For the past five years, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at Western Michigan University has been working through CIS to funnel six to eight volunteers from their society to support Kalamazoo Central High School students. Two times a week, these engineering students consistently share their time, talents, as well as their stories with our students. Together, they build upon each other’s work, constructing something bigger than themselves.
Principal Valerie Boggan loves seeing the positive impact they have with students. We share her appreciation for this partnership. These engineering students create enthusiasm around learning and shine a light for our kids. The National Society’s mission is: to increase culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community. To see this mission in action is powerful and shines a light for our students.
Working with young people is like building a very important building, something bigger than the Empire State Building and more impressive than the Eiffel Tower. Through their very presence and listening, these engineering students are inspiring our kids to be the best students and people they can be. A young person realizing their full potential is a more impressive sight than even the great pyramids of Egypt.
At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, The Edison Science Club was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC Benefits and Miller-Davis Company. Edison Environmental Science Academy’s CIS Site Coordinator Cameron Massimino introduced us to these Zoetis-led volunteers who champion children. [If you missed this virtual event, you can click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November.]
For 16 years now, science-minded volunteers make monthly visits to Edison Environmental Science Academy. Initiated by Zoetis Senior Scientist Dom Pullo, the volunteers enhance about 27 fifth graders’ learning of science through inquiry and hands-on activities.
In Science Club, students become scientists! Wearing lab coats and lanyards, and occasionally donning goggles and gloves, students extract DNA from peas, investigate circuit theory, study water filtration, and more. Thanks to a grant from Zoetis, CIS was able to purchase state-of-the-art microscopes so students can view specimens close-up.
The Science Club even recruited Cash, a very friendly and hairy, 105-pound volunteer. Cash assists Zoetis veterinarians (Dr. Theodore Sanders, Jr. – DVM, MS, MBA, DACLAM Executive Director Animal Research Support, Dr. Marike Visser – DVM, PhD, DACVCP , and Dr. Paul Reynolds, DVM – Retired) in demonstrating animal check-ups. [Cash sat down for an interview with us and we’ll be publishing that conversation in the near future.]
In addition to Dom Pullo and the three veterinarians noted above, the Edison Science Club has been supported by a number of dedicated volunteers over the years, including: Blair Cundiff, Jacqueline Killmer, Shannon Smith, Teresa Miller, Joshua Kuipers, Stacey Wensink, Sherry Garrett, Kelsey Lammers, Kelly Turner-Alston, Kelly Kievit, Matthew Krautman, Brianna Pomeroy, Tiyash Parira, Tobias Clark, Lisa Yates, Elizabeth Graham, Ben Hummel, Clark Smothers, Adam Schoell, Rose Gillesby, and Thomas Berg.
Fifth grade teacher Mrs. Rocann Fleming says both students and staff LOVE the science club. These dedicated volunteers, some who’ve now retired or moved on from Zoetis, still show up and inspire young minds. Their passion for science is contagious.
“I’ve learned,” says one student who dreams of becoming a veterinarian, “there’s a lot you can’t see in this world that is real—like bacteria!—so wash your hands.” “Well, I’m going to be a scientist,” says another girl. “I’m not sure what kind yet, but probably a woman scientist!”
Edison Science Club,thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.
At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Mikka Dryer was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. Milwood Magnet Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best introduced us to this CIS volunteer who is a champion for children. [If you didn’t get a chance to learn about the great work Mikka is doing with students in Dr. Brandy Shooks’ ESL classroom, click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November. Mikka’s award is at the 14:33 minute marker.]
Born and raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mikka lives in Portage with her husband Cory. She says she’s “grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer with CIS as my job as Supervisor of Community Health, Equity and Inclusion at Bronson provides me the flexibility to do so.
We sat down with Mikka at Milwood Magnet Middle School, shortly before the pandemic hit and schools were closed.
You’ve been volunteering out at Milwood Magnet Middle School for the past four years, with the last three of those years supporting a small group of young ladies who are part of KPS teacher Brandy Shook’s ESL [English as a Second Language] class. How did you come to volunteer through CIS?
When my daughter was in middle school and upper hours, I had an hourly job and couldn’t take off time from work to volunteer in her classroom or at her school. With my job now, as a salaried employee, I have that flexibility and wanted to start volunteering through CIS. For me, it’s a way to give back to kids whose parents are in the same position I was in…I know there are parents just like me, that want to volunteer in their child’s school but just can’t give back because of their job.
I want to give back and am grateful I have the opportunity to do this now, even though I couldn’t do it with my own daughter.
What insights have you gained from volunteering?
There is a difference between raising my own child and coming into a volunteer experience where you are interacting with kids you don’t know. So I’m learning about them and asking them questions. It’s not intuitive to me because I don’t know their lives and what they are going through and dealing with. I’ve gained understanding and tolerance. Also, as I’m walking through the halls and the bell rings, it brings me back to my own middle school days. Some things haven’t changed.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished a book called On the Come Upby Angie Thomas. It’s a young adult book and the follow up to her book, The Hate You Give. I’ve really enjoyed both of the books. I wanted to read her latest book because last year, we all read The Hate You Give as an all-school read. We really bonded over they book. [We ran this post about last year’s Reading Together book and how students had lots of love for The Hate You Give.]
What is your favorite word right now?
Through an equity lens.
I say this and think about this often in the work I’m in. I’m always considering what I’m doing through an equity lens. Am I considering all people, all voices, historical events, oppression, people who have had experienced life in different ways than me? Am I taking into account the whole situation? Whether I’m at work, volunteering, or how I’m spending my money, am I approaching what I’m doing through an equity lens?
Taking into account the whole situation and various perspectives is a much fuller way to experience life.
Yes, you feel fuller because you are considering others and their perspectives, not just one’s one. I can relate to people better because of it.
What question have you asked recently?
Can you tell me more about that? Why do you feel that way?
I’m trying to ask more questions at home. At work and out in the community I’m accepting, tolerant, and open, but at home, well, it’s a space I need to work on. I want to be more tolerant and understanding of my family members and asking them questions helps me do that. And they are less likely to shut down. Instead of responding with “Get over it,” “That’s not important,” or “Move on,” I’m trying to ask more questions and really listen to what they have to say.
Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?
I love walking my two dogs. I love Portage trails, being out in the sun and walking outside trails, biking paths, and enjoying the sunshine.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been one of your caring adults?
As a young person growing up, I’d definitely say my parents, James and Tako Keller. They had five kids and I was the middle child. They loved and supported me, and still do. I had a good childhood even though I probably wasn’t the easiest adolescent to parent, and yet they still supported me. They have always had my back.
Anything else should we know about you?
My daughter Nayah wants to open her own bakery one day and I’m happily obligated to be her taste tester. She recently moved out on her own, and one thing I’ll miss is having tasty treats at least three times a week!
Thank you, Mikka, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Bring out the snacks and get ready to throw some confetti at your computer screen! Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) hosts its annual Champs event tonight, Tuesday, October 27th at 6 p.m. and you can be a part of it! Just go here, to https://ciskalamazoo.org/champs. This year will look a bit different as CIS has elected to host a virtual celebration. For those who can’t watch tonight, the celebration video will remain on the CIS website through November.
Kalsec is the presenting sponsor for this event which honors community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality. “When I think about CIS, I think about an organization supporting education in every possible way,” says Dr. Scott Nykaza, CEO of Kalsec, Inc. “I think about equity and how CIS levels the playing field so that all students are set up to succeed, and I think about the kindness of our community.”
That kindness will be on full display during this thirteenth year of celebrating those who are making a difference in students’ lives. This year’s Champs who support our Kalamazoo Public Schools students are:
Mikka Dryer, CIS volunteer
Science Club facilitated by Zoetis, CIS volunteers
Family Health Center, a nonprofit, CIS health partner
Western Michigan University National Society of Black Engineers, CIS higher learning partner
Howard Tejchma will be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established by Gulnar’s family to honor her long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and work as a CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School. This award recognizes CIS volunteers who emulate Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children. For the past decade, Howard Tejchma has been working with a small group of Arcadia students during lunchtime. His fifth grade “lunch bunch” looks forward to his weekly visits in which he facilitates games and weaves in life lessons.
The CIS Board will also be honoring Dr. Sandy Standish with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. For 32 years, Dr. Standish shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all 4-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.
Keep following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. In the weeks to come we we will bring you more about these fabulous receipients.
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.
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 Kohler Briggs. Kohler will be a senior this fall at Loy Norrix High School and Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center.
This past spring, Kohler reached out to Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo to see if there was a project he could help with, as part of his volunteer work with the National Honor Society. Since launching Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids in August of 2012, we’ve racked up hundreds of posts. We wondered if Kohler could use his organizational and technical skills to create one document that could systematically capture all the posts published in Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. We were ecstatic when Kohler agreed to help us.
A month into the project, the pandemic struck and school buildings physically closed. Despite these challenges, Kohler continued to work on the project. He recently provided us with an 18-page document that will allow us to easily access past posts. This archived information holds a wealth of information, from students overcoming obstacles to succeed in school, to the school and community members who volunteer and partner with CIS to support our 12,000+ kids, to innovative programming making a difference for students, and much more. We are so grateful to Kohler for sharing his time and talents with us!
Alright, Kohler: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
You went through and chronologically organized and hyperlinked almost nine years of blog posts for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. [At the bottom of this post is an example of the work Kohler did for us.] Thanks to you, we now have hundreds of blog posts at our fingertips. What did you get out of doing this project?
I loved learning about the variety of different ways CIS assist students and families in our schools. I also loved learning about the many individuals, including teachers and other students, that are working to improve our communities both inside and outside of school.
The pandemic disrupted school and life. How have you been holding up? What was your experience of doing distance learning?
I am doing well, but I was extremely busy during distance learning. I missed seeing all my classmates and teachers and missed receiving in-person instruction. I did like how I was able to learn at my own pace and had the time to give extra attention to subject areas that needed it.
In navigating these challenging times, what have you learned about yourself?
I have learned that it is very important for me to take breaks while working. When we were still doing in-person classes, I never had much time to step away from my work. When I had more opportunities to take a bit of time off during online school, I found that I was much less stressed and more productive when I returned to working.
With summer upon us, what are you currently reading?
I am about to start reading Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Xendi.
What is one of your favorite school subjects?
I love almost anything involving science, especially dealing with the environment.
We know there are probably many, but can you share with us one teacher who has inspired/influenced you throughout your years with Kalamazoo Public Schools?
This year, I took AP Language and Composition with Ms. [Brianna] English at Loy Norrix. Ms. English did a great job with helping me improve my writing skills.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been one of your caring adults?
The most important caring adults in my life are my parents. They are always open to questions and support for my academic endeavors.
Thank you, Kohler, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Here’s an example of Kohler’s work. If you missed any of these posts, you can easily access them by clicking on the titles he has hyperlinked to the published post.
Since 1992, Sue Warner has served as the Head of Youth Services. A Kalamazoo native, Sue holds a bachelors degree in English Literature from Indiana University and her MA in Library Science from the University of Michigan. Sue first worked at Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) as a Student Assistant from 1976-1977. She returned as a Children’s Librarian in 1988, stepping into Head of Youth Services four years later.
Sue Warner is a quiet leader in a world that too often confuses loudness with leadership. A listener, a doer, and a thinker, Sue exhibits a quiet and steady leadership. Over the years, she has brought these qualities (and more) along with her impressive grasp of children’s literature and understanding of child development to her work with the Kalamazoo Public Library. Our partnership with KPL and the children we serve throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools have benefited from her wisdom and leadership. We will miss her when she retires at the end of this month.
We met up (virtually) with Sue during this pandemic to get her thoughts on books (of course!), retirement, and more.
First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?
As an introvert, home is my favorite place, so I’m doing okay.
What are you learning about yourself and/or the world in all this?
I’m reminded that the people who are helpers are still stepping up and taking care of others without looking for attention or recognition; while those who are always seeking the spotlight are using this as a chance to try to be the loudest voices. We always need to look for the helpers and support them.
When it comes to supporting our young people and their families, you and KPL are such an extraordinary partner. We can always count on you to help us keep kids in school and succeed in both school and life. Any thoughts you want to share regarding this longstanding partnership?
I love partnering with CIS! You guys are the best because you put kids first every day, look to community partners to help, and welcome volunteers to make the one-on-one connections kids that are so critical. Personally, I loved my four years as a tutor with three kids at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary. The staff at KPL always works together in the fall to collect school supplies to donate the CIS Kids’ Closet. Also, I enjoyed helping my friend Millie, who lives in Texas, when she decided to knit mittens to send to Michigan kids and CIS was willing to distribute them to kids in our community. [Millie’s Mittens post can be found here.] When organizations have a partnership such as ours, the most important part, though, is the personal relationships that staff have . . . we have to know and trust each other in order for the work to be successful.
You and KPL do such wonderful and innovative programming. One of those which is close to your heart is The Late Show, in which you have volunteers read aloud books over the PA system during bedtime to young people residing at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. Can you share with us a bit more about that program? and the power of reading aloud to young people
Now in its 27th year, the Late Show is a bedtime reading program on 2 or 3 nights a week at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. The purpose of the program is to bring a send of calm and comfort to residents at bedtime by reading aloud to them, and to expose students to well-written literature. My first experience with the program was as a volunteer reader, recruited by my friend Ruth Heinig, from WMU. Later, Ruth recruited me to take over from her as the selector of the readings. Now, KPL is the institutional home for the program and we do it all . . . recruit new readers, schedule the readers, select and send out the readings for the week, etc. We also work with the Juvenile Home to bring visiting teen authors there for author visits, and support other community volunteers who run weekly Book Club discussion groups at the Juvenile Home. Our mission is to support books and reading for these teens who are not currently able to visit the library.
Over the years, you have probably seen changes in the way the way children and families experience the library. Can you speak a little bit about those changes or trends that you’ve noticed?
When I was first starting out as a Children’s Librarian, it was mostly mothers bringing children to the library to check out books and come to storytime. Now we have so many dads, grandparents, and nannies as well as moms. We also offer so many more programs for kids of all ages. We are also seen as a community play space with age-appropriate toys, computers for kids with not only internet access but also educational games and other resources. We have parenting books and magazines in the Children’s Room, community resources about early education and care. The library is now a destination for families to visit and spend time together, not just dash in and leave; families are staying for a long time!
What tips would you give parents who are trying to find just the right book(s) for their young children?
Let your child choose some of their own books; it’s never too early to learn about making choices; and ask the librarian for help finding things. We have a lot of good ideas!
What children’s book that has been around for quite a while, in your opinion, has stood the test of time?
When you were a child, what was your favorite book?
According to my mom, The Cat in the Hat. She had to periodically “lose” it. She despised it, but I’m still rather fond of it. Mom read to us so much; it paid off as my brothers and I are all readers today.
When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go?
Bookbug for me and Oval Beach in Saugatuck for my husband.
What do you think you will miss most about your job once you retire?
Working with kids and their families every day; it’s so meaningful to help someone find a book they will love, or to encourage a new parent to read with a newborn, or to help a teacher find books to enhance their lessons. Sitting on the floor to read and sing with kids can make the administrative work tolerable some days.
Fred Rogers said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” As someone on the cusp of retirement, what will you be stepping into and beginning during this next phase of your life?
Most immediately, providing care for my youngest grandkids this summer; after that, probably looking for a volunteer opportunity in the community where I can work with kids.
Thank you, Sue, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.
Note: The Kalamazoo Public Library has missed you! The library will be opening on June 22 with limited hours and service. Face covers will be required for entry. Find out what you can expect when you visit by learning details here.
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.