Awakening in Thanks

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said this. We share this same sentiment. Whether you have been a friend of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) for two months or two decades, we are thankful for you.

Thank you for your generosity and all the wonderful forms it comes in: giving your time, your talents, and your financial support and resources.

Students and their families may not know your name, but they are grateful for you and the gaps you fill, such as school supplies, new shoes, warm coats and boots, tutoring, mentoring, food, and physical and mental health services. The list of grateful goes on.

For as long as we have voices we will thank you for loving our 12,000+ kids and giving them the opportunity to be the best students and people they can be!

 

Mikka Dryer: Grateful For the Opportunity to Volunteer

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.]

Mikka Dryer, 2020 Champ Award recipient

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 Up by 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.

2020 Award Recipients Honored Tonight

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.

 

Keeping Lights On During Dark Times

National Lights On Afterschool Awareness Day is today, Thursday, October 22, 2020, and Kalamazoo Public School students are doing their part to shed light on the need to invest in after school programs. As part of this 21st national event, elementary and secondary students who participate in Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) After School Programs have been busy coming up with creative ways to shine the spotlight on quality after school support during these unprecedented times.

A significant body of research demonstrates that students who regularly participate in after school programs are more likely to improve their grades, tests scores, and overall academic behavior. CIS Senior Director of Site Services Dr. Tamiko Garrett says, “Students value the opportunities and supports they receive as part of the after school experience. They know it makes a difference in their lives and they want the community to know it’s important to ‘keep the lights on’ for them.”

To get a taste of what some of our kids have been doing to raise awareness about the need for after school opportunities, here is one of the videos they’d like you to see. (And we’ll be sharing more videos in the weeks to come.)

CIS relies heavily on local resources and partnerships for its core work during the school day, including placing CIS Site Coordinators within schools to identify needs and connect students to the right resources to remove barriers to school success. The CIS After School Program is able to serve students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle schools— thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Tapping Into Students’ Curiosity About the World

Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids visited Milwood Magnet Middle School back in January of 2020 to learn more about the Japanese Culture Club. Below is the article we were going to run in the Spring issue of CIS Connections. While the pandemic disrupted the publication schedule for our newsletter (we’re in the middle of pulling the Fall issue together for you!), we still want to share this piece with you.

While much has changed with the pandemic, one thing that remains the same is that our 12,000+ kids love learning. This article is a good reminder of that.  

JAPANESE CULTURE CLUB

The school day had just ended. In one section of Milwood Magnet Middle School, CIS After School was getting underway. In another part of the school, students were wiping down tables in Mr. Patrick Woodley’s room. The social studies teacher had packed up papers and books and turned over his room to CIS.

Students prepare for their Sensai.

“We’re getting ready for our sensei,” explained Akyra Mabon. In Japanese culture, it’s a sign of respect to do this for your teacher. Sensai,” she clarified, “means ‘teacher’ in Japanese.”

“Konnichiwa, De’Asia,” announced sixth grader De’Asia English. “Konnichiwa is how you greet somebody in Japanese. It’s the afternoon greeting, so, I’m basically saying, “Hi, I’m De’Asia.” I like saying ‘Konnichiwa, De’Asia.’ I like how that sounds.” De’Asia also sees benefits to studying a different culture. “I just love that we’re learning how to speak Japanese in the club,” she said. “It’s great to learn new things. You’ll get further in life in ways you may not know. You could go somewhere or meet someone who is outside of the United States and if they speak a different language, like Japanese, you could speak with them!”

Left to right: WMU Soga Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto and CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best during the early part of the 2019/2020 school year.

Since 2013, WMU’s Soga Japan Center (SJC) has worked closely and in a variety of ways with CIS to enrich students’ understanding of Japanese culture during and after school, and as part of CIS Think Summer. “I’m so lucky to have found CIS,” said Soga Japan Center Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto. She first started as a CIS volunteer 10 years ago and it’s this support as both a volunteer and partner “that has helped me with connecting with schools and students.”

During the 2019/2020 school year, CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best connected twenty interested Milwood Magnet students to the Japanese Culture Club. During the club, Michiko has engaged them in a variety of activities, such as calligraphy, language, origami, learning to sing Japanese pop songs, ordering food off of a Japanese menu, and discussing Japanese society and culture.

When Michiko steps into Mr. Woodley’s classroom, she was accompanied by several club members who had greeted her at the school’s entrance. Even after a full day of learning, it was clear these sixth and seventh graders were eager to dig in and learn Japanese culture. “The students really take to Japanese language and culture when given the chance,” said Missy. “…Michiko has a wonderful way of tapping into students’ natural curiosity about the world,” On this particular Wednesday, Missy had arranged for two new students to check out the Japanese Culture Club to see if it might be a good fit for them. They picked up quickly, singing along and asking questions like, “Are names pronounced the same in Japanese as they are in English?” [The answer: not in all cases. For instance, explained Michiko, if you have an “R” in your name, it will be changed to an “S” sound in Japanese.]

What did the student visitors think by the end of the session? “It was kind of weird at first,” said one, “but then I really started having a good time. I liked how we were laughing and that I was already started to learn Japanese.” “It was good, fun, and a new experience,” said the other.

Both agreed they would be coming back.

[If you missed last week’s post, you’ll want to check out Rashon’s interview here with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. As one of the 2019/2020 Japanese Culture Club members, he’s still learning and growing even though he and his classmates are currently not in the school building.]

Rashon: Learning and Letting it Flow

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 Rashon Keys, one of 20 Milwood Magnet Middle School students who had been part of the Japanese Culture Club during the 2019/2020 school year. Thanks to CIS longstanding partner Western Michigan University Soga Japan Center, students interested in exploring Japanese culture had the opportunity to stay after school one day a week to learn Japanese language, songs, calligraphy, origami, and more. CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best connected the students with WMU Soga Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto who facilitated the Japanese Culture Club.

When Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids popped in to do this quiz, the pandemic was not yet upon us and singing was still safe to do. On this particular day, Michiko was introducing Rashon and his club mates to the Japanese lyrics of a popular Anime song, “My Hero Academia.”

“This is very difficult,” she told them as she projected a YouTube video on the whiteboard. “We will practice this for several weeks.” She started singing: I keep my ideals alive when destiny calls!

Rashon, picking up the Japanese lyrics quickly, started singing and swaying to the upbeat music.

“Oh, this song is hard. I can barely sing it!” Michiko said, on their third practice.

“You’ve got to let it flow,” encouraged Rashon. “Just let it flow!”

In this spirit of reciprocity, the students and their sensei (teacher in Japanese), ran through the song several more times, their voices and confidence flowing.

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

Pop Quiz

What was it that interested you in becoming part of the Japanese Culture Club and what have you come to appreciate most about being part of this club?

I like learning, so I’d say I probably like everything. Yes, everything!

I especially like the people. They are all pretty cool. [Rashon waved his hand towards CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best, WMU Soga Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto, and then the entire class.] Everybody here is cool. We’re learning new things here and I like to do that. That’s why I decided I should go to the Japanese Culture Club in the first place.

You’ll have the Kalamazoo Promise when you graduate high school. Though it’s a ways off, what are your thoughts as to plans after high school? 

I’m going to go to college and play football. And when I retire—when I’m 25, though I might be 28—then I will go into the military so I can provide for my family in the future.

It might take a long time, though. I might fail in bootcamp. But I can go back three times.

What is a question you’ve asked lately?

Will we be speaking Japanese by the end of this class?

What are you currently reading?

Dragon Ball Z [based on the Japanese anime television series produced by Toei Animation].

What’s one of your favorite subjects in school?

English/Language Arts. I have Ms. [Carol] Kimbrough. She’s one of my favorite teachers. She’s my sixth hour English/Language Arts teacher…She’s not just demanding to be demanding, you know? She’s demanding in a fun way, in a way that helps you learn.

What is your favorite word right now?

Rashon practices writing Japanese words.

In Japanese or English?

Both. 

In Japan, it’s the word “above” which is ue.

In English, it’s “Hey, Mom!” I’m always saying that. “Hey, Mom! Let’s get something to eat.” “Hey, Mom! Let’s hang out.” “Hey, Mom!”

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

My mom, my dad, and everybody else that, like them, supports me.

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

[Next week’s post will provide a glimpse into the 2019/2020 Japanese Culture Club. Also, be on the lookout for our CIS Connections newsletter as you will get a taste of some of the virtual clubs that students will have the opportunity to take advantage of this school year.]

Back to School in the Pandemic Era

School is back in session and it’s looking a bit different this year for our 12,000+ kids, depending on which of the three Kalamazoo Public School options families have selected for their children.

Whatever the option, CIS is still here, our mission remains the same: surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life. And thanks to your continued support, CIS staff are working hard alongside teachers, principals, and other school administrators, connecting with parents and local partners to reengage students.

Given these challenging times and the variety of needs arising throughout our community, we will be launching a new blog series in which we will cover a range topics and resources that we hope will provide support to you, our parents, families, and students. If you have an idea or would like to see a specific topic(s) covered (such as the arts, physical fitness, positive mental health), email Jennifer at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and let us know! We love hearing from our readers.

If you’ve been following us over the summer, you met folks like Rebecca Achenbach, who reminds us that each child and family is unique, and Maria Whitmore (Chalas), who challenges herself (and us) to walk through doors of new opportunities, Jessica Waller, who inspires us to do more, and Jerrell Amos, who is learning to adjust—and helps others adjust—when life throws a curve ball. And let’s be honest. Every one of our 12,000+ kids—and us— has been thrown an amazingly large curve ball with this pandemic.

So stick with us. We’ll continue to introduce you to your 12,000+ children and the caring adults like those we’ve just mentioned, who are living during this unprecedented time and helping to raise them.

Next week we can’t wait to introduce you to Rashon, a student from Milwood Magnet Middle School. He’ll teach us all about learning something new and “letting it flow.”

Thank you for following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. The journey continues!

Rebecca Achenbach: Each Student & Family is Unique

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 Rebecca Achenbach who, in the Fall of 2019, stepped into the role of CIS Site Coordinator for Linden Grove Middle School. She also worked throughout 2020 CIS Think Summer, serving as the CIS Think Summer Quality Coach, in which she was responsible for ensuring high quality programming for the student participants.

Rebecca attended Nazareth College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Western Michigan University. She holds a liberal arts degree, a degree in early childhood education, a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and Geography, as well as a Masters in Family Life Education with a certification in Adolescent Development.

Since she was 21 years old, Rebecca has been connected to the Kalamazoo Public Schools one way or another. She first interned in a preschool setting and later owned and operated a preschool, offering before and after school programming for K-6 grade students. (Many of the students attended KPS.) She gained additional experience running before and after school programs (held in KPS schools) for the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo. She is also a proud KPS parent. Her daughter graduated from Loy Norrix High School in 2018, and her younger child will be starting at Norrix this fall. Throughout this time, she also worked closely with the theater and forensic programs on a secondary level.

Alright, Rebecca: 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?

During this challenging time I am realizing how much I love the extra time I have with my family, my music, my writing, my gardens, and the appreciation for all things simple.

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

The best part of being a CIS Site Coordinator is that I get to work with not only the students that attends Linden Grove, but their whole family units.

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 work is the same, but the needs look different, and vary more frequently. I feel barriers have increased for families, but as an organization we have thought creatively “out of the box” to meet the new needs that families have, or may come across. I feel the closure has allowed families to see more of a value of the services we provide, and I feel the connections have become so much stronger between CIS, families, and the school.

When it comes to CIS thinking “outside the box,” can you share more about that?

Thinking outside of the box to me in the CIS realm means not letting past experiences I have had determine how I will work with all my families. Each family and student is unique, and so each student and family I work with, and that process will be different, and you have to be prepared to try new things. I am glad I already had this mind set, as we move forward in our thinking, and how we will now work with families and our students that we may not actually have physical contact, or in person interactions with.

What are you currently reading?  

I am currently reading The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer and also The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

My favorite phrase, concept, quote right now is to remember to move in the Way, or the Tao.

To remember I (we) are merely instruments in the hands of the forces, and to try to live in balance with what is going on in our world around us. To stay in a state of balance, rather than a state of how I (we) think things should be. The more you can work with the balance, the more you can stay in the moment, enjoy present life, and allow yourself to not resist, but to ebb and flow in our current situation.

Anything else you want us to know?

I enjoy writing and music. I play piano, ukulele, percussion, and I sing. I also love theater, and working with students in a theatrical setting. [In her role as CIS After School Coordinator, Rebecca shared her passion for theater with the students, initiating a theater club at Linden Grove Middle School last year. She had the students finish the theater club using Zoom and is planning to offer the club virtually again this fall.]

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