At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Joan Coopes, former Communities In Schools Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School, presented the 2020 Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award to Howard Tejchma. As both volunteer and CIS Site Coordinator, Gulnar Husain relentless pursued a more just and welcoming world for all. For more than 38 years, she relished volunteering throughout our community. The Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion.
There’s an old Irish proverb: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” You could say this year’s recipient of the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award is a shelter of sorts. Howard Tejchma, or, Mr. Howard, as the students call him, has been volunteering at Arcadia Elementary School for the past decade. Working closely with Kalamazoo Public School teacher Holly Bishop, he supports several of her fifth grade students in a “lunch bunch” setting. The students look forward to his weekly visits, readily giving up recess to be in the shelter of his kindness.
With a degree in physics from Kalamazoo College, and a fierce curiosity for how the world works, Howard weaves in game playing, life lessons, and math and science support, all while nurturing a safe space which awakens students’ curiosities. Howard takes moments that arise—like the time one student had difficulty losing at a card game—to discuss how to be a good sport, a good listener, to take turns, to share. Gathered under the roof of his patience, children dream, wonder, and question. They discover their place in the world.
“Mr. Howard has been a blessing to me and my students,” says Ms. Bishop. “He has unique conversations with them and tries to connect on a personal level with each and every one. He is teaching them to be good humans. I truly hope that he wants to do this for as long as I am teaching, because he is always welcome in my classroom.”
As Howard is a tenor singer and has performed solo in the Kalamazoo Bach Festival, we thought he might appreciate the legendary Quincy Jones’ musical take on CIS. Thinking of it as an orchestra, Jones says, “CIS is the conductor who makes sure all the individual musicians are playing from the same score and coming in when they’re needed.”
Since 2010, our kids have counted on him coming into their lives at just the right times.
Howard, you play your part beautifully and inspire children—and us!—to do the same. May this musical metal sculpture serve as a symbol of your outstanding service.
Howard Techjma, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Stay tuned. Next week we’ll run Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids’ last face-to-face interview we did before the pandemic hit. It is with Howard and you won’t want to miss it!
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.
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Dedrenna and Isaiah Hoskins were honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Miller-Davis Company. CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Site Coordinators Carol Roose and Laura McCoy presented the award.
Terry: One of Isaiah Hoskin’s favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, wrote: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
Fortunately, for our kids at Washington Writers’ Academy, Isaiah and his mother, Dedrenna Hoskins care an awful lot. For almost a decade, this mother and son have been volunteering through CIS. For years, their work initially entailed distributing Friday Food Packs, made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each pack the Hoskins delivered held enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend when other food options can be scarce.
And when summer rolls around, the Hoskins do not slow down. Oh, the places they’ll go! Our kids can count on them to tow food packs to and fro during the CIS Think Summer Program.
When Washington Writers’ recently transitioned to the food pantry model and their Food Packs were discontinued, the Hoskins did not miss a beat.
Carol: That’s right! During the school year, Dedrenna, a Quality Operations Technical Associate for Pfizer, heads straight from work to tutor students, assisting them on classwork, homework, math, reading, spelling, you name it. She’ll seek guidance from us, to help meet both the emotional and academic needs of the students she serves.
Oh, and she also has expanded her impact to even more children by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.
This year, Isaiah happily transitioned to making and bagging popcorn that is sold as a fundraiser to support the boys’ basketball team. And while his duties may have changed, what hasn’t changed is the way in which Isaiah takes up his work. He does so with absolute joy, practically skipping into the school each Friday.
Laura: A man of few words, Isaiah continues to speak to the students he serves through his actions. By showing up week after week, year after year, he is a powerful role model, sending a compelling message: this is what dedication, responsibility, and hard work look like. This is what caring and kindness looks like. And because he does his work with such joy, he’s showing our kids that good feeling you get when you choose to give back to your community. He’s also taught all of us that you don’t give up, even when things get difficult. A few years back, when his mother became seriously ill for a time, Isaiah made the trek to school alone to make sure students got their food packs.
We can tell you first hand that being a site coordinator isn’t easy. However, knowing that we can count on the Hoskins makes our job just a little less daunting.
Terry: We are all so grateful that this mother and son choose to team up each week for kids. Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
TowerPinkster, a design firm, creates vibrant places for people to live, work and play. So it’s not surprising that when Jennifer Swan, a Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, set her design on helping children, she would come up with an ingenious and creative plan.
Jennifer’s work schedule made it difficult to commit to volunteering in a school on a consistent basis. How else, she wondered, could she get involved in a way that impacted kids and worked with her schedule? She dug around, asked questions, and determined the CIS Kids’ Closet would be the perfect structure to incorporate into her design. Jennifer will tell you that if you come up with an idea, the first thing you should do is give it a good name. So in 2015, the Swan Snack Emporium was born.
The foundation for the Emporium was poured years earlier, when Jennifer was just a child. I grew up not having a lot, she says. There were times it was hard for my mom to buy my brother and me some of the basic necessities. Knowing what it felt like to be in school without the basics, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She sketched out a plan that would funnel new items like socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and soap to CIS Kids’ Closet. As she puts it, I want kids to have what they need and know they are okay, that they aren’t alone.
Just like designing a building, the Swan Snack Emporium relies on the collective support of the team. This is how it works: Jen purchases snacks on sale and makes them available in the office. Her colleagues can visit the Emporium and grab a bite for breakfast or pick up a snack, all the while feeling good knowing proceeds from the dollar or two they are putting towards that granola bar, microwave popcorn, or bag of Sunchips go to purchasing items for the CIS Kids’ Closet.
I know the burning question on everyone’s mind right now is: What is the number one, most in-demand snack at Swan Snack Emporium? Hands down: it’s Pop Tarts!
But seriously, Jennifer and her colleagues provide students in 20 CIS-supported schools with the basics they need to attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. Thanks to Swan Snack Emporium, over the past four years, over 6,500 items have been donated to CIS Kids’ Closet.
Swan Snack Emporium, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected,
feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to
answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking
about. Today we feature Julie Davis. As we’re on the heels of Administrative
Professionals Day and on the cusp of our 12th Annual Champs event, we
thought it would be fun to meet up with this former KPS secretary and Champ (once a Champ, always a Champ as we say
at CIS) of ten years ago and see what she’s up to these days.
“The sound of men playing horseshoes was part of the soundtrack of my childhood,” Julie Davis says, recalling her “idyllic years” spent growing up in the farming community of East Lynn, Illinois. She smiles as she recounts formative years spent driving tractors and “helping” with baling hay. “And I was watching—without knowing I was watching—equipment break down and seeing someone use some random thing that had been laying on the ground to make it work.”
Without realizing it at the time, Julie was learning to make do with whatever
tools you have—or don’t have—in any given situation. Her knack for making
things work—no matter what life throws at her—has served her well, both in her
personal and professional life. As a single parent, she raised two beautiful
daughters, Jodie and Abby, and happily watched as they got degrees from University
of Michigan and Syracuse University, respectively. Throughout her 33-year career
as a school secretary for Kalamazoo Public Schools Julie made things work on a
daily basis; eight years at Loy Norrix High School and then 25 years at Arcadia
Julie retired in June of 2017. Three months later she was diagnosed with two
different kinds of cancer, one in each breast. She underwent two different
kinds of treatment and is doing fabulous now (as you’ll see, she did fabulous even
then). She enjoys traveling often to Washington, D.C. to play with her two
grandchildren, Sam, seven, and Norah, four.
We almost didn’t meet up with Julie at Anna’s
House. In fact, we walked right by her. While her trademark shoulder-length
blond hair has been replaced by short, white hair, her smile, joyous spirit,
and laughter haven’t changed a bit.
Alright, Julie Davis: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
It’s so different to see you sitting and
just relaxing. In your role as secretary at Arcadia Elementary School you were
I loved every second of every day! I have so many fond and funny memories of
working at Arcadia. And so many stories!
Will you tell us a story?
Sure. I’ve got thousands of
There was this first grader
who zipped his neck into his coat. Thankfully, it was a plastic zipper. I told
him, “I’m going to get this unstuck for you but it’s going to hurt. But I’ll do
it really fast.” He gave me the okay and I grabbed a bit of his neck and the
coat and we did it. And off he went. We were best friends after that. I still
remember his name. Eric.
And here’s another story. A
third grader wanted me to pull her tooth out. This was in the 90s. ‘It’s not
ready, honey,’ I told her, but she wanted that thing out. She was adamant and
wouldn’t go back to class until I pulled it. I know anticipation can drive kids
crazy. So I put on a rubber glove, pinched as hard as I could and out came the
tooth. It made that cracking sound when it came out, the kind of sound that
says it wasn’t quite ready to come out! The next day, I received a percentage
of what the tooth fairy brought her—a dime and three pennies.
And then there was a time….
Okay, bear with me. It’s going to
take a minute, but there is a question at the end of this.
You received a Champ award back in 2009. Gulnar [Husain, who served as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia at that time] rightly described you as kind and compassionate. She wrote: “Her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control.” So, what’s your secret?
I think it’s not really even a secret. I’m just thankful I was in a job that
I was designed to do. If only everybody could be in that position! That is a
wish of mine. That everyone could get up, brush their teeth, go out and behave
as themselves, and accomplish something for others at the same time. I was designed
for my job. I loved my job. I was just out there being myself and it seemed to
work for everybody. [She laughs.]
CIS partners would often comment how
you always made them feel at home. I won’t ask you what your secret is, but how
do you do that, make people feel at home?
I think, by nature, I’m relaxed most of the time. However, at a fairly young
age, about 14, I learned that if you act at ease, it puts others at ease. Having
learned to be relaxed in any situation has served me well throughout my life,
including my time at Arcadia, especially with regard to the daily interactions
I enjoyed with families whose language I could not speak.
As you know, Arcadia is a wonderfully diverse school. I’m so thankful I got
to be with people of diverse cultures because getting to know these families
changed my life. It changed me for the better. When you are relaxed, it opens
you up. Because I was relaxed I could embrace and feel those differences. I
loved how those differences moved within me—and moved me.
I grew up in a farming community where the only diversity was the age of the
farmer. To have the chance to meet people from other countries and cultures was
so enlightening. How I grew! That is something I miss, not having an opportunity
to be in regular contact with these enriching relationships.
From your perspective as a
former secretary, what was it like to have CIS in your building?
I can’t separate what CIS does from the people. People like Gulnar, of course, who was CIS. I think of Gulnar, and even before and after Gulnar—of the character you need to have to be really committed to the CIS mission. The CIS people worked with students who had needs. Their time and energy spilled over to everybody, not just those on a “list.”
Everyone I know whose been involved with CIS has fit. They’ve shown a
commitment and dedication to children and their families, and that stood out to
me. I’ve seen that commitment in those who didn’t have to be there, such as the
college students volunteering through CIS. When I was their age, I couldn’t
imagine being committed to something other than trying to get through my
classes. These young people could have been home and enjoyed spring break, but instead
they wanted to stay and work with kids. I loved seeing that kind of dedication
in the CIS staff and all the volunteers and partners. They were in school with us wanting to do this
because of their love for children and watching them succeed.
What have you found to be the most
surprising about retirement?
I’m really good at being lazy. I was so busy every day at Arcadia; who knew
that lazy would work for me so well! So lazy is what I’m doing at the moment.
Do you have a pet peeve?
Oh, yea! Tailgaters. And let me tell you, pet peeve isn’t the word for it.
Because I wouldn’t say to a pet what I would say to a tailgater.
What are you curious about?
[Starts laughing.] I’m curious about thousands of things, but a funny one,
just sprang to mind. I was working at Loy Norrix. This was before cell phones. I
had to be there at seven. And there was a girl at the payphone every morning. Back
then, Loy Norrix had a phonebooth inside the building, in the hall just down
from the office area where I worked. I was always curious about who she was
Maybe your curiosity can finally be
satisfied. Maybe there is someone reading this right now who knows something!
Wouldn’t that be something? Let’s see, it would have been between 1984 and 1992
that this happened, practically every day during the school year.
What is something interesting
you’ve recently learned?
[Laughing.] I’ve learned that after a certain age you can come across
something that is really interesting, something that you didn’t know, and a few
day later, somebody asks you, “What is something interesting you’ve recently
learned?” and you can’t recall what it is. I’ve learned lots of interesting
things since I’ve retired, but can’t recall one of them now!
Can we talk some about your
experience with cancer?
Sure. I’m open about it. You know, when I received the diagnosis, the first
thing out of mouth was, “Lord, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get some glory
out of this somehow.” I tell you, when you have peace and joy, life is good. It
doesn’t matter what comes your way. With faith, you can say, “Well, this is
unexpected” and you move forward.
I was going to ask, “How and in
what ways did the cancer diagnosis change your perspective?” But it sounds like
this experience hasn’t changed your outlook on life in any way.
My outlook has remained the same. It didn’t rock my faith foundation. I
thought, “Okay, so I have cancer. That’s what’s happening now.” I knew God was
going to walk me through it. The biggest challenge came with handling the side
effects of some chemicals and that gave me insight into other people’s experiences
and I’m thankful for that empathy.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading my Bible in the book of Acts. I’ve read it a billion times, but
now, suddenly going through it this time, it’s like oh, my gosh! I’m relating
to what the first Christians experienced… We come at it knowing how it ended.
When you know the ending, you don’t get all anxious. But they didn’t know the
Although I’m reading the Bible
exclusively right now, I really enjoy reading a variety of genres. I think my
all-time favorite is Cider
with Rosie by Laurie Lee.
What is your favorite word right
Since you want just one word, it
would be content. If you wanted to know why I’m content, that would take lots
and lots of words.
Behind every successful person
is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My parents, George and Helen.
Here’s one story about them. Everybody that crossed their path was drawn
to them. They married in 1933 and lived in a little house in the country…Dad
had a job with A&P in their warehouse, He went to work one day and the owner
pulled him and the one other employee, Joe, aside and said, “I have to cut you
both back to half time.”
Dad came home that evening and told my mom, who was pregnant at the time,
that he lost his job. He had given his half to Joe so he could have full-time
work. How he explained it to her: “Joe has two kids. We have a cow, chickens,
and a garden so I feel we’ll be okay.”
That’s who they were. That story is as much about my mother. They just
both shook it off, said okay, and
Sounds a lot like you!
Thank you, Julie Davis, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Diane Fuller was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC. CIS Board President Tony McDonnell presented the award.
It was Stacy Jackson’s second day on the job as CIS after school coordinator, when Diane Fuller welcomed her to Edison Environmental Science Academy and introduced herself. “I come every Wednesday at 4:45 for homework help,” Diane cheerfully said.
Six years later and kids in the CIS after school program still can’t wait to seek out Diane for tutoring help. “This CIS volunteer is in high demand, says Stacy, “and that’s because she’s flexible, consistent, and understands the needs of our kids.”
It’s these very qualities that, three years ago, led CIS to seek Diane’s thoughts on modifying Miller-Davis Company’s Secret Santa program. Diane works at Miller-Davis as bookkeeper, and also coordinated the program. Would Miller-Davis employees, instead of providing gifts to 20 to 25 students each year, consider gifting to each teacher in the building? As Stacy puts it, “Gift one teacher and you impact 30 kids.”
Diane immediately saw the benefit to shifting to this “adopt a teacher model” and worked closely with CIS to map out a plan. Diane then presented it to her colleagues and they got right on board. So, Diane the homework helper, who recognizes and responds to students’ academic needs, also started listening and writing down teachers’ wishes—who, after all, knows better than teachers what teachers need to create learning environments most responsive to student needs?
Each year, Diane is making the list and checking it twice, trying to find out if it’s Mrs. Powell who wishes for the magazine subscription, Mrs. Smith who would love arts and crafts supplies and a gift card, and that it’s Mrs. Zarei King who could really use some flashcards or a set of books.
While students couldn’t begin to shower these gifts upon their teachers, they are a part of the experience. It is a wonderful gift to give a child: letting them see their teacher who cares for them, being cared for, too.
In her quiet yet mighty way, Diane is making a big impact at Edison, and helping her colleagues do the same.
Diane Fuller, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Nkenge Bergan was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Chase. CIS Board Member Pam Enslen presented the award.
Positive. Hard working. Forward thinking. These are just three of a host of wonderful qualities that only just begin to describe Nkenge Bergan. As Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools, Nkenge refuses, for convenience-sake, to lump students into categories based on a single need to make it easier for grownups to render a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For Nkenge, it’s about helping students succeed academically while also being prepared to respond effectively to the needs of the whole child.
As many of you know, Kalamazoo Public Schools incorporates CIS within 20 schools to increase our collective impact on children. Artrella Cohn, Communities In Schools’ Sr. Director of Community Engagement and Student Investment, says, “Nkenge lives out this partnership. She goes above and beyond to ensure that CIS is able to perform effectively in the schools. She carves time out of her busy schedule to meet with me on a regular basis with an eye on how we can both assure that students can be served to our fullest capacity.”
Spend just a few minutes with Nkenge and you’ll quickly learn that she seeks to understand where students and families are coming from and actively encourages the adults around the table to do the same. As she often says, “But what do our kids need? That’s what I care about!” Her mantra is much like the traditional greeting among the African tribe of the Masai who place high value on their children’s well-being. “Kasserian Ingera,” they say to one another. It means: “And how are the children?”
Living to the beat of this kid-focused mantra, Nkenge works with CIS to problem-solve, modify program designs, and identify needs as well as gaps in service delivery. This is the kind of input that helps our system of integrated student services work, so CIS, KPS and our partners are positioned to move students forward in areas of attendance, behavior, and academics.
Barriers and challenges naturally arise when working together. Moving forward doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, a lot of behind the scenes planning and coordinating—and not giving up.
Oprah Winfrey once said, “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”
Nkenge always gives her personal best. It’s that stick-to-it-ness and mindset of ‘let’s figure this out together’ that Nkenge brings to the partnership table, always with an eye for doing her part—and helping others—to seize each moment and keep moving forward for kids’ sake.
Nkenge Bergan, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.