A Day Off With A Day On

CIS After School…making beautiful tiles at Art Bayou
CIS After School…making beautiful tiles at Art Bayou

I can’t stop thinking about a recent Friday. It was  a no school day for Kalamazoo Public Schools and my son was quite excited by this fact. He loves school but we both were looking forward to the fun day we had planned together.

First on the agenda, a visit to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. We wanted to check out the temporary exhibition “Kalamazoo for the Union” and then hit the Planetariumshowing of Sky Legends of the Three Fires to learn three stories about the night sky from Native American people of western and northern Michigan. After that, lunch out and then a visit to the Kalamazoo Public Library.

As we bundled up to head out, I couldn’t help but think of all the kids for whom a day off from school is a day off from learning, a day off from having a warm meal. You’re a lucky kid, I told him. Some kids don’t get opportunities to do these kinds of things.

Anyway, we came out of “Kalamazoo for the Union,” the temporary exhibit (check it out before it leaves town in May) and started down the stairs. There was a woman, her back to us, talking to a group of elementary students, all standing in line, eager to go into the Kalamazoo Direct to You exhibit of Kalamazoo history. I was impressed by the children’s behavior. My son was impressed by what the woman said. “Mom, did you just hear what that lady told the kids? She told them to touch stuff!”

Creating more beautiful tiles at Art Bayou
Creating more beautiful tiles at Art Bayou

The woman continued preparing the students, asking them to pay attention to what they would be learning. “Remember to tell us what you learn about. We want to know what you discover!” she exclaimed and sent them, all wide-eyed into the exhibit. At just that moment she turned her head and I realized it was Calli Carpenter,CIS after school coordinator from Arcadia Elementary School! And there wasAmeriCorps VISTA Bumeun Lee. Later, at the Science in Motion exhibit, we ran intoYouth Development Worker Aleena Robinson and CIS after school coordinator Alexis Arocho from Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Students were busy exploring science through the hands-on exhibits. When we came out of the planetarium show we ran into CIS after school coordinator Jay Gross from Spring Valley Center for Exploration, CIS after school coordinator Phillip Hegwood from Woodward and dozens of others as students sat on the floor, eating lunch, talking and laughing.

Tiles students made at Art Bayou
Tiles students made at Art Bayou

Lindsey Westfall, CIS after school coordinator for Northglade Montessori noted that, for a number of students, it was their first visit to the museum; they were amazed that the wonders it held were right in their hometown. What a beautiful thing to behold. Young people from all over Kalamazoo having an opportunity to fully explore all the museum has to offer.

“These school kids are really good,” one parent commented to another as we left. And they were. While I credit the students, I also credit our staff.  Everywhere I turned our kids were being supervised by CIS staff who were calm and positive and the kids were modeling their behavior. Staff had clearly prepared the students before and throughout the field trip so it would be an enriching experience.

When I shared these impressions with CIS Directors of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey and Linda Thompson, I learned that, because so many students (over 200) were eligible to participate in the field trip (to reinforce their 90% or better attendance rate for school day and CIS after school program) the museum was just one location of several. Some students tapped into their inner artist while painting tiles at Art Bayouand others, for the first time ever, sank tiny fingers into bowling balls and unleashed energy down the lanes at Airway Lanes.

“Thank you for giving us an opportunity to work with Communities In Schools today!” said Art Bayou owner, Palee Haney. “I think the kids had a lot of fun painting their tiles.” They did. As one student said, “It was just so peaceful.”

CIS after school coordinator for Washington Writers’ Academy Deondra Ramsey noted that at Airway Lanes it wasn’t just about bowling. “Students had a chance to interact with each other as well as staff on a different level, whether it was bumper cars, bowling, team work with laser tag, or playing together on some of the other games.”

Even staff got in on the fun! (From right to left) CIS After School Coordinators Jay Gross and Phillip Hegwood, AmeriCorps VISTA Cankeeshia Stegall, Youth Development Workers George Khamis and Bri Fonville
Even staff got in on the fun! (From right to left) CIS After School Coordinators Jay Gross and Phillip Hegwood, AmeriCorps VISTA Cankeeshia Stegall, Youth Development Workers George Khamis and Bri Fonville

When one student who had never bowled before discovered he loved the sport, DaMarceo Thomas was there to help hone this new found passion. A Youth development worker for CIS, DaMarceo worked one on one with the blossoming bowler, sharing techniques and tips, like proper stance, what pins to target, how to hold the ball, and how much power to put behind the release. “Listening and focusing attention can be a challenge and yet this student listened intently. It was really fun to see,” said Deondra. While most students bowled two rounds and moved on to other activities, he spent over two hours bowling and learning from his mistakes. “The more he played, the better he got.”

I am reminded of what Mickey Ciokajlo, editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette and mlive.com/kalamazoo wrote once, “CIS serves as the glue that ties together and coordinates the many services that we already have available in Kalamazoo.” Kalamazoo is rich in resources. Unfortunately, not every kid is as lucky as mine and able to tap into these resources. But this is what CIS is all about. We have friends, donors, partners, and volunteers who support CIS and allow us to replace luck with opportunity. A day off with a day on.

Every Site Coordinator Needs A Site Coordinator

Today, we highlight the work of Jay Gross.  Jay was honored this past May at the seventh annual Champ celebration. CIS Board Member Jim Ritsema, along with Derek Miller, CIS Site Coordinator at Northglade Montessori Magnet School, presented the award. 

20140506-DSC_7627We’ll let you in on a saying we have at CIS. Every Site Coordinator needs a Site Coordinator. And Emily Demorest, CIS Site Coordinator at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, has hers in this next Champ.

“We wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we have out at Maple Street if it wasn’t for Jay Gross,” she says. “Last year, when I was a new Site Coordinator, he took me under his wing. He oriented me to the building, took time he didn’t have to help me learn who was who, who did what, and suggested the best avenues for getting things done.”

As the Home School Community Liaison for Kalamazoo Public Schools at Maple Street, Jay embodies the spirit of collaboration, showing what we can accomplish when we work together. So when Communities In Schools proposed doing a College Night last year as a way to promote a College Going Culture at the middle school—it was Jay who was one of the first to step up, supporting not just with words, but actions. “If Jay had not been in the picture,” points out Emily, “this event would not have been the success it was, nor would we have considered doing it again this year. Both times, Jay helped handle communications, advertising and promotion of the event internally and externally.” It took CIS and KPS, working in concert, to host the sixteen representatives from higher learning institutions.

20140506-DSC_7684
From Left: Jim Ritsema, Derek Miller, Jay Gross

Jay’s low key and calm-under-pressure approach can be counted on when it comes to our kids. When a student reached out to the Site Coordinator and she realized immediate care was required and that, for safety reasons, it would take more than one adult, Emily did not hesitate to turn to Jay. He jumped into action, providing the transportation necessary, allowing the CIS Site Coordinator to focus her attention fully on the student.

Jay can be counted on, whether it is as an ambassador for CIS, successfully implementing a college night, or joining with us in a student’s moment of need.

Jay Gross, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Champs Among Us

(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell
(Left to Right) Ming Li, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Mayor of Kalamazoo, Bobby Hopewell

Upon leaving our seventh annual Champ Celebration, held last week at Cityscape, one of our almost 200 guests said, “Everybody in town should experience Champs!”

We agree. Our CIS board and staff had a great time hosting the event and we want to share with everyone what these nine individuals and organizations are doing to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

So, in the weeks and months to come we’ll introduce you to each of them. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools
Dr. Michael F. Rice, Superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools

And, because we’ve had numerous requests to publish the speech given by our youngest Champ ever—fifth grader Kawyie Cooper—we’ll post her speech next Tuesday. According to Kathy Jennings, editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave, Kawyie “stole the show with her words of what being named a Champ meant to her.” You can read the entire article here. And, if we can convince some of our other Champs to guest blog for us, we’ll publish their reflections here as well.

Today, though, we’ll leave you with a list of our award winners. And then, take a moment to click on the “Dear Kalamazoo” video below that first aired during the event. This video was created because throughout the 19 KPS schools that CIS is currently in, we have a number of grateful students (not to mention parents and teachers) who wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks and give shouts out to their own Champs.

Special thanks to all of our CIS Site Coordinators and CIS Site Team members (Assistant Site Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns) who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work with Communities In Schools and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Our 2014 Champs:

Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ
Kawyie Cooper, 2014 Champ

Terri Aman, KPS Executive Supervisor for Transportation

RSVP through Senior Services Southwest Michigan, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Jay Gross, KPS Home School Community Liaison, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

Consumers Credit Union, CIS Nonprofit Business Partner

Rosalie Novara, CIS Volunteer Tutor, King-Westwood Elementary School

Radiant Church, CIS Emerging Faith-Based Partner

Kawyie Cooper, CIS Student, King-Westwood Elementary School

Carol Steiner, KPS Principal, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

And this year’s recipient of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award:

Barbara Witzak, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools

So, please, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board
Carolyn H. Williams, President, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board