Jessica Waller: From KPS to Kellogg (and back)

CIS Think Summer! is underway and Jessica Waller helped Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) kick off programming—virtual this summer, due to COVID-19—by offering a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students. CIS Think Summer! is organized by various career themes, the first of which is focused on food and food-related careers. As you’ll quickly discover, Mrs. Waller was the perfect person for the job.

Ms. Waller connecting with students through computer.

 

Jessica (Savage) Waller is a proud Kalamazoo native and graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS); Mrs. Waller attended Northeastern Elementary, South Junior High School (currently known as Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts), and Kalamazoo Central High School. Mrs. Waller’s parents always stressed the importance of getting an education and served as examples for her through their professions. Her father was employed at the state of Michigan at the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center as a Mobility and Orientation Instructor and as an adjunct instructor at Western Michigan University in the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies and her mother owned a day care.

Upon graduating high school, Mrs. Waller earned a full scholarship to Western Michigan University. At first, she was not sure what she should major in and her mother suggested Business. Later, Mrs. Waller discovered the Food Marketing major. This would allow her to work in the food industry which is a plus because she loves all kinds of food!

Mrs. Waller has been employed with the Kellogg Company for 21 years. She started as an intern and has held several positions within the company along the way to being promoted to her current position of Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division. Mrs. Waller is proud to work for an organization that values Diversity and Inclusion. These two core company values can be traced back to the founder, W.K. Kellogg. For example, the company added love notes in braille to one of their signature products, Rice Krispie Treats; Mrs. Waller was instrumental in this project. Mrs. Waller stated “Inclusion is in our DNA. Everyone is important, and we want each child to be able to feel loved, supported and acknowledged.”

When Mrs. Waller is not busy developing exciting selling stories for customers, she is spending time with her family which includes seven children ranging from the ages of 24 to two years old.

Agenda Ms. Waller shared with students

Mrs. Waller also recently spent time with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. Her interview follows.

As part of your presentation—which, by the way, was extremely well received by the youth (and grownups) in attendance—you discussed product innovation. It seems that innovation has a natural relationship with diversity and inclusion. Love notes in braille on Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Treats is an excellent example of this. Innovation, like diversity and inclusion, just doesn’t magically happen. Kellogg’s obviously puts work into living out the values of diversity and inclusion. That effort involves creative thinking, listening, and strategizing. Can you speak more about this relationship of diversity, inclusion, and innovation?

Diversity and Inclusion (or D&I) is in the DNA of the Kellogg Company. It started with our founder, WK Kellogg, who was really the Father of the Cereal Category. His persistence resulted in a tremendous amount of innovation, products we now enjoy daily around the breakfast table. Despite many challenges along the way, WK did not give up, and that persistence clearly paid off after many decades of hard work and commitment. At the heart of his work, he solidly believed in changing the world for the better. As part of that, he believed in investing in others, often quoting, “I’ll invest my money in people.” And that he did.

Today, thousands of employees globally still live by the core value set forward by WK. Diversity and Inclusion efforts are at the heart of everything that we do. We have eight different Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Kellogg that represent different areas of focus, and these groups work to ensure that every employee can bring their best self to work every day. I served for the last five years as a Co-Chair for one such ERG, Kapable, which focuses on those employees that might be disabled (or differently-abled as we like to say) or might have family members who are. One of the initiatives we helped lead within Kapable was an inclusivity effort within the Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes campaign, which resulted in the release of Rice Krispies Treats Love Notes stickers for both blind and autistic children. These stickers can be placed on the top of Rice Krispies Treats and share a special message of love and recognition for children as they return to school. Because love and inclusivity are the most important school supplies, aren’t they?

Kelloggs Rice Krispies treats braille stickers (Kelloggs)

Yes, you are correct, innovation doesn’t just happen, and neither does diversity and inclusion. They all take hard work, persistence, and a determination to never give up. When paired together, they can change the world, just as WK aspired to do. Hope is not a strategy—we all have to get involved—and I am personally committed to pushing for a better tomorrow.

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

I am learning that I haven’t done enough. I was raised by socially progressive parents who always believed in community involvement, engaging in the service of others, and equality for all, and so all three of us kids have carried that forth as a way of living and representation within our own communities and families. I thought that I was doing my part by not being closed-minded and by engaging in work that encourages inclusion and diversity. As I have done some reflection over the past several months, I have recognized that simply isn’t enough. It’s a start, but in order to truly make the world a better place, it’s going to take aggressive action, activism, loud voices, persistence, teaching of our children, and most importantly…listening.

I’ve also learned that every challenge brings forth an opportunity for unity. COVID-19 presented an immediate challenge globally, one that quickly divided us all into our own separate homes and lives and significantly changed our former lifestyles as we knew them. Yet we saw the best of humanity rise up as people helped one another get access to food supplies, deliver groceries, tend to our children, visit the lonely, and countless other ways of uniting for good. Then we have the rising unemployment rate, which can quickly divide the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Again, another place where I have seen the best of people, rising up to help one another with the necessities for their families, extend arms of employment, sharing of resources, etc.

I would also point to the civil unrest this country has seen come to the forefront as of late with the horrific slayings of several black fellow Americans. While this is yet another example of terrible divide, we see the unity coming to life with people of all walks of life and ethnicities taking to the streets and demanding equality. It’s a pivotal point of change that is long, long overdue, and I will stand with my family to take a part in every one of those opportunities for unity. My prayer is that we all engage in unification opportunities within our own communities and drive to deliver a better world for us and for our children.

Do you have a sense that American’s snacking habits have changed as a result of the pandemic?

Absolutely—people are eating more and eating differently. We are constantly engaging consumers to understand this evolution. COVID-19 created this vertical upheaval in the American way of life that has greatly impacted how, when and why people are eating. We know that 89% of shopper buying habits have changed since the start of COVID. More people are buying online, perhaps having groceries delivered, perhaps shopping in another Channel (type of store) versus where they have traditionally shopped. They certainly stocked up more, at least for a period of time, than what they had in the past, and as a result, they are eating more. I know that’s true for me! Being home 24/7 with a house full of kids that would otherwise be so actively engaged in school and community activities has left us eating more food at home instead! We find that to be true broadly across the US.

What will be most interesting is watching what consumers do after this pandemic settles a bit…will they go back to their former ways or be forever changed? We will be anxious to see!

What is one of your favorite snacks?

Cheez-It Extra Toasty, hands down! I love them.

Thinking back to your days as a KPS student, can you tell us about a teacher(s) who influenced and inspired you?

There were so many that I would honestly feel bad if I called out any one in particular. I rattled off nearly a dozen in my mind as the question was asked. There are many excellent teachers in KPS, and everywhere for that matter. We don’t value them enough in this country, and that has to change. Without teachers, where would any of us be?

What are you currently reading?  

I just finished a book called Top Down Day about a family that lost a loved one and how they processed and coped. I lost my Dad nearly five years ago now to brain cancer, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and struggle with that tremendous loss. That book really helped me recognize that many of the personal and painful things I have felt with the loss of my Dad are ‘normal’ feelings. One never knows what to expect in the face of tragedy I suppose, but I’m learning everyday how to cope. I miss him terribly, we all do. But at least I can hold onto the wonderful example and teachings he instilled in me of being kind to others always. As long as I uphold that, he lives on.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

“Just do it.” A former leader in my church said that often, as does Nike, of course. We all need to get up off our couches and out from behind our computer and phone screens and get involved. Don’t overthink the ‘buts’ and ‘whats’…just do it. Do what you know is right.

Anything else you want us to know?

I’m so grateful for this opportunity to engage tomorrow’s leaders. So thank you for that.  If I can ever help in any way, count me in!

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

 

 

 

CIS Think Summer is underway!

Boxes of materials and supplies sent to CIS Think Summer! students.

CIS Think Summer! is in full swing this year for elementary and secondary students thanks to continued support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. CIS Think Summer! is designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities. Until this year, students’ CIS Think Summer experience has always been an in-person summer program with interactive field trips occurring at least once a week. “Due to COVID, our programming, including field trips, had to be cancelled and we had to shift CIS Think Summer to an online platform,” said Dr. Tamiko Garrett.

To fill the holes in the students’ enrichment schedule, Dr. Garrett reached out to a number of individuals and organizations to see if they would be willing to offer one-time presentations that align with the career themes (food, health, and entrepreneurial focus) promoted during CIS Think Summer!

CIS is grateful to all those who have already and will be sharing their knowledge and expertise with our students. “All have been willing to step up and present without hesitation,” says Dr. Garrett. “Their commitment has helped us ensure that, despite these challenging times, students still have interactive experiences. We can’t thank them enough!”

Next week, we’ll introduce you to Jessica Waller, Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division with the Kellogg Company. A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, she helped us kick off CIS Think Summer! with a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students.

Celebrating Sue Warner: All In For Kids & Reading

Since 1992, Sue Warner has served as the Head of Youth Services. A Kalamazoo native, Sue holds a bachelors degree in English Literature from Indiana University and her MA in Library Science from the University of Michigan. Sue first worked at Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) as a Student Assistant from 1976-1977. She returned as a Children’s Librarian in 1988, stepping into Head of Youth Services four years later.

Sue Warner is a quiet leader in a world that too often confuses loudness with leadership. A listener, a doer, and a thinker, Sue exhibits a quiet and steady leadership. Over the years, she has brought these qualities (and more) along with her impressive grasp of children’s literature and understanding of child development to her work with the Kalamazoo Public Library. Our partnership with KPL and the children we serve throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools have benefited from her wisdom and leadership. We will miss her when she retires at the end of this month.

We met up (virtually) with Sue during this pandemic to get her thoughts on books (of course!), retirement, and more.

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

As an introvert, home is my favorite place, so I’m doing okay.

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world in all this? 

I’m reminded that the people who are helpers are still stepping up and taking care of others without looking for attention or recognition; while those who are always seeking the spotlight are using this as a chance to try to be the loudest voices. We always need to look for the helpers and support them.

When it comes to supporting our young people and their families, you and KPL are such an extraordinary partner. We can always count on you to help us keep kids in school and succeed in both school and life. Any thoughts you want to share regarding this longstanding partnership? 

I love partnering with CIS! You guys are the best because you put kids first every day, look to community partners to help, and welcome volunteers to make the one-on-one connections kids that are so critical. Personally, I loved my four years as a tutor with three kids at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary. The staff at KPL always works together in the fall to collect school supplies to donate the CIS Kids’ Closet. Also, I enjoyed helping my friend Millie, who lives in Texas, when she decided to knit mittens to send to Michigan kids and CIS was willing to distribute them to kids in our community. [Millie’s Mittens post can be found here.] When organizations have a partnership such as ours, the most important part, though, is the personal relationships that staff have . . . we have to know and trust each other in order for the work to be successful.

Sue (far right) back in 2013 when Kalamazoo Public Library hosted Walter Dean Myers during his “Reading is Not Optional” tour. Also pictured (from left): Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, and Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan. This photo originally ran in the 2013 CIS post, “Finding Words in Your Pockets.”

You and KPL do such wonderful and innovative programming. One of those which is close to your heart is The Late Show, in which you have volunteers read aloud books over the PA system during bedtime to young people residing at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. Can you share with us a bit more about that program? and the power of reading aloud to young people

Now in its 27th year, the Late Show is a bedtime reading program on 2 or 3 nights a week at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. The purpose of the program is to bring a send of calm and comfort to residents at bedtime by reading aloud to them, and to expose students to well-written literature. My first experience with the program was as a volunteer reader, recruited by my friend Ruth Heinig, from WMU. Later, Ruth recruited me to take over from her as the selector of the readings. Now, KPL is the institutional home for the program and we do it all . . . recruit new readers, schedule the readers, select and send out the readings for the week, etc.  We also work with the Juvenile Home to bring visiting teen authors there for author visits, and support other community volunteers who run weekly Book Club discussion groups at the Juvenile Home. Our mission is to support books and reading for these teens who are not currently able to visit the library.

Over the years, you have probably seen changes in the way the way children and families experience the library. Can you speak a little bit about those changes or trends that you’ve noticed?

When I was first starting out as a Children’s Librarian, it was mostly mothers bringing children to the library to check out books and come to storytime. Now we have so many dads, grandparents, and nannies as well as moms. We also offer so many more programs for kids of all ages. We are also seen as a community play space with age-appropriate toys, computers for kids with not only internet access but also educational games and other resources. We have parenting books and magazines in the Children’s Room, community resources about early education and care. The library is now a destination for families to visit and spend time together, not just dash in and leave; families are staying for a long time!

What tips would you give parents who are trying to find just the right book(s) for their young children? 

Let your child choose some of their own books; it’s never too early to learn about making choices; and ask the librarian for help finding things. We have a lot of good ideas!

What children’s book that has been around for quite a while, in your opinion, has stood the test of time?

I never tire of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

What children’s book (or children’s author) has flown under the radar and deserves a wider audience? 

Elisha Cooper’s books are wonderful. His Beaver is Lost and A Good Night Walk are favorites at my house right now.

Is there a children’s book that is over-rated, one that has been touted and received inexplicably positive press? 

Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch.

When you were a child, what was your favorite book? 

According to my mom, The Cat in the Hat. She had to periodically “lose” it. She despised it, but I’m still rather fond of it. Mom read to us so much; it paid off as my brothers and I are all readers today.

What are you currently reading? 

Kindest Regards by Ted Kooser and Tiny Love: The Complete Stories by Larry Brown.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

It will be fine; have a cookie.

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

Bookbug for me and Oval Beach in Saugatuck for my husband.

What do you think you will miss most about your job once you retire? 

Working with kids and their families every day; it’s so meaningful to help someone find a book they will love, or to encourage a new parent to read with a newborn, or to help a teacher find books to enhance their lessons. Sitting on the floor to read and sing with kids can make the administrative work tolerable some days.

Fred Rogers said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” As someone on the cusp of retirement, what will you be stepping into and beginning during this next phase of your life? 

Most immediately, providing care for my youngest grandkids this summer; after that, probably looking for a volunteer opportunity in the community where I can work with kids.

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

Note: The Kalamazoo Public Library has missed you! The library will be opening on June 22 with limited hours and service. Face covers will be required for entry. Find out what you can expect when you visit by learning details here.

Jerrell Amos: Learning to Adjust When Life Throws A Curve Ball

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 Jerrell Amos, CIS Site Coordinator for Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts.

Born in Detroit and raised in Southfield, Michigan, Jerrell moved to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. He holds a bachelors degree in Secondary Education and a Master of Social Work. Jerrell has been with CIS since the 2017-18 school year.

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

Pop Quiz

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

I am holding up fine. Feeling well and in good spirits.

What are you learning about yourself in all this?

I love meditation. There is nothing better for the soul than a calm mind. Our family life is fast paced due to having two teenagers, and now a puppy. Being a father and a husband consumes the vast majority of my time. So having time to sit back and think allows me to a better person in all areas of my life. Spending time for myself seems selfish at times, but I know that I will be a better person for it. Everyone I come in contact with will hopefully benefit from my improvements.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS site coordinator?

Best part of being a CIS coordinator is interacting with the students and watching their growth and maturation. I also enjoy laughing and making people laugh as well. The students at Maple Street always provide me with a good, laugh daily. I am honored to know that they count on me during a crisis and as someone they can hangout with in a safe space.

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 are you continuing to support students during this challenging time? 

I have just focused on being that caring adult in their lives. Many of my students were not expecting to hear from the CIS guy. Many of my parents as well were thankful for me reaching out and checking in. My goal has been to continue providing that layer of support the students were used to having and to those who wanted it. I have been able to reach some of my students and family via phone, text, and email to check in and provide resources to help during these challenging times.

The middle school 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?  

The trend I have been seeing with students has been boredom and anxiety. Students have been struggling with being confined to their homes and not being able to see friends and family. Also, students have expressed their frustration with school ending so abruptly and not having the closure they are used to.

What are you currently reading?

I have been reading a lot information and trying to educate myself regarding the pandemic. I have spent time learning new skills on a professional and personal level. I have taken advantage of several professional training opportunities regarding social emotional learning that focused on school-wide support and trauma. Also, I have increased some hard skills that have always interested me. For example, I have been researching woodworking and building things.

What have you recently built?

I recently built a queen size platform bed. My next project is a sectional sofa for my three season porch. My mom will be doing the upholstery for me.

Jerrell’s most recent handiwork.

What is your favorite word (or phrase) right now?

“Be selfish with improving who you are so that you can be an asset to others.” To me, this means that we have to spend time away from others to work on ourselves. You will have to sacrifice hanging with friends and loved ones in order to get to another level. The hope is that your family, co-workers, and team will benefit from a better version of yourself.

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

I am such a homebody that I really have not yearned to go anywhere. I do miss interacting with people. So I would love to visit my family and friends.

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

I can’t just provide one person specifically. I have had so many caring adults in my life from my mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches and friends who has contributed to my success. The younger version of myself would have only said my mother. I do give my mother a ton of credit for my success, but as I have matured I realized that it took a village.

You have a son who is a high school senior and in this year’s 2020 graduation class. Not having the opportunity to experience the highly anticipated rituals and all the events and celebrations that normally goes along with graduation time, must be difficult. As a family, have you been able to or are you planning new ways to celebrate this important milestone?

At first it was hard to grasp the fact that we would not be able to celebrate like we planned. But, like I told him, sometimes life will throw you a curve ball and you have to learn to adjust to be successful. We discussed how this would help him to appreciate things more in life because you never know if you will get that opportunity again. Also, to never put something off until later. Appreciate the little things in life and show appreciation to the people who helped you along the way. Graduating from high school is a great accomplishment and should be celebrated, but hopefully it’s not the last great thing he does in his life. We hope to celebrate his college graduation, first career job, wedding, childbirth, buying a home, and whatever he sets out to accomplish.

We plan on having a drive-by celebration for him graduating from high school.

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

Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer: Finding Ways to Connect with Students During Time of Physical Distancing

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 Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer, CIS Success Coach for Loy Norrix High School.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Nazlhy moved to the Dominican Republic–where her family is originally from–when she was around three years old. She holds a bachelors degree in Industrial Psychology (equivalent to a Human Resources Administration/Management degree in the United States). In 2005, she returned to the United States with her children.  She lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan until 2018, when, as she puts it, “Love brought me to Kalamazoo.” She’s been with CIS since the summer of 2018.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you and your loved ones holding up during this pandemic? 

These had been difficult days. I’m a people person by nature and those that know me would say that I’m a hugger.  Since physical contact is not allowed, I’ve been trying virtual connections as much as possible. Talking with family and friends keeps me grounded and reminds me that we are all in this together. I heard something the other day that I really liked and I quote: “We must to practice social distancing but that doesn’t mean that we need to be socially distant.”

What are you learning about yourself (and/or the world) in all this? 

I have learned that we needed to stop! We were running a race against the truly important things in life. Humans were showing a lack of human feelings and humanity… Just waiting for the next reason to spend money, whether it was a holiday, a birthday, or just any sale…worried about giving “things” to our loved ones instead of giving love and time, forgetting about people and relationships… Our daily lives turned into calendars and schedules, and our eyes did not look beyond a screen. We forgot about essential things like love, compassion, care, goals, and dreams. We stopped dreaming and enjoying the little things.

Yes, we needed to stop. Unfortunately, we have been forced to stop. Now I look outside through my improvised home office and I can see nature smiling at these crazy times that we are living. Maybe that means something, just maybe.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS success coach? 

Relationships. The opportunity to be a resource for our students, to meet them where they are, to look beyond the struggles and help them realize that planning for the future starts today and that every day is a new opportunity to move forward and closer to reach their goals and dreams, to be better for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

As you know, your role as a success coach allows CIS to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. Within the school you provide that one-on-one coaching support a student needs to help them succeed in school and life. Now, 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 as a success coach are you continuing to support students during this time? 

During this time of insecurity when so many things are out of our control, human connections and relationships are extremely important. Making myself available for my students has been my priority. I’m providing information, answering questions, and sharing community resources. I’m saying happy birthday or just texting with them about anything–including TV shows, cooking, and baking. I’m helping them to stay focused on what’s next. Fall is around the corner and they need to be reminded that we will get back to “normal.”  My hope is that they learn from what we are going through and come out of this crisis more resilient, focused, and stronger.

The students you coach 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 coping and dealing with this pandemic in very individual and particular ways depending on their own realities. I fear for some of them that have too many struggles to deal with on a regular basis during normal times. Not having the safety net that the school provides is the biggest challenge. At school, students are guaranteed learning, food, care, attention, support, relationships, and safe spaces… I don’t want to think about how it looks like now for our more vulnerable students, but I’m still reaching out and doing everything I can to connect and be there for them.   

What are you currently reading?

I just started re-reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The book tells the story of a young shepherd named Santiago who is able to find a treasure beyond his wildest dreams. Along the way, he learns to listen to his heart and, more importantly, realizes that his dreams, or his personal legend, are not just his but part of the soul of the universe.

What is your favorite word (or phrase) right now?

My word is vulnerability. My phrase is “This too shall pass.”

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

OMG! I will drive up to Grand Rapids to see my kids and hug them. I miss our hang out times with great music and cooking Dominican food together.

Then I’ll go for some good sushi at Ando in Grand Rapids or Maru in Kazoo.

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

Without a doubt, my parents. Both of them!  I’m 50 years old and we still touch base regularly, several times a week, actually. I still ask for their input before I make a decision. Unknowingly, my parents equipped me with a tool box full of values that has become my “survival kit.” I didn’t know it until I came to the US in 2005 and faced a million struggles as a single mom, raising two kids in a totally unknown and different culture.

A funny note, my mom and I regularly have coffee dates. We both brew a cup of coffee at the same time and video talk like if we were together.

Anything else we should know about you?

Hmm. I have never watched any of the Star Wars movies and I don’t like superhero movies, either. Except for Batman. I like Batman. 

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

Nazlhy (far left) at the 2019 Champs Celebration.

CIS Supporting Students through this Pandemic

During this pandemic, with all Michigan schools closed for the remainder of this school year and many people out of work or with reduced hours, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) students and families are disproportionately more vulnerable than ever. To ensure that this pandemic does not widen gaps in equity and accessibility, CIS has been working hard to make sure students continue to have access to the resources and caring relationships they need to maintain the gains they have made this school year and to realize their full potential. During this challenging time, here are just a few examples of what that CIS support looks like:

 

  • Providing regular check-ins with students and families via phone and video calls to maintain relationships and to connect them to community resources for basic needs services and reliable information.
  • Passing out educational packets and books three days/week at schools and community distribution sites in cooperation with Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) as part of the district’s “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch meal distributions.
  • Packing food boxes at the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food pantry for distribution at their drive-through pick up sites.
  • Dropping off items (non-contact deliveries) for families that lack transportation to make it to a community distribution site.
  • Engaging with CIS partners as we work together to mobilize coordinated community support for all of Kalamazoo’s students and families.

    

“The needs of our students and families have increased exponentially due to the pandemic,” says Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo James Devers. “At the same time, the personal needs of staff, along with those of their family, friends, and extended circles have increased as well. And yet despite that, our CIS team have made heroic efforts to stay connected to and to support Kalamazoo’s students, families, and partners. We remain grateful for the outstanding friends and donors who continue to support us as we work to eliminate barriers in students’ lives so they can continue to succeed.”

In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to one member of our team, CIS Success Coach Nazhly Heredia-Waltemyer. You won’t want to miss it!  In the meantime, be sure to follow our CIS Facebook page, here, where we will continue to update you as to how CIS is responding to student/family needs during this crisis.

 

Take care of yourself and read

During this time of isolation and social distancing, it’s more important than ever to read. Did you know that reading can reduce stress in both children and adults? It’s good to know that during these anxious times, choosing to reading can be a powerful strategy to positively impact our emotional and physical health. When we open a book and read, our heart rate slows and we reduce tension that has built up in our bodies. A 2009 University of Sussex study discovered that reading reduced stress as much as 68%.

We asked CIS staff what they are reading during this most challenging time. Here’s what some of them shared:

I am currently reading Slan by A.E. vanVogt.

Cameron Massimino, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am currently reading The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, but I anticipate tomorrow I will be on book 2 of the trilogy, Before They Are Hanged.

Jenna Cooperrider, Associate Director of Site Services

 

I just finished reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Next up is One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. Historical Fiction is my favorite genre.  Happy reading all!

Carol Roose, CIS Site Coordinator, Washington Writers’ Academy

 

I am currently reading The World According to Humphrey written by Betty G. Birney. My daughter’s school is participating in “One School, One Book” and we are reading this book together.

Felicia Lemon, Development & Marketing Project Manager

 

I am currently reading Gemini Files by Blacc Topp, as well as listening (Audible) to Within The Shadows by Brandon Massey.  Next up is Elbert: The Uncaged Mind (The Black Series Book 2).

Artrella Cohn, Sr. Director of Community Engagement and Student Investment

 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Jennifer Miner, CIS Site Coordinator, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Our family is reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe together.

Angela Van Heest, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School

 

I recently finished Understanding Your Place in God’s Kingdom by Myles Munroe.

James Devers, Executive Director

 

I am reading The Stand by Stephen King.

Shannon Jones, CIS After School Coordinator at Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

I’m currently (re) reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. On a more personal note, I also just finished audio taping several children’s books to send (along with an “old fashioned” tape recorder) to my new grandson in Seattle – born last Friday. We included some of our daughter’s favorite books when she was a child – and one we knew her husband loved! Lastly, we included one of my favorite books, which my husband and I read together: The Invisible String by Patrice Karst – – which has never been more timely.

-Lauren Smirniotopoulos, CIS Site Coordinator, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

Our family is reading The Wingfeather Saga Series by Andrew Peterson.

Cara Weiler, Associate Director of Site Services

 

I’m re-reading Tranny by Laura Jane Grace.

Dana Flynn, CIS Site Coordinator, Northeastern Elementary School

 

I’m reading The Book of Gutsy Women by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton

Laura McCoy, CIS Site Coordinator, Washington Writers Academy

 

I am currently reading the New World Translation of the Holy ScripturesStudy Edition. I am currently in the book of Isaiah.

Tracie Hall, Finance Coordinator

 

I’m reading state and federal legislation resulting because of COVID-19!

Colleen Loc, Human Resources Manager

 

As a family we just finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We are also reading the Portage Public School’s “One School, One Book” and are reading The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz.

Nicky Aiello, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I am currently reading Core Knowledge and Competencies (Levels 1-4). They are standards set forth by the National Afterschool Association (NAA) that are categorized into 10 different content areas. I’m working on my AfterSchool Accreditation.

Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator, Maple Street Magnet School

 

I am reading The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

Joan Coopes, CIS Site Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary School

 

I’ve started Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces by Gail Griffin. (She taught at Kalamazoo College for 36 years.) I love it when books hook me from the first page and this one caught me with its first line.

Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I am reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Jane Asumadu, CIS After School Coordinator, Linden Grove Middle School

 

I usually pick a fiction and expository (usually about bees) to enjoy. Right now I’m reading Crossing the Tiber a journey of sorts and, optimistically looking ahead to summer, Under the Radar Michigan/The First 50.

Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary

 

I’m reading The Outsider by Stephen King.

-Debra Newsome, Senior Director for Finance, Human Resources, and Administration

 

I finished reading Who Moved My Cheese and The Present: The Gift for Changing Times by Spencer Johnson. I will start Positive Addiction by William Glasser, M.D. My pastor recommended it.

Maria Chalas, CIS After School Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary School

 

I am rereading The Book Of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  I love this book and have read it in part and whole many times. It helps me keep perspective in times of change.

-Carli Thompson, CIS Site Coordinator, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

Click here to read what a few of our CIS board members have been reading. Within this same post you will also find information on where to obtain fresh reading materials during this time of isolation. Take care of yourself and read!

 

 

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.