Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer: Finding Ways to Connect with Students During Time of Physical Distancing

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 Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer, CIS Success Coach for Loy Norrix High School.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Nazlhy moved to the Dominican Republic–where her family is originally from–when she was around three years old. She holds a bachelors degree in Industrial Psychology (equivalent to a Human Resources Administration/Management degree in the United States). In 2005, she returned to the United States with her children.  She lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan until 2018, when, as she puts it, “Love brought me to Kalamazoo.” She’s been with CIS since the summer of 2018.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you and your loved ones holding up during this pandemic? 

These had been difficult days. I’m a people person by nature and those that know me would say that I’m a hugger.  Since physical contact is not allowed, I’ve been trying virtual connections as much as possible. Talking with family and friends keeps me grounded and reminds me that we are all in this together. I heard something the other day that I really liked and I quote: “We must to practice social distancing but that doesn’t mean that we need to be socially distant.”

What are you learning about yourself (and/or the world) in all this? 

I have learned that we needed to stop! We were running a race against the truly important things in life. Humans were showing a lack of human feelings and humanity… Just waiting for the next reason to spend money, whether it was a holiday, a birthday, or just any sale…worried about giving “things” to our loved ones instead of giving love and time, forgetting about people and relationships… Our daily lives turned into calendars and schedules, and our eyes did not look beyond a screen. We forgot about essential things like love, compassion, care, goals, and dreams. We stopped dreaming and enjoying the little things.

Yes, we needed to stop. Unfortunately, we have been forced to stop. Now I look outside through my improvised home office and I can see nature smiling at these crazy times that we are living. Maybe that means something, just maybe.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS success coach? 

Relationships. The opportunity to be a resource for our students, to meet them where they are, to look beyond the struggles and help them realize that planning for the future starts today and that every day is a new opportunity to move forward and closer to reach their goals and dreams, to be better for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

As you know, your role as a success coach allows CIS to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. Within the school you provide that one-on-one coaching support a student needs to help them succeed in school and life. Now, given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How as a success coach are you continuing to support students during this time? 

During this time of insecurity when so many things are out of our control, human connections and relationships are extremely important. Making myself available for my students has been my priority. I’m providing information, answering questions, and sharing community resources. I’m saying happy birthday or just texting with them about anything–including TV shows, cooking, and baking. I’m helping them to stay focused on what’s next. Fall is around the corner and they need to be reminded that we will get back to “normal.”  My hope is that they learn from what we are going through and come out of this crisis more resilient, focused, and stronger.

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

Students are coping and dealing with this pandemic in very individual and particular ways depending on their own realities. I fear for some of them that have too many struggles to deal with on a regular basis during normal times. Not having the safety net that the school provides is the biggest challenge. At school, students are guaranteed learning, food, care, attention, support, relationships, and safe spaces… I don’t want to think about how it looks like now for our more vulnerable students, but I’m still reaching out and doing everything I can to connect and be there for them.   

What are you currently reading?

I just started re-reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The book tells the story of a young shepherd named Santiago who is able to find a treasure beyond his wildest dreams. Along the way, he learns to listen to his heart and, more importantly, realizes that his dreams, or his personal legend, are not just his but part of the soul of the universe.

What is your favorite word (or phrase) right now?

My word is vulnerability. My phrase is “This too shall pass.”

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go? 

OMG! I will drive up to Grand Rapids to see my kids and hug them. I miss our hang out times with great music and cooking Dominican food together.

Then I’ll go for some good sushi at Ando in Grand Rapids or Maru in Kazoo.

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

Without a doubt, my parents. Both of them!  I’m 50 years old and we still touch base regularly, several times a week, actually. I still ask for their input before I make a decision. Unknowingly, my parents equipped me with a tool box full of values that has become my “survival kit.” I didn’t know it until I came to the US in 2005 and faced a million struggles as a single mom, raising two kids in a totally unknown and different culture.

A funny note, my mom and I regularly have coffee dates. We both brew a cup of coffee at the same time and video talk like if we were together.

Anything else we should know about you?

Hmm. I have never watched any of the Star Wars movies and I don’t like superhero movies, either. Except for Batman. I like Batman. 

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

Nazlhy (far left) at the 2019 Champs Celebration.

Making Sure Kids Finish Strong

This article was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections. Read the full issue here

The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).
The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).

CIS Senior Site Coordinator Montrell Baker and CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie sat down with us to reflect on the work they do at Loy Norrix High School to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

What obstacles most threaten a student’s path to graduating on-time or at all?

Montrell: A lack of support systems. If they don’t have support at home, haven’t identified an adult that can guide them, it’s hard to be successful. They need support, an outlet. That’s what we are for those kids, and not just for school work. They also come to us about their home and life situations. We guide them in their decision-making process. We are there for them.

O’Neal: I’d agree. Students need a support system that allows them to be a student. This makes me think of a student we wanted to connect to after school supports but every time we pursued it, she refused. “I just can’t,” she said. Eventually, she told us, “I have to get home after school and open the door for my little brother and sister. I have to make sure they do their homework and cook them dinner.” Coming from a single-parent household, the student has significant responsibilities as her mom works long hours and doesn’t get home until evening.

So you’ve identified resources to support this young lady and yet, she’s busy being a support system for her younger siblings. How do you go about helping a student in this type of situation?

O’Neal: We come up with another game plan. We work around the student’s reality and put other supports in place. I’d also say that another barrier to graduation is normal stuff, like peer pressure. Students from both Norrix and Central spoke quite eloquently about this to our CIS board back in June.

Montrell: Yes, and sometimes it’s the lack of basic needs, like pencils and backpacks. Students will come down to CIS and say, “My teacher sent me here because I don’t have a notebook.”

O’Neal: Or clothing. Some kids will tell you, “I need a shirt.” But other students—you know they have a need—but we can’t always come right out and say, “Hey, I know you need clean clothes.”

So how do you handle those situations?

Montrell: I usually start with conversation. [O’Neal nods.] Let them know all we have to offer. Towards the end of our conversation, I’ll say something like, “So then, you got everything you need?” It opens the door for them and often the student will say, “You got clothes, right? Can I get a sweatshirt, because I’m cold coming to school in the morning?” After that, they feel more open to coming for assistance.

O’Neal: It’s all about developing those relationships.

O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).

In your experience, how do CIS and the school work together to help students get and stay on track to graduation?

O’Neal: CIS connects the services, and in some cases the actual materials, that allow students to focus on being a student and learn from their teachers. My job description is to remove the barriers to graduation.

Montrell: That is a lot of it. Touching on what we just discussed—about the basics—teachers should not be expected to, nor do they have the budgets to, provide everything students need. They don’t have an abundance of notebooks and other class supplies lying around. With CIS in the school, when they see a student with a need, whatever it is, they can say, “Go to CIS.” Teachers are great at referring. Who better to know that a student is struggling in reading or doing poorly in class because they can’t see? Teachers know when students need glasses and that we have a vision fund. They reach out to us all the time for a wide range of needs. I tell them to send the student to me. Then, I explain the process to the student and get them glasses, a tutor, or help meet whatever needs he or she has.

O’Neal: Administration also plays an important role. Our Principal, Mr. Rodney Prewitt, is well aware of CIS and that we can connect students to what they need, whether it’s dental support, glasses, clothes, tutors, you name it. Assistant Principal Kelly Hinga provides great support as well. She is knowledgeable about CIS, a terrific advocate, and supports us so we can be successful for kids.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.

Pop Quiz: O’Neal Ollie  

O'Neal Ollie
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

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 O’Neal Ollie who is the CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School. CIS Success Coaches allow Communities In Schools to have a larger footprint in larger schools. CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows CIS to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. For students who need a moderate degree of support, having that one-on-one coaching support from O’Neal Ollie can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal then headed to school in Riverside, California and later returned to Kalamazoo, graduating in Sports Management from Western Michigan University. Today, O’Neal and his wife Terri are proud KPS parents of son Bass, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School who is also enrolled in college, and daughter, Symphony, who graduated from Kalamazoo Central, was honored by the YWCA in 2014 as a Young Women of Achievement, and is now in her third year at Michigan State University. O’Neal notes that “it’s my wife Terri who keeps all of us on track.”

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

POP QUIZ

O'Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni
O’Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Oh, my goodness. I learn so much stuff. For a person that thinks he knows everything, well, that is a tough one. Okay, I learned about dual enrollment. That is the process of enrolling a student in college while they are still completing high school with eligibility to play high school sports. My son is a senior at Kalamazoo Central and plays three sports.

Favorite word?

At this time of the year, it is football because my son is in his senior year.

What are you currently reading?

Sports Illustrated, because of the Olympics, which were so good with swimming, gymnastics, and track.

You graduated from Kalamazoo Central. Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Vern Davis and Clarence Gardener. Also, Coach Don Jackson. He taught PE, probably one of my biggest mentors in school. Mr. Davis was a math teacher and Mr. Gardner was general business & accounting. Both coached as well.

My counselor was Nelson Stevenson and he was my main man. He enrolled me in Upward Bound. That was my introduction to college. We stayed on Western’s campus-in Bigelow Hall-for eight weeks. I learned the social aspects of college and thought, this is going to be great! I have life-long friends that I made from attending Outward Bound.

Mr. Davis made you feel so good about yourself. He made it easy to learn. It probably helped that he was a former NFL player. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles and was All-American. I had his class fourth hour. “Don’t ever make me come look for you,” he’d say.

Coach Gardiner’s business and accounting was the most useful class I’ve ever taken. I still write my checks the way he taught me in school. When I went to college, I majored in accounting until I changed to sports management.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve always been interested in school and sports administration. But, regardless of all I’m doing work-wise, I can’t forget I’m a dad. I learn a lot from my son and daughter.

Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O'Neal
Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O’Neal

Like what?

Things I never expected to learn, like, what it means to go prom dress shopping. That is a whole process and it’s a family event.

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

My mom, my second mom, and my third mom. I have eight older siblings and my oldest sister, Ida Buchanan, was a secretary in my building when I was in high school. I would much rather my mother than my sister Ida get a hold of me. She did not play. Still doesn’t. She still works, going between Hillside and Linden Grove Middle School.

My mom, I always appreciated how hard she worked and the way she had a way of breaking things down to make us understand things. One of my favorite quotes she said was when I came home crying one day. “You’re crying because folks are talking about you?” she said. “You start crying when folks stop talking about you.”

Thank you, Coach Ollie!

We continue to talk about O’Neal Ollie in our soon to be released newsletter, CIS Connections. O’Neal and his CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker, share their insights about helping students get on track to graduation. And if you missed Montrell’s interview with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, you can read it here.