Jack Szott: Stepping Up to The Plate For Kids

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature WMU graduate student Jack Szott. This former CIS volunteer turned CIS advocate is a graduate of Metea Valley High School, located in Aurora, Illinois. Baseball and college brought Jack to Kalamazoo in 2015.

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

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

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you’ve been asked recently?

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

So where was your wallet?

It was in my room.

Sounds like maybe your room is a little messy?

It’s all relative!

What are you currently reading?

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

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

What is your favorite word right now?

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

What are you curious about?

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

Where did you grow up?

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

Jack Szott, Western Michigan Baseball #36.

How has sports shaped you as a person?

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

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

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

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

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

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

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

How did you first become involved volunteering with CIS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this dodgeball event open to the public?

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

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

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

We’re so glad we could do it!

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

How CIS is Like Basketball

Did you know the Communities In Schools (CIS) network is working in 2,300 schools in 26 states and the District of Columbia, and serving nearly 1.5 million students using a model called integrated student services? Child Trends defines Integrated Student Services (ISS) as “a school-based approach to promoting students’ academic success by securing and coordinating supports that target academic and non-academic barriers to achievement.”

Since it’s “March Madness,” let’s think about the way Communities In Schools does its work in terms of basketball.

Imagine turning on the television and seeing a basketball court.

The game is about to start. It’s one-on-one. The announcer offers stats on each player. They are the same age and size. Both are loved by their parents and both have fabulous coaches who have the skills and knowledge to teach them all they need to know to be successful players. Both have the home court advantage. It should, the announcer predicts, be a close game.

From one end of the court, out jogs a smiling young child, sporting a crisp uniform and shoes so bright they dazzle. Under the watchful eye of her supportive team members, she begins to warm up. She appears healthy, rested. The camera pans to her bench, which is quite deep. There to support and assist her are her pediatrician, eye doctor, and dentist. Squeezed next to her parents are the grocery store clerk, her piano teacher, someone holding juice and healthy snacks, and someone else holding a duffle bag of extra uniforms, shoes, and other sundry items.

The cameras then pan to the bench across the way. In contrast, it is quite sparse, just a tired looking woman on the bench—the player’s mother.

The game is about to begin but the second player is nowhere to be…oh, wait, here she comes. She’s late. Unlike the first player, she doesn’t have an alarm clock or a bed. She and her mother have been sleeping on the couches and floors of friends for the last few months. Because she’s arrived late, she hasn’t had a chance to warm up. In worn shoes and ill-fitting jeans and shirt, she heads directly to center court. She isn’t moving comfortably, but given that this is the only outfit she has, she must make do.

The game begins. Within seconds, the first child scores. And then scores again. Each time the second child has possession of the ball, she turns it over. By half-time, the game is a blowout. As both players head to the locker room, the second child’s coach is asked, “What is wrong with your player? Why aren’t you coaching her better?”

“Unless something dramatically changes in the next half of the game,” the announcer intones, “she will never catch up.” Cut to commercial.

The second half begins. It feels like an entirely different game. It looks that way, too. The second child is running up and down the court in new shoes and a pair of shorts. She’s taking shots and making many of them. The coach and mother who have been constants at her side are now joined on the bench by others. What is going on?

During halftime, when the fans in the bleachers realized that cheering was no longer enough, they turned to each other and said, “We need to deepen that child’s bench to keep her in the game. We can see she needs things like shoes and clothes, but what else? What can we do to ensure her love of the game continues?”

The second player finished the game that evening. It’s a long season, though, and she has other needs to be addressed. But, with help from her community, her bench will deepen and she will receive the resources and support she needs, just like the first child, to play the rest of the games to the best of her ability.  

Communities In School’s model of Integrated Student Services (ISS) is basically a community’s way of saying, “Hey, wait a minute; we need to do something differently for all of our children. Let’s join forces with the schools and assure that resources and supports are available to students so they can stay in school and be prepared to learn all they can from their teachers.”

You are deepening the bench for students every time you make the decision to volunteer, partner, and/or donate to CIS. Integrated Student Services, paired with adequate and stable public school funding, is a game changer. Once policy makers recognize this and make decisions that reflect this as a priority for our children, we all win.

Unlike basketball, the beauty of integrated student services is that both “teams” can win and move on when their needs are being met. With their communities’ help, each can make it to the “Sweet 16” and the “Final Four.” Every student can win the sweetest prize of all: a high school diploma.

(An earlier version of this post, titled “The Madness of the March to Graduation” was first published in Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids on March 25, 2014.)