When Doors Open, Maria Walks Through

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

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

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

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

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

Maria with her son, Ramil.

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

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

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

Pop Quiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you currently reading?  

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

 What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

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

Anything else you want us to know?

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

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

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

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

 

Fifth Grader Passes Pop Quiz with Flying Colors

Sophia and her mom Heidi.

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 Sophia, a fifth grade student at El Sol Elementary School. This Kalamazoo Public School (KPS) offers instruction in two languages, English and Spanish. The program model is unique within the district and Southwestern Michigan.

“CIS is very helpful for kids in this community that are new,” the fifth grader says. She should know. Sophia arrived last year with her mom from Venezuela.

She’s glad that her then fourth grade teacher, Ms. Courtney Eaton, introduced her to CIS. Since then, Sophia has worked hard, taking advantage of all the opportunities and community resources that her CIS Site Coordinator Levi Soto has offered. Sophia is also featured in the recently released 2018-19 CIS Annual Report, so once you see how she did on her pop quiz, you can learn more about her here.

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

Pop Quiz

What is your favorite word right now?

In English?

How about one in English and one in Spanish?

In English, it would be love. And in Spanish, Venezuela.

What are you currently reading?

Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop. It’s about these kids in World War II. I like reading for fun.

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

I get a lot of help when I need it.

What is one of your favorite subjects in school?

Science. I’ve gone from red, to orange, to green. [Note: Green is good! That is excellent progress!] And I really like social studies.

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

A whale. Because I would like to see the different fishes that a human can’t see.

Outside of school, what things do you enjoy doing?

Going to Lake Michigan with my mom. I also like eating pizza. It’s my favorite food.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

That all kids would have a home and have food every day.

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

My mom. She helps me a lot with math homework. I didn’t understand it a lot at first. It’s really different from homework in Venezuela.

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

Be sure to check out the CIS annual report featuring Sophia! You can read it here.

Third Grader Ysabel: I’m a better student because everybody helps me

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 Ysabel, a third grader at El Sol Elementary School.

CIS After School Coordinator Viridiana Carvajal had the pleasure of first working with Ysabel when she became involved in CIS after school as a first grader. “She’s got such a positive attitude and is willing to try new things,” says Viridiana (known as “Ms. Viri”). It’s students like Ysabel who inspire me go beyond and work even harder.”

We met up with Ysabel at Arcadia Elementary School during the 2019 CIS Think Summer! program. Ysabel says she enjoys school and learning. She loves being part of CIS After School, making new friends, and is looking forward to the new school year. [Ysabel is featured in the fall 2019 CIS Connections, found here.]

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

Pop Quiz

During the school year, you attend El Sol Elementary. What has your CIS experience been like as a student there?  

I like it. All the teachers, [CIS] coaches, and everyone in after school. Ms. Viri is special…She is kind and helps me with my homework in after school. I’m a better student because everybody helps me.

Speaking of Ms. Viri, she says you are enthusiastic and actively involved in CIS after school and many of the special activities. What else should we know about you?

I like to bake a lot. I like to make breakfast for my family. I like to bring them eggs and milk and coffee and waffles.

Favorite word? Fun!

What are you currently reading?

My Life in Pictures [written and illustrated by Deborah Zemke]. It’s about this little girl who is drawing pictures of her life.

Just like the title of the book!

Yes!

Favorite things about being a student in KPS?

I get to learn a lot of stuff. I like gym and math.

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

A whale.

Why a whale?

Because they are really big.

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

My family. My mom and dad, aunts and uncles, and grandmas and grandpas….Also, my cousins, baby brother, big sister and little sister. And Ms. Viri.

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

Be sure to read the CIS Connections and find out more about Ysabel, including what one thing she would change about the world, if she could.

Pop Quiz: Stephanie Walther

Stephanie with students in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

 

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 Stephanie Walther, the former CIS site coordinator of El Sol Elementary School. Prior to her work with us, Stephanie served as a Peace Corp volunteer in El Salvador and taught in Honduras. Stephanie may have left Kalamazoo, but she continues to be all in for kids, having joined the Sante Fe CIS team in 2014 as the site coordinator at Aspen Community Magnet School in New Mexico.

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

POP QUIZ

Stephanie, you left your position as CIS site coordinator at El Sol Elementary School in 2014 and we still miss you. However, we feel good knowing you are still all in for kids and doing the same work at CIS of New Mexico. What drew you to New Mexico as well as continuing your work as a CIS site coordinator?

I was at a transitional point in my personal life and realized that staying in Kalamazoo wasn’t going to work out for me. It was very difficult for me to leave El Sol and CIS of Kalamazoo. I was surrounded by a community of support and I still miss everybody that I met out there.

While I was figuring out where I wanted to go next in my career, I often browsed the CIS National website to see if anything was available since I had had such a positive experience with CIS of Kalamazoo. It all still feels like a dream. I sent in my resume and heard back the same day. I instantly felt the same feeling of support from my phone conversations with the administrative staff here in Santa Fe. I knew we shared the goal of helping students achieve in life and succeed. I moved out here less than two weeks after accepting the job and I haven’t regretted one moment. Everybody I have met that works with CIS has such a good heart and I’m so happy to be able to continue to work with the organization and with people that share my vision for the youth in our country. As a site coordinator, I’ve realized the level of support needed in our public schools and the level of potential our students have. I feel lucky to be able to work with such amazing kids every day.

Stephanie (right) at 2014 Champs with CIS Board Member Jen Randall and CIS Champ Kawyie Cooper (middle).

We couldn’t help but notice on CIS of New Mexico’s website that there is a quote from your Gary De Sanctis, Principal  at Aspen Community Magnet School who says “So much of Stephanie’s work focuses on the social/emotional needs of our students and as a result so many more of our Aspen kids are able to focus and learn.” As you know, social and emotional needs are a big part of what CIS site coordinators in Kalamazoo work to meet. Can you  talk  about the social emotional needs your students face and what strategies and supports you are finding helpful to meet those needs?

As we all know, families go through their ups and downs. A lot of times parents and students are coming to a site coordinator during a difficult time in their lives. Difficult times happen to everybody.

Our job is to support the students and help them succeed in life. It seems very simple, but I find the most important part of doing my job is looking at each person as an individual human being that is going through life’s experiences. What works for one person doesn’t exactly work for another. Children also have different ways of taking on experiences and different supports in their homes. Working with the individual students and getting to know them is a big part. In Kalamazoo and in Santa Fe I’ve been lucky to work with several community partners to fulfill the social emotional needs of the students.  Getting to know the community and the resources available has been a lifesaver. We have been able to work on fulfilling the various social emotional needs of the students while they are at school and in a safe and caring environment.

Partnering with school staff to ensure we are working together to care of children’s social emotional needs is also key. It benefits the entire school community.

In your seven years as a CIS site coordinator–in both Kalamazoo and New Mexico–we know you’ve learned a lot about what it takes to helps kids succeed. If you could go back in time, what advice would you, now a seasoned Site Coordinator, give yourself starting out in this position.  

I would have given myself more time to let my caseload grow naturally. I was focused more on reaching a certain number of caseload students while I should have been focused on the individual needs of the students and the school. You cannot add a student to your caseload based on a test score or looking at their attendance.  It is important to talk to them and the people in their lives. Each year I find that building relationships with students and their families becomes more natural and I’m able to really gain trust with them.

What do you miss most about Kalamazoo?

I miss the access we had to wonderful mentors and tutors we had from Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. I know how much they impacted the lives of my students and acted as great role models. We just don’t have access to college students in Santa Fe. I miss the energy they brought to our students.

I also miss everybody at CIS of Kalamazoo and El Sol. There was such a great community feeling in the school and I always felt very supported by the staff members at the CIS main office.

We’re curious, what are you reading right now?

I’m reading The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. She has always been my favorite author and storyteller.

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

Walking Their Talk

CIS Board Member Rex Bell congratulating representatives of Stryker employees Megan Bland (center) and Heather Maurer on their Champs award.
CIS Board Member Rex Bell congratulating representatives of Stryker employees Megan Bland (center) and Heather Maurer on their Champs award.

Today we highlight Stryker®Employees. This CIS business partner was one of eight organizations and individuals honored  at the annual Champ Celebration.  CIS Board Member Steve Powell, along with Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts, presented the award. 

The Employees at Stryker Instruments have been supporting local students in a number of ways over the past several years. As part of the Stryker “Amazing Race” event in the fall of 2013, Stryker employees raced around the City of Kalamazoo to collect school supplies, which were donated to CIS Kids’ Closet. Kids’ Closet provides items of new clothing, school supplies, and personal care items to students in CIS supported KPS buildings.

School-supplies-from-Stryker1-300x225We had the good fortune of meeting one Stryker employee in particular at the Amazing Race event, Quay Eady. Quay made a commitment to volunteer for the 2013-14 academic year at Milwood Elementary School. During that time she tutored and mentored several 4th grade girls in the CIS After School program every Tuesday and Thursday. On average, she gave 4-5 hours of her time each week. She also volunteered at several school events, serving dinner to families at the Family Movie Night, and supporting the end of school picnic for CIS after school students at Milham Park.

This past fall, the employees in the Stryker Instruments Service Call Center took on a challenge of collecting 500 school supplies for the CIS Kids’ Closet. They met and exceeded their goal. These supplies were then distributed by CIS site teams to students who needed them. Around this same time, CIS was approached by Service Operations Leader Greg McCormick with a very generous offer: a group of 8-10 Stryker employees committing to volunteer for an entire year with CIS. When asked how they wanted to volunteer their time, Greg replied, “we’ll do whatever you want us to do.” Greg has been leading “Champions for Change,” a group of twelve employees who want to have a positive impact on students in Kalamazoo.  They help students with their homework in the CIS after school programs at both Milwood  and El Sol Elementary Schools. Every Wednesday, volunteers from the group arrive ready and willing to help students with solving math problems, learning spelling words, or reading a book.

Stryker-employees-collecting-for-ClS-Kids-ClosetAnd if that wasn’t enough, twice a month nine CIS students fromKalamazoo Central High Schooltake a van to Strkyer as part of the Bigs in Business program done in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

One of the five CIS basics is that every child needs and deserves a marketable skill to use upon graduation. “Stryker employees, through Bigs in Business, exposes students who would not otherwise have this opportunity,” points out Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central. “The students really look forward to this. These ninth graders are making connections beyond themselves by working one on one and in small groups with the employees. It’s motivating them. They are taking more initiative and responsibility—whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.”

Over the course of getting to know these men and women who are partnering with CIS in numerous ways, we couldn’t help but notice how Stryker employees, in their service to students, live out the very values that are core to their business: Integrity: We do what’s right. Accountability: We do what we say. People: We grow talent. Performance: We deliver. What a great message this sends to our young people.

Stryker® Employees, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Click here to watch Alisandra Rizzolo and Megan Bland on The Lori Moore Show. Both are Stryker employees and  part of the Champions for Change volunteer group at Milwood Elementary.