When Doors Open, Maria Walks Through

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 Maria Whitmore (Chalas), CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. We caught up with her just as she had finished serving as Program Director for CIS Think Summer for the middle school students.

Born and raised in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, Maria says it was love that brought her from the Caribbean to Kalamazoo in 2014. “I met a wonderful man online in an unexpected way, and here I am with my two children.”

Maria graduated from Caribbean University, a private university system in the Dominican Republic and graduated in 2007 with a degree in Education and Modern Languages.

When Maria arrived in the United States, her first job was at a greenhouse. “However, God never leaves his children alone, and El Sol Elementary opened its doors for me.” In the fall of 2016, when Maria’s son was in 4th grade, she stepped into the role as a Title 1 Paraprofessional. Around this same time, another opportunity opened so Maria also began helping extend the learning day for El Sol students by serving as a youth development coach for CIS After School.

With the support of Ms. Heather Grisales [principal of El Sol at that time] Maria also started taking the necessary steps to pursue a teaching position. But, Maria states, “God had another plan for me and things turned out differently. I was called to a different scenario. Because God is so caring, he opened another door for me: CIS.”

Maria with her son, Ramil.

Maria now serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. She had also worked during 2019 CIS Think Summer as a youth development coach. And when the pandemic did not stop CIS from opening its virtual summer doors to students, Maria went through those doors too, and served as the CIS Think Summer program director for the middle schools.

“I love working for CIS,” Maria says. “CIS believes in growing people, both kids and grownups. They offer opportunities, and I’m an example of it. They trusted me, and because of that, I’m where I am at right now.”

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

Pop Quiz

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?

Perseverance and optimism. I think those are the key for anything in life, especially during these challenging times. I remind myself to stay calm and stay positive.

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

I can share my knowledge with others, and at the same time, I can learn from them. I feel like a real teacher, which I love. I just love seeing the impact we have on kids when we work together.

Given 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 are you continuing to support students during this challenging time?

The hard part is keeping students engaged. We all know that a kid and a computer means video games; we have to fight that now.

I do like calling parents. That way we keep each other in the loop as to what is happening. It also gives us the opportunity to work closely together to support students and fully engage them in the learning process. And despite the challenges, kids are engaging. For example, I have three students who went back to their home country of Saudia Arabia. And yet, they continued to join their peers with their virtual learning throughout CIS Think Summer.

What are you currently reading?  

Don’t Die in the Winter: Your Season is Coming by Dr. Millicent Hunter.

 What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

I don’t see the glass half empty. I see it as half full.

Anything else you want us to know?

I am always working, even when sleeping! What I mean by that is that my engagement with the work that I perform is so exciting that I’m always busy figuring new things out as to how best support the youth that we serve.

Also, I like to play a game that helps me to relax after a hard day. It’s called Parshisi Star and is an online game that I have on my phone. When I was a kid, I used to play it as a table game, but now it’s available through your Facebook account.

I also love to cook. I am the kind of cook who doesn’t follow the recipe instructions. I base my dishes off my own tastes and everybody that has tasted my food loves it!

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

 

Connectedness During a Time of Social Distancing

For the second week in a row, Jane Asumadu is our guest blogger. [If you missed her post last week, “The Community is Here With You,” you can find it here.] As CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School, Jane hopes to share her passion for education, particularly reading and writing, with students. As a Kalamazoo native, former Japan resident, and world traveler, Jane hopes to share her experiences with the community.

In last week’s post, I provided a list of some local and national resources available that support learning and the basic needs for students and families at home. This week, I want to look at our time at home through a different lens. How can we maintain emotional stability at this time?

In this post, I have compiled a list of some strategies and resources that promote physical and emotional balance. Before I begin, though, I must emphasize that I am by no means an expert on mental health. I simply want to share tips while I also walk this path with you all. 

Routines, routines, routines.

With people obligated to spend time at home, it may be easy to fall into weekend or summer break habits. While relaxation is always a healthy way to recharge, waking up late, being in pajamas all day, eating irregularly, and excessive time on screens for days and days can lead to the creation of unhealthy habits, especially for younger kids. So, how do we break that cycle? Establish routines at home. 

In an article in Psychology Today, comparative educational specialist Teru Clavel states that, “…this as an opportunity to establish new or revised house rules…” Now that many of us do not have the structure of our usual daily schedule, we should create a new one for our time at home. Younger children may need a schedule that shows when to eat, read, and play. Older children may need a schedule that states their responsibilities at home (chores) and due dates for assignments. Adults, too, may need to schedule their time as well. It could be a great way to finish that project from around the house or start that hobby you have always wanted to try. 

Below are parts of a example schedule provided by the CDC that shows what a structured day might look like for a family with young kids:

Family with 3 kids, twins age 4 and a 2 year old

  • Age 2
    • Wake up at 7:00 a.m. and have milk
    • Cartoons until breakfast at 8:00 a.m. Get dressed for the day
    • Snack at 10:00 a.m.
    • Lunch at noon followed by nap at 12:30 p.m.
    • Dinner at 5:30 p.m.
    • Bath at 6:00 p.m., followed by a story and a few songs in bedroom
    • Lights off by 6:45 or 7:00 p.m.
  • Continued for age 4
    • Bath time around 6:30 p.m.
    • Read or do something together, like a game or art project, around 7:00 p.m.
    • Potty, brush teeth, and then to bed by 8:00 p.m.

Establishing a routine at home creates structure. There are many creative ways to ensure that this time spent at home can also be a learning experience that supports growth. 

Disconnect to reconnect.

In last week’s post, I shared some online resources that support continued learning at home. This week, I want to add a little aside. Living in the Information Age, we have become dependent on the technological advancements that have taken charge of how our society and lives operate. In 2017, Common Sense Media reported that young teenagers spent an average of 5 hours in front of screens, not including school or homework. Imagine the amount of time they might be spending in front of screens when there is no school at all. There is a lot of research that has been done that discusses the impact of screen time on students and learning. Instead, I want to focus on ways to reduce that time. 

Jane’s suggestions to reduce screen time for students at home:

  • Limit academic learning online to one hour, two hours max
  • Schedule offline reading time, at least 30 minutes
  • Be aware of what your students are watching while online
  • Have TV time together
  • Journaling – 251 Creative Writing Prompts for Kids
  • Go outside and exercise! (of course, while maintaining social distancing)

Most importantly, reducing screen time can help with managing sleep for everyone. The blue light in LED screens has been proven to reduce the amount of melatonin released, which is what we need to have a proper night of sleep. The blue light essentially makes our brains think we are still awake and not ready to sleep. It is crucial at this time that we are as healthy as possible. Good sleep is a great defense against illness. 

Exercise and Mindfulness

Lastly, I want to suggest staying active and mindful. There are still ways to be active while adhering to Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe Executive Order. We can definitely go for a walk or run outside while maintaining a safe distance from one another. Everyone should go outside and to get some much needed Vitamin D. For those who want to stay inside and be active, great organizations like the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo have compiled a list of free resources available. Click here to access that list. 

Mindfulness is often misinterpreted as yoga and meditation. Although those are both great tools to practice mindfulness, mindfulness is simply defined as, “…awareness of one’s experience without judgement.” In an age where we are constantly bombarded with the opinions and drama of others, we need to find time to check-in and take care of ourselves. 

A few resources to practice mindfulness and self-awareness at home: 

  1. 25+ Mindfulness activities for Children and Teens – mindfulness in schools is often called social-emotional learning. Try out these exercises at home.
  2. Popular apps like Calm and Headspace offer free trial subscriptions to their seemingly unlimited mindfulness tools like guided meditation and help with sleep.
  3. If you or someone you know needs someone else to talk to, Gryphon Place will continue to offer 24/7 help to those in need. You can contact them at 269-381-HELP(4957) or call their 211 hotline if you need help locating other services like food, shelter, and mental healthcare. 

What Happens Now

It is a time to reflect and reconnect. In Teru Clavel’s article, COVID-19: 12 Preparations for Parents, Clavel points out the importance of communication and staying calm. We should be honest with each other. Not only about what is going on around us, but also what is going on within ourselves. So, continue to check-in with your neighbors and people close to you. Do not allow yourself to be bombarded with every news update and listen only to the facts from the CDC. Protect those around you and continue to look forward to the future. Stay happy and healthy.