Beyond the Backpack

As Kalamazoo Public School students prepare to step into their second month of school, they have a community of support that launched them into a successful year of learning.

On Saturday, August 17th, the Beyond the Backpack School Readiness Fair took place at Bronson Park. Hosted by Collaboration Kalamazoo, the fair, designed to increase school readiness for students, was a huge success. More than 1,100 in attendance, families were able to learn about community resources available in literacy, dental and other health supports, and more. From free glasses to free backpacks and supplies, with the support of our community and collaborating together, more students are on the path to success this school year.

Collaboration Kalamazoo is composed of Bible Baptist Church, Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E., Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, The Kalamazoo Promise, and Kalamazoo Public Schools. “This year’s event,” said CIS Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment Artrella Cohn, “was a tremendous showing of what it looks like when the community brings its knowledge and resources together for the betterment of students and their families.”

The Collaboration Kalamazoo team members: Alexia Jones of The Kalamazoo Promise, Nkenge Bergan of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Artrella Cohn of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, TaKarra Dunning of Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E., and Yolonda Lavender and Kandace Lavender of Bible Baptist Church.

With more than 1,100 individuals in attendance, families were able to learn about literacy supports in the community, access dental education and additional health resources, including mental health education, immunizations, sign up for health insurance, and more. In partnership with Hiemstra Optical and VSP Vision Care, 34 students were served on the Mobile Vision Unit, with 27 receiving glasses. Students also benefited from free haircuts and fresh hair styles from area barbers and stylists. The event provided free and much needed backpacks for students, but certainly went “Beyond The Backpack” to prepare students for a successful school year.

 

The 2019 financial sponsors for this event included: Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), Kalamazoo Community Foundation, The Kalamazoo Promise, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Old National Bank, and YWCA Kalamazoo.

In-Kind Donors included: The Presidential Blend Suite, Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E., City of Kalamazoo, Exquisite Hair Design, First Baptist Church of Kalamazoo, First Congregational Church, First United Methodist Church of Kalamazoo, GQT Kalamazoo 10, Gordon Water Systems, Hiemstra Optical, Johnny Jackson (barber), Kalamazoo Promise Scholars, Life EMS, Marshall Music Company, Rentalex, Terry Watson (barber), UncLee’s Barber Shop, and VSP Vision Care.

Thanks to each and every one of you for surrounding students with support and launching them into a successful school year.

Check out this short video capturing some of the 2019 Beyond the Backpack School Readiness Fair: https://youtu.be/CboCKgoXU6o

 

Fifth Grader Growing & Learning Every Day

Marcell with CIS Coach Ms. Rana Holmes

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 Marcell Jones. He is a fifth grader at Arcadia Elementary School.

In July, we met up with Marcell at Arcadia Elementary School while he was participating in the 2019 CIS Think Summer! program. [Marcell is featured in the fall 2019 CIS Connections, found here.]

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

Pop Quiz

Favorite word?

June. Because that means it’s summer and my birthday is in June and I get to do lots of stuff. This year, for my birthday I went roller skating and got to see my grandma, and she bought me a new bike. It is kind of too tall for me right now, but will be perfect when I’m a little bigger.

What are you currently reading? 

One of the Beast Quest books [series written by a collection of writers using pen name, Adam Blade]. It’s two animals and two kids and they are on a quest.

I like reading adventure books about castle and nights. Superheroes, too. DC comics. Batman and Superman are my favorites.

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

I get to pick my favorite books to read, but sometimes we have to get a book that doesn’t have pictures in it.

I am doing well in math. I also have some really good teachers during the school year. One of my goals is to be a better reader. I know how to read, of course, but I want to get better at reading concepts, like how to summarize a story. I learned a lot when I was in fourth grade. I’ve had really good teachers, like Ms. [Kelly] Dopheide and Ms. [Donna] Judd. Oh, and my science and handwriting has improved, too.

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

A whale. Whales eat yummy stuff, but if I was a dinosaur, I’d be eating people, so I’d rather be a whale. I think they eat fish. And I like fish, especially shrimp from Popeyes because it’s crunchy.

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

My mom. She’ll remind me about doing be homework and she helps me with writing prompts. She’s intelligent and got good grades in schools, so she knows how to help me. Also, my mom’s friend, Darell. He’s a preacher and he tells me stuff that helps me grow, too.

Hey, these questions you’ve been asking me, this is kind of like an “About the Author” but it’s about me… Do you want to know who my favorite author is?

Yes.

Andrew Clements is my favorite author. Also, Beverly Clearly and Mary Hope Osborn. Oh, and Jonathan Rand. I love his books!

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

Be sure to read the latest issue of CIS Connections and find out more about Marcell, including what one thing he would change about the world, if he could.

 

 

James Devers: The Conversation Continues

James Devers

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 Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s New Executive Director James Devers. When the CIS board selected James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we introduced him briefly to you back in June with this post. And if you read our most recent back to school issue of CIS Connections, you know even more about James, such as what book changed his life. Here’s some of our conversation that, due to space issues, didn’t make it into the newsletter.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you often ask yourself? Or perhaps it’s a question you’ve only been recently asking yourself?

I’ve been gone from Kalamazoo for 23 years. Since coming back in September of 2017, in processing the reality of my journey, I’ve been thinking about this play on the question, Why me? I’ve been thinking about how skill, talent, ability, and circumstances don’t always line up. The reality is that, where I’m at now and the place that I’m going as executive director is a result of something bigger than me. I believe I’ve been preparing for this journey all along even though I didn’t know it was coming.

…I come from a family of laborers. I was not introduced to the corporate world or much of any of the experiences I have encountered. All of it is a discovery. I’m grateful and humbled by the journey and where I now find myself.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I was at the Douglass Community Association recently and noticed the “1919” imprint on the corner of the building. It’s a good reminder that the black community has had a presence in Kalamazoo, and it goes far back. For instance, in 1968 Judge Pratt, a native of Kalamazoo became the first African American judge in Kalamazoo County. And, of course, Douglass Community Association is celebrating its 100th birthday!

What are you currently reading?

The Bible. That’s my go-to book….I like that the stories illustrate the human experience and show the flaws of people as well as their triumphs. Despite their flaws—despite our flaws—we can do great work.

Do you have a pet peeve?

The thing that bothers me most is when people are mean to other people. That really gets me.

Can you tell us about a person who opened a door for you and impacted you as a leader?

I was planning to obtain my Masters in social work. While working at Ohio State, I had just finished my first year working towards that degree and contemplating taking a year off to complete the second year (clinical work). A Ms. Rivers reached out and invited me to talk with her. I thought I was just going to meet with her for a conversation, not realizing it was an interview, at the end of which she offered me the principal position within the school that she had helped to found. I really had to think about that. Here I was, working for The Ohio State University and did I want to give that up and risk doing something I’d never done before, working as a principal in a small school? I’m so glad I accepted her offer to be principal. Even though I was working in the field of education, Ms. Rivers brought me into the public school sector in a deeper way, and it changed the trajectory of my life.

I appreciated working under somebody who had her passion. She was a former school counselor—had served in that role for 30 some years before “retiring.” She had so much energy and passion at that stage of her life. She could have chosen to ride off into the sunset, but she didn’t. And though she was in her mid to late 60s, I had a hard time keeping up with her!

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

My mother has always been that caring adult for me, but I must say that I did not come to appreciate the significance of her influence until a lot later in life.

While there have been a number of caring adults along my path, those relationships were not so much a sustained and consistent over time. Rather, it was moments of influence from different caring adults that helped shape my thinking and my actions. During my childhood we did lots of moving around. I went to a number of different KPS schools: Woodward, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School [the school is gone now, replaced with the Wilson Recreation Area, an open field and playground on Coy Avenue], Spring Valley Center for Exploration, and Washington Writers’ Academy. After that it was Milwood and Hillside Middle Schools. Even when I attended Kalamazoo Central High School and KAMSC [Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center], we still moved around.

What is your favorite word right now?

It’s not so much a word as an expression, I consider myself a made-man versus a self-made man. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” …I, like anybody else, had no control over my family that I was born into. I’ve had my share of crazy experiences as well as opportunities that have been presented along the way. So that expression is an acknowledgement that there lot of things are bigger than me, and that I don’t necessarily deserve the credit for who I am or what I have accomplished to this point in life.

For instance, my mother didn’t have experience in a lot of the areas I was going to walk into when it came to high school and college. She had dropped out of high school at age 16 [she later went back to school and earned her GED]. But she gave me responsibilities that, in looking back on it, shaped me. In her own way, she guided me. I was the oldest of five and would often be in charge of caring for them. Also, we were always moving around and going to different schools and thus found ourselves being around different people. Those childhood experiences made me and helped me become who I am today.

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

Be on the lookout for the CIS newsletter to learn more about CIS Executive Director James Devers. Also, James was recently interviewed by Encore Editor Marie Lee for the September issue of the magazine. Pick up a copy at one of these locations or read it on-line here.

Thank you, Dr. Rice!

Dr. Michael F. Rice speaking to crowd at a CIS event.

The 2019/2020 school year has officially begun. Gary Start is serving as Interim Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools after Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice was named Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In August 2007, when Dr. Rice became superintendent, he also became an active board member of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), championing the CIS model of integrated student services. [More on the CIS model here.] His leadership as an administrator and educator, combined with his passion for social justice propelled CIS and our community to more closely align our resources with the school district to increase our collective impact on children.

The result of this collective response? Every major indicator in the district improved over the years: reading, writing, math, and science state test results; Advanced Placement participation; graduation rates; college-going rates; and college-completion rates.

During his twelve years as superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Dr. Rice has been a relentless force, working hard to create a literacy community and a college-going culture for our children. He created meaningful change by spearheading innovative and sound reforms, like parent education classes, including education for parents of newborns, expanding and overhauling preschool to restructuring the middle and high school schedules to give students more time in core subjects. To combat summer slide, every fourth, fifth and sixth-grader in the district is mailed books over the summer. He made it possible for all first grade students to visit our invaluable partner, the Kalamazoo Public Library and obtain public library cards. Every year, he visited every third grade class throughout the district, talking with students about college and poetry and making our kids feel special. [More on what was accomplished in the district during his tenure, here.]

As superintendent of a diverse district, he championed all KPS families, the underserved, the affluent, and the middle class. He remembered our names. He reminded us that, as much as we have already accomplished, much work remains.

Dr. Rice often said, “We [KPS] can’t do it alone,” because he knows transformational change does not occur in isolation but is birthed and fed only by the community working together. “Let us remember that every time a child learns to read, every time a child learns to write, every time that all members of a family can read well, every time a student graduates from high school, first in his or her family to do so, every time a young man or woman goes to college, first in his or her family to do so, every time a tutor tutors, a mentor mentors, a church, temple, or mosque steps up to serve children, every time a person comes out of retirement to help a child rise up, we get one step closer to a community culture, a college-going culture, a literacy community, which we will be proud to leave to and for our children.”

We are thankful for Dr. Rice’s leadership and we’re excited that all of Michigan’s children will now have Dr. Michael F. Rice advocating for public education on the state level.

Continue reading “Thank you, Dr. Rice!”

Pop Quiz: Gary Heckman

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 CIS volunteer Gary Heckman, who is also a 2019 Champ recipient. [If you didn’t get a chance to read about the great work Gary is doing with middle school students, click here for that post.]

Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best (left) & Shannon Jones (right)

Upon retiring three years ago as the plumber, electrician, and steam operator for Manchester University, this grandfather of four has plunged himself into a new campus of learning as a CIS volunteer at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best has come to rely on him and says the students have, too. She says he is “an irreplaceable part of the team.” Gary modestly says, “I do a little bit here and there.” One of the biggest “little bits” he does is supporting students academically by serving as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class.

Gary grew up in rural Indiana, twenty miles northeast of Fort Wayne, near the tri-Lakes. As he puts it, “Only preachers and teachers had degrees in my town that was not even really big enough to be a town.”

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

Pop Quiz

How did you become involved volunteering with CIS?

When I retired, I wanted to do something in the schools. I did research and found that CIS is the way to do it. [In “retirement,” Gary still works two days a week doing building inspection services for Oshtemo and Coopers Townships.]

What insights have you gained about kids from volunteering?

The other day with the students, we were sitting around the table having a conversation about tides and oceans and stuff. I learned a number of the kids here haven’t been to the Great Lakes, haven’t gone 40 miles from their home. They just haven’t done stuff like that. It’s bothersome how poverty creates a lack of opportunity for kids.

I’ve also noticed how some of the toughest kids are the ones whose moms have band-aids and candies in their purses. They keep their kids going. Their moms really support them…I know there are a lot of dads and grandpas out there and I’d love to see more of them volunteering in the school. These kids, particularly the boys, could benefit from greater male involvement.

[Come on, dads and grandpas! Join Gary and sign up here today to become a CIS volunteer.]

What are you currently reading?

Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. The author, Michael Sorkin, is an architect talking about his daily walk to work; it’s all very deep into city history and the architecture he encounters during this twenty minute walk.

I just finished From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel Dennett; he’s a philosopher and linguist. And before that, I read Enlightment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steve Pinker.

Once every year or two, I’ll read some fiction, but nonfiction is what I enjoy reading most.

What is your favorite word right now?

Blower door.

That’s a new one! Nobody has ever told us that is their favorite word!

I’m doing a blower door test on a house tonight.

I have one foot in the building trades and one foot in academics. [He chuckles.] As a former plumber, electrician, and steam operator at a small college, I also have a degree in sociology, which is, as I say, the dismal science. It’s the study of social problems and yet, you don’t do anything about it.

But you are doing something about it.

[Nods head affirmatively.] I guess that’s right.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

The Air Zoo. I have a membership—the grandparent plus two—and love going there. I wish I could take all the kids there!

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

I have a couple of mentors, Tom and Jim. One taught innovation and entrepreneurship, and the other heads an award engineering firm. Also, growing up, I had two Kens who I’d consider mentors.

What characteristics would you say these mentors have in common?

They saw the real world, they had broader views, patience, and innovation. Every one of them could get things done. I should add that I have had some moms and ladies in there, too, who have been caring adults and influenced me. One of my teachers as well as the neighbor mom next door. She was elegant and even though she never went to college she was all about education.

Anything else should we know about you?

I was not a strong student in middle school. And yet, here I am! [CIS Site Coordinator] Missy makes this volunteer experience fun. She intentionally works hard at this, and supports us, knowing that volunteering can sometimes be frustrating.

It’s not necessarily easy work, is it?

That’s right. But I’m enjoying it. I like working with the kids. Missy and [CIS After School Coordinator] Shannon [Jones] are wonderful and the teachers and principal are all great to work with, too. Principal Mark Tobalski is terrific and really provides strong leadership for the school.

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

Champ recipient Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best & Shannon Jones

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.

No Time to Volunteer? You Still Can. Just Ask Jennifer Swan.

Jennifer Swan (center) congratulated by John Brandon (left) and Sara Williams (right) with Champ Award for Swan’s Snack Emporium.

As Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, Jennifer Swan’s work schedule makes it difficult for her to volunteer on a weekly, consistent basis. Yet, she wanted to help kids stay in school and succeed in life. She came up with a creative solution and developed the Swan Snack Emporium which supports CIS Kid’s Closet. True to her name, Swan is helping children connect with their inherent beauty and value by giving kids the basics they need to stay in school and learn with dignity. Swan Snack Emporium received a 2019 Champ award and earlier this summer we featured that here.

Today we bring you a conversation Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids had with this creative CIS volunteer (which originally ran back in 2017.)

Since 1953, TowerPinkster, a design firm, has been creating vibrant places for people to live, work and play. As you know, TowerPinkster has received a number of awards. TP was named one of the “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” (National Association of Business Resources). TP was also awarded “Best Firm to Work For in the Nation” (ZweigWhite). From your perspective, what makes TP the best and the brightest?  

What I think makes us the best are the people. We are like a family. We have two offices, in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and although it’s a little harder these days—we’ve added quite a few new people to both offices and I don’t get up to the Grand Rapids office as much as I used—we used to know everybody and know everything that everybody is doing.

TowerPinkster is a family culture and we have a lot of fun. It’s not just coming to work. It’s coming in to work with your friends, what seems like brothers and sisters, more often than not. It’s a great environment and we have a ton of fun here.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I learn something every single day with my job. There are always new things happening in the construction industry, whether it’s new process or new people you work with. There’s not just one thing that I can give you that is something that I’ve learned because I learn every day on my job. Every single day I learn from contractors and learn from the construction managers on the project site. I learn from project managers here, even our interns that come in who know the new tech stuff that I don’t know, so I’m always learning.

What are you currently reading?

While I don’t have time to sit down and read a full book right now, I get on the internet and I read a lot of blogs and news articles.

Besides Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, what are your ‘go-to’ blogs?

The type of blogs I turn to are ones that I can learn new things related to my work and to learn how other people are doing things so I can make myself better and faster at my job.

What is your favorite word right now?

My favorite word right now is strength, not like muscle strength but strength as in being a woman in a male-dominated field. You have to have a lot of strength and tenacity to go on job sites and be with a lot of men that are very experienced in the construction industry. I don’t build stuff, but I know how stuff is supposed to go together. It’s being able to hold my own on job sites and here in the office. I mean, the guys here are great and they’re very, very easy to work with and nobody’s ever like, You’re a girl and you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s important to always have an understanding of what you’re talking about.

What’s your story behind getting into this line of work?

I think I got into this line of work because of my mother. When she was growing up, she and many women of that time were taught that women could be a secretary or go into teaching. I think she always wanted to be an architect because she was always, always sketching house plans at home. My dad was in the construction industry and in the summer he sometimes would take me with him and I would get to go to a construction site. I was always very interested in the construction architectural field just being around that growing up. So when I was in high school I took some drafting classes and just fell in love with it all.

I didn’t go to be an architect because growing up my family we didn’t have a lot of money so I didn’t go to U of M or any of the big colleges for that. I chose a smaller school—Baker College—as they had an architectural technical program.

What is something you love about Kalamazoo?

There’s so much to do! I come from a really, really, small town called Langston. There’s a party store, a church, and an ice cream place. So to come to Kalamazoo and there are restaurants, bars, festivals, and so many things to do and just so much to pick from…it’s wonderful!

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

My mom is definitely 100% my caring adult. She supports me with everything I do. I grew up in a single family household. My dad left when I was 11 or 12 so my mom raised my brother and me. She had a really strong work ethic and would work late nights and weekends because she was the only income that we had. She worked really hard and I pride myself on being like my mom because, like her, I have a very strong work ethic. Her being a single mom and raising two kids by herself; it’s just always been an inspiration to me. If she can do that, then I can do anything.

Jennifer, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.

Mother and Son Champs: Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins

Champ recipients Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins with CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Staff Carol Roose & Laura McCoy

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Dedrenna and Isaiah Hoskins were honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Miller-Davis Company. CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Site Coordinators Carol Roose and Laura McCoy presented the award.

Terry: One of Isaiah Hoskin’s favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, wrote: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Fortunately, for our kids at Washington Writers’ Academy, Isaiah and his mother, Dedrenna Hoskins care an awful lot. For almost a decade, this mother and son have been volunteering through CIS. For years, their work initially entailed distributing Friday Food Packs, made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each pack the Hoskins delivered held enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend when other food options can be scarce.

And when summer rolls around, the Hoskins do not slow down. Oh, the places they’ll go! Our kids can count on them to tow food packs to and fro during the CIS Think Summer Program.

When Washington Writers’ recently transitioned to the food pantry model and their Food Packs were discontinued, the Hoskins did not miss a beat.

Carol: That’s right! During the school year, Dedrenna, a Quality Operations Technical Associate for Pfizer, heads straight from work to tutor students, assisting them on classwork, homework, math, reading, spelling, you name it. She’ll seek guidance from us, to help meet both the emotional and academic needs of the students she serves.

Oh, and she also has expanded her impact to even more children by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.

This year, Isaiah happily transitioned to making and bagging popcorn that is sold as a fundraiser to support the boys’ basketball team. And while his duties may have changed, what hasn’t changed is the way in which Isaiah takes up his work. He does so with absolute joy, practically skipping into the school each Friday.

Laura: A man of few words, Isaiah continues to speak to the students he serves through his actions. By showing up week after week, year after year, he is a powerful role model, sending a compelling message: this is what dedication, responsibility, and hard work look like. This is what caring and kindness looks like. And because he does his work with such joy, he’s showing our kids that good feeling you get when you choose to give back to your community. He’s also taught all of us that you don’t give up, even when things get difficult. A few years back, when his mother became seriously ill for a time, Isaiah made the trek to school alone to make sure students got their food packs.

We can tell you first hand that being a site coordinator isn’t easy. However, knowing that we can count on the Hoskins makes our job just a little less daunting.

Terry: We are all so grateful that this mother and son choose to team up each week for kids. Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Rod Raven Coaching Kids Both On and Off the Court

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 Rod Raven, who is the lead Activity Helper at Arcadia Elementary School where he also serves after school as basketball coach for both boys and girls. In both these roles, Rod works with CIS to assure students have what they need to succeed in school and life. Rod is a 2019 Champ recipient and if you missed what was said about him at Champs, go here.

Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Rod came to Kalamazoo in 1985 seeking better employment opportunities. Prior to working at Arcadia Elementary, he ran summer programs, including working six years at the Boys and Girls Club. Rod is also the proud father of three children. His son Demonte is a military police officer, daughter Taysha attends college at KVCC, and daughter Nakia is a therapy behavior technician here in Kalamazoo.

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

Pop Quiz

Practice is the foundation of success in sports (and other things). It’s been said that whatever you do in practice, you’ll do that during the competition. Do you find that what kids do in practice, carries over from the court into the classroom?

Definitely. And that behavior carries over into the halls, onto the playground, and into the future. Take manners for example. That’s an important life skill and something we practice. A lot of the teachers will stop me and say how students are greeting them by saying “Good morning” and “Good afternoon,” and that this is a turn-around from the previous school year.

I love seeing our kids doing their work in school, reading, working on art, listening to teachers, and walking calmly down the hallway. They are echoing each other’s positive behaviors.

A commonly shared aspect of success on and off the court is being a consistent performer, to try hard in all conditions and never give up, responding positively to winning and losing, taking up both success and failure in a positive way. Is this a teachable trait? And if so, how do you teach it?

I do believe it’s a teachable trait. I encourage the boys at the beginning of practice and before games that no matter how the game turns out; we’re all winners here. I will give that message to both teams—there is no failure here. Participation is honorable in itself.

I stress teamwork, politeness, kindness, and respect. The way I coach is by structuring things a little differently during our time together. The first half hour is educational and students read and do homework. The second half of the hour is devoted to life skills. We talk and reflect on both the positive and negative behaviors that have occurred in school and home. We discuss and debate what choices could have made or made better, so that should they experience a similar situation later on in life, they will be aware of it, and make a positive choice in the future. After all that, we then have about 25 minutes of basketball practice. I realize that’s not a lot of time, but it sends the message that academics and behavior are more important. The students will be going on to middle and then high school and behavior is key to success in school and on the court.

I tell the kids that Michael Jordon and Lebron James may be the best known players, but a lot of other players out there were just as good but because they had behavior problems, they didn’t get to be on the platform and go to that next level. Getting a good education is important. To get to that next level—whatever area they see themselves in—behavior and academics need to be a focus.

Rod, Myah (left), and Joan (right) listening as Bob Miller (not pictured) introduces Rod at Champs.

CIS Site Coordinator Joan Coopes and CIS After School Coordinator Myah VanTil say you are not only invested in the students’ success, but you get them to invest in each other. Can you talk some about how you do that?

We work as one. We practice life skills together, talk as one, help each other with homework, whether its math or social studies we’re working together. And students help each other with choice-making. Say a player is making a bad choice on the playground. Other members will step in and remind that student that they are representing not only themselves, but the team. They remind them what they stand for.

Over the last four years, I haven’t had to break up any fights and that is because they have been learning to make better choices: to walk away, to talk it out, or resolve the situation with support from others.

Several of the boys have commented [about you] to both Joan and Myah that “he is teaching us how to be gentleman.” How do you go about imparting this?

The way you present yourselves tells others a lot about you. I never was one for slacks hanging down so every Friday, the boys dress up in a shirt and tie. As the “Young Men of Arcadia,” they demonstrate politeness and being a gentleman. At the end of the school year, I take them to a formal dinner so that they can experience that setting and practice their manners. They really improve from the beginning to the end of the year. All this helps them be role models to their friends and family now and later in life.

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading lots of sports magazine. And I also love reading poetry.

Have you read Kwame Alexander’s work, like his book, The Crossover, that blends basketball and poetry? It combines two things you love!

One of my friends told me about his books. I need to read that one! I do enjoy reading poetry and writing it, too.

You write poetry?

I write poetry for friends, mostly. I’ll write poems for valentines and birthdays, illnesses, things like that.

What is your favorite word right now?

Ambition.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

School. I don’t do a lot of club stuff. I’m always busy with kids, at school and during the weekend in my community.

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

So many! Right now, I’d have to say Mr. Greg Socha. Over these last six years that I’ve been with Arcadia he has provided such encouragement. He shows a willingness to listen and take on challenges with me. When I’ve come up with an idea, he’s 100 percent behind it. We never look at an idea—or trying out an idea—as failure. I’m going to miss him. [Principal Greg Socha retired at the end of this school year.]

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