Connectedness During a Time of Social Distancing

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

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

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

Routines, routines, routines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disconnect to reconnect.

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

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

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

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

Exercise and Mindfulness

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

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

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

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

What Happens Now

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

Catching Up with Elissa Kerr: One Sweet Conversation

Born and raised in Connecticut, Elissa Kerr spent much of her childhood “playing under the shade of two massive maple trees.” Not surprising given this former CIS site coordinator has just written a book that features maple trees! We ran into Elissa a few months back during an author event at Kazoo Books, where she was introducing a children’s book she’s written. She said, “I am very excited to embark on this new endeavor as it will allow me to get back to my roots and what I am passionate about—encouraging a child’s love of learning.”

No matter what endeavor Elissa undertakes, she says her two biggest supporters are her husband Ian and their two young boys.

Since it’s National Reading Month and Michigan’s Maple Sugaring days are upon us, we think it’s the perfect time to catch up to Elissa Kerr and get the scoop on her new book.

What brought you to Michigan?

I moved to Michigan in 2008 because my husband attended Western Michigan University. We fell in love with the area and have been here ever since.

You first got connected with CIS by serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with us, right?

Yes. I have a degree in elementary and special education. When we moved to Michigan I began working with CIS as an AmeriCorp VISTA. I supported both Arcadia Elementary School and Edison Environmental Science Academy. I then stepped into the site coordinator role at King Westwood for two years. And for the past eight years I have been employed by the State of Michigan and focused on supporting individuals and families.

What is one of your fondest memories from when you were working with CIS?

I think one of my favorite projects was setting up a publishing center at Arcadia. It was wonderful to have volunteers come in and support classroom teachers and promote the art of storytelling. The best part was watching kids find their voice by sharing stories they were passionate about.

What was your favorite childhood book?

It’s difficult to pick just one book! My favorite childhood author would have to be Beverly Cleary. I especially loved her character, Ramona. Her mischievous antics always sprung from a place of pure childhood curiosity.

What book are you currently reading?

I enjoy participating in Kalamazoo Public Library’s Reading Together event. I love the idea of learning and having a discussion on a topical subject as a community, so I will usually give their suggestion a try. I recently finished this year’s book, We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. [Jonathan Safran Foer’s presentation is tonight, Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at Chenery Auditorium at 7 pm.]

My guilty pleasures are mysteries, though, and I recently read The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.

Describe your book in one sentence, or two, if one is too hard.

The Sweetest Season follows a young girl and her father as they journey through the forest and work to transform sap to syrup.

Elissa’s book on display at Kazoo Books.

For your book, you must have done some research. If so, can you talk a little bit about that?

We are members of the Kalamazoo Nature Center and have attended their annual maple syrup festival for the past eight years. We take a picture of my kids every year in the exact same spot! Their volunteers and staff do a great job in teaching guests about the process of identifying maples, tapping trees, and boiling syrup. I did additional research as well, again, turning to my local library for additional books. I am a strong supporter of libraries.

The title of your book, The Sweetest Season, is short and sweet and hits just the right spot. At what point in your writing process did you identify this title? Is there a story behind coming up with the title?

Coming up with the title was probably one of the hardest parts for me. It did not come naturally. The story was completely written and illustrations were started before I had a title I loved. I was using the working title, Sugar Season. While informational, it was certainly not catchy or very whimsical. I made the change late in the process and am much happier with the title.

Do you have real maple syrup in your house right now?

Not currently. My family was enjoying a lot of syrup and breakfast foods, but sadly, they might be starting to get a bit tired of it. I did just find a recipe for a maple hot coco that I want to try, so I will probably be picking up some soon enough.

Can you tell us one or two interesting maple syrup-related facts?

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup. It’s not just sugar maples that can be tapped for sap. Many other varieties can be tapped, it’s just that their sugar content is not as high. I am really curious to try a syrup from another type of tree just to compare!

Are any of the characters based on or inspired by real people?

Though they aren’t based on real people, my characters have a love and connection to nature that I hope to inspire in others.

What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book?

Rhyming and meter. I always wanted to make a book that rhymes. Some lines came naturally, while others I would constantly rewrite.

What behind-the-scene tidbit in your life would probably surprise readers the most?

My husband has bright red hair and many people who know me assume that I chose characters who have bright red hair. In reality, it was completely the illustrator’s idea. Zoe Saunders felt the red hair would be a nice contrast to the melting winter snow.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

My favorite phrase right now is: Little seeds grow mighty trees.

Little seeds could be small acts of kindness, a smile on the street, or a simple idea. You never know what impact your small gesture makes in the lives of others. I hope this book is that little seeds that inspires others to go outside and connect more with the nature found right in their backyards.

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

I come from a family of educators and I would say my grandmother still embodies that teaching and nurturing spirit. I would certainly consider her one of the most caring adults in my life. She always has inspired a love of learning and encouraged me to share my gifts and skills. She turned 95 this year and seems really delighted to see my work on this project. I am thankful that it’s brought her so much joy.

You can find Elissa’s book, The Sweetest Season, at Kazoo Books. It’s also available for purchase on-line at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

Teacher Andrea Walker: An Open Book

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 KPS teacher Andrea Walker, known as Miss Walker by her fifth grade students at Woodward School for Science and Technology.

As a single parent, Miss Walker worked hard and raised her two children. Both are graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools, having attended the very school their mother has been teaching at for the past 12 years. Now grown and in college, one attends Kalamazoo Valley Community College and the other, Western Michigan University.

When you walk into Miss Walker’s homey and welcoming classroom, you can’t help but notice how she decorates her room with Nemo. She knows that the kids who swim through her class each year aren’t that different from Nemo, the adorable clownfish, and his friends who have challenges to navigate in life. As one of the many fantastic teachers at Woodward and throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Miss Walker is showing up each day for kids and helping them learn and grow.

She compares herself to an open book. Her life, as you will soon learn, is filled with interesting chapters, with pages yet to be written.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you’ve been asked recently?

[Laughing.] You don’t want to know that answer, especially the day after a full moon. [Note: We interviewed Miss Walker during her lunch break, the day after a full moon.]

Tell us, then, a question you recently asked.

Just yesterday, I asked my students, Where’s the empathy?

I want them to understand feelings and when someone is being mean to someone else, what is the appropriate response? It’s not to laugh, as that can hurt feelings. I want them to connect to each other and express understanding and empathy for what someone else may be going through.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished the book, Mermaid. I didn’t really like it and was surprised because I love Jodi Picoults’ other works. This just wasn’t an amazing read like her other ones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Seriously.

Seriously what?

That’s my word. Seriously. That’s what I often say to the kids, Seriously?

What are you curious about?

The overall depression and anxiety in our kids these days. It worries me.

Have you seen an increase in this over your 12 years as a teacher?

Yes, it’s been growing. There’s a lot of trauma kids are dealing with, as well as a lot of anxiety these days.

Does having CIS in your school help you as a teacher?

Oh, God, yes! CIS helps me tons as a teacher. And not only with the basics [school supplies but CIS provides that emotional and social backing that our kids need. During the day, CIS helps with such a range of things, from personal hygiene issues we might have with a student to tutoring support, and whatever else they may need. Oh, they just do so much. And having CIS after school as well extends the learning day and keeps students safe. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before, when we didn’t have CIS.

You’re also the leader teacher in CIS after school. What does that entail?

Yes, I’m the core teacher for the third, fourth, and fifth graders during CIS after school. That means I meet with the students for one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll reiterate the facts in math or ELA [English Language Arts] that they have been learning during the school day. We’ll go over strategies and skills and do pre-test preparation. We’ll also do some book studying. I also like to have them play learning games; they don’t realize they’re learning because it’s in the form of fun games.

When you were a kid, where did you grow up?

In Indiana, Portage. I’m originally from Hobart, Indiana and went to Hobart High School and then we moved to Portage, Indiana.

What brought you to Michigan?

I got a job working at Spencer’s Gifts. This was the one in St. Joseph, Michigan. And it was around that time I then started back to school. I was working nights at Lakeland Medical Center in the OB unit as a clerk.

Is that what brought you to Kalamazoo?

The Promise brought me to Kalamazoo. As a single mom, I knew it would be hard, if not impossible to pay for my children’s college education. So when I graduated with my associate degree from Lake Michigan College, my kids saw me walk across the stage. And then I packed them up, and we moved to Kalamazoo so they could get the Promise. I started working at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum as an interpretation specialist, assisting with tours and such. And then I started back to school to get my teaching certification at Western. I interned at Washington Writers’ Academy.

Poetry isn’t part of the American childhood education that it once was. Yet, poetry is important to you. You make a concerted effort to incorporate it into your classroom each year. Why?

I’ve always liked poetry. And you’re right, curriculums touches on it very little.

I love the awakening that occurs in my students when we do poetry. I love seeing the lights go on for them when, in doing and seeing things differently, pieces fall in place and start fitting together for them. I like bringing the work of Dr. Seuss into the classroom. I’ll tell them the story of his whole life and how things progressed for him. It’s an exciting way to engage them in learning. They’re interested in that and take it all in.

I really do love that awakening in the kids…the joy that goes with listening to and creating their own works of poetry,  that this is something they can create for themselves…you see it on their faces as they light up.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Math! I’ve only taught ELA for the past ten years. Because we don’t have our students switching classes this year, I teach it all to them. So I’ve been relearning math with the new curriculum.

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

I’m the only one in my immediate family who has gone to college. The person who pushed me to go to college was a nurse, Barbara Davis. She’s still a nurse and a friend of mine to this day. You’d be better as a teacher than a nurse, she told me. I’m a late bloomer.

At the hospital, we had this chalkboard up at work for noting announcements. I drew all the Sesame Street characters on it. Barbara said to me,  I think your calling is to be a teacher.

Huh, I thought. I had never even considered that possibility until she mentioned it.

She was right! From just the little I’ve been able to see you in action with your students, you are clearly born to teach. Yet, you didn’t see that in yourself until someone else pointed that out. Thank goodness she did!

You know, until talking about all this now, I didn’t realize how many different types of jobs I’ve held along the way to get there!

In the CIS Annual Report [recently out and can be accessed here] you are one of the people who shared what you are made of. You said you’re a book.

That’s right. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What books have helped shaped who you are?

Are you ready?

Uh, hope so.

All the Nancy Drew books, The Box Car Children, Are You There God? It’s me Margaret by Judy Bloom. Oh, I could go on.

The books I enjoy now with my students, oh, there are so many of them. But one of my favorites is Flush by Carl Hiaasen. It’s one of my favorites for school here because it is relatable and teaches about bullying. I also read aloud to them Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We had a “Wonder party” for our fifth graders. We closed down the hall, had a party, and cake. The kids loved it.

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

Fifth Grader Passes Pop Quiz with Flying Colors

Sophia and her mom Heidi.

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 Sophia, a fifth grade student at El Sol Elementary School. This Kalamazoo Public School (KPS) offers instruction in two languages, English and Spanish. The program model is unique within the district and Southwestern Michigan.

“CIS is very helpful for kids in this community that are new,” the fifth grader says. She should know. Sophia arrived last year with her mom from Venezuela.

She’s glad that her then fourth grade teacher, Ms. Courtney Eaton, introduced her to CIS. Since then, Sophia has worked hard, taking advantage of all the opportunities and community resources that her CIS Site Coordinator Levi Soto has offered. Sophia is also featured in the recently released 2018-19 CIS Annual Report, so once you see how she did on her pop quiz, you can learn more about her here.

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

Pop Quiz

What is your favorite word right now?

In English?

How about one in English and one in Spanish?

In English, it would be love. And in Spanish, Venezuela.

What are you currently reading?

Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop. It’s about these kids in World War II. I like reading for fun.

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

I get a lot of help when I need it.

What is one of your favorite subjects in school?

Science. I’ve gone from red, to orange, to green. [Note: Green is good! That is excellent progress!] And I really like social studies.

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

A whale. Because I would like to see the different fishes that a human can’t see.

Outside of school, what things do you enjoy doing?

Going to Lake Michigan with my mom. I also like eating pizza. It’s my favorite food.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

That all kids would have a home and have food every day.

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

My mom. She helps me a lot with math homework. I didn’t understand it a lot at first. It’s really different from homework in Venezuela.

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

Be sure to check out the CIS annual report featuring Sophia! You can read it here.

Sara Williams: Rolling Up Her Sleeves for Kids

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 Sara Williams, Vice President/Financial Center Manager III with Fifth Third Bank. She’s also stepping into her third year of service as a CIS Board Member, although, as you’ll soon learn, she has been involved with CIS since 2011.

Sara grew up in Otsego and for the past 26 years has called Kalamazoo home. She lives with her husband Kevin, their 12-year-old daughter, one cat, and a dog. Her 24-year-old daughter recently graduated from Western Michigan University and is working as a rehabilitation specialist. Sara is also a proud grandmother to 2 ½ year old Oakli.

With a degree in finance from Davenport University, Sara’s career has always revolved around banking. She started out as a licensed personal banker at Bank One (now Chase) and for the past 20 years has been in management.

She is passionate about CIS and helping kids succeed in school. “I know community support can make all the difference,” she says. In fact, it’s this very philosophy of building stronger communities that drew her to Fifth Third Bank, which partners with CIS in several ways. Most recently, Fifth Third supported the annual Bundle Up project by serving as a host site at seven of their locations, making it convenient for the community to drop off a needed item or two. [More about Kalamazoo Rotaract’s Bundle Up project and how it helps our 12,000+ kids, here.]

On the home page of Fifth Third Bank’s website, it states, We love rolling up our sleeves and helping out our neighbors. Sara Williams, as you’ll soon learn, embodies this philosophy.

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

Pop Quiz

You were involved with CIS before you became a board member, right?

Yes, I first got connected with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo back in 2011. I was working at our Burdick branch at that time. We wanted to do a school supply drive. I’ve got to say, that’s one of the things I love about working with Fifth Third… Anyways, I called one of the schools in the area and they said, “We should connect you with CIS.” So, shortly thereafter, CIS scheduled an appointment to come out and talk with us. It was Emily Kobza who came. When she said, “We don’t need paper and pencils right now. We are in need of deodorant,” well, that blew me out of the water. They need deodorant? We assumed we knew what the needs were but, at that time, deodorant was the bigger need. Deodorant!

So we rallied up as a team at Fifth Third and collected money for hygiene products. That was what, eight years ago? I’ve since learned more about CIS Kids’ Closet and how the community can work through CIS to meet students’ basic needs. There is so much more that CIS does and I still have a lot to learn. But what I do know is that I can’t solve it myself. What I can do is let people know about CIS and some of the needs we help meet.

That reminds me. Want to hear a story?

We’re always up for a story! Do tell.

This is a few years back. I’m at the grocery store. I do extreme couponing and with my coupons and the sale going on, I had figured out that I could get 260 hygiene items for the price of 200 items.

The cashier was helping me ring up these items and was taking quite an interest in why I was purchasing such a large quantity of personal care products. So I started talking about CIS and explained that we were donating these travel-size personal care products to CIS Kids’ Closet to make sure students were in school every day and able to focus on learning without the distraction of being embarrassed about their personal appearance. At the end, the cashier thanked me for making this donation. I told her that no thanks was needed as we love doing this for the kids.

“No,” she said. “I really want to thank you for what you are doing. You see, I’m one of those parents whose child has benefited from Kids’ Closet.” She went on to say that her child came home from school last year with a small pack of items, including some clothing. She said she was a single mom and while she works, it was still hard to get everything her child needed. I don’t know what I’d do without you!” she said.

I knew we were making a difference through CIS, but to hear it directly from a mother who said it made a difference for her and her son, well that was really amazing.

That is a fabulous story. And you might never have learned her story if you hadn’t shared how Fifth Third was supporting kids through CIS.

Educating our employees and the community about the work of CIS is important. People don’t necessarily connect hygiene products with success in school. It’s being able to see that relationship—of how not having a needed hygiene products can prevent students from learning or learning as well as they can. Lacking the necessary items of soap, deodorant, a feminine hygiene product affects self-esteem, attendance, and grades. Children want to do their job: be the best student they can be. In some situations, they need help with having the basics covered so they can focus on learning.

That mother got it. But many people don’t. And at CIS, we do so much more beyond even providing these necessary basics.

Speaking of doing more, Fifth Third Bank also partnered a couple years ago with CIS to bring greater awareness to the importance of school attendance and supported students by donating 500 alarm clocks. [We blogged about it in this post, “Every Minute Counts.”]

That’s right. Ron Foor, Community President for Fifth Third Bank was involved with that.

Yes, he pointed out that school attendance should matter to all of us, not just those with school-age children. When our schools graduate more students on time, our communities and our economy are stronger. We have more people who are prepared for the workplace and more engaged in our community’s civic life. Students who attend school regularly are more likely to be employees who attend work regularly.

We have such great, caring people at Fifth Third, like Ron and others like Pat Lonergan, our Senior Vice President/Community Development and Economic Development Manager II. They are not only personally involved in supporting our communities, but they encourage our employees to do the same.

Education is also incredibly important to us at Fifth Third. That’s one of the reasons we want to partner with our schools. And it’s why we offer our employees the opportunity to take eight hours a year to volunteer in the community, in particular, through Communities In Schools.

As a community, we have a responsibility to our 12,000 plus kids, One of them could be our future caregiver, our grandchild’s teacher, the fire fighter or police officer serving our community. I often ask myself, What I am I doing or not doing to help get them there?

In this community, we have something as great as the Kalamazoo Promise. However, we can’t win with the Kalamazoo Promise if we can’t get our kids in a position to use it. We need to all be about the business of helping students cross that finish line and graduate from high school. We can do this if we set judgements aside, and through CIS, link arms together, and get behind our kids. We must learn and educate each other and welcome people be a part of this movement.

There are many great organizations within our community. What is it about CIS that attracted you to give of your time and talent to this particular board?

I was a young, single mom. I know what it’s like to worry about some of those same things our moms worry about—Am I going to be able to meet all the needs of my kids? How am I  ever going to juggle my job and school and make it all work for my children?

And even though I had a huge village of support from my family, friends, and even my employers, at times—even with that help—it was still incredibly difficult. When you don’t have that support, what do you do? Where would some of the families CIS serves be without our community behind them, being that village of support?

You really are passionate about CIS.

I am. Our kids have so much to deal with today. The last think they should have to worry about is what to do now that they have spilled milk on their only pair of pants or have broken the button off of their pants.

Here’s another story. As a new board member, I went into my CIS site visit thinking that I already knew everything. During the visit, an adorable little boy came into the room. He was holding up his pants with his hands and asked the site coordinator, Can I get a zip tie? He was so happy to get it and then headed back to class, hands free. I didn’t even know about zip ties. Why did he need that? I asked. The site coordinator said he’d lost his pant button. That’s all it took, something as simple as a zip tie to keep his one pair of pants up so he could stay in school. We had barely started, and I thought, I’m not going to make it through this tour.

What are you currently reading?

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas  Stanley and William Danko. It’s educational and gives insight into the mindset of the average millionaire. In my line of work, I’ve learned that you don’t judge a book by its cover. You quickly learn that millionaires are not necessarily detectable. You would be surprised who is and who isn’t a millionaire. It’s not necessarily the person wearing the fancy clothes or driving the nice car.

What is one of your favorite “go to” places in Kalamazoo?

I don’t drink coffee but I do love going to Starbucks. Something about the atmosphere. Plus, I love the smell of coffee. I just can’t drink it!

As you know, at Communities In Schools we believe that every child needs a marketable skill to use upon graduation. It’s one of our five CIS basics. As an employer, what marketable skills are you looking for right now?

A positive attitude and friendly personality. That’s number one in my book.

Those soft skills are so important, aren’t they?

Yes, they are the foundation for which you can build upon, acquire more skills, and grow.

Speaking of skills, what are your thoughts when it comes to financial literacy skills in America? Research has shown that we’re lagging behind other countries. [Here’s a 2017 study that found 1 in 5 teens lack basic financial literacy skills.]

I think that is more a reflection of what goes on in our society. We think: this is the way we have to live. Our kids—grownups too—think I have to have “x” or “y” to fit in. Barriers, including our mentality around money can get in the way that prevent people from being successful financially.

We live in a world today of instant gratification and this can drive people to make poor financial decisions.

I recall listening to an NPR piece about how living in poverty with limited resources influences our brains. When just trying to get through the day or week, we are likely to make short-term financial decisions that make things worse-off for us in the long run. When we have less, our brains adopt a scarcity mindset.”  

Add to that the spoken and unspoken messages kids receive regarding how they should dress, what they should wear. These impact our decisions. As women, we might think, Oh my nails look horrible, so we go out and have them done. We feel better, but our bank account is not feeling so well. Our culture makes it easy for us to consume and make impulse buys even when we can’t afford to do so. We now live in a time of Black Fridays deals, and pre-black Friday sales now. It’s genius from a retail marketing standpoint. Not so much for the consumer.

What’s your favorite word right now?

It’s more of a phrase: needs versus wants. I say that all the time. Do you need it? Or do you want it?

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

It would be a tie between my mom and my dad. While my parents may not be rich in money, they are rich in other ways. They are givers and both are the type that give the shirts off their back to someone in need. While waiting in line at the grocery store, if someone is short on paying their groceries, they have picked up their tab. They give and give. They are examples of selfless living. I learned early on from them that the rewards you get from giving are not physical or tangible. They may not necessarily be something you can look at and hold. The reward is more a feeling. You put that good out into the world and to others, and good things come back.

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

 

 

Jack Szott: Stepping Up to The Plate For Kids

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 WMU graduate student Jack Szott. This former CIS volunteer turned CIS advocate is a graduate of Metea Valley High School, located in Aurora, Illinois. Baseball and college brought Jack to Kalamazoo in 2015.

Jack holds a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Western Michigan University. Throughout his college baseball career, Jack has pitched over 160 innings for Western. He has been awarded Academic All-MAC three times and Distinguished MAC Scholar Athlete three times. He also serves as part of Western’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C). CIS is thankful that this busy college student has carved out time over the years to volunteer and advocate for our 12,000+ kids.

Jack Szott will graduate this June with his Masters in accounting and head to Chicago where he already has an accounting job lined up.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you’ve been asked recently?

I lost my wallet yesterday for a six hour period. When I got to the bank to cash in the money for a check for CIS, the question I got was, Can I see your debit card?
Nope, I said.
Can I see your id?
Nope.
We can’t fill out the check unless we have some id. You need to find your wallet.

So where was your wallet?

It was in my room.

Sounds like maybe your room is a little messy?

It’s all relative!

What are you currently reading?

I’ve been reading a few memoirs and biographies of leaders or former leaders. I just finished reading a biography of President George H. W. Bush. It’s Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham.

It’s really interesting. I enjoyed learning about his leadership qualities, how he treated people, and what got him to where he was in the position as President of the United States.

What is your favorite word right now?

So many to choose from! But right now, I’d say fortitude. I’ve been around a lot of people who have taught me how to deal with difficult situations and I admire that quality, of being strong enough to deal with what you’re going through and helping others at the same time. I think fortitude is the difference between being a good and a great person.

What are you curious about?

I’m very curious about the future that our country is headed in. We are at a turning point in many ways, such as with technology and politics. Just how we will progress? I like to think and learn about that. I like keeping up with world news and trends.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Naperville, Illinois with a brother and sister. My life was always 50/50, divided between school and sports.

Jack Szott, Western Michigan Baseball #36.

How has sports shaped you as a person?

I’ve had no single, larger teacher than sports and baseball. I have gained many insight and lessons that I could not have learned in school. While school is obviously important, sports has molded my personality. More than anything, it has given me—and I know resiliency can be a loaded term, so I’ll say—mental fortitude. What I mean by that is you fail so much more than you succeed in sports. That experience allows you to develop healthy and effective coping mechanisms. It makes it seem a lot more manageable when you are presented with difficult situations or experience failures in life.

I’ve also found that nothing teaches you to communicate better than working with teams in sports, I’ve done a lot of group projects in school and college and felt I had an advantage with being able to communicate and work with the group because of sports.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I love Marvel movies. Recently my brother and I watched all 22 movies in order. We learned from an avid Marvel fan that some of the most famous scenes and best parts are ad-libbed and were not scripted.

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

Both my parents. My dad taught me to always let your actions and your own achievements speak for themselves. He taught me humility. You don’t need to explain your success to people. They will figure out for themselves. Mental toughness is something else he taught me.

My mom is very passionate and has always encouraged me to pursue what I care about, and to do it as hard as I can. Also, to have fun while doing it. If I have any issues, I call my mom.

How did you first become involved volunteering with CIS?

As Medallion scholars, we were looking for a class project. [Note: The Medallion Scholarship is WMU’s most prestigious merit-based scholarship and is affiliated with Lee Honors College. In 2016, they received a Champ award, which we featured in this post.]

Jane Baas [former Associate Dean of Lee Honors College, now retired] gave us the low-down on CIS and we began a mentorship program at Woodward. I did that for two years—during my junior and senior year. I really enjoyed that. [CIS Site Coordinator] Jen DeWaele assigned each of us a student to work with a couple times a week. [CIS Volunteer and Development Coordinator] Nicky Aiello trained us and then we started meeting with our students in the morning or over the lunchtime. I would always go in the morning and have breakfast with my student.

What a fun way to help a young person start their day. Your students must have loved that.

It was sure good for me! I really enjoyed it and hopefully, they liked it, too.

And then last year, I also volunteered during the Thanksgiving Dinner Giveaway [a Hands Up Foundation project that CIS partners on, with the support of many in the community]. I helped with unloading the truck and going around and packing the dinner bags. That is quite an amazing process! I didn’t think we’d get it all done but with all the volunteers and the system set up, well, we got it done in no time.

That really is something to witness and be a part of, isn’t it? So tell us a bit about WMU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and how you all came to select CIS this year as the organization you wanted to support.

The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C.) is made up of two representatives from each WMU sports team. We wanted to come up with a fun, interactive way for our athletes to get involved, to serve the community, and donate to a good cause. We’re now in our second year of doing a dodgeball event.

As we considered potential organizations to support this year, I shared about my great experience with CIS and that I wanted to give back. A second athlete who is also part of the advisory committee said she had a similar experience with CIS and seconded the idea of selecting CIS this year. The committee and our deputy athletic director thought it was a good idea and so I reached out to CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator Nicky Aiello who put me in contact with [Director of Development] Kim Nemire. It was super easy after that.

Is this dodgeball event open to the public?

No. It’s really more for our athletes to spend some time with each other outside of their practices and games. This year, we had teams of six. Three players from a men’s sports team and three from a women’s team. Each athlete pays $5 to be in the tournament. Other athletes are also able to watch for $1. We raised $452. We had about 62 or 63 athletes compete this year. And some of those who watched, donated a dollar or more.

Last week, Jack braved snow-covered and icy roads to stop by CIS and provide Director of Development Kim Nemire with check of money the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee raised from the dodgeball event.

Well it’s a terrifically fun idea, and we’re so grateful to you, the entire Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, all the athletes who competed in the tournament, and the students who donated to the cause.

We’re so glad we could do it!

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

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.”