maintaining a connection between El Sol families and CIS.

Hillside Middle School – Melinda Long, Counseling Office Secretary, is a constant support to CIS at Hillside. She is always very positive and cheerful. Ms. Long works tirelessly as the secretary for the counseling office; she is patient and compassionate when working with students and her professionalism and demeanor makes her a wonderful role model for the young people she supports every day.

Kalamazoo Central High School – Bilingual Home School Liaison, Rebeca Arevalo-Visuet, has been a precious resource. She helps communicate with families where English is a second language. She consistently responds to requests for assistance. Rebeca makes our jobs and the jobs of many other KPS staff much easier. The service she provides is priceless. We are especially grateful!

King-Westwood Elementary – There is no task too big or too small for Jennifer Diget, King-Westwood secretary. Whether it is getting information about a family, accepting a delivery, getting instructions on how to do absolutely anything—or who to contact for absolutely anything—Ms. Diget is the one to call. Not only is she willing to help with anything, she always does it with a smile. She is priceless!

Lincoln Elementary – TaKarra Dunning goes above and beyond to serve the students and families of Lincoln Elementary. As the school’s Behavioral Specialist, she not only helps to support families with clothes, food, and visiting homes, she also supports staff by thinking outside the box to get the job done!

Linden Grove Middle School – Kelly Reimink at Linden Grove has been the missing link necessary in connecting us to students and families. While we’re working remotely, she has been the LG staff member keeping us in the loop about resources available to continue our connections with students and families. Her extensive knowledge and diligence allow us to continue the good work that we do.

Loy Norrix High School – GSA advisor and Library Media Specialist, John Krieder, is always there for students in any capacity. He is always in good spirits and welcomes everyone with a smile.

Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts – Our secretaries, Dillon Boyd and Nicole Degraaf, have been allies for CIS from the day they both entered Maple Street. Their willingness to connect families to CIS whenever possible helps to seamlessly provide much needed services to students. We really appreciate them for being kind-hearted and available when we have questions or if we need anything. We are grateful for all that they do. Thank you!

Milwood Elementary – Leroy Green, Behavioral Aid at Milwood Elementary, is awesome! He is the rock of our school. He is respected and loved by all; the school would not be the same without him!

Milwood Magnet Middle School – KPS IT Specialist, Jacob Cieslak has been a necessary lifesaver when helping CIS implement our groups, CIS After School, GSA newsletter, and more! His patience and willingness to be available whenever we need him has helped us to reach students. He is dedicated to CIS and our students.

Northeastern Elementary – Judy Morin, the Behavioral Specialist, has constantly supported CIS and our students since we’ve started working together. She frequently refers families that are in need to our office. Ms. Morin is extremely devoted to our students and is passionate about what CIS can do to help. She is always promoting us, our services, and utilizing them for students in whatever way possible.

Northglade Elementary – Principal Re’Qwal Duckworth has worked hand in hand with CIS through the pandemic. Through meeting with site coordinators to help meet students’ needs, delivering supplies to students, making home visits, and leading the site and students in the midst of a global pandemic, Mrs. Duckworth shows a commitment to working with CIS and helping students succeed. 

Parkwood Upjohn Elementary – Paraprofessional, Jane Metzler, has spent many years working within our school district. Ms. Metzler has readily made herself available to assist in meeting the needs of our students.  When we moved to remote learning in the spring, Jane could regularly be counted on to deliver food and school supplies to students without hesitation.  Special Education teacher, Ms. Forbes, says that Jane is “amazingly compassionate and caring.  She goes above and beyond to make sure the students have not only academic resources, but also words of encouragement.  She is a true gem.”

Prairie Ridge Elementary – Home Support Specialists, Terry Hess and Amy Triemstra, have gone above and beyond to coordinate with CIS staff to make sure our work has the greatest positive impact for our kids, families, and staff. They are the glue that holds the school together. The Prairie Ridge CIS team is so grateful to them both.

Spring Valley Elementary – School Psychologist, Michelle Youngs, goes above and beyond to make sure that our students’ needs are met and is always there to support staff with encouragement. She truly does understand the CIS vision and what an important role we are in the students’ success and well-being.

Washington Writers’ Academy – Ms. Joy Vandepol and Mrs. Yolanda Kirk do everything possible to help the school run smooth. They are a great team and always going above and beyond to help and support me (CIS site coordinator, Fredrick Daniel) as I am new in this position. When frustrations and uncertainties kick in, they help to calm things down. I love them to death.

Woods Lake Elementary – Teacher, Alex Miller, is always advocating for her students. She is always going above and beyond to make sure her students are logging on with her every day. If students are not logging online, she is trying to figure out why and identifying anything they may need in order to be successful!

Woodward School for Technology and Research – Kindergarten Teacher, Asha Epp, regularly goes above and beyond to make sure her kindergarten students feel at home with her and in her classroom. During COVID times, this has been no different. Asha makes deliveries, ensures ALL students are feeling connected to each other and to the class, and works tirelessly to build that loving and accountable classroom culture that is essential to learning, especially during these hard times. Asha is an essential part of the Woodward Wolf Pack, and we are grateful to be able to honor her and say “Thank You” for being so strong for your students and the school community!


Keeping Lights On During Dark Times

National Lights On Afterschool Awareness Day is today, Thursday, October 22, 2020, and Kalamazoo Public School students are doing their part to shed light on the need to invest in after school programs. As part of this 21st national event, elementary and secondary students who participate in Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) After School Programs have been busy coming up with creative ways to shine the spotlight on quality after school support during these unprecedented times.

A significant body of research demonstrates that students who regularly participate in after school programs are more likely to improve their grades, tests scores, and overall academic behavior. CIS Senior Director of Site Services Dr. Tamiko Garrett says, “Students value the opportunities and supports they receive as part of the after school experience. They know it makes a difference in their lives and they want the community to know it’s important to ‘keep the lights on’ for them.”

To get a taste of what some of our kids have been doing to raise awareness about the need for after school opportunities, here is one of the videos they’d like you to see. (And we’ll be sharing more videos in the weeks to come.)

CIS relies heavily on local resources and partnerships for its core work during the school day, including placing CIS Site Coordinators within schools to identify needs and connect students to the right resources to remove barriers to school success. The CIS After School Program is able to serve students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle schools— thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.


This post is written by guest blogger, Sara Lonsberry. Sara is our basic needs coordinator with CIS Kids’ Closet, and she is passionate about community engagement and supporting all students in their growth and development.

Once again, our community has made a tremendous difference in the lives of our students and families by participating in our annual Back to School Drive.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our efforts to serve students looked quite different this year. We organized our first “Virtual Drive” allowing donors to “shop” our wish list of school supplies from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Thank you to the many community organizations and local businesses who supported! As a result of the combined generosity from our community, 7,500 school supplies were donated and $1,800 was donated to buy more! Based on developing needs, more headphones for virtual learning, more zipper binders, and more secondary grade backpacks will be purchased this year. Although students are studying virtually this fall, the need for quality school supplies remains a basic and pressing need, and it’s because of our community’s consistent commitment to student success that we’re able to meet these needs year after year.

CIS staff have found creative ways to distribute basic needs donations, like school supplies. Because CIS site coordinators are not able to “shop” the Kids’ Closet due to COVID-19 building safety restrictions, they are communicating routinely with our basic needs coordinator to receive up-to-date information about what’s in stock, place online orders, and then pick up their orders to make deliveries directly to students’ homes.

In addition, CIS is working with Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes to establish additional food pantries at various CIS sites throughout the district. At these “pop up” food pantries, students and families will also be able to pick up “grab-and-go” Kids’ Closet items, such as backpacks and pencil boxes pre-filled with school supplies. This is still in the works, so stay tuned as this distribution opportunity develops!

Overall, our Back to School Drive was a success thanks to the dedication of our community members. On behalf of our students, families, teachers, and staff, we are SO grateful for each and every individual, business, and community organization that contributed.

Interested in donating to support our mission of supporting students and empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life? For an updated list of Kids’ Closet needs, please click here.

CIS Think Summer! – Thank you to our community of support!

As we conclude CIS Think Summer!, we are grateful for those who joined our team to share their knowledge and expertise with our students. The CIS Think Summer! program for Kalamazoo Public Schools elementary and secondary students is designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s program was transitioned from in-person to virtual experiences with presentations that align with career themes.

We are excited to share with you all the guest participants of this year’s program! We thank them for joining our staff to provide- engaging opportunities to “meet” different professionals in our community.

Chef Cory Barrett and Chef Stephanie Hughes from the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Culinary Arts & Sustainable Food Systems program joined our team to showcase the culinary center by providing a virtual tour of the facility and answered questions about cooking and classes offered.

Jessica Waller is a proud Kalamazoo, Michigan native and graduate. After graduating Western Michigan University, she followed a career in the food industry and currently works with Kellogg Company as the Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division.

Image of Carmen James

Carmen James, owner of Fit Bella Vei visited our “classroom” to engage with the students about healthy eating, being active, and also shared her personal journey.

BeadVenture, a nonprofit program of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, joined our program. Students were able to participate in creating their own beadwork while learning about entrepreneurial skills.

Jewelry made by CIS Think Summer! student

Smile Savers, a non-profit mobile dental health service, stopped by to highlight dental education. Students received toothbrushes, toothpaste, and were shown the proper way to practice oral healthcare.

Majyck D Radio stopped into our virtual program and discussed how she combined her passion for communication and music into a career as a radio personality and owner of an virtual radio station.

Dr. Turnera Croom, an Army Vet with a mission to spread education and the love of Veterinary Medicine to our youth of color, spoke about the veterinary field and introduced students to many different types of animals during her presentation.

Dr. Turnera Croom

Mr. Michael Beyene is a 3D art instructor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Mr. Beyene presented on video game design, the variety of careers in the industry, and his educational path.

Dr. Khalid el-Hakim

Dr. Khalid el-Hakim, the founder/owner of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, discussed the importance of knowing history, and what led him from being a middle school teacher in Detroit to managing hip-hop artists to owning his own museum, and how students can pursue museum work.

Mercantile Bank worked with our secondary students on how to be financially responsible in the personal life and how to secure capital to start their own business.

The owners of Freddy’s Food Truck presented to our secondary students. They provided a virtual tour of their food truck and discussed how to start their own business in the food industry.

Thank you to our presenters this summer. During the pandemic, like many of you, we are faced with so many unknowns. We want to express our sincere gratitude to these presenters who stepped up on such short notice to present to CIS/KPS students in effort to provide an engaging virtual program.

The CIS Think Summer! Program is supported by federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.