MAUREEN CARTMILL: BEE-ing THERE 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 Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator for Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts.

Maureen was born and raised on the east side of Michigan, in what is now known as Farmington Hills. As far back as seventh grade, she planned on teaching. Half-way through her undergraduate studies at Western Michigan University, with teaching positions becoming increasingly difficult to find, her mother, a first grade teacher, suggested she specialize. “WMU’s Speech Pathology and Audiology Department was number one in this half of the nation. I could work in an elementary setting. Decision made.” Maureen received a Bachelor’s in Speech Pathology and Audiology while minoring in Elementary Education. Then, the graduate degree she pursued in Reading ultimately transitioned to a Master of Arts in Counseling and Personnel.

After seven years with CIS, Maureen retires at the end of this month. Prior to CIS, Maureen supported students in various positions within Kalamazoo Public Schools. Maureen had been teaching at Chime Elementary for two and a half years when her career “took a detour.” Someone at Northglade Montessori Magnet School—where her daughters were attending school—discovered she was a certified teacher. She was hired and served as the permanent substitute in the school’s library. She then went on to Parkwood-UpJohn Elementary to serve as librarian [a position a certified teacher could fill if a media specialist were not available]. Over the years, funding for Maureen’s position changed, and her titles changed with it. No matter, she says, for “thirteen amazing years I specialized in reading support, coordinated the library, and ran building-wide literacy programs and events.”

While the entire CIS and KPS family will miss her presence, we feel good knowing that in  retirement Maureen will still buzz about doing good works and making the world a sweeter place.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?                                                                                            

My immediate and extended family are healthy. I feel fortunate. Several family members are essential workers. There is a 16 month old I have not held in almost three months. Visits with my mother are now through a window. But…we are all healthy and waiting to reconnect.

Constantly working on a phone and a computer is a strain. I yearn for barrier-free communication. Communities In Schools offers us a great deal of support to combat the isolation you can feel working from home. I appreciate that. I miss the Woods Lake staff and students. Oh, and I cook now.

What are you learning about yourself in all this?

Hitting the” pause button” has been healthy. Prior to Covid-19, I would be locked in third gear from early morning until late at night. Stationed at home I find that I enjoy the solitude. My children are grown. There is no music playing and the TV remains off during the day. If someone pops into my head, I call, right then, and check in on them. I make time for prayer. I appreciate simplicity. I know I am fortunate.

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

Relationships. I’m involved with students through their entire elementary experience. I love watching them grow physically and emotionally. I love watching friendships evolve that could last their entire lives. With children, no two days are the same. You guide and support them through the rough days and celebrate and share hugs on the days they succeed. We are a resource. Our door is always open.

I genuinely love being part of a team that supports children through their personal journey as well as their academic journey.

Given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How have you continued to support students during this challenging time?   

Initially, it was a rush to make sure families had all the essentials they needed. I spent most of my day on the phone talking or texting with parents. The Kalamazoo Community was/is incredibly supportive. The list of resources for families grew every day.

Once KPS initiated their breakfast and lunch outreach and their virtual classrooms, I took a step back. Parents were overwhelmed with calls, texts, emails. The job of trying to educate within the home became a big responsibility. Currently, I feel my job has transitioned from basic needs to emotional support. Contact with students has diminished. When calling, I always begin by asking the parent how they are doing? How has the past week been for them? What can I help them with today? It helps me gain a better understanding of the climate within the home. I believe by supporting the parent, I am supporting the student. To promote some family activity, I dropped off board games to several of our families, old favorites like Sorry and Charades.

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

Students are struggling. Consider that two thirds of a child’s waking hours were spent at school. School provided variety, structure, social connectedness, and physical and intellectual challenges. After two or three weeks, the novelty of a vacation begins to wane. Everyone misses their friends. Students who have cell phones are making some social connections. Families with one phone are at a disadvantage when the parent needs to take the phone to work. Parents who work from home must have their phones available to them. Not everyone has a computer, iPad, or WiFi. Students are lonelier and more isolated.

What are you currently reading?

I am not reading anything at the moment. I must keep my Master Gardener’s certification current, so I am watching webinars on pollinators, vegetable garden pests and diseases, and the proper pruning of fruit trees. Were you aware that there are many varieties of bushes and trees that are critical for the survival of overwintering bee colonies?

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

Initially, it was “One day at a time.” That has transitioned to “Be safe and take care of those you love.”

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

I will visit independent establishments. It will be a full-day event:

Coney Dog. We love the owners. Shout out to Katherine and Bill and son Michael.

Crow’s Nest. You have been closed too long.

University Roadhouse. A neighborhood destination.

O’Duffy’s Pub. The best place for Happy Hour with friends.

People who don’t know you, may not realize that you have been a beekeeper. What initially drew you to beekeeping?

I watched a swarm of bees cross our property and, like a tornado in reverse, the bees disappeared beneath an outbuilding 12 feet from our back door. No one we called knew how to remove them. (Close your eyes and don’t read the next few sentences.) We placed a shop vac hose at the entrance of the hole and began sucking the bees as the entered or exited the hive. Little did we know there were 40,000 to 60,000 bees setting up housekeeping. Guilt overcame us when the next day there was an article in the Gazette informing the public that honeybees were disappearing at alarming rates due to Colony Collapse Disorder. TURN OFF THE SHOP VAC!!! The public was invited to an informational meeting in Comstock. Shortly after, the Kalamazoo Bee Club was born. I was a convert. I bought my first “Nuc” of bees a year later.

How many times would you estimate that you have been stung?  

With my calm and disarming ways, I was certain I would never be a target. The answer is three.

Okay. Two more bee-related questions. Given your background in bees, what are your thoughts on these murder hornets having made it to the US? Also, can you share a fun bee fact with us?  

The Murder Hornet is one more potential challenge facing the honeybee. Currently we have no concerns in Michigan, but experts will be watching vigilantly. The image of hornets ripping the heads off honeybees and decimating bee colonies is a bit chilling. Michigan beekeepers are more concerned with such things as varroa mites, insecticides that make their way into pollen and nectar, and hive beetles.

Fun fact. Bees need to use the bathroom during the winter. It’s called a cleansing flight. As soon as there is a day that reaches 35-40 degrees, they’ll leave the hive to relieve themselves. You can see evidence of the flight in the snow just outside the entrance to the hive. You don’t want constipated bees.

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

My parents raised five children but it was my mother who held down the fort while my father had to travel. The five of us were born within three and a half years. I am the oldest. My mother was clever, resourceful, creative, patient, definitely outnumbered, and at times justifiably frazzled. She went back to teaching when I was in second or third grade. By junior high I would walk to her elementary school to catch a ride home. I loved to watch her teach. I look back now with the lens of a teacher and what seemed magical to me at the time was exemplary classroom management, moment to moment character education, and strong academic instruction. On her desk there was a word of the week which she integrated into daily conversation. Her students made those words their own. My favorite Barbara Loughlin reminder was “If you concentrate and cogitate, Mrs. Loughlin won’t have to reiterate.” She is the reason I decided on elementary education.

Anything else we should know about you? 

My faith sees me through both trials and triumphs. I’ve been blessed with an amazing family and friends that make me laugh. I have loved every job I’ve ever had because they’ve involved children and families. I’m a little concerned about the Detroit Tigers trajectory.

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

 

We See You, Seniors!

At the end of this 2019/2020 school year, we couldn’t shake students’ hands or pat them on the back to congratulate them for all the hard work they put in to receive their high school diplomas. To celebrate this year’s graduates, we had to get creative. Here are just three ways we’ve been celebrating and sharing their accomplishment with them, their families, and the Kalamazoo community:

1. In a “Celebrate the Class of 2020” series, we’ve been featuring graduates and sharing their post-graduation goals. Here are two of them:

You can check out the whole series by going to the CIS Facebook page, here.

2. CIS had individual yard signs printed with a big, beautiful photo of the graduate and delivered them to their homes.

3. We made a short tribute video to the graduating class of 2020. You can watch it here:

Congratulations Class of 2020! We are so proud of you!

Meet Paul Runnels

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 Paul Runnels. Since 2013, Paul has been one of the CIS volunteers who makes the Science Club at Edison Environmental Science Academy so successful.

Like other volunteers who have supported the Science Club since its 2003 inception, Paul brings to bear his talents, skills, and passion for science. And he has quite the science background! After obtaining his bachelor of pre-med at DePauw University, he studied veterinarian medicine at Purdue University. He then pursued his doctorate in veterinarian pathology at Iowa State University. While in graduate school he did research work for the National Animal Disease Center.

Paul moved to Kalamazoo in 2003 when Pfizer moved its Animal Health headquarters from Connecticut to Kalamazoo. [In 2013, Pfizer spun off this unit into Zoetis. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals in more than 100 countries.] Retired since 2016 from Zoetis, this clinical research veterinarian is helping to inspire a new generation of scientists.

An avid biker, Paul also serves on the board of Open Roads, which use bicycles as a vehicle to engage and empower young people in the community to develop skills for their future. He is also part of the cyclist riding group, known as The Chain Gang. Back in 2016, he was one of the nine cyclists struck by a pickup truck. Five died, and Paul, along with three others, were severely injured. We’re thankful that Paul has recovered and is once again volunteering and biking.

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

Pop Quiz

Researchers have found that asking children questions about their surroundings while encouraging and extending their explorations of their world can help them improve their general knowledge and science achievement. That’s what you all do as volunteers who facilitate the Science Club at Edison.

All the kids absorb the information like sponges. My only wish is we could do Science Club more often, and with more kids!

Scientists are curious and tend to ask good questions. What is a question you’ve asked recently?

We just did a recent section with the Science Club around water filtration. We had the students make their own bio filters. We gave them a small amount of tiny gravel, some sand, some activated charcoal, and peat moss. The coffee filters were then used to cap the end of a water bottle. We had filled them up with pond water and they ran the water through filters. The water was running painfully slow. So the question we posed to the kids was: Why are these filters running so slow?

How wonderful that the Science Club gives students the opportunity to do such interesting hands-on learning.

And this year, CIS, with a grant from Zoetis, bought some really good microscopes.

We asked students to imagine that Teresa’s dog, Cash, went out and drank some pond water and got sick. We want to figure out why Cash got sick, and figure out how to treat it. [Teresa Miller, another member of the volunteer team that helps facilitate the Science Club was recently featured on our blog, here.]

A week before meeting with the students, we had collected some pond water and so we put two or three drops on the slides. Usually, you see one or two things underneath the scope. The students are working in small groups and looking at the drops under the microscope when zoop! Something went back and forth across the field. Bigger than anything we’d ever seen.

What was that?

I have no idea! We’d never seen it before. I assume it was some type of larval insect. It got everybody excited, even me!

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect to volunteering?

Interacting with the kids. I love it. As an old guy, it’s wonderful to be around all that energy.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I like to do woodworking. I’m teaching myself to cut dovetails. I’m getting there but I’m not yet really good at it. Matt Krautmann [Krautmann also volunteered for several years with the Science Club], does a good deal of wood working and has been helpful in this endeavor. I was recently gluing the base of a table and the joints didn’t fit perfectly. I respect Matt’s work ethic and creative thinking. I learned from him that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

If we could talk about the 2016 incident in which you were seriously injured…after having experienced such a horrific event, was it scary getting back on the bike and ride again?

No, it wasn’t. Because I was determined. I had been laying in the hospital bed, and at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to even walk. After some weeks, as I grew stronger, I knew I would do it.

What did you learn from this whole experience?

The biggest thing I learned is the importance of the support of the community. Not just the biking community, but also Kalamazoo, and the broader community, and all the encouragement and strength they shared with us. I’m grateful to the first responders and the medical community. I also learned how amazingly resilient the human body is.

[With money raised, the Chain Gang connected with Kalamazoo sculptor Joshua Diedrich who created a memorial to those who lost their lives and to honor the survivors. The piece is installed at Markin Glen Park. To learn more about the artist’s process and to see additional photos of the monument, go here.]

Image courtesy of Joshua Diedrich

What are you currently reading? 

I just finished Deep State by James B. Stewart. He also happened to be my college roommate. We went to DePauw University.

Your roommate became quite a successful author. What was he like back then?

He was a very engaged individual who is very bright. When we were in school he was a campus leader. He got into journalism and became the editor of the school paper. He went on to Harvard for law school, became a lawyer, and ended up writing about the Wall Street insider trading scandals of the 80s. That book, Den of Thieves, won the Pulitzer. And Heart of a Soldier is another of his books I really like.

What is your favorite word right now?

Resilience.

What’s something you looking forward to in 2020?

Taking a winter vacation in Hawaii. My wife and I spend the month of February in Hawaii. It’s a perk of retirement.

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

My parents. My dad was one of the vets in the town of Darlington, Indiana, that I grew up in. He mostly worked on farm animals and also did small animals more as a service than as a passion. He did that for 20 or so years and then joined the staff at Purdue for another 25 years. He was very busy as a small town, practicing vet. He’d get called out at any time of the day or night. The local telephone company was his answering phone when he was at church. That was his one undisturbed hour of the week. And though busy, he made time to be supportive and come to the events we were involved in. Both my parents did.

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

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.

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.

 

 

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.”

Sweating the Small Stuff

CIS Site Coordinators sweat the big and small stuff to make sure kids are connected to the resources and people they need to stay in school and succeed. Last week, we heard from many of our elementary CIS Site Coordinators—they were tapped out of smaller-sized sweatpants. The requests for sweatpants were exceeding supplies.

Students and school staff connect with CIS site teams at their school to request basic items of clothing such as sweatpants as well as school supplies and personal care products that are needed. It can be hard to focus on learning for students if they are uncomfortable or embarrassed, and it’s hard to do classwork and homework without the right supplies. Thanks to many of you, CIS Kids’ Closet is an invaluable resource that makes it possible for kids to attend school every day, all day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn.

Some years back, one of our former CIS Site Coordinators, Laura Keiser, pulled together a “Top Seven” list of why sweatpants never go out of season. Here’s what she wrote:

Whether it’s wet pants (spilled milk, fell in a puddle, had a potty accident), smelly pants (limited or no access to laundry facilities), or no pants (refused to wear anything but shorts to school in March and realized the error of their ways at recess) – sweatpants do matter. Sweatpants get a bad rap. This unassuming staple of clothing worn by all those exercising, lounging, or otherwise needing a comfortable pair of pants doesn’t usually make the “must have” list in the fashion & style magazines. But did you know that sweatpants are one of the most important items donated to the CIS Kids’ Closet? As a CIS Site Coordinator, I give out sweatpants every day to the kids in my school and I see the difference they make in helping our kids attend school every day, all day, with comfort and dignity.

Here’s seven reasons why we think sweatpants should make the “must have” list!

7. Sweatpants are inexpensive.
6. Sweatpants are durable.
5. The elastic ankles keep the bugs out. (Just kidding! We wanted to make sure you were still reading.)
4. They can be pulled over other clothes to be used as an extra layer in the winter.
3. There are no pockets so you can’t sneak stuff to school – like your pet hamster.
2. They are “user-friendly” for younger students – no buttons, snaps, or zippers!
1. And the #1 reason – sweatpants fit a variety of shapes and sizes and both boys and girls.

Consider being a supporter of sweatpants and donate a new pair or two to CIS Kids’ Closet today! To learn more of what is on the “wish list,” go here. Please note that based on our limited staff and facilities capacity, we do ask that all in-kind donations are new. We encourage you to donate gently used items to other organizations in our community who depend on these donations to support their work.