Teen Living Life With Courage and Hope

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 Annie Jett, a seventh grader at Hillside Middle School.

Prior to Hillside, Annie attended fifth grade at Lincoln and kindergarten through fourth grade at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Annie is “loving my educational experience at Hillside.” With her positive attitude, this student who thinks deeply about many subject matters has a bright future ahead of her.

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

Pop Quiz

What is your favorite subject?

Life skills. It is helping me become a more advanced person. The class helps me not only now with how I can see and do things but, how in the future, what I’m learning will help me in the different environments I find myself in when I’m out in the world.

Any favorite teachers?

In elementary school it was Ms. [Carla] Waller. She’s retired now, but she was my teacher at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Also, Ms. [Suezann] Bennett-Sheldon. She teaches life skills here at Hillside. She’s really helpful and teaches you different ways to approach things. She also is able to figure out different ways to help you learn.

How has CIS figured into your educational experience?

CIS has been there for me. The people care. When I was at Northglade, Mr. [Derek] Miller was my site coordinator. And when I got to Hillside, his wife, Ms. Precious [Miller] was my site coordinator.

You had the Miller team!

Yes, they were both very helpful, responsible, and respectful. They especially help me calm down my anger when I was mad. And when my father passed away in 2017, Ms. Precious was there for me. We had just finished doing a Prevention Works program when my granny came down to the school that day and told me my father had passed in a car crash on the highway… I went into a coma…I felt paralyzed. I felt that way for weeks, like I couldn’t move.

Ms. Precious was there. She even came to my classes when I was sad and down. She helped me get through it before she went to Western.

And now Ms. Jody Sikkema is your CIS Site Coordinator.

Yes, and I have found the same connection with her, just in a different way. Ms. Jody helps me find different ways to handle my emotions. She’s gotten me involved in Grief 101 with Ms. Cate. Ms. Cate has helped me a lot. The Grief 101 group [offered through Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan] has connected me with more people who have the same thing. At first, I was even scared to talk about it, was going to bust down……It helps to be surrounded by other people that have similar situations. I was stuck in my shell and Ms. Cate has helped me open up.

I know how to handle things, but I also know that some times are just going to be hard, like the 13th of every month…[the date of her father’s death]. All together, Ms. Precious, Ms. Jody, and Ms. Cate have really, really, really helped me a lot with this.

Your father’s death is such a huge thing to deal with. In talking with Ms. Cate recently for the upcoming CIS newsletter, she said that grief is something that never goes away. You learn to live with it.

That’s right. And that’s what I’m doing every day.

Annie with Ms. Mariah Adamy, WMU School of Social Work student interning with CIS. “Ms. Mariah is very open and it’s easy to talk to her,” says Annie.

What is something you’ve recently learned?

That I can make more connections with others and that is good to do for me. I might be afraid to talk to you because I don’t know you, but I still am talking to you.

You are putting yourself out there.

Yes. And I’m becoming more mature and more wise about my decisions. When my dad was here, he always knew how to put me in check. Now I’m learning how to do that.

What is your favorite word right now?

Courage. If it wasn’t for courage, I’d still be down and wouldn’t have others to lift me up. I think about courage every day. It comes up in different forms, you know? Like, I might call my granny and she helps me, lifts my spirits up.

I love my family and education, but at the end of the day I still have to deal with one of my parents gone. I’m moving along and finding new paths every day to take. That is the way of courage.

What are you currently reading?

The Hate U Give. It’s our all school read at Hillside.

What would you ask the author, Angie Thomas, if you got the chance?

I would ask Angie Thomas, “How were you able to do this so well? How were you able to compare real life to the life you have created in your book?” She really was able to capture real life—and the world of black and white—so real, like. How was she able to do that?

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

Every adult I know and see. Even if I don’t know you, I can see how you are caring. That’s one of my special abilities.

Also, my principal, Mr. McKissack. I think of him as my uncle because he knows me and has known my family a long time. He was a teacher when my mom was here at the school. And even though he’s not my real uncle, he cares like a real uncle. He’s helped me through things, too. He’s the kind of person I like to be around.

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

In our Spring 2019 CIS Connections, you can learn more about Annie, Ms. Cate, and the partnership between CIS and Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.

Cate Jarvis: Built for Helping Kids in Schools

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 Cate Jarvis, School Grief Support Counselor.

Since 2006, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. From the beginning of this partnership, Cate Jarvis, one of Hospice’s School Grief Support Counselors, has been supporting grieving students. She runs eight-week sessions of “Grief 101” in seven to ten Kalamazoo Public School buildings each year. By the end of this school year, she will have held fall, winter, and spring sessions at Hillside Middle School, Kalamazoo Central High School, Loy Norrix High School, Lincoln International Studies School, Washington Writers’ Academy, Woods Lake Elementary, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, Woodward School for Technology and Research, and Prairie Ridge Elementary School.

Originally from Detroit, Cate was surprised to find she had made her way to Kalamazoo. “I grew up in the city of Detroit and everything was there,” she says. “I didn’t know that there was anything past Ann Arbor!” Cate holds degrees from Western Michigan University, a bachelor in Family Studies and Masters in WMU’s Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. We met up with Cate at Walnut & Park Cafe in downtown Kalamazoo.

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

Pop Quiz

There are many definitions of grief out there. Author and undertaker Thomas Lynch says, “Grief is the price we pay for being close to one another. If we want to avoid our grief, we simply avoid each other.” How do you define grief?

Grief is a natural process that you go through when you have lost someone or something. Not just death of loss of a loved one, but it could be losing one’s sense of safety and losing a sense of how one functions in the world due to a variety of things: incarceration, foster care, recent changes in home or school. Who am I going to be without this person? Who is going to take care of me? In that process of grieving, you can feel many different emotions, such as anger confusion, sadness, and relief.

Then why is it, when grief is a natural process, does it seems we have a tendency in this society to rush past or avoid grief? Even the very terms we use when referring to grief, like “get over it,” suggest we want to quickly brush it aside. Is this an accurate perception? If so, what do we lose out on by not fully embracing loss?

I think that’s an accurate perception. It’s not a comfortable subject to discuss, so often, people just don’t. What do we lose out on not embracing hope? That’s a good question. Two of the big one’s we potentially lose out on is resilience and the ability to be connected to other things and people. …We go through grief because we are connected.

When it comes to grief, you never get over it. You live with it. You let it be. Sometimes grief is going to be more and sometimes it’s going to be less.

What does a grieving child look like? How does grief manifest itself differently in children than in adults?

In kids, usually you see behaviors like withdrawing, sadness, and anger. They may appear worried and a lot of times you see an underlying agitation—they can’t sit still and may get frustrated easily. Adults can have these same behaviors but they have more life experience and cognitive ability to keep that contained. You may see crying with both kids and adults, as well as depression, substance abuse, a sense of hopeless, anxiety and worry, and a stressed-out presence.

With adults, they may believe that their grief will be a burden to someone. I see this in the teen years but not with the younger children. That makes sense: as we get older, we take in societal messages about how we should or should not express our grief. We learn that often people don’t know how to respond. And so, in some instances, we may try and keep that burden to ourselves.

How should we respond to someone who is grieving?

Acknowledge the loss. Acknowledging is better than not acknowledging it. Saying something is better than not saying anything at all.

In talking recently with a mother whose adult child is dying, I was reminded that grieving is hard work. She was exhausted. She mentioned that she could easily be consumed by her grief. One way she was trying to keep this from happening was consciously trying to be more child-like in the way she was dealing with her grief. You know, how sometimes kids seem to be sad one moment and then minutes later they are laughing and enjoying something. Grownups, on the other hand, may feel guilty. How is it that I can feel joy or happiness in this time of sadness?

Yes, kids can compartmentalize their grief. With grief, kids dip their toe in the water a bit. You might be giving a long explanation to a question they’ve asked about the loss they are experiencing and then they are like, So what’s for dinner? They process information differently than adults. Adults process it all the time, whereas kids are processing it in chunks of time.

… I like that idea of being childlike with grief, that’s probably very healthy. Giving yourself space, time, love, and self-care, it’s important to do that. People who are grieving need a break from grief.

As you’ve been working with children over the years, any surprising insights about loss or grief?

It’s surprising the amount of grief and losses that a young child or teenager experiences…It also makes you realize that we are made for it.

You’re saying we’re built for grief.

Think about it. Think of the losses you’ve experienced throughout your life. If you took those out, what would be left? I realize that’s a philosophical way to look at it, but it is stunning to consider how much loss our kids endure. It is endurance; it’s a marathon.

Think of a child—elementary school age—who has witnessed her mom being arrested. So she goes to live with her granny, and then a few years later, when she’s in middle school, her granny dies. That right there is a lot of loss to deal with…

I’ve been doing this work for so long—and that is one of the great things about our partnership with CIS in the schools—is that I will see this student when they are in elementary school. CIS may again refer that student when they are in middle school or again in high school. Grief and loss is processed at developmental levels. So what a child may experience as a third grader, they may struggle with that loss again—in a different way—as a teen in junior high school, and then again in high school.

That loss keeps coming back up is a common and natural part of the grieving process. Say that student is now a senior. Senior year, everything changes. There are many milestones, they are getting ready to graduate, and the very people who are supposed to be there and help them navigate and celebrate these milestones aren’t there. They are missing their mom who isn’t there to guide them through the process. It can be overwhelming.

What are you currently reading?

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells and Mindfulness for Teens by Dzung Vo. I just finished reading The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson. Put that on your to-do list if you haven’t read that yet. It’s about the great migration and told from three vantage points.

Any favorite places in our community?

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s public preserves, like the Portman Nature Preserve. Also, Al Sabo Land Preserve.

Favorite word?

It’s more like a phrase: let it be.

We can learn to let grief be. Not everything is fixable and that’s okay. There is a big word that captures this idea somewhat, and that is acceptance. But I don’t like that word.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve learned about Bondi Beach in Australia. It’s somewhere I want to go. It’s east of Sydney and there is a whole culture to it. Big surf, big waves. Looks like a good time.

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

I would say it has not been just one person, but rather a collective, usually always women and they are either my age or a little older than me. They give me perspective and offer somewhat of a mentoring relationship, but it’s not an official mentoring relationship. These women have a little bit more life experience than I do, and they walk me in off the edge. I respect their opinion and insight. I appreciate that they have faith in me.

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

Learn more about Cate and what she has to say about the Hospice partnership with CIS in our upcoming CIS Connections.

Boo!

Did we scare you? No? Well then, here are a few facts about kids in America that are plenty scary.

61,423 children are incarcerated throughout the United States. It is estimated that 10,000 of those children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day. A number of these incarcerated kids don’t have a system of support. Jamal says that if it weren’t for his CIS Site Coordinator, he’d “be dead or in jail or in prison somewhere.” Listen to his story here.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. Today in the United States, 11 teens will die as a result of texting while driving. (Text while driving and you are 23 times more likely to crash.) We’re proud that two of our CIS partners—AT&T and State Farm®—have both been leaders and are at the forefront in helping combat this growing epidemic. We wrote about their effort’s in this post, It’s Never Okay.

More than 13% of children reported being physically bullied, while more than 1 in 3 said they had been emotionally bullied. Researchers have found that providing social and emotional learning programs in schools not only decreases negative behaviors like bullying, but it increases positive attitudes toward school, positive social behavior, and academic performance. At CIS, our school and community partners know this. That’s why Twelve Days of Kindness and other creative approaches to enhancing social and emotional learning often get woven into CIS after school programs throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Every day, children suffer loss that can include the death of a loved one, divorce, incarceration of a caregiver, or other separation issue. One out of every 20 children aged ­fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. This statistic doesn’t include children who lose a “parental ­figure,” such as a grandparent that provides care. (Owens, D. “Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care” Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2008; 10:1) Fortunately, for over a decade now, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. In Times of Grief and Loss, Hospice is There.

More than two million kids have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Fortunately, there are wonderful organizations like SLD Read. Our Site Coordinators love supporting this terrific partner and their exceptionally trained tutors who, through a multisensory program, help students with dyslexia, learning differences, and other reading challenges to develop lifelong language skills.

This list could go on. Our kids face challenges every day. The good news is that you can make a difference. Thank you for getting involved, whether it’s donating, partnering, or volunteering. Our 12,000+ kids need you.

In Times of Grief And Loss, Hospice Is There

boy-984313Genuine, compassionate, and flexible. These words only begin to capture our partner, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. Thanks to its work with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, hundreds and hundreds of Kalamazoo Public School students have benefited from its school-based grief groups. Since 2006, Hospice Board members, administrators and therapists have been committed to providing students with a grief counselor who is highly skilled at engaging students from diverse backgrounds who are grieving due to terminal illness or death of a loved one, loss of their home, divorce, incarceration or foster care.

This school-based service, which will touch almost 100 students this school year, offers hope and better ways of coping with the losses they have experienced. One student, struggling with the death of her mother, saw her grades drop to the point she felt paralyzed with grief and hopelessness. “I didn’t care about anything,” she said. “I gave up easily…I wasn’t doing my work and was behind on credits.” She took what she saw as her only available option and dropped out of high school. She almost became a statistic. Almost.

KPS staff did a great job of convincing this young woman to return to school and to get connected with CIS. The school’s CIS Site Coordinator connected her with a grief & loss group offered by Hospice. The student credited the work she did in the weekly groups with therapist Cate Jarvis with helping her get back on track to graduate. As the oldest child in a parentless family, she recognized that the best way to honor her mother’s memory is to make sure that her little brothers and sisters attend school regularly and do their homework so they too can graduate and take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise®.

It’s a fact: healthier children make better students—including emotional health as well as physical health. Research proves that addressing children’s health needs is associated with positive school outcomes. When students’ health needs are met, studies find increases in academic achievement, decreases in incidence of problem behaviors, improvement in the relationships that surround each child, and positive changes in school and classroom climates.

lonely-928656But access to these needed services is often an obstacle. When it comes to the delivery of health services—or any of the critical resources our partners provide—location matters. Transportation is often a barrier for many of the students served through CIS. Keeping appointments outside of the school setting can pose a hardship for families. School-based health services are a growing trend throughout the country. Approximately 75% of children who receive some type of mental health service receive it in schools.

We are grateful to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and to all of our partners who work with us, investing their time, expertise, and resources to change the landscape of healthcare delivery for our children.

We continue to be thankful for the Kalamazoo Public Schools. It is through their home and heart that many of these vital student needs are identified.

Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan guides and supports individuals (and their caregivers) coping with illness, aging, dying, and loss by providing an array of supports and services, grief support like Journeys, a free program for children and teens which is offered at their Oakland Centre facility (2255 West Centre Avenue in Portage). If you know a child or a teenager who is hurting because of the death of a loved one, Journeys can help. To find out more, go here.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, What’s The Ugliest Lie Of All?

uglysweaterOne of my colleagues kept suggesting I write an ugly post to remind folks to come out to our Ugly Sweater Party with the Young Professionals that is going on later this afternoon, Tuesday, December 9 at Old Burdicks Bar & Grill. 5-7pm. I told them no. “Admission is free with minimum $10 donation or a new item from the Wish List,” they’d remind me.

“I’m coming to the party,” I said. “But I DO NOT WANT TO WRITE AN UGLY POST.” But they didn’t seem to take the hint and kept nudging. I must admit, we’re all pretty good about that at CIS.  About not letting go or giving up when we believe in something. Especially when it comes to kids. (There must be something in the water here because it is a trait we share with Kalamazoo Public School teachers, staff, administrators and countless community partners and volunteers.) So, buckle up.

Here comes ugly.

That’s what he said. It feels like I heard that a thousand times as a young girl. For the first two of my school age years, I walked to my friend’s house, waited while she finished breakfast so we could walk safely together to school. My friend’s father would regularly tease me, say, “How are you doing, Ugly?” Or “Hey, everyone, here comes Ugly!” I didn’t say anything to my parents or teachers. I was embarrassed because a part of me believed him. I did have a huge gap in my front teeth. So big it felt like a car could drive through it. And why did I agree to that stupid shag haircut in first grade? What other classmates looked like Mrs. Brady?

Kindergarten picture, pre-shag haircut

 

Fortunately for me, my friend and her family moved after a few years. I also have a pretty strong ego. (My husband complains that it’s too strong.) And it didn’t hurt that I was accidently born into a family that could pay to close my gap with braces, that I had opportunities outside of school to feel good about myself. Mostly, I got over the ugly because of caring adults. This experience, though, is one of the things that drew me to CIS. It took a while to believe in myself, for a host of caring adults, like my parents, an orthodontist, two piano teachers, and a slew of fine school teachers to wipe away the ugly. It left a scar I’m content to bear—it’s made me hyper-focused on all the ugly things children hear along the way. The messages we send—intentional or not—that seep into their psyche until they believe the ugly.

Here is the ugliest truth of all: too many of our kids lose hope in themselves every day. Kids  who have come to believe they are nothing but a bad grade, who feel as empty as their tummies, and begin to believe that theKalamazoo Promise® isn’t for kids like them.

It’s hard to take in all this ugly. But we owe it to our kids to hang in there with them and give them hope. Every day, our CIS Site teams along with hundreds of volunteers and school and community partners are doing just that. Here’s just one great example of the kind of beauty that cuts at ugly:

When Kalamazoo Central High School identified some young men with patterns of missing school, skipping classes, academics slipping—clear warning signs that these students were at risk of dropping out—CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough jumped into action and started meeting with each student to connect them to a men’s group. Some of them told her: “It’s no use. I’ve messed up too badly. What’s the point? The Promise isn’t for kids like me.”

“Just come once,” she said. “Promise me that.” And they did. Again and again because CIS partner, Pastor James Harris and his team were surrounding these young men with love, speaking to each, as Nelson Mandela says, “in his own language, that goes not to his head but his heart.” So the site coordinator wasn’t surprised, when one day Pastor James dragged a bag of trash into the group.

“What’s this?” he asked the young men.

“Trash,” they said.

“You sure?” he replied.

The young men realized that they couldn’t be sure, not until they searched through it. Turns out, mixed in with all that trash was a 100 dollar bill Pastor James had tucked inside an envelope. The lesson learned that day? Despite missteps along the way, value resides inside each of them and they do not need to throw their life away.

This is the kind of beauty that CIS Site Coordinators are orchestrating every day. Putting just the right resources—volunteers like Pastor James, Kalamazoo College students, or a grief therapist from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan—with the right kids at the right time. They do an awesome job of it and kids can’t help but stumble into their own beauty.

But the ugly side of this same coin is that we need more people to step up. Todonate, volunteer, and partner. To advocate for both integrated student services and stable and adequate school funding.

So, if you have survived this ugly ride, thanks for hanging in there. Come on down to Burdick’s and hang out with us from 5-7pm. Bring a donation of $10 or some newclothing item for CIS Kids’ Closet (packs of underwear, winter boots, and sweats especially needed). They’ll be plenty of food, fun, and prizes for the ugliest sweaters. (I even hear that Burdick’s is making a signature drink for CIS!)

And, if you didn’t like this ugly post, I don’t want to hear it. Stop downtown at Burdick’s and let my colleague know. (You can’t miss her. She’ll be the one wearing an ugly sweater.)

Can’t make it? We understand. It’s a busy time. We just ask that you take a moment to consider making a donation to CIS. No matter the amount, your contribution takes a bite out of ugly. ‘Tis the season after all. No matter what form of action you choose to take, it reminds our children—and all of us—that they are a treasure worth fighting for. That is one beautiful message that will never go out of season.