Growing up on CIS and Now Giving Back

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 Jayda Fair, a 2020 graduate of Loy Norrix High School. A CIS alumna and Kalamazoo Promise Scholar, Jayda now works for CIS as a youth development coach. She supports students at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts while also acclimating to her new role of being a mother to daughter Na’riyah. She is looking forward to attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) next semester and ultimately obtaining a degree in social work.

We met up with Jayda over Zoom and popped this quiz on her. [Jayda is featured in the recently released CIS Annual Report, found here. She reflects on CIS and the community supports that have helped her succeed. You won’t want to miss it!]

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

Pop Quiz

What three words describe you?

Outgoing, fun, and open.

The pandemic disrupted life as we know it. Did it disrupt your educational and/career plans? If so, how?

Actually, pregnancy changed my plans way more than the pandemic did.

Jayda with her daughter.

Motherhood can do that to you! Your daughter is beautiful. [Na’riyah made a brief appearance at the beginning of this interview.] In being a new mother and navigating these challenging times, what have you learned about yourself?

I have more patience than I realized. And the days go by quickly!

What are you currently reading?

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. It’s like a poetry book. It’s about these high school kids who don’t like school, but as part of their class, the teacher has them writing poetry…It’s the “all-school” read for Maple Street.

Thinking back on your years at KPS, who was one of your most influential teachers?

At Woods Lake Elementary, it was Ms. [Mary Jo] Reilly. When I first started getting bullied, she picked up on it. She comforted me, addressed the situation, and got my parents involved. She connected me to CIS. I was quiet and becoming involved with CIS helped open me up.

At Maple Street, it was Ms. [Stephanie] Hampton. She made learning fun; that’s why I love English so much.

In high school, Ms. [Niambi] Pringle was a positive influence for me. She was like a mother figure. When I wasn’t feeling good or had a problem on my mind, she’d notice something was wrong, and took me under her wing.

As you have had the opportunity to be part of CIS as a young person, from first through twelfth grade, how would you explain CIS to others?

CIS is a movement that is all about empowering young people. CIS is there for you…It was there for me.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

YFE. That stands for: Your family is everything. My family and I take family seriously.

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

My parents. Also, [CIS Site Coordinator] Mr. [Montrell] Baker, and [Promise Pathway Coach] Melissa Nesbitt. They have all been so helpful.

You are a Kalamazoo Promise scholar!

Having the Promise is really helpful. I like that I don’t have to rush and can further my education at my own time. You have ten years to use the Promise.

It’s so cool that you received CIS support as a young student and now you are working for CIS!

I often thought that maybe I should work for CIS and give back, just like they did for me. I’d wonder, what if I could help kids, support them like CIS did for me.

And you are!

Yes! I’m really enjoying working with the students.

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

3 Easy Science Projects Students Can Do At Home

Guest blogger Chris Hybels is helping us kick off our new blog series in which we will cover topics and resources that we hope will provide support to students and families during these challenging times. Chris is one of our Marketing and Development Interns, and he graduated from Kalamazoo Public Schools in 2016. After graduating from KPS, Chris went to Michigan State University using the Kalamazoo Promise and graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 2019. He is now pursuing a master’s degree at MSU in advertising and public relations.

Science projects are a great way for students to take what they learned from textbooks and bring it into the real world. They get to use their hands to explore problems and find the solution to them. However, science projects don’t always have to be about finding solutions, they can just be fun ways to discover how things work! Below are 3 awesome science projects that can easily be performed at home and rely on the skills students have learned from textbooks.

Build A Lava Lamp

Materials:
• A clear plastic bottle, preferably with smooth sides
• Water
• Vegetable Oil
• Fizzing tablets (like Alka Seltzer)
• Food coloring

Instructions:
1. Fill the up to a quarter (1/4) of the way with water.
2. Add a few drops of food coloring into the bottle then swirl around till the water has changed colors.
3. Pour the vegetable oil into the bottle until it is almost full.
4. Break the fizzy tablet into two pieces and drop one of the halves into the bottle and get ready for the colorful bubbly blobs to appear!
5. And you can repeat Step 4 once the tablet is completely dissolved in the bottle.

To a watch video tutorial for this experiment click here.

Make Your Own Rock Candy

Materials:
• A wooden skewer, or popsicle sticks
• A clothespin, or clip wide enough to sit on the glass
• 1 cup of water
• 3 cups of sugar
• A tall narrow jar or glass
• Food flavoring (optional)
• Food coloring (optional)
• A pot

Instructions:
1. Place the water into the pot, then pour in the sugar. And mix them together to create a sugar solution.
2. Next, dip your skewer into some water, and roll it in sugar. Set aside until it dries
3. Move the pot onto the stove and turn the heat up to high. Stir the solution as it warms up.
4. Once the solution begins to boil, stir rapidly until all the sugar has dissolved into the solution.
a. Stir in food coloring and/or food flavoring at this time.
5. Then, take the sugar solution and pour it into the glass you will be using to grow your rock candy, and let the solution cool for ten minutes.
6. Next, place the wooden skewer coated in sugar into the glass and clip it using the clothespin or clip so it is submerged in the solution without touching the bottom or sides.
7. Place the jar in a warm, dry place to cool. Sugar crystals will begin to grow
8. The process of growing the sugar crystals can last from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
9. Check daily to make sure the crystals from the stick aren’t touching the crystals on the bottom. Reposition the stick as needed.
10. Once the crystals have stopped growing, use a knife to break the top shell of your solution, and remove your skewer and place it into another a jar to drip and dry.
11. When the skewer is dry you can then enjoy your rock candy!

To a watch video tutorial for this experiment click here.

Build A Soap Powered Model Boat

Materials:
• A toothpick
• Liquid dish soap
• A cookie sheet, tray, or boat filled with water
• A foam tray (like the kind meat comes in) of non-corrugated cardboard

Instructions:
1. Cut the foam tray or cardboard into a boat shape, about two inches long.
2. Dip the toothpick into the soap, and use the toothpick to place soap on the sides of the notch at the back of the boat.
3. Place the boat in the water and watch it glide across the surface for several seconds.
4. To make the boat move again, rinse off the soap from the boat and start again from Step 2.

To a watch video tutorial for this experiment click here.

Can’t get enough science? Check out some these awesome resources for more fun experiments:

Science Bob
Science Fun for Everyone
We Are Teachers
• The Sci Guys
• Science Max

 

Mikka Dryer: Grateful For the Opportunity to Volunteer

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Mikka Dryer was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. Milwood Magnet Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best introduced us to this CIS volunteer who is a champion for children. [If you didn’t get a chance to learn about the great work Mikka is doing with students in Dr. Brandy Shooks’ ESL classroom, click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November. Mikka’s award is at the 14:33 minute marker.]

Mikka Dryer, 2020 Champ Award recipient

Born and raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mikka lives in Portage with her husband Cory. She says she’s “grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer with CIS as my job as Supervisor of Community Health, Equity and Inclusion at Bronson provides me the flexibility to do so.

We sat down with Mikka at Milwood Magnet Middle School, shortly before the pandemic hit and schools were closed.

You’ve been volunteering out at Milwood Magnet Middle School for the past four years, with the last three of those years supporting a small group of young ladies who are part of KPS teacher Brandy Shook’s ESL [English as a Second Language] class. How did you come to volunteer through CIS?

When my daughter was in middle school and upper hours, I had an hourly job and couldn’t take off time from work to volunteer in her classroom or at her school. With my job now, as a salaried employee, I have that flexibility and wanted to start volunteering through CIS. For me, it’s a way to give back to kids whose parents are in the same position I was in…I know there are parents just like me, that want to volunteer in their child’s school but just can’t give back because of their job.

I want to give back and am grateful I have the opportunity to do this now, even though I couldn’t do it with my own daughter.

What insights have you gained from volunteering?

There is a difference between raising my own child and coming into a volunteer experience where you are interacting with kids you don’t know. So I’m learning about them and asking them questions. It’s not intuitive to me because I don’t know their lives and what they are going through and dealing with. I’ve gained understanding and tolerance. Also, as I’m walking through the halls and the bell rings, it brings me back to my own middle school days. Some things haven’t changed.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a book called On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. It’s a young adult book and the follow up to her book, The Hate You Give. I’ve really enjoyed both of the books. I wanted to read her latest book because last year, we all read The Hate You Give as an all-school read. We really bonded over they book. [We ran this post about last year’s Reading Together book and how students had lots of love for The Hate You Give.]

What is your favorite word right now?

Through an equity lens.

I say this and think about this often in the work I’m in. I’m always considering what I’m doing through an equity lens. Am I considering all people, all voices, historical events, oppression, people who have had experienced life in different ways than me? Am I taking into account the whole situation? Whether I’m at work, volunteering, or how I’m spending my money, am I approaching what I’m doing through an equity lens?

Taking into account the whole situation and various perspectives is a much fuller way to experience life.

Yes, you feel fuller because you are considering others and their perspectives, not just one’s one. I can relate to people better because of it.

What question have you asked recently?

Can you tell me more about that? Why do you feel that way?

I’m trying to ask more questions at home. At work and out in the community I’m accepting, tolerant, and open, but at home, well, it’s a space I need to work on. I want to be more tolerant and understanding of my family members and asking them questions helps me do that. And they are less likely to shut down. Instead of responding with “Get over it,” “That’s not important,” or “Move on,” I’m trying to ask more questions and really listen to what they have to say.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

I love walking my two dogs. I love Portage trails, being out in the sun and walking outside trails, biking paths, and enjoying the sunshine.

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

As a young person growing up, I’d definitely say my parents, James and Tako Keller. They had five kids and I was the middle child. They loved and supported me, and still do. I had a good childhood even though I probably wasn’t the easiest adolescent to parent, and yet they still supported me. They have always had my back.

Anything else should we know about you?

My daughter Nayah wants to open her own bakery one day and I’m happily obligated to be her taste tester. She recently moved out on her own, and one thing I’ll miss is having tasty treats at least three times a week!

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

Tapping Into Students’ Curiosity About the World

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

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

JAPANESE CULTURE CLUB

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

Students prepare for their Sensai.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both agreed they would be coming back.

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

Back to School in the Pandemic Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Achenbach: Each Student & Family is Unique

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Rebecca Achenbach who, in the Fall of 2019, stepped into the role of CIS Site Coordinator for Linden Grove Middle School. She also worked throughout 2020 CIS Think Summer, serving as the CIS Think Summer Quality Coach, in which she was responsible for ensuring high quality programming for the student participants.

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

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

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

Pop Quiz 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you currently reading?  

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

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

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

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

Anything else you want us to know?

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

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

 

 

 

When Doors Open, Maria Walks Through

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Maria Whitmore (Chalas), CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. We caught up with her just as she had finished serving as Program Director for CIS Think Summer for the middle school students.

Born and raised in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, Maria says it was love that brought her from the Caribbean to Kalamazoo in 2014. “I met a wonderful man online in an unexpected way, and here I am with my two children.”

Maria graduated from Caribbean University, a private university system in the Dominican Republic and graduated in 2007 with a degree in Education and Modern Languages.

When Maria arrived in the United States, her first job was at a greenhouse. “However, God never leaves his children alone, and El Sol Elementary opened its doors for me.” In the fall of 2016, when Maria’s son was in 4th grade, she stepped into the role as a Title 1 Paraprofessional. Around this same time, another opportunity opened so Maria also began helping extend the learning day for El Sol students by serving as a youth development coach for CIS After School.

With the support of Ms. Heather Grisales [principal of El Sol at that time] Maria also started taking the necessary steps to pursue a teaching position. But, Maria states, “God had another plan for me and things turned out differently. I was called to a different scenario. Because God is so caring, he opened another door for me: CIS.”

Maria with her son, Ramil.

Maria now serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Arcadia Elementary School. She had also worked during 2019 CIS Think Summer as a youth development coach. And when the pandemic did not stop CIS from opening its virtual summer doors to students, Maria went through those doors too, and served as the CIS Think Summer program director for the middle schools.

“I love working for CIS,” Maria says. “CIS believes in growing people, both kids and grownups. They offer opportunities, and I’m an example of it. They trusted me, and because of that, I’m where I am at right now.”

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

Pop Quiz

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

Perseverance and optimism. I think those are the key for anything in life, especially during these challenging times. I remind myself to stay calm and stay positive.

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

I can share my knowledge with others, and at the same time, I can learn from them. I feel like a real teacher, which I love. I just love seeing the impact we have on kids when we work together.

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

The hard part is keeping students engaged. We all know that a kid and a computer means video games; we have to fight that now.

I do like calling parents. That way we keep each other in the loop as to what is happening. It also gives us the opportunity to work closely together to support students and fully engage them in the learning process. And despite the challenges, kids are engaging. For example, I have three students who went back to their home country of Saudia Arabia. And yet, they continued to join their peers with their virtual learning throughout CIS Think Summer.

What are you currently reading?  

Don’t Die in the Winter: Your Season is Coming by Dr. Millicent Hunter.

 What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

I don’t see the glass half empty. I see it as half full.

Anything else you want us to know?

I am always working, even when sleeping! What I mean by that is that my engagement with the work that I perform is so exciting that I’m always busy figuring new things out as to how best support the youth that we serve.

Also, I like to play a game that helps me to relax after a hard day. It’s called Parshisi Star and is an online game that I have on my phone. When I was a kid, I used to play it as a table game, but now it’s available through your Facebook account.

I also love to cook. I am the kind of cook who doesn’t follow the recipe instructions. I base my dishes off my own tastes and everybody that has tasted my food loves it!

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

 

VIRTUAL COLLECTION DRIVE TO SUPPORT STUDENTS BACK-TO-SCHOOL NEEDS

While school is shaping up to look a lot differently this school year, one thing that hasn’t changed is that students still need basic school supplies to start their year off strong. This year, to make it safer and easier for the community to provide students which much needed school supplies, CIS has launched a virtual collection drive.

“Given these unprecedented times, we felt it paramount to review our current guidelines for donation collections and distribution to the 20 CIS supported Kalamazoo Public Schools,” says Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo James Devers. “Our top priority is the health and safety of the children and families we serve, our generous supporters, KPS staff and CIS staff.”

Now through August 28th, supporters can participate in the virtual collection drive by shopping on-line for items like notebooks, pencils, scissors and more. Donations can be made by visiting the donation page here. These purchased supplies will be delivered directly to the CIS Kids’ Closet for distribution.

While CIS highly recommends the virtual collection as the way to support students’ back to school needs, if individuals or organizations wish to support in alternative ways, they can reach out to us by going to the “Contact” page on our website, found here.