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.

Back to School Supplies – How You Can Support!

During these unprecedented times, we are faced with so many unknowns.

Among all the unknowns, we do know for certain that school supply distribution is needed for the upcoming year!

As school supplies are hitting the middle aisle in your local store, many in our community are starting to think about collection drives. Like many of you, our top priority is the health and safety of the families we serve, our generous supporters, KPS staff, and CIS staff. As such, we have set up a virtual collection drive this year! With students attending virtual classes this year, the need for school supplies may be needed more than ever!

This is new territory for us, so thank you for your flexibility and understanding.

Are you interested in supporting our back to school drive? It is simple…

  1. Visit our donation page:
  2. Select from the available items that have the biggest impact
  3. Follow through with the purchase of the items via the donation page

All items purchased through the donation page will be directly delivered to the CIS Kids’ Closet for distribution to students connected with the 20 CIS supported Kalamazoo Public Schools.

The drive is only open until August 28th!

As a friendly reminder, you are always welcome to support the CIS Kids’ Closet with a financial donation through our website and selecting the CIS Kids’ Closet on the donation page. Don’t forget, distribution of supplies requires “people,” support from our community through our general donations help to provide this service. We THANK YOU, our community of support for helping us meet the need of so many students!

Photo taken from 2019 donation made by Rose Street Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan

#GivingTuesdayNow – Together we…

…show up for kids

…are all in for kids (in school and beyond!)

…give thanks

…are grateful

…appreciate our community

…happy to give on #GivingTuesdayNow

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo is delighted to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow, which is a global day of giving and unity that was organized as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. Generosity in any form empowers us to make positive changes in the lives of others, and is a value that everyone can act on.

The tagline for #GivingTuesdayNow: “Together We…” is a perfect sentiment – CIS has elected to participate by giving thanks to our community for the kindness, generosity and collaboration which enable us to remain fully staffed and supporting students each and every day.

For this global day of unity and giving, members of our team each have reflected on an individual or group to recognize in some way. Whether it be volunteers who have gone above and beyond, graduating seniors who deserve some love, or any number of others in our community, CIS team members are eager to recognize some very special people. Here are just a few of the ways that CIS team members have elected to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow:

  • Recognizing seniors that the high school site teams have worked with by preparing celebratory yard signs and banners to post in yards and windows of graduating seniors
  • Sending hand-written thank you cards to community partners who are working on the front lines in our community
  • Sharing gratitude with corporate partners who have offered advice and support for navigating the complexities of running an organization during COVID-19
  • Encouraging neighbors to get involved by delivering sidewalk chalk for writing messages of gratitude and kindness for all to see
  • Writing a poem to share with a specific volunteer who has supported a student
  • Sending a “plantable” card to two special volunteers to thank them for planting seeds of kindness at a school
  • Sending e-cards to corporate sponsors who have extended kindness and understanding after we had to change our annual event
  • Preparing and sending virtual greetings to volunteers, partners and supporters

And much more! We are fortunate to be a part of this community that provides constant reasons to give thanks, and we’re delighted to take part in this global day of unity.

Together We thank you for being part of our community.

Celebrating Our Community of Support

Thank you for being part of our community of support and tuning into our message from Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Executive Director, James Devers.

Today, April 15th, we intended to come together to celebrate the 13th year of honoring those in our community of support that are champions for kids. We have a wonderful group of community members being honored this year.

Although we can’t celebrate with you today, please know we are grateful for each of you.

We look forward to celebrating together on October 6th.

Thank you to our sponsors of this year’s Champs Celebration for your kindness and understanding.

Presenting Sponsor:

Champion Sponsors:

Fifth Third Bank





Award Sponsors:


BASIC Benefits


Humphrey Products

Lake Michigan Credit Union

Miller-Davis Company

Cap & Gown Sponsor:

633 Group

Ascension Borgess

Bronson Healthcare

Comerica Bank

Consumers Credit Union

First National Bank of Michigan

Seelye Automotive


Unifab Corporation

Honor Roll Sponsors:


BKC | Brink, Key & Chludzinski

Consumers Energy

CSM Group

DeMent & Marquardt, PLC

Dimplex Thermal Solutions

LKF Marketing

The OnStaff Group

Welsh & Associates, Inc.

Meet Paul Runnels

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 Paul Runnels. Since 2013, Paul has been one of the CIS volunteers who makes the Science Club at Edison Environmental Science Academy so successful.

Like other volunteers who have supported the Science Club since its 2003 inception, Paul brings to bear his talents, skills, and passion for science. And he has quite the science background! After obtaining his bachelor of pre-med at DePauw University, he studied veterinarian medicine at Purdue University. He then pursued his doctorate in veterinarian pathology at Iowa State University. While in graduate school he did research work for the National Animal Disease Center.

Paul moved to Kalamazoo in 2003 when Pfizer moved its Animal Health headquarters from Connecticut to Kalamazoo. [In 2013, Pfizer spun off this unit into Zoetis. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals in more than 100 countries.] Retired since 2016 from Zoetis, this clinical research veterinarian is helping to inspire a new generation of scientists.

An avid biker, Paul also serves on the board of Open Roads, which use bicycles as a vehicle to engage and empower young people in the community to develop skills for their future. He is also part of the cyclist riding group, known as The Chain Gang. Back in 2016, he was one of the nine cyclists struck by a pickup truck. Five died, and Paul, along with three others, were severely injured. We’re thankful that Paul has recovered and is once again volunteering and biking.

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

Pop Quiz

Researchers have found that asking children questions about their surroundings while encouraging and extending their explorations of their world can help them improve their general knowledge and science achievement. That’s what you all do as volunteers who facilitate the Science Club at Edison.

All the kids absorb the information like sponges. My only wish is we could do Science Club more often, and with more kids!

Scientists are curious and tend to ask good questions. What is a question you’ve asked recently?

We just did a recent section with the Science Club around water filtration. We had the students make their own bio filters. We gave them a small amount of tiny gravel, some sand, some activated charcoal, and peat moss. The coffee filters were then used to cap the end of a water bottle. We had filled them up with pond water and they ran the water through filters. The water was running painfully slow. So the question we posed to the kids was: Why are these filters running so slow?

How wonderful that the Science Club gives students the opportunity to do such interesting hands-on learning.

And this year, CIS, with a grant from Zoetis, bought some really good microscopes.

We asked students to imagine that Teresa’s dog, Cash, went out and drank some pond water and got sick. We want to figure out why Cash got sick, and figure out how to treat it. [Teresa Miller, another member of the volunteer team that helps facilitate the Science Club was recently featured on our blog, here.]

A week before meeting with the students, we had collected some pond water and so we put two or three drops on the slides. Usually, you see one or two things underneath the scope. The students are working in small groups and looking at the drops under the microscope when zoop! Something went back and forth across the field. Bigger than anything we’d ever seen.

What was that?

I have no idea! We’d never seen it before. I assume it was some type of larval insect. It got everybody excited, even me!

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

Interacting with the kids. I love it. As an old guy, it’s wonderful to be around all that energy.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I like to do woodworking. I’m teaching myself to cut dovetails. I’m getting there but I’m not yet really good at it. Matt Krautmann [Krautmann also volunteered for several years with the Science Club], does a good deal of wood working and has been helpful in this endeavor. I was recently gluing the base of a table and the joints didn’t fit perfectly. I respect Matt’s work ethic and creative thinking. I learned from him that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

If we could talk about the 2016 incident in which you were seriously injured…after having experienced such a horrific event, was it scary getting back on the bike and ride again?

No, it wasn’t. Because I was determined. I had been laying in the hospital bed, and at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to even walk. After some weeks, as I grew stronger, I knew I would do it.

What did you learn from this whole experience?

The biggest thing I learned is the importance of the support of the community. Not just the biking community, but also Kalamazoo, and the broader community, and all the encouragement and strength they shared with us. I’m grateful to the first responders and the medical community. I also learned how amazingly resilient the human body is.

[With money raised, the Chain Gang connected with Kalamazoo sculptor Joshua Diedrich who created a memorial to those who lost their lives and to honor the survivors. The piece is installed at Markin Glen Park. To learn more about the artist’s process and to see additional photos of the monument, go here.]

Image courtesy of Joshua Diedrich

What are you currently reading? 

I just finished Deep State by James B. Stewart. He also happened to be my college roommate. We went to DePauw University.

Your roommate became quite a successful author. What was he like back then?

He was a very engaged individual who is very bright. When we were in school he was a campus leader. He got into journalism and became the editor of the school paper. He went on to Harvard for law school, became a lawyer, and ended up writing about the Wall Street insider trading scandals of the 80s. That book, Den of Thieves, won the Pulitzer. And Heart of a Soldier is another of his books I really like.

What is your favorite word right now?


What’s something you looking forward to in 2020?

Taking a winter vacation in Hawaii. My wife and I spend the month of February in Hawaii. It’s a perk of retirement.

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

My parents. My dad was one of the vets in the town of Darlington, Indiana, that I grew up in. He mostly worked on farm animals and also did small animals more as a service than as a passion. He did that for 20 or so years and then joined the staff at Purdue for another 25 years. He was very busy as a small town, practicing vet. He’d get called out at any time of the day or night. The local telephone company was his answering phone when he was at church. That was his one undisturbed hour of the week. And though busy, he made time to be supportive and come to the events we were involved in. Both my parents did.

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

Courage is Contagious

Despite the weather, on Saturday, January 18, 2020, Kalamazoo Public School students ventured out to participate in “Courage to Create” poetry workshops held at Western Michigan University as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration. “Courage to Create” is a collaborative effort of Western Michigan University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Friends of Poetry, and Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Jayla Smith

For today’s post, we share a poem that was created during the workshop by former CIS intern and Western Michigan University School of Social Work student Jayla Smith. Last school year, as Jayla was completing her bachelor’s degree, she served as a CIS intern at Lincoln Elementary School. “It was a great experience,” she says. “I loved working with CIS in the school…It confirmed that I wanted to continue to further my education and pursue a career in social work.”

Originally from Detroit, Jayla came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. In addition to her studies, she is currently interning with the Kalamazoo Promise Scholars Program on Western’s campus. She will be graduating this spring with her Master of School Work (MSW). During the MLK Courage to Create workshops, Jayla welcomed the middle school and high school students, and supported the poetry facilitators. Jayla also sat and wrote alongside the students during the poetry exercises. When students were invited to read aloud some of the work they created, Jayla shared her poem, encouraging others to share. Here’s her poem:


My heart resides in a glass box that I keep inside my refrigerator.

She gets cold easily so keep her close to the bulb,

but she is still not satisfied.

I paint her walls red with hot sauce

and she screams that her eyes burn.

What do you want?


It takes courage to create. It also takes courage to stand up and let your voice be heard. So thank you, Jayla, for modeling courage for our students.

The upcoming MLK Courage to Create celebration, in which students who participated in the annual MLK Courage to Create contest read alongside community poets, will be held on Wednesday, February 19th on the campus of Western Michigan University, in the WMU Multicultural Center in the Adrian Trimpe Building. The celebration starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public.


Principal McKissack out at WMU (in 2016) with Hillside students and staff. Hillside students are rock stars when it comes to Courage to Create. Come out and see how they do this year!

Fifth Grader Passes Pop Quiz with Flying Colors

Sophia and her mom Heidi.

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 Sophia, a fifth grade student at El Sol Elementary School. This Kalamazoo Public School (KPS) offers instruction in two languages, English and Spanish. The program model is unique within the district and Southwestern Michigan.

“CIS is very helpful for kids in this community that are new,” the fifth grader says. She should know. Sophia arrived last year with her mom from Venezuela.

She’s glad that her then fourth grade teacher, Ms. Courtney Eaton, introduced her to CIS. Since then, Sophia has worked hard, taking advantage of all the opportunities and community resources that her CIS Site Coordinator Levi Soto has offered. Sophia is also featured in the recently released 2018-19 CIS Annual Report, so once you see how she did on her pop quiz, you can learn more about her here.

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

Pop Quiz

What is your favorite word right now?

In English?

How about one in English and one in Spanish?

In English, it would be love. And in Spanish, Venezuela.

What are you currently reading?

Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop. It’s about these kids in World War II. I like reading for fun.

What is one of your favorite things about being a student in KPS?

I get a lot of help when I need it.

What is one of your favorite subjects in school?

Science. I’ve gone from red, to orange, to green. [Note: Green is good! That is excellent progress!] And I really like social studies.

Would you rather be a dinosaur or a whale for one day?

A whale. Because I would like to see the different fishes that a human can’t see.

Outside of school, what things do you enjoy doing?

Going to Lake Michigan with my mom. I also like eating pizza. It’s my favorite food.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

That all kids would have a home and have food every day.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?

My mom. She helps me a lot with math homework. I didn’t understand it a lot at first. It’s really different from homework in Venezuela.

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

Be sure to check out the CIS annual report featuring Sophia! You can read it here.

#GivingTuesday at CIS of Kalamazoo

Today is #GivingTuesday! A “global day of giving” fueled by the power of social media and collaboration, #GivingTuesday is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Starting this year, here at CIS of Kalamazoo, we will be doing the “giving” on #GivingTuesday. Each CIS Site will have the opportunity to recognize 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.

Throughout the day, we will be popping into each school to deliver special gifts for each selected recipient.

Check out who each site team selected and why!

Arcadia Elementary – Teacher and Instructional Lead Tony Spencer has worked with the CIS afterschool program for several years. This year, he has continued his commitment by helping After School Coordinator, Ms. Maria implement lessons to complement her program, all while making sure that the students are taken care of, and have a good time in the process.

He serves as teacher, mentor, and friend to all who have had the pleasure of working with him. His positivity is infectious, as is his booming laugh! A valued KPS employee and appreciated CIS partner, we appreciate him so much!

Edison Environmental Science Academy – Secretary Tonya Orbeck is always there when you need her. Her smile lights up the office. She is always helping everyone. Ms. Orbeck is a kind-hearted person who puts her needs after others. We think Tonya deserves to know she is appreciated.

El Sol Elementary – Teacher Jennifer Greenman goes above and beyond to ensure that basic needs are being met for every student in her classroom. She ensures this by closely communicating with CIS coordinators Mr. Soto and Ms. Viridiana and the services that CIS provides. From a pair of gloves, boots, or classroom supplies, to mental health services and after-school program enrollment, she works with CIS so the right students can receive the right service at the right time.

Hillside Middle School – Teacher Heather Sokolowski works tirelessly and consistently with the students supported by CIS. This year, Ms. Soko (as the students call her), has been instrumental in starting a pilot program for a “chill room” to implement mindfulness techniques with students.

Kalamazoo Central High School – Student Registrar/Secretary/Administrative Assistant Ebony Hemphill demonstrates a commitment to working with CIS to help students succeed by referring students and encouraging and loving students where they are at. Ms. Hemphill takes no prisoners when it comes to students showing respect.

King-Westwood Elementary – Daytime Custodian Sam has helped students by providing a clean atmosphere and assisting with necessary office supplies. He never complains and always obliges with moving supplies in and out of the school. We appreciate his diligent work to keep the school clean and organized. Thank you, Sam!

Lincoln Elementary – Behavior Support TaKarra Dunning is always willing to go the extra mile for students. Last year, Ms. Dunning went out and delivered food to our kids during the week off. She has provided many of her own snacks and treats for students.

Linden Grove Middle School – Campus Safety Ms. Foster knows every student in the building, what supports they need, and how to reach out to them. A fantastic resource, she has been an amazing help to our CIS staff!

Loy Norrix High School – Teacher Mr. Patrick Greeley is loving, caring, patient, a good listener and shows genuine interest in his students’ well-being and success. He connects with his students, making them feel valued and appreciated. He always has words of encouragement for both students and staff. Students love Mr. Greeley!

Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts – Teacher Mrs. Jacklyn Sowle continues to be a supporter of CIS at Maple Street. She ensures that her students receive the services that CIS offers. She works with CIS to make sure her students have glasses, adequate clothing such a winter coats, and recommends them for opportunities like the Community Feast. Mrs. Sowle, along with other staff members at Maple Street, are a pleasure to work with on a daily basis. We appreciate all that she does for the students at Maple and for her continued support of CIS.

Milwood Elementary – Paraprofessional Patrick Salamun has been working with students at high intensity levels. He works with students with intense behavior issues and always comes to work with a smile on his face. He is always thinking of others before himself, and loves his job. He is a great team member and is terrific with the kids. He deserves the extra appreciation.

Milwood Magnet Middle School – Principal (and chief ambassador) Mark Tobolski supports the CIS mission and autonomy within the Milwood Middle School. He is always willing to listen and support our ideas, along with promoting CIS wherever he goes.

Northeastern Elementary – Behavioral Specialist Judy Morin has helped connect with dozens of families and help identify student/family needs that CIS can provide. Ms. Morin consistently promotes CIS to the Northeastern community and continues to help expand capacity and validate our role with many families, students, and staff. She has also provided tools and support that help us work with students in a positive way based on the unique needs of our students and school. In short, Judy rocks!

Northglade Elementary – Deb McCullough in food service makes sure our kids are fed. Whether it is providing breakfast, lunch, after school program dinner, or making sure that we have snacks in the CIS office, we can always count on her to make sure our kids have a meal or snack.

Parkwood Upjohn Elementary – Behavior Specialist Sarah Collins provides consistency and a dependable support system to students requiring behavioral interventions. She is able to remain calm in her interactions with students and hold them to high expectations. She is also a source of support to many parents and caregivers and will seek out “what’s missing” in order to assist students.

Prairie Ridge Elementary – Home Support Specialist Amy Triemstra has patiently offered her time and valuable knowledge to help new CIS team members understand the student, family, and staff networks so that our team might better serve them. We value her expertise gained through experience and her endless willingness to share it.

Spring Valley Elementary – Teacher Chyna Campbell is always accommodating and flexible with scheduling students receiving CIS services. She is very supportive of the after-school program and provides homework as well as communicates student progress.

Washington Writers’ Academy – Food Service Supervisor Denise Doerschler has always been extremely flexible with making sure our students have food and allowing CIS staff to use the cafeteria for special events. She makes her freezer/refrigerator space available and helps to coordinate special snacks around events. She works tirelessly without complaint and we appreciate all she does for the staff and students at WWA. She is an unsung hero who deserves to be recognized for all she does.

Woods Lake Elementary – Lead Secretary Janice Garneau continues to put students at Woods Lake first! Always recommending our services to families that may need them and always putting others needs before her own, Janice communicates with all the staff at Woods Lake. She really takes the time to get to know her students and understand where they come from, and the obstacles they may face.

Woodward School for Technology and Research – Teacher Beth Polso is always ready to host volunteers, even surprise ones! She helps our CIS site coordinator seamlessly tailor each student’s needs to each volunteer’s talents. She is always looking for ways to deepen the work of Communities In Schools at Woodward with a smile.