Back to School in the Pandemic Era

School is back in session and it’s looking a bit different this year for our 12,000+ kids, depending on which of the three Kalamazoo Public School options families have selected for their children.

Whatever the option, CIS is still here, our mission remains the same: surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life. And thanks to your continued support, CIS staff are working hard alongside teachers, principals, and other school administrators, connecting with parents and local partners to reengage students.

Given these challenging times and the variety of needs arising throughout our community, we will be launching a new blog series in which we will cover a range topics and resources that we hope will provide support to you, our parents, families, and students. If you have an idea or would like to see a specific topic(s) covered (such as the arts, physical fitness, positive mental health), email Jennifer at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and let us know! We love hearing from our readers.

If you’ve been following us over the summer, you met folks like Rebecca Achenbach, who reminds us that each child and family is unique, and Maria Whitmore (Chalas), who challenges herself (and us) to walk through doors of new opportunities, Jessica Waller, who inspires us to do more, and Jerrell Amos, who is learning to adjust—and helps others adjust—when life throws a curve ball. And let’s be honest. Every one of our 12,000+ kids—and us— has been thrown an amazingly large curve ball with this pandemic.

So stick with us. We’ll continue to introduce you to your 12,000+ children and the caring adults like those we’ve just mentioned, who are living during this unprecedented time and helping to raise them.

Next week we can’t wait to introduce you to Rashon, a student from Milwood Magnet Middle School. He’ll teach us all about learning something new and “letting it flow.”

Thank you for following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. The journey continues!

Jerrell Amos: Learning to Adjust When Life Throws A Curve Ball

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 Jerrell Amos, CIS Site Coordinator for Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts.

Born in Detroit and raised in Southfield, Michigan, Jerrell moved to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. He holds a bachelors degree in Secondary Education and a Master of Social Work. Jerrell has been with CIS since the 2017-18 school year.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?

I am holding up fine. Feeling well and in good spirits.

What are you learning about yourself in all this?

I love meditation. There is nothing better for the soul than a calm mind. Our family life is fast paced due to having two teenagers, and now a puppy. Being a father and a husband consumes the vast majority of my time. So having time to sit back and think allows me to a better person in all areas of my life. Spending time for myself seems selfish at times, but I know that I will be a better person for it. Everyone I come in contact with will hopefully benefit from my improvements.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS site coordinator?

Best part of being a CIS coordinator is interacting with the students and watching their growth and maturation. I also enjoy laughing and making people laugh as well. The students at Maple Street always provide me with a good, laugh daily. I am honored to know that they count on me during a crisis and as someone they can hangout with in a safe space.

Given all 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? 

I have just focused on being that caring adult in their lives. Many of my students were not expecting to hear from the CIS guy. Many of my parents as well were thankful for me reaching out and checking in. My goal has been to continue providing that layer of support the students were used to having and to those who wanted it. I have been able to reach some of my students and family via phone, text, and email to check in and provide resources to help during these challenging times.

The middle school students you work with had already been dealing with other stresses in their lives before this pandemic. And now, this pandemic layers on additional stress for both these young people and their families. How are students coping? Are you seeing any common threads as to how students are responding?  

The trend I have been seeing with students has been boredom and anxiety. Students have been struggling with being confined to their homes and not being able to see friends and family. Also, students have expressed their frustration with school ending so abruptly and not having the closure they are used to.

What are you currently reading?

I have been reading a lot information and trying to educate myself regarding the pandemic. I have spent time learning new skills on a professional and personal level. I have taken advantage of several professional training opportunities regarding social emotional learning that focused on school-wide support and trauma. Also, I have increased some hard skills that have always interested me. For example, I have been researching woodworking and building things.

What have you recently built?

I recently built a queen size platform bed. My next project is a sectional sofa for my three season porch. My mom will be doing the upholstery for me.

Jerrell’s most recent handiwork.

What is your favorite word (or phrase) right now?

“Be selfish with improving who you are so that you can be an asset to others.” To me, this means that we have to spend time away from others to work on ourselves. You will have to sacrifice hanging with friends and loved ones in order to get to another level. The hope is that your family, co-workers, and team will benefit from a better version of yourself.

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go? 

I am such a homebody that I really have not yearned to go anywhere. I do miss interacting with people. So I would love to visit my family and friends.

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

I can’t just provide one person specifically. I have had so many caring adults in my life from my mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches and friends who has contributed to my success. The younger version of myself would have only said my mother. I do give my mother a ton of credit for my success, but as I have matured I realized that it took a village.

You have a son who is a high school senior and in this year’s 2020 graduation class. Not having the opportunity to experience the highly anticipated rituals and all the events and celebrations that normally goes along with graduation time, must be difficult. As a family, have you been able to or are you planning new ways to celebrate this important milestone?

At first it was hard to grasp the fact that we would not be able to celebrate like we planned. But, like I told him, sometimes life will throw you a curve ball and you have to learn to adjust to be successful. We discussed how this would help him to appreciate things more in life because you never know if you will get that opportunity again. Also, to never put something off until later. Appreciate the little things in life and show appreciation to the people who helped you along the way. Graduating from high school is a great accomplishment and should be celebrated, but hopefully it’s not the last great thing he does in his life. We hope to celebrate his college graduation, first career job, wedding, childbirth, buying a home, and whatever he sets out to accomplish.

We plan on having a drive-by celebration for him graduating from high school.

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