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.