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.

 

Jessica Waller: From KPS to Kellogg (and back)

CIS Think Summer! is underway and Jessica Waller helped Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) kick off programming—virtual this summer, due to COVID-19—by offering a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students. CIS Think Summer! is organized by various career themes, the first of which is focused on food and food-related careers. As you’ll quickly discover, Mrs. Waller was the perfect person for the job.

Ms. Waller connecting with students through computer.

 

Jessica (Savage) Waller is a proud Kalamazoo native and graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS); Mrs. Waller attended Northeastern Elementary, South Junior High School (currently known as Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts), and Kalamazoo Central High School. Mrs. Waller’s parents always stressed the importance of getting an education and served as examples for her through their professions. Her father was employed at the state of Michigan at the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center as a Mobility and Orientation Instructor and as an adjunct instructor at Western Michigan University in the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies and her mother owned a day care.

Upon graduating high school, Mrs. Waller earned a full scholarship to Western Michigan University. At first, she was not sure what she should major in and her mother suggested Business. Later, Mrs. Waller discovered the Food Marketing major. This would allow her to work in the food industry which is a plus because she loves all kinds of food!

Mrs. Waller has been employed with the Kellogg Company for 21 years. She started as an intern and has held several positions within the company along the way to being promoted to her current position of Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division. Mrs. Waller is proud to work for an organization that values Diversity and Inclusion. These two core company values can be traced back to the founder, W.K. Kellogg. For example, the company added love notes in braille to one of their signature products, Rice Krispie Treats; Mrs. Waller was instrumental in this project. Mrs. Waller stated “Inclusion is in our DNA. Everyone is important, and we want each child to be able to feel loved, supported and acknowledged.”

When Mrs. Waller is not busy developing exciting selling stories for customers, she is spending time with her family which includes seven children ranging from the ages of 24 to two years old.

Agenda Ms. Waller shared with students

Mrs. Waller also recently spent time with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Her interview follows.

As part of your presentation—which, by the way, was extremely well received by the youth (and grownups) in attendance—you discussed product innovation. It seems that innovation has a natural relationship with diversity and inclusion. Love notes in braille on Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Treats is an excellent example of this. Innovation, like diversity and inclusion, just doesn’t magically happen. Kellogg’s obviously puts work into living out the values of diversity and inclusion. That effort involves creative thinking, listening, and strategizing. Can you speak more about this relationship of diversity, inclusion, and innovation?

Diversity and Inclusion (or D&I) is in the DNA of the Kellogg Company. It started with our founder, WK Kellogg, who was really the Father of the Cereal Category. His persistence resulted in a tremendous amount of innovation, products we now enjoy daily around the breakfast table. Despite many challenges along the way, WK did not give up, and that persistence clearly paid off after many decades of hard work and commitment. At the heart of his work, he solidly believed in changing the world for the better. As part of that, he believed in investing in others, often quoting, “I’ll invest my money in people.” And that he did.

Today, thousands of employees globally still live by the core value set forward by WK. Diversity and Inclusion efforts are at the heart of everything that we do. We have eight different Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Kellogg that represent different areas of focus, and these groups work to ensure that every employee can bring their best self to work every day. I served for the last five years as a Co-Chair for one such ERG, Kapable, which focuses on those employees that might be disabled (or differently-abled as we like to say) or might have family members who are. One of the initiatives we helped lead within Kapable was an inclusivity effort within the Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes campaign, which resulted in the release of Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes stickers for both blind and autistic children. These stickers can be placed on the top of Rice Krispies Treats and share a special message of love and recognition for children as they return to school. Because love and inclusivity are the most important school supplies, aren’t they?

Kelloggs Rice Krispies treats braille stickers (Kelloggs)

Yes, you are correct, innovation doesn’t just happen, and neither does diversity and inclusion. They all take hard work, persistence, and a determination to never give up. When paired together, they can change the world, just as WK aspired to do. Hope is not a strategy—we all have to get involved—and I am personally committed to pushing for a better tomorrow.

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

I am learning that I haven’t done enough. I was raised by socially progressive parents who always believed in community involvement, engaging in the service of others, and equality for all, and so all three of us kids have carried that forth as a way of living and representation within our own communities and families. I thought that I was doing my part by not being closed-minded and by engaging in work that encourages inclusion and diversity. As I have done some reflection over the past several months, I have recognized that simply isn’t enough. It’s a start, but in order to truly make the world a better place, it’s going to take aggressive action, activism, loud voices, persistence, teaching of our children, and most importantly…listening.

I’ve also learned that every challenge brings forth an opportunity for unity. COVID-19 presented an immediate challenge globally, one that quickly divided us all into our own separate homes and lives and significantly changed our former lifestyles as we knew them. Yet we saw the best of humanity rise up as people helped one another get access to food supplies, deliver groceries, tend to our children, visit the lonely, and countless other ways of uniting for good. Then we have the rising unemployment rate, which can quickly divide the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Again, another place where I have seen the best of people, rising up to help one another with the necessities for their families, extend arms of employment, sharing of resources, etc.

I would also point to the civil unrest this country has seen come to the forefront as of late with the horrific slayings of several black fellow Americans. While this is yet another example of terrible divide, we see the unity coming to life with people of all walks of life and ethnicities taking to the streets and demanding equality. It’s a pivotal point of change that is long, long overdue, and I will stand with my family to take a part in every one of those opportunities for unity. My prayer is that we all engage in unification opportunities within our own communities and drive to deliver a better world for us and for our children.

Do you have a sense that American’s snacking habits have changed as a result of the pandemic?

Absolutely—people are eating more and eating differently. We are constantly engaging consumers to understand this evolution. COVID-19 created this vertical upheaval in the American way of life that has greatly impacted how, when and why people are eating. We know that 89% of shopper buying habits have changed since the start of COVID. More people are buying online, perhaps having groceries delivered, perhaps shopping in another Channel (type of store) versus where they have traditionally shopped. They certainly stocked up more, at least for a period of time, than what they had in the past, and as a result, they are eating more. I know that’s true for me! Being home 24/7 with a house full of kids that would otherwise be so actively engaged in school and community activities has left us eating more food at home instead! We find that to be true broadly across the US.

What will be most interesting is watching what consumers do after this pandemic settles a bit…will they go back to their former ways or be forever changed? We will be anxious to see!

What is one of your favorite snacks?

Cheez-It Extra Toasty, hands down! I love them.

Thinking back to your days as a KPS student, can you tell us about a teacher(s) who influenced and inspired you?

There were so many that I would honestly feel bad if I called out any one in particular. I rattled off nearly a dozen in my mind as the question was asked. There are many excellent teachers in KPS, and everywhere for that matter. We don’t value them enough in this country, and that has to change. Without teachers, where would any of us be?

What are you currently reading?  

I just finished a book called Top Down Day about a family that lost a loved one and how they processed and coped. I lost my Dad nearly five years ago now to brain cancer, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and struggle with that tremendous loss. That book really helped me recognize that many of the personal and painful things I have felt with the loss of my Dad are ‘normal’ feelings. One never knows what to expect in the face of tragedy I suppose, but I’m learning everyday how to cope. I miss him terribly, we all do. But at least I can hold onto the wonderful example and teachings he instilled in me of being kind to others always. As long as I uphold that, he lives on.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

“Just do it.” A former leader in my church said that often, as does Nike, of course. We all need to get up off our couches and out from behind our computer and phone screens and get involved. Don’t overthink the ‘buts’ and ‘whats’…just do it. Do what you know is right.

Anything else you want us to know?

I’m so grateful for this opportunity to engage tomorrow’s leaders. So thank you for that.  If I can ever help in any way, count me in!

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

 

 

 

CIS Think Summer is underway!

Boxes of materials and supplies sent to CIS Think Summer! students.

CIS Think Summer! is in full swing this year for elementary and secondary students thanks to continued support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. CIS Think Summer! is designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities. Until this year, students’ CIS Think Summer experience has always been an in-person summer program with interactive field trips occurring at least once a week. “Due to COVID, our programming, including field trips, had to be cancelled and we had to shift CIS Think Summer to an online platform,” said Dr. Tamiko Garrett.

To fill the holes in the students’ enrichment schedule, Dr. Garrett reached out to a number of individuals and organizations to see if they would be willing to offer one-time presentations that align with the career themes (food, health, and entrepreneurial focus) promoted during CIS Think Summer!

CIS is grateful to all those who have already and will be sharing their knowledge and expertise with our students. “All have been willing to step up and present without hesitation,” says Dr. Garrett. “Their commitment has helped us ensure that, despite these challenging times, students still have interactive experiences. We can’t thank them enough!”

Next week, we’ll introduce you to Jessica Waller, Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division with the Kellogg Company. A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, she helped us kick off CIS Think Summer! with a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students.

An interview with friends, Zamya and Areli

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 two students who will be attending fifth grade this coming school year.

Zamya (left) and Areli at CIS Think Summer

While both go to different Kalamazoo Public Schools—Zamya attends King-Westwood Elementary School and Areli attends Arcadia Elementary School—they have become friends through CIS Think Summer!, which is designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities.

[Note: CIS Think Summer! as well as CIS After School is available thanks to the support of federal dollars that are awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The considerable advocacy here and across the country for after school programs was effective for the 2018 year and funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers was included in the budget bill passed by Congress, despite the recommendation to eliminate all funding for that purpose.]

Alright, Zamya and Areli: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve learned this summer?

Zamya: That you can have fun even though you’re doing math in school and it’s the summer.

Areli: That I really like science!

 

Favorite word?

Zamya: Fun. I’m really having fun this summer.

Areli: Tía. It means “aunt” in Spanish. I love my aunts.

 

What are you currently reading? 

Zamya and Areli: Out of My Mind!

Areli: We’re supposed to finish it by the end of summer and bring back to school.

Zamya: It’s a really good book.

 

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

Zamya: Kids Hope [through Westwood Christian Reformed Church] is at my school. At the end of the year we had a celebration and this year we got a Rice Krispies watermelon treat.

Areli: I like that we get to do art. I love art!

 

What are your favorite subjects?

Zamya: Art. I want to be an artist and a gymnast when I grow up. I’m going to go to a multi-practice college that teaches you everything you need to know. My brother goes there. And then I’ll go to WMU and focus all on art.

Areli: I like art and want to be an artist when I grow up. I especially like to trace things. I traced a cat with wings on it and people say it looks good. I’m going to go to college where my cousin goes but I don’t know exactly where that is.

 

Okay, here’s a question I don’t think we’ve ever popped on anyone. What is the purpose of life?

Zamya: I feel like the purpose of life is worth living.

Areli: I was thinking about that too. I agree.

Zamya: You need to be living it. On the other hand, it’s hard to be living it…sometimes, you know, life might not always be fair. I first learned that from my mom. She’s told me that.

Areli: Life isn’t fair at all.

Zamya: Yes, you’re right.

Areli: Sometimes, it’s not even fair for dogs. I don’t like dog pounds. There shouldn’t be dog pounds.

 

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

Zamya: I have three moms.

Areli: My mom and dad and all my aunts and uncles. And my older cousins. They all care about me and take care of me and protect me.

 

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

Isaiah & Dedrenna Hoskins, A Mother and Son Giving Back

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, volunteers and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature CIS volunteers Isaiah and Dedrenna Hoskins, the mother and son team supporting students at Washington Writers’ Academy. Since 2010, they’ve been distributing Friday Food Packs which are made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.  At Washington Writers’, these packs are provided thanks to Bethany Reformed Church. Each pack that the Hoskins deliver, holds enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend hours when other food options may be scarce.

When the school year ended this past June, this mother and son team kept at it, volunteering to distribute much needed food packs over the six weeks of CIS Think Summer! at Arcadia Elementary School.

Stacy Jackson, CIS After School Coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy, along with colleague, Tamiko Garrett, CIS Site Coordinator of Linden Grove, oversaw the elementary CIS Think Summer! program. “They are reliable and really get the job done,” says Tamiko. “They make sure the packs get to where they need to be.”

“Yes,” adds Stacy, “They helped make this summer extra smooth. These two breathe life and hope into the kids every time they step into the school.”

Oh, and if you are wondering, the answer is yes. These Hoskins are related to the Dalanna Hoskins, CIS Site Coordinator at Milwood Elementary School. These two fabulous volunteers, Dedrenna and Isaiah, are her mother and brother.

We caught up with Isaiah and Dedrenna this summer, out at Arcadia Elementary. They were preparing the cart with food packs but took a short break to answer our questions. Although Isaiah is mostly nonverbal, he listened carefully to the questions. While he was patient with us, and often smiled, when it was over, he immediately jumped back into action. He knew he had a job to do and that the kids were counting on him!

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

 

POP QUIZ

What are you currently reading?

Pigs in the Parlor by Frank Hammond and Ida Mae Hammond. And Isaiah likes the Berenstain Bears books and Dr. Seuss.

 

What are your favorite words right now?

Roots and responsibility. Yes is one of Isaiah’s favorite words.

“Yes, yes!” pipes up Isaiah.

 

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

The diversity. The openness of the place.

 

What has most surprised you since you began volunteering with CIS in the schools?

Just how much of a great need there is…our kids need us and I’m glad Isaiah and I can help.

 

It’s clear you and your family values volunteering. Why do you choose to give back through CIS?

It is just who we are. We give, and not necessarily in expectation of getting something back. But, you know, you always get something back when you volunteer.

 

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

My parents. They’ve been my foundation, a strong foundation, and wide spreading. That gets us back to my favorite words: roots and responsibility.

 

As Dedrenna said, “Our kids need us.” If you would like to be in the schools, helping students, volunteer with CIS today. Go here.

You can learn more about Dedrenna and Isaiah and what it means for them to be giving back in the schools to kids in this year’s CIS Annual Report.

POP QUIZ: Sheldon Turner

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 Sheldon Turner who will soon begin his fourth year with CIS as a youth development worker at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Youth Development Workers, as their title implies, work hard to develop the strengths and talents of our youth by involving and empowering students in their own development. Like Sheldon, these enthusiastic caring adults are passionate about helping Kalamazoo Public School students succeed in school and in life. Students often refer to Sheldon and others in this important role as “coach.”

Thoughtful, gentle, and passionate about helping kids succeed, Sheldon says it was music that brought him from Muskegon, Michigan to Kalamazoo. As both the minister of music and music director at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids, Sheldon is also all in for kids. In July, we had a chance to catch up with him while he was working at CIS Think Summer, held this year at Arcadia Elementary School.

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

POP QUIZ

In talking with Briasha, one of the students in CIS Think Summer, she identified you–Coach Sheldon–as one of the caring adults who is helping her succeed. What do you think about that?

Briasha is a great kid. We have so many great kids in the program.

How is CIS Think Summer going?

The program is going really well and the kids are learning a lot. We just had a visit from Pfizer and that was really great for the kids. They loved it. Some of them really wanted to be basketball players and now they are like, You know, I can actually have a career with Pfizer! It has opened them up to thinking, I can be more than one thing. I can be a basketball player and be a scientist, too. It’s always good to have a plan B, C, and D!

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m learning from my job with CIS that kids engage better with kids and, given the chance, can naturally problem-solve together. That can be better than for me to come in and try to problem solve for them. I’ve seen it where, if students weren’t friends in the beginning, they’ll become friends by the end. I just need to let them work it out–that’s huge for me because I have a tendency to want to solve their problems for them. But it’s important to give them the opportunity to do this for themselves.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, along with the students, I’m reading a book called Long Shot by Mike Lupica. It’s about a kid and his team and how teamwork basically makes the dream work; that you can’t do things on your own.

What is your favorite word right now?

My favorite word right now is actually the “word of the week” here at CIS. This week’s word is confidence. And you know, focusing in on a word is fun and helps not just the kids, but the staff too! Confidence is about believing you can actually achieve things that you have planned. You can also think of it in terms of making it a goal to maintain confidences.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

I love the atmosphere of the entire town. I can go places and not feel you, know, like I’m being watched or something. Kalamazoo is just such a friendly city…the atmosphere, the people, the kids. Everything about this place is just amazing.

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

One of the caring adults in my life would have to be Stacy Jackson. She’s looked out for me year after year. She knows that I’m a hard worker, she knows that I love the kids, and she is part of the reason why I’m here helping with CIS Think Summer. I look at her as a mother figure.

She recognizes my work ethic and how well I work with the kids and engage with them to help them develop into what they’re not only good at doing, but also, what they’re meant to be.

Sheldon, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About About My 12,000 Kids!

Our kids need more youth development workers, enthusiastic individuals like Sheldon, to step up and serve in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday) this school year. If you or someone you know might be right for the job, go here.

CIS Think Summer! Students Visited by Special Guest

When you hear the White House has a bowling alley downstairs!

Students recently welcomed Congressman Fred Upton to their CIS Think Summer! program at Arcadia Elementary School. Like CIS After School (which serves 750 students in 15 after school sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools),  CIS Think Summer! was in full swing this year (for both elementary and secondary students) thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. CIS Think Summer! served 250 students in grades 1-9 from 15 Kalamazoo Public schools. It provided 24 days (144 hours) of programming designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities.  Students participated in reading, writing and math programming, enrichment activities, college and career exploration, and experiential learning.

Congressman Upton visited the elementary summer site which was held this year at Arcadia Elementary School. Congressman Upton stepped into a fifth grade classroom and fielded a number of questions from the students. One of the highlights for students (and staff) was when one fifth grader asked “What’s fun to do there [at the White House]?” The students were amazed to learn that there is a bowling alley in the White House basement.

During his visit, the Congressman also saw Kalamazoo Kids in Tune (KKIT) in action, which is a partnership among The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and Kalamazoo Public Schools. He saw individual sectional practices and was treated to a performance by the entire KKIT orchestra.

Congressman Upton, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit and see what our kids have been learning throughout these six weeks to combat the summer slide! Our students enjoyed learning about your career and all the things you do in Washington, D.C. that are connected to their lives back in Southwest Michigan. As you and many of our readers know, the federal budget for 2017-18 (which begins October 1, 2017) proposed by the President completely eliminates funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. On behalf of our 12,000 + kids, thank you for supporting continued funding for the 21st CCLC Community Learning Centers which make critical extending learning possible for KPS students during the school year and summer. This kind of support will help them graduate, use The Kalamazoo Promise and have a great career too.

Note: Any reduction to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers would have significant impact for our kids not just here in Kalamazoo but throughout Michigan. An article that recently ran in MLive addresses this. You can read it here.