You make a difference

Imagine what it’s like to be…

…a student so hungry he rummages through a garbage can in the cafeteria, snatching and stuffing into his pockets a partially eaten sandwich, a bit of apple. He is worried about his younger sister who isn’t yet school age and wants her to have some food in her belly before the day slips away.

…the third grader who messed up big time on an assignment. The class was learning sequencing and she couldn’t figure out how to put in proper order the steps for making a bed. She sleeps on floors and, if lucky, couches of friends and family. It’s hard to figure out steps to making a bed when you don’t have one, when the only pillow you’ve ever seen is in a book.

…the sixth grader who wears shoes so worn that the soles flap up and down as she walks through the halls. She feels like a clown. Though some of her classmates tease her, one offers up a pair of their own worn, but respectable pair of shoes.

These students bring to mind a conversation with a CIS friend who said that as a child she was thankful for school each and every day. “I didn’t want to leave it. I’d figure out strategies to stay as long as possible. Anything to not go home.” School, she said, was her haven. For some children, weekends, holidays, and snow days take away the solace that comes in knowing they will have a breakfast and a lunch, a warm and stable environment that isn’t necessarily a given once the school bell rings at the end of the day.

What will children—who sleep on floors and worry where their next meal will come from—what will they doing this Thanksgiving? Will they have enough to eat? Anything to eat? Where will they lay their heads to sleep?

The good news is that in each of the above situations, CIS was able to reach out to these children because of you. We—and those students and their families and schools—are thankful for YOU. Thank you for giving your heart, financial support, resources, and time. You make a difference.

Then let us hurry, comrades, the road to find.

Now entering its sixth year, Courage to Create is once again offering seventh through twelfth graders the opportunity to reflect on social justice and share their voice by:

  1. submitting poems to the annual contest (deadline is January 21, 2020 and rules are noted at the bottom of this post),
  2. attending Courage to Create poetry workshops offered on Saturday, January during Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration held at Western Michigan University, and
  3. celebrating with the community on February 19, 2020 at 4 p.m. on the WMU campus. Selected student poets read aloud their work, along with several local poets.

Courage to Create is a collaborative effort of Western Michigan University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Friends of Poetry, and Kalamazoo Public Schools. Here’s a peek at four of the people behind the scenes who work to make Courage to Create a reality for hundreds of students each year. Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids posed two questions to them:

What got you on the road to justice? 

What have you been seeing/experiencing lately along your path to justice?

Here’s what they said:

Buddy Hannah

As an African American who was raised in the segregated south during both the Jim Crow and Civil Rights era, justice has always been a part of my DNA. As I experienced injustice at an early age, I was also taught at an early age that the only way to fight injustice was to become an advocate for justice. Having been surrounded by an entire community who fought daily for justice, my path to justice was an easy one to follow.

Although segregation no longer exists—at least in theory—injustice still require me—and others—to speak out against it. Over the years, I have tried to use my creativity in many ways to be an advocate for justice, be it through my poetry, playwriting, or other avenues available to me. There is still a need to fight for justice, not only for people of color and other minorities, but for the human race. The only way to fight injustice is to fight for justice.

-Buddy Hannah, retired radio host, playwright, director, and poet

Elizabeth Kerlikowske

I got on the road to justice when I stepped on my first bus that went to Ottawa Hills High School, an inner-city school in Grand Rapids. In the six years I spent there, I learned more about life than at any other time in my life. It was a great experience of what the world could be like if we trusted each other, got to know each other, and worked toward the same ends. Later, I was “punished” for social activism by a university. They roomed me with three black women. Of course, that was the most important part of my education!

My path to justice is sometimes blocked by jaywalkers who only have eyes for their phones. We don’t talk to each other enough anymore. My sister visited from California. We were chatting with a clerk at D&W. Her husband couldn’t believe this was happening: we were all just Michigan together. We need to try and connect more over groceries, weather, and the new cross walk stops. Anything to form community, if only for a moment.

-Elizabeth Kerlikowske, President of Friends of Poetry

William Craft

I think we are all born knowing intuitively what is just and what is not. We have distractions that get us off that road to justice. The easiest thing in the world is to put our own well-being before that of society. The personal strength to stay moral and just is something we know in our hearts. Staying true to that is what defines a person’s character.

What keeps me on the path to justice is my desire to live in a society where all people have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence. I take tremendous pride in my American identity and want to be sure that those ideals are fought for, that they are more than just words, and that our actions define us as a just and honorable society.

-William Craft, Director of Information Technology, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Western Michigan University

 

Realizing that how and to whom we extend recognition of their full humanity are

Kathy Purnell

choices, they are decisions we make in each moment about “who the equals are” and what equitable treatment means in any given context. We must move towards each other with equity by opening up and learning from one another about our experiences and to attune our responses to one another in ways that are life-affirming and just.

I express my commitment to social justice in many ways, but at the present time, it is primarily expressed through my part-time teaching (this academic year I am holding teaching appointments at Kalamazoo College, WMU and the WMU School of Medicine), and my work as a full-time immigration lawyer for Justice for Our Neighbors-Michigan in Kalamazoo. What I am experiencing now in immigration practice is really disturbing because policy and regulations in many areas that have historically sought to protect vulnerable populations, such as refugees and asylum seekers, are changing at a really rapid pace in ways that are detrimental to the health and security of people who are fleeing violence and persecution and in need of legal and social support.

-Kathy Purnell, J.D., Ph.D., Staff Attorney, Justice for Our Neighbors-Michigan, Kalamazoo Office

Courage to Create Rules:

  1. Poems may be submitted in any style.
  2. Poems should reflect on social justice in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.
  3. The contest is open to students in grades 7-12.
  4. Poems will not be returned. Writers should not submit their only copy.
  5. Poets may submit more than one poem. Each poem should be submitted on a separate page. Author’s full name should be placed at the top of the page, along with his or her grade, school, and email address or phone number.
  6. All poems will be reviewed anonymously by a group of distinguished community poets.
  7. All poems must be submitted to the online submission portal at http://www.wmich. edu/mlk/c2csubmission.
  8. Deadline for submissions is Jan. 21, 2020.

Encourage the students you know to participate. More information can be found here at WMU’s website on MLK Celebration/Courage to Create and the November 2019 Excelsior, “Young Writers Encouraged to Find ‘Courage to Create’.”

Note: The title of this post is taken from Langston Hughes’ poem, “I look at the world.”

Third Grader Ysabel: I’m a better student because everybody helps me

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 Ysabel, a third grader at El Sol Elementary School.

CIS After School Coordinator Viridiana Carvajal had the pleasure of first working with Ysabel when she became involved in CIS after school as a first grader. “She’s got such a positive attitude and is willing to try new things,” says Viridiana (known as “Ms. Viri”). It’s students like Ysabel who inspire me go beyond and work even harder.”

We met up with Ysabel at Arcadia Elementary School during the 2019 CIS Think Summer! program. Ysabel says she enjoys school and learning. She loves being part of CIS After School, making new friends, and is looking forward to the new school year. [Ysabel is featured in the fall 2019 CIS Connections, found here.]

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

Pop Quiz

During the school year, you attend El Sol Elementary. What has your CIS experience been like as a student there?  

I like it. All the teachers, [CIS] coaches, and everyone in after school. Ms. Viri is special…She is kind and helps me with my homework in after school. I’m a better student because everybody helps me.

Speaking of Ms. Viri, she says you are enthusiastic and actively involved in CIS after school and many of the special activities. What else should we know about you?

I like to bake a lot. I like to make breakfast for my family. I like to bring them eggs and milk and coffee and waffles.

Favorite word? Fun!

What are you currently reading?

My Life in Pictures [written and illustrated by Deborah Zemke]. It’s about this little girl who is drawing pictures of her life.

Just like the title of the book!

Yes!

Favorite things about being a student in KPS?

I get to learn a lot of stuff. I like gym and math.

Would you rather be a dinosaur or a whale for one day?

A whale.

Why a whale?

Because they are really big.

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

My family. My mom and dad, aunts and uncles, and grandmas and grandpas….Also, my cousins, baby brother, big sister and little sister. And Ms. Viri.

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

Be sure to read the CIS Connections and find out more about Ysabel, including what one thing she would change about the world, if she could.

Fifth Grader Growing & Learning Every Day

Marcell with CIS Coach Ms. Rana Holmes

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 Marcell Jones. He is a fifth grader at Arcadia Elementary School.

In July, we met up with Marcell at Arcadia Elementary School while he was participating in the 2019 CIS Think Summer! program. [Marcell is featured in the fall 2019 CIS Connections, found here.]

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

Pop Quiz

Favorite word?

June. Because that means it’s summer and my birthday is in June and I get to do lots of stuff. This year, for my birthday I went roller skating and got to see my grandma, and she bought me a new bike. It is kind of too tall for me right now, but will be perfect when I’m a little bigger.

What are you currently reading? 

One of the Beast Quest books [series written by a collection of writers using pen name, Adam Blade]. It’s two animals and two kids and they are on a quest.

I like reading adventure books about castle and nights. Superheroes, too. DC comics. Batman and Superman are my favorites.

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

I get to pick my favorite books to read, but sometimes we have to get a book that doesn’t have pictures in it.

I am doing well in math. I also have some really good teachers during the school year. One of my goals is to be a better reader. I know how to read, of course, but I want to get better at reading concepts, like how to summarize a story. I learned a lot when I was in fourth grade. I’ve had really good teachers, like Ms. [Kelly] Dopheide and Ms. [Donna] Judd. Oh, and my science and handwriting has improved, too.

Would you rather be a dinosaur or a whale for one day?

A whale. Whales eat yummy stuff, but if I was a dinosaur, I’d be eating people, so I’d rather be a whale. I think they eat fish. And I like fish, especially shrimp from Popeyes because it’s crunchy.

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

My mom. She’ll remind me about doing be homework and she helps me with writing prompts. She’s intelligent and got good grades in schools, so she knows how to help me. Also, my mom’s friend, Darell. He’s a preacher and he tells me stuff that helps me grow, too.

Hey, these questions you’ve been asking me, this is kind of like an “About the Author” but it’s about me… Do you want to know who my favorite author is?

Yes.

Andrew Clements is my favorite author. Also, Beverly Clearly and Mary Hope Osborn. Oh, and Jonathan Rand. I love his books!

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

Be sure to read the latest issue of CIS Connections and find out more about Marcell, including what one thing he would change about the world, if he could.

 

 

James Devers: The Conversation Continues

James Devers

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 Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s New Executive Director James Devers. When the CIS board selected James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we introduced him briefly to you back in June with this post. And if you read our most recent back to school issue of CIS Connections, you know even more about James, such as what book changed his life. Here’s some of our conversation that, due to space issues, didn’t make it into the newsletter.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you often ask yourself? Or perhaps it’s a question you’ve only been recently asking yourself?

I’ve been gone from Kalamazoo for 23 years. Since coming back in September of 2017, in processing the reality of my journey, I’ve been thinking about this play on the question, Why me? I’ve been thinking about how skill, talent, ability, and circumstances don’t always line up. The reality is that, where I’m at now and the place that I’m going as executive director is a result of something bigger than me. I believe I’ve been preparing for this journey all along even though I didn’t know it was coming.

…I come from a family of laborers. I was not introduced to the corporate world or much of any of the experiences I have encountered. All of it is a discovery. I’m grateful and humbled by the journey and where I now find myself.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I was at the Douglass Community Association recently and noticed the “1919” imprint on the corner of the building. It’s a good reminder that the black community has had a presence in Kalamazoo, and it goes far back. For instance, in 1968 Judge Pratt, a native of Kalamazoo became the first African American judge in Kalamazoo County. And, of course, Douglass Community Association is celebrating its 100th birthday!

What are you currently reading?

The Bible. That’s my go-to book….I like that the stories illustrate the human experience and show the flaws of people as well as their triumphs. Despite their flaws—despite our flaws—we can do great work.

Do you have a pet peeve?

The thing that bothers me most is when people are mean to other people. That really gets me.

Can you tell us about a person who opened a door for you and impacted you as a leader?

I was planning to obtain my Masters in social work. While working at Ohio State, I had just finished my first year working towards that degree and contemplating taking a year off to complete the second year (clinical work). A Ms. Rivers reached out and invited me to talk with her. I thought I was just going to meet with her for a conversation, not realizing it was an interview, at the end of which she offered me the principal position within the school that she had helped to found. I really had to think about that. Here I was, working for The Ohio State University and did I want to give that up and risk doing something I’d never done before, working as a principal in a small school? I’m so glad I accepted her offer to be principal. Even though I was working in the field of education, Ms. Rivers brought me into the public school sector in a deeper way, and it changed the trajectory of my life.

I appreciated working under somebody who had her passion. She was a former school counselor—had served in that role for 30 some years before “retiring.” She had so much energy and passion at that stage of her life. She could have chosen to ride off into the sunset, but she didn’t. And though she was in her mid to late 60s, I had a hard time keeping up with her!

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

My mother has always been that caring adult for me, but I must say that I did not come to appreciate the significance of her influence until a lot later in life.

While there have been a number of caring adults along my path, those relationships were not so much a sustained and consistent over time. Rather, it was moments of influence from different caring adults that helped shape my thinking and my actions. During my childhood we did lots of moving around. I went to a number of different KPS schools: Woodward, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School [the school is gone now, replaced with the Wilson Recreation Area, an open field and playground on Coy Avenue], Spring Valley Center for Exploration, and Washington Writers’ Academy. After that it was Milwood and Hillside Middle Schools. Even when I attended Kalamazoo Central High School and KAMSC [Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center], we still moved around.

What is your favorite word right now?

It’s not so much a word as an expression, I consider myself a made-man versus a self-made man. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” …I, like anybody else, had no control over my family that I was born into. I’ve had my share of crazy experiences as well as opportunities that have been presented along the way. So that expression is an acknowledgement that there lot of things are bigger than me, and that I don’t necessarily deserve the credit for who I am or what I have accomplished to this point in life.

For instance, my mother didn’t have experience in a lot of the areas I was going to walk into when it came to high school and college. She had dropped out of high school at age 16 [she later went back to school and earned her GED]. But she gave me responsibilities that, in looking back on it, shaped me. In her own way, she guided me. I was the oldest of five and would often be in charge of caring for them. Also, we were always moving around and going to different schools and thus found ourselves being around different people. Those childhood experiences made me and helped me become who I am today.

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

Be on the lookout for the CIS newsletter to learn more about CIS Executive Director James Devers. Also, James was recently interviewed by Encore Editor Marie Lee for the September issue of the magazine. Pick up a copy at one of these locations or read it on-line here.

Thank you, Dr. Rice!

Dr. Michael F. Rice speaking to crowd at a CIS event.

The 2019/2020 school year has officially begun. Gary Start is serving as Interim Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools after Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice was named Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In August 2007, when Dr. Rice became superintendent, he also became an active board member of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), championing the CIS model of integrated student services. [More on the CIS model here.] His leadership as an administrator and educator, combined with his passion for social justice propelled CIS and our community to more closely align our resources with the school district to increase our collective impact on children.

The result of this collective response? Every major indicator in the district improved over the years: reading, writing, math, and science state test results; Advanced Placement participation; graduation rates; college-going rates; and college-completion rates.

During his twelve years as superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Dr. Rice has been a relentless force, working hard to create a literacy community and a college-going culture for our children. He created meaningful change by spearheading innovative and sound reforms, like parent education classes, including education for parents of newborns, expanding and overhauling preschool to restructuring the middle and high school schedules to give students more time in core subjects. To combat summer slide, every fourth, fifth and sixth-grader in the district is mailed books over the summer. He made it possible for all first grade students to visit our invaluable partner, the Kalamazoo Public Library and obtain public library cards. Every year, he visited every third grade class throughout the district, talking with students about college and poetry and making our kids feel special. [More on what was accomplished in the district during his tenure, here.]

As superintendent of a diverse district, he championed all KPS families, the underserved, the affluent, and the middle class. He remembered our names. He reminded us that, as much as we have already accomplished, much work remains.

Dr. Rice often said, “We [KPS] can’t do it alone,” because he knows transformational change does not occur in isolation but is birthed and fed only by the community working together. “Let us remember that every time a child learns to read, every time a child learns to write, every time that all members of a family can read well, every time a student graduates from high school, first in his or her family to do so, every time a young man or woman goes to college, first in his or her family to do so, every time a tutor tutors, a mentor mentors, a church, temple, or mosque steps up to serve children, every time a person comes out of retirement to help a child rise up, we get one step closer to a community culture, a college-going culture, a literacy community, which we will be proud to leave to and for our children.”

We are thankful for Dr. Rice’s leadership and we’re excited that all of Michigan’s children will now have Dr. Michael F. Rice advocating for public education on the state level.

Continue reading “Thank you, Dr. Rice!”

Mother and Son Champs: Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins

Champ recipients Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins with CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Staff Carol Roose & Laura McCoy

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.

Students Engage, Design, and Build with an Architect

During the 2018/19 school year, volunteers from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Southwest Michigan visited the CIS After School program at Hillside Middle School. Over the course of the multi-week program, students learned about different building structures and were guided through the process of designing and building their own architectural structure. They drew up their designs and then, using Legos, created miniature versions of their designs.

Nadine Rios-Rivas, an architectural associate with Byce & Associates, Inc., organized and served as the Public Awareness Co-Chair for the AIA Southwest Michigan. The team of volunteers introduced and explored careers in architecture with the students. “The AIASWM has decided to focus its awareness efforts on the future of Kalamazoo,” Nadine said. “It was a privilege to mentor and engage local students we hope to plant seeds of interest in higher education.”

 

AIASWM Team Volunteers, Hayward Babineaux (Byce & Associates), Jennifer Swan (TowerPinkster), Justine Pritchard (TowerPinkster), Mike Galovan (TowerPinkster) and Nadine Rios-Rivas (Byce & Associates).

Students named and briefly described their work. Below are the statements made by the students whose final products were displayed in the Radisson lobby during the 2019 Champs Celebration.

Chaneayl (age 11) 6th Grader

“My House”

I wanted to build a huge multi-level home. I wanted to make it BIG! I choose the black and red colors because they are my favorite colors.

During the project, I had fun learning about other buildings.

 

Ciara (age 12) 7th Grader

“Ciara’s Family Suite”

I choose to build a big hotel suite. I designed a pool with a water slide that goes in and out of the building. It also has a basketball court and Ping-Pong room.

During the project, I had fun using my imagination and being creative.

 

Malikai (age 14) 8th Grader

“Mausoleum of the Emperor”

I was inspired by my card game that I like to play. It sounds historic and I thought it was pretty cool.

During the project, I had fun using my hands to build things.

 

Kazaria (age 11) 6th Grader

“Radisson”

I designed a big hotel that you can eat for free. It has a water slide, game room and gym that is open 24 hours a day.

During the project, I had fun learning to put things together along with playing with Legos for the first time.

 

Amira (age 12) 6th Grader

“The Fun Fantastic Hotel”

I incorporated some of my favorite stores; Red Lobster (red), donut shop (pink), and a water park.

During the project, I learned that you can build whatever you like.

Jade (age 12) 7th Grader

“The Brit”

My design is my dream house. I would like to live in a mansion with a basketball court, go-cart track and pool.

During the project, I had fun sketching my ideas for my dream house.

 

AIA Southwest Michigan and TowerPinkster, thank you for sponsoring this wonderfully creative exhibit.