Ashley Serio: Former Promise Scholar Lifting Up Future Promise Scholars

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 Ashley Serio, who serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Northglade Montessori.

Ashley began her career with CIS almost six years ago, first as an AmeriCorps VISTA, then as Youth Development Worker (YDW), serving at both Northglade and Edison Environmental Science Academy. She has also worked in CIS Think Summer for five years.

Ashley grew up in Kalamazoo and attended Spring Valley Center for Exploration and then went on to Milwood Magnet Middle School. Upon graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, Ashley used the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship to attend Western Michigan University. She graduated in 2016, earning a degree in university studies with a focus in business, health, and family consumer science.

Back in February, we popped over to Northglade and popped this quiz on her. Alright, Ashley Serio: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

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

Getting to know the kids and build meaning relationships with them. I love helping them grow and seeing that growth, well they inspire me and my staff in many ways. They help us grow, too. It’s just awesome to watch.

How have the kids helped you grow?

They make me want to be more patient, more present, and more aware of everything. I’ve come to understand that everyone’s experience impacts them differently and it’s important to be aware of those experiences.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being an after school coordinator?

Not feeling like I can ever do enough for the kids. I want to be there even more for them, provide them more, and there is a limit to what I can do within the confines of this role.

As a graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, who were some of your favorite teachers?

My favorite high school teacher was Mr. [Christopher] Bullmer. He passed away last year. I did slam poetry and had him for language arts.

He had a positive impact on a lot of kids, didn’t he? I’m a little surprised, though, that you took his slam poetry class. I’m trying to picture you doing slam poetry.

Until very recently, talking in front of people was one of my weaknesses. I’d just get so nervous. But with my work at CIS, I was encouraged both by Cara [Weiler] and Ms. Stacy [Jackson] to do this very thing. They both pushed me beyond myself. I’m now doing trainings and sharing information with others. I’m becoming comfortable with doing this…The work that I do is so ingrained in my life now, it comes naturally. We all struggle, no matter how much we come to know and learn. But, as a CIS after school coordinator, I do have confidence in what needs to be done and I enjoy sharing that passion with others, too.

So, back to your KPS teachers. In addition to Mr. Bullmer, any other favorite teachers come to mind?

Oh, yes, definitely! At Spring Valley, it was Ms. Julie Jones, my second grade teacher, and Kairi Hokenmaier, my third grade teacher, and Michelle Larson, my fifth grade teacher. At Milwood Magnet Middle School, two of my favorite teachers were Mr. Atiba McKissack [now principal at Hillside, you can find his pop quiz here] and Ms. Dawn Kahler.

Did your favorite teachers have any overarching characteristics?

They were each dedicated to their jobs. They built quality relationships with their students, while also showing us that they were learning along the way, too.

I also think it says something about them, the fact that, to this day, they are working with kids one way or another.

The way you just described your favorite teachers reminds me of you—the focus on building relationships and life-long learning.

Oh, my! I can only hope I can be as good with kids as they have been. To think that I could teach kids as well as they did…wow. I mean, I’m not a teacher like them, but I’m still helping students, just in a different way.

[A CIS volunteer enters the CIS room. Ashley immediately rises to greet Ariel Slappy to see how everything is going. Ariel, a student at Western Michigan University, came to volunteer with CIS through her “Teaching as a Profession” class.]

Ashley Serio with CIS Volunteer Ariel Slappy

Your colleague, Steve Brewer, gave us a glimpse of what his work as CIS site coordinator looks like during the daytime [his interview here] at Northglade. Can you give us a glimpse of what an average afternoon in the life of a CIS after school coordinator is like?

Every day is different! I should also say that while Steve and I have different roles within the school, we work well together and we’ll each step out of our own role to step into each other’s role to get things done. For instance, you could see he was busy elsewhere in the building so I stepped in to assist our new volunteer. He does the same for me.

CIS After School Coordinator Ashley Serio sorting through CIS Kids’ Closet items with CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer

The term “after school’ is in your title, so the assumption might be that you are just in the school after the school day is over. But here you are, and it’s not even noon!

Yes, typically I’m checking in with students during day, to see if they are okay and if they are able to get their work done. I want to be fully present with the kids and after school staff so I use this time for program preparation and doing data work, planning for field trips and lessons and activities—all before program time begins. And then, it’s two and a half hours of after school programming with the kids.

What does that look like for you?

When the school day is over, our students—we have about 50 in the program—come into cafeteria and the staff and I greet them. I’m always with students during dinner time. I take attendance, the students wash their hands and have dinner. For Black History Month, we decided to try something new, so I’ve been reading a book aloud to the students for ten minutes each day. We’re reading Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia.

After the students finish eating they go to recess. I take that time to clean up, go back to the CIS office and catch up on paperwork. Following recess, the students split up into three groups and go into their classrooms for their Core Time. I float around, going in and out of each of the rooms, and supporting however necessary. Sometimes, a kid may need some time away from their group so I might bring them back to the CIS space and they can do what they need to do to regulate themselves and then get back to their room.

Tell us more about what Core Time looks like for Northglade students.

On Mondays, our focus is on SEL [Social and Emotional Learning], Tuesdays it is STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], and Wednesdays is ELA [English Language Arts], and then, on Thursdays, the students participate in clubs.

Each class is focusing on something different. But across the board, we’re all focused on self-management and relationship building. We’re exploring our personal emotions and what they look and feel like, how we can interact kindly and help each other. This has become a regular part of what we do on a weekly basis. We’ve found, through trial and error, some great ways to engage students in ways they find meaningful.

Can you share an example?

Sure. Last week, in [Youth Development Worker] Ms. Paige’s group, the students did a bucket-filling activity. The idea behind this is that we feel good about ourselves when we are kind to others. We can build up others by filling them with kindness. When others’ buckets are filled up, that helps to fill up our own bucket. If we are mean to others, it not only spills out their bucket, but it spills out our own as well.

So, for the activity, the kids each made their own buckets and randomly selected the names of three other students. They then wrote something positive about each student and put the slip in their bucket. This was all done anonymously.

That makes sense. The anonymous bucket activity encourages the kids to respond in a more intrinsic way, rather than being driven to “be kind” for some external reward. It’s not about “Oh, look, see what I wrote about you!” It’s more about, “I felt good writing something nice about you.”

Yes! And the kids love doing this and reading what is in their bucket!

So after Core Time in which we are doing various activities like what I just described, the kids move into Homework Time. Again, I’m checking in here and there. I’m helping wherever necessary. Kids have all different kinds of needs, so you need to meet those needs in different ways. I might find I need to work one-on-one with a student or work with a group of students who might be confused about something related to their homework.

You mentioned Thursdays are club days. What clubs do you currently have going on?

The kids get to select two options for their clubs. Right now we have “Around the World” which focuses on learning different places and cultures food, languages, customs, and traditions. We have “Olympic Club” where kids can learn about different winter Olympic sports and how to play them. We also have “Animal Club” where kids are learning about different animals. The Kalamazoo Nature Center is partnering with us on this and coming in to help us learn more about animals.

Principal Mogaji, whom we recently interviewed [interview can be found here if you missed it] said that she appreciates how you take the Montessori philosophy into account when running the CIS after school program, so that children receive a consistent message as their learning stretches into the after school hours. Can you share an example of how you do that?

I do work hard to extend what they know in the school day into after school as much as possible. We avoid extrinsic awards, for example. Also, the rules and norms we go by are aligned with the school day. The Northglade students worked to develop these so we are essentially going by what they chose to develop, such as being peaceful with our bodies, respecting each other, the environment, and the school. We talk a lot about that.

What are you currently reading?

Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’m not very far in yet, but it’s good. It’s interesting to hear about her life from her own perspective.

What are you becoming?

A better version of myself, although I don’t know what that means yet.

What is your favorite word right now?

Love.

What do you love?

The kids that I work with. Food. Sleep. My friends and family.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

In the summer and spring I like to be outdoors, so I enjoy visiting Asylum Lake. Also, I like to go any place that has good food. I like to be comfortable warm, and fed.

What places for good food?

Saffron, Crow’s Nest, and Studio Grill. I’m vegan so my options are limited. Those restaurants have a great selection for that.

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

My mom. She’s always been there for me. Most of my life it’s just been her and me. She’s supported and encouraged me. And obviously, I’m a lot more like her than I ever thought I’d be! We both do the same job and love it! [Ashley’s mom, Martha Serio, is on her thirteenth year as the CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In 2015, she received National CIS’s Unsung Hero Award.] I never thought I’d want to do the same work as my mom. I grew up watching her be stressed out worrying about the kids. But as soon as I started working the CIS summer program, I loved it. And working for Ms. Stacy [Jackson] during that time helped me definitely figure that out.

Anything else we should know about you?

I’m not usually very good talking about myself, I guess! I mostly work, sleep and eat. I do like to travel. I want to go to Italy within the next year.

Why Italy?

It’s beautiful from all the pictures I’ve seen. I’ve been to Paris, London, and Berlin. I studied abroad in college and loved Europe in general. So, Italy is next!

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

What Is Your Small Happiness?

img_7288sWelcome 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 PJ Buchholz, a third grade teacher at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School.

At Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we feel fortunate to work closely with wonderful and wise Kalamazoo Public School teachers like Ms. Buchholz. Ms. Buchholz is also featured in the CIS Annual Report and shares some of the benefits she sees by having CIS in her school. That report will be out soon, so be on the look out for it.

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve been hosting international students for a while. It’s very interesting. I’ve learned that we’re all so different in our cultures but we’re all so the same in our hearts.

I also learned about small happiness. One of the girls I’m hosting had to write a speech about how to be the best at something. She pondered this for quite a while and then wrote about “How to be the best at being happy.” She practiced her speech with me and said, “Happiness is not one big happy day but many small happinesses, like a compliment and a joke, coffee and dark chocolate.” She ended her speech by asking, “What is your small happiness?” Just wonderful.

In today’s environment of high stakes testing, a highly political culture, and working with students/families who struggle with getting their basic needs met, it is more important than ever to find our small happiness and help others  to find theirs. I’ve even started regularly asking my students, “What is your small happiness?”

Speaking of questions, according to Josef Albers, “Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” What other questions do you love to ask your students?

What are you good at? What do you love? What do you love to do? What do you think about when you play? Who do you play with? What do you like to play? How did you organize that? What are you going to do next about that? If you could ask one person, who would you ask?

Favorite word?

I have a series of favorite words right now: Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right?

ESPN’s series, The Undefeated, recently featured President Barack Obama. In this town hall format, he said we need to ask ourselves these three questions every day: Is it fair? Is it just? Is it right?

What are you currently reading?

I am Malala. It’s a memoir by the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai. I’m also reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I’m really into elder care and raising children. I see similarities between them.

How so?

My parents are getting up there. I see how they can become nervous and scared about things. It’s important to honor their ambiguity and their uncertainty about things. You have to do that with children, too.

What is one of your favorite things about being a teacher?

One of my favorite things is seeing how caring children are for other children. It’s why they like Harry Potter, right? It’s the children against the adults working together to figure things out. When you can get them to include the adult, when you can be part of their alliance too, be in it together, that’s really special. I just love seeing the inner circle of children working and playing and seeing the alliances they have for each other.

What is the hardest thing about being a teacher?

Knowing you can’t do everything, that it’s not possible to take care of every need and be efficient and be political and address every need in the classroom setting. Sometimes, you’re so busy dotting all the I’s and crossing the T’s that you have to just have to sit on the rug. You need to sit down and do great work with kids.

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

Kevin Campbell. He was my principal when I team taught sixth grade out at Spring Valley [Center for Exploration] with Dawn Kahler. Dawn has also been one of those caring adults for me, a mentor…Dawn is a science teacher now at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

We really explored and learned and had a lot of educational opportunities. We took advantage of them together, on behalf of students. Kevin recognized our skills, strength, and passion and always came knocking on that side of us, never the deficit side.

I want to be a strengths teacher and not a deficit teacher. I want to teach to students’ strengths and they both helped me teach to my strengths. My time with them made me want to continue to grow in this area and network, and be with other people who are like that. Coming at students from a strength-based approach, you don’t worry so much about crossing the I’s and T’s.

Also, another caring adult and mentor was Mary Hoyle. I worked with her throughout my 24 years in the Kalamazoo Public Schools—first at Woodward, Spring Valley, and later Milwood Magnet. I miss her. Mary taught me to be a fierce advocate…she was a good friend.

We miss Mary, too. Thank you, Ms. Buchholz.

And a big thank you to all you teachers out there who show up every day for our 12,000+ kids.

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