Howard Tejchma: Inviting Others to Join in the Work

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 Howard Tejchma, who was recently honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award.  [If you didn’t get a chance to read about the great work Howard is doing with elementary school students, click here for that post. To learn more about Gulnar, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

Since 2010, Howard has been volunteering at Arcadia Elementary School. He works closely with fifth grade teacher Holly Bishop, supporting about four of her students each year in a small group setting over the lunchtime. Over the years, CIS has noticed that as Howard engages the students in fun activities, he also takes the opportunity to weave in life lessons.

We got a chance to meet up with Howard at Arcadia Elementary School after one of his “lunch bunch” sessions. We popped this quiz on him just days before the pandemic hit and schools were closed.

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

Pop Quiz

From volunteering more than a decade with CIS, what have you learned?

We all have the child that goes through us within life. The kids reawaken that child in me and get me out of my box…I have to think more like a kid to understand them and that’s healthy.

What are you currently reading?

I just read In the Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama. A philosopher, poet, and theologian, Ó Tuama talks about living in the shelter of one another. I’ve been running a bookclub on it at my church. It’s a beautiful book about community. It’s about listening, interacting, and creating relationships and the author tells it through his own story.

Currently, I’m reading a book on butterflies. It’s The Last Butterflies by Nick Haddad. The underpinnings of this book help with understanding why we exist in the world. Habitat, for instance, has a direct relationship with the type of habitat we foster for kids to survive and thrive in the world. And what we see on the surface isn’t necessarily what matters. Just like the work we’re doing at CIS, it’s long term work making a world that we are proud for our kids to grow up in, and to feel proud that we had a role in that.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

Sarkosky’s. Especially having breakfast there on Saturday morning.

What is your favorite word right now?

Hope.

What question have you asked recently?

Interesting you’d ask that. Pádraig Ó Tuama goes into the quality of questions we ask ourselves and others. I’ve been thinking about the quality of questions. High quality questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no response. Sometimes, it’s both yes and no… I think it’s worth wondering: what are those questions we are not thinking about? What questions aren’t we asking ourselves? What are the questions I’m avoiding in my life? Whatever question or questions I’m running away from, those are the ones I need to ask.

Why am I not considering tutoring? What are my barriers to getting involved? Why might I be afraid of it? What are our barriers to inviting others to join us in the work?

Speaking of barriers, Gulnar had no barriers when it came to inviting others to join in the work.

That’s right. Gulnar was magnificent with reaching out and asking others to join her in this work. When I think about Gulnar, she was on a mission and as the CIS site coordinator at Arcadia, she first engaged me in this work. Her mission was not only to make the world a better place—creating greater harmony and peace—but to also get other people to do that as well, to be an agent of change.

It’s amazing to think about the effect she had on my life. What she got me to believe in.

And what did she get you to believe in?

That I can make a difference. I can make a difference by working in schools and helping kids. I’m needed. We need you was her message. And I can say that, too. We need you. We need you for tutoring and mentoring. Join us.

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

Oh, so many. My partner Steve of 25 plus years. My church family. I can’t imagine life without them. My high school English teacher Christine Bettese. She was also in the theater arts program and got me involved with that. I was really reserved in high school. I was planning to go to Michigan Tech and she said I should apply to Kalamazoo College. I visited the campus and then decided to go to K. So if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here in Kalamazoo.

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

Howard accepting his award at 2020 Champs

 

In the Shelter of Each Other

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec,  Joan Coopes, former Communities In Schools Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School, presented the 2020 Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award to Howard Tejchma. As both volunteer and CIS Site Coordinator, Gulnar Husain relentless pursued a more just and welcoming world for all. For more than 38 years, she relished volunteering throughout our community. The Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion.

There’s an old Irish proverb: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” You could say this year’s recipient of the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award is a shelter of sorts. Howard Tejchma, or, Mr. Howard, as the students call him, has been volunteering at Arcadia Elementary School for the past decade. Working closely with Kalamazoo Public School teacher Holly Bishop, he supports several of her fifth grade students in a “lunch bunch” setting. The students look forward to his weekly visits, readily giving up recess to be in the shelter of his kindness.

With a degree in physics from Kalamazoo College, and a fierce curiosity for how the world works, Howard weaves in game playing, life lessons, and math and science support, all while nurturing a safe space which awakens students’ curiosities. Howard takes moments that arise—like the time one student had difficulty losing at a card game—to discuss how to be a good sport, a good listener, to take turns, to share. Gathered under the roof of his patience, children dream, wonder, and question. They discover their place in the world.

“Mr. Howard has been a blessing to me and my students,” says Ms. Bishop. “He has unique conversations with them and tries to connect on a personal level with each and every one. He is teaching them to be good humans. I truly hope that he wants to do this for as long as I am teaching, because he is always welcome in my classroom.”

As Howard is a tenor singer and has performed solo in the Kalamazoo Bach Festival, we thought he might appreciate the legendary Quincy Jones’ musical take on CIS. Thinking of it as an orchestra, Jones says, “CIS is the conductor who makes sure all the individual musicians are playing from the same score and coming in when they’re needed.”

Since 2010, our kids have counted on him coming into their lives at just the right times.

Howard, you play your part beautifully and inspire children—and us!—to do the same. May this musical metal sculpture serve as a symbol of your outstanding service.

Howard accepting his award.

Howard Techjma, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Stay tuned. Next week we’ll run Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids’ last face-to-face interview we did before the pandemic hit. It is with Howard and you won’t want to miss it!

Anthology lifts up the voice of children

Have you read the new anthology, Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors? If not, you may want to add it to your summer reading list. Published by Celery City Books, the anthology includes the work of a number of Kalamazoo Public School students from Arcadia Elementary School. Poems by Reem Ahmed, Nour Abdullah, Hala Alhasan, Nada Alhasnawi, Faris Bukhader, Nabaa Eyddan, Lisbet Lopez, Taema Qwam-Alden, Roziya Rustamova, Abdullah Tayara, and Ritika Verma are woven throughout the anthology. These fourth and fifth graders are published alongside prominent poets and writers from Michigan and beyond.

If you want to read a book on immigration policy, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are a neighbor, have a neighbor, or are interested in exploring the theme of immigration and what kids have to say about it, this 116 page anthology is for you.

Scott Matteson designed the book’s eye-catching cover which bears the Statue of Liberty draped in flags of different countries. Photo by Jessica Grant.

Here are nine things you may not know about this anthology project:

What readers are saying.

CIS friend and community advocate Deborah Droppers says, “I applaud the anthology of essays and poems found in Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors. The anthology uses the written word to encourage thoughtful discourse on the challenges that each of our communities face while celebrating the amazing things that happen organically when people believe in the power of conversation between neighbors that are close and beyond our picket fences.”

Retired KPS teacher Carol Hodges says this: “Opening this anthology in the middle, I find a child’s poetic love letter to the country of Iraq juxtaposed against the complex musings of an American man teaching English to Arabs in the Mideast. Then there is the story of a Nigerian woman named Rejoice who fears being deported. How different is her modern-day experience from the 1919 steerage voyage of the young British woman leaving shame and servitude behind?This volume is thin but it is far from an easy read. You’ll need time to ponder.”

The people behind the pages.

Were it not for the support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the children’s voices might not have been heard. A shout out to Arcadia Elementary School teachers Debora Gant, Holly Bishop, Erin Young, and Donna Judd for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students. Also, Donia Ali and Grace Gheen are two shining stars at Arcadia who are part of the fabulous Kalamazoo Public Schools Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. They were instrumental to the success of this project in so many ways.

It’s in the bag.

KPL’s Book Club in a Bag

The anthology is now part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s impressive list of books available as a Book Club in a Bag. Karen Trout, Reading Together coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library says, “KPL’s 2016 social justice resolution includes the statement: KPL values compassion and champions everyone’s right to be welcome in a safe environment in the library and in the wider community. Adding this title to our Book Club in a Bag collection–and encouraging local dialogue about the issue of immigration–is a perfect way to put this institutional commitment into action.” Book Club in a Bag is open to all Kalamazoo Public Library district resident cardholders.

 

Student voices reaching beyond Kalamazoo.

In Grand Rapids, the celebrated Iraqi-American poet Dunya Mikhail read and discussed excerpts from the “Dear Iraq” poems written by Arcadia poets at “I, Too, Am Michigan,” part of the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters “Writers Squared series.”

At a reading at the stunning sculpture gardens of Roan and Black in Saugatuck, award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl talked about the project and helped the voices of the children reach an even wider audience. Ridl contributed three of his own poems to the anthology.

Jack Ridl talks about anthology at Roan and Black.

Students got a lot out of this anthology project.

The Arcadia fourth and fifth graders wrote poems, some for the first time. Their work was published and they have had opportunities to read their work to others, at home, school, on the Kalamazoo College campus, and at Bookbug. They’ve read alongside well-known Michigan poets and writers like Buddy Hannah, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, Lynn Pattison, Kit Almy, Phillip Sterling, Marion Boyer, and Alison Swan. They’ve even been approached by audience members asking the students to autograph their copy of the anthology and have graciously done so. (Kudos to Arcadia Principal Greg Socha for all his support of this project, including his wise suggestion of giving students the opportunity to practice their signatures in advance of readings!)

Arcadia students with former CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nick Baxter getting ready to read.

Student are giving back to the community.

One can’t help but think that the students have given more than they have received. Like the other contributors, the children donated their work and all proceeds benefit Justice For Our Neighbors in Kalamazoo, a legal clinic for immigrants.

Also, their words make grown ups think! As one reader said, “I know immigration has been a hot topic but it didn’t really hit home until I read the children’s ‘Dear Country’ poems.”  Similar sentiments have been shared by other readers. A reader who attended the June Bookbug event said, “I’m humbled by the bravery of these children. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to read before a group of people, let alone leave one’s country and then read so beautifully in a brand new language. How many of us could do that? I don’t know if I could!” 

CIS connections.

Nick reads an excerpt from his essay.

In addition to the students’ poems, CIS friends will be pleased to discover an interview with former CIS site coordinator Gulnar Husain. Also, Nicholas “Nick” Baxter, a former Americorps VISTA worker with CIS, contributes a lovely essay entitled “Blueberries.”

Jennifer Clark, co-editor of the anthology, works on special projects and initiatives for CIS and worked with the students on this anthology project as a CIS volunteer, offering workshops at Arcadia Elementary School. She can’t sing the praises enough of the CIS staff at Arcadia. Thanks to Caitlin Bales and Rachel DeNooyer for all their support! CIS volunteer Cindy Hadley also worked behind the scenes, escorting students to and from the poetry workshops. Go, Cindy!

 

 

A second printing.

Less than two months after the young poets read their poems before a crowd of over 125 people who turned out to celebrate the April 19th release of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the anthology sold out of its first 400 copies and went into a second printing.

Miriam Downey, co-editor of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors, welcomes everyone to the anthology launch.

Where to get the book.

In addition to finding the anthology at local libraries, it is available at the following locations:

Bookbug (3019 Oakland Drive in Oakwood Plaza at Oakland Dr. & Whites Rd.)

Michigan News Agency (308 W. Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo)

Kazoo Books (2413 Parkview Avenue in Kalamazoo)

Tudor House Tea & Spice (352 S. Kalamazoo Mall in downtown Kalamazoo)

First United Methodist Church (212 S. Park in downtown Kalamazoo across from Bronson Park)

-Books can also obtained by mail by completing an order form that can be downloaded here.

 

Happy summer reading! And if you haven’t had a chance to hear the students read, you can catch them reading their work here.

 

Pop Quiz: DeKarieon Booth

20161101-dsc_0272Welcome 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 DeKarieon Booth, an eighth grader at Hillside Middle School. You’ll be able to learn more about DeKarieon as he is featured in the CIS annual report that will be out soon!

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
Lunar equations. It’s like algebra but you have to substitute a number for a letter.

Favorite word?
Petulant. It’s another word you can use for petty. My mom, she got tired of us going around the house and calling each other petty, so she gave us a new word for it.

What are you currently reading?
I’m reading Keeper of the Lost Cities: Never Seen. It’s part of a series book written by Shannon Messenger.

Thinking back through the years, who has been one of your favorite teachers?
Mrs. [Holly] Bishop at Arcadia [Elementary School]. She helped me through some rough times I was having with a couple of other kids. Also, instead of going outside some days, she let me start a book club. That was fun.

Also, Ms. [Jessica] Jeffrey. She’s my science teacher here at Hillside. She lets us do a lot of great things. She’s always pushing us to do better.

You have the Kalamazoo Promise. What are your plans upon graduating from high school?
I want to go to Western Michigan University and become a journalist and a book writer.

What’s inspired you to lean in this direction?
I just really like books and if I read a book I really like and the author hasn’t come up with another book, I’m already off and creating the next book.

CIS After School Coordinator Ms. Katherine describes you as someone who possesses ‘intellectual curiosity.’ Is she right?
That’s true.

What are you curious about?
I’m curious about school work and grades and how I can do better. I’m curious about the groups and clubs we do at CIS, whether it’s lifting weights or doing art.

Both CIS Site Coordinator Precious Miller and CIS After School Coordinator Katherine Williamson say you are a great advocate for CIS. What advice do you have for students who might be in need of support?
If they need something, they need to ask for help. And if they don’t know what to do, I’d tell them to go to someone who knows how to help them. They can turn to CIS. At Hillside, they just need to go to Ms. Precious or Ms. Katherine.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is your caring adult?
My mom. She wants the best for us. She didn’t go to college and wants us to be the first in the family to go to college.

Thank you, DeKarieon!

20161101-dsc_0263
DeKarieon Booth in center. From left to right: CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Terra Mosqueda, CIS Site Coordinator Precious Miller, KPS Teacher Ms. Jessica Jeffrey, and CIS After School Coordinator Katherine Williamson.