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!

Pop Quiz: Nicholas Keen  

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 Nicholas Keen (pictured on right) who is in his second year with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, serving as a Youth Development Worker at Hillside Middle School.

Nicholas grew up overseas and refers to himself as a ‘Foreign Service brat.’ “I got my start in Haiti, then Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Czechoslovakia, and Croatia. Intermittently, I’d come back to America, but the breadth of my youth was overseas.” Nicholas eventually went to Kalamazoo College, graduated and started working for Communities In Schools.

Nicholas says that because he was always moving throughout his youth, he developed a “nuanced ability to adapt.” This propensity to talk to strangers, learn how to make friends, and comfortably enter new settings helped him jump easily into his work as a Youth Development Worker.

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

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve been doing ballet for a while and just nailed how to do a pirouette. Consistently, that is.

 

What’s the secret?

Doing it over and over again until it happens. You have to keep practicing, isolating each of your body movements, such as keeping your weight over the hips while rotating. You isolate the movements but also need to address each of them at the same time. It’s more of an ongoing learning process. It’s also enthralling.

 

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Blood Memory by Martha Graham.

 

Favorite word right now?

Rapacious.

 

What does it mean?

Aggressive greed.

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I would love to be a freelance artist or become an educator for studio art classes at the college, high school, middle school and maybe even elementary level.

 

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

Fortunately, I’ve had many. But my stepfather has been one of the more significant caring adults in my life. He came into my life when I was ten or eleven. I’d been without a father for four or five years and he applied more structure than had prevailed in our home. My mother was a foreign service officer within the US Embassy and quite busy. We were living in extravagant houses and my mother had to bear the weight of frequent gatherings. We had a cook, a housekeeper and privileges that my brother and I didn’t understand. We had a lot of freedom and up to that point, my brother and I were basically raised by wolves. My stepfather put a backbone into our life. He made us accountable and helped us apply a systematic balance to life.

 

Thank you Nicholas!

 

Our kids need more Youth Development Workers, enthusiastic individuals like Nicholas, to step up and serve in an after school setting (Monday through Thursday). If you or someone you know might be right for the job, 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.

AmeriCorps Vista Summer Associates: Memory Makers

teamsecCIS Think Summer! ran for six weeks this summer and served over 150 first through ninth graders and also included the Kids in Tune participants. Fifteen AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates were hired and supported the students throughout their summer academic/enrichment program.  Many of these AmeriCorps VISTA Associates—or “coaches” as the kids called them—hailed from Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and one of the key ingredients to a successful summer experience for the students. Thank you AmeriCorps VISTAs for your support of our students!

Some of the AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates took a few moments to reflect on CIS Think Summer! and they are our guest bloggers today.

Between the elementary  and secondary staff, there was a wide variety of coaches working for CIS Think Summer! Each day brought new challenges and everyone worked hard to make sure that all of the students were safe, learning, and having fun. All of us gained wonderful memories of our time in the program, and we want to share a few words about our experiences at CIS Think Summer!

My favorite memory was watching the students explore the zoo. I loved seeing the students’ faces light up at the bird exhibit and how excited they were to point out all the colorful birds. The moment when they fed the lettuce to the giraffes was memorable, too!

-Kelsey-Ann Wessel, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Working with these kids this summer has been an amazing experience. Being able to combine an academic with an enriching environment brings fun to learning. Being able to share my own expertise with kids has also been rewarding.

-Sarah Woods, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

I had an amazing summer working with Communities In Schools. I got to meet some truly special kids and help guide them towards success. It was rewarding to work with kids who have so much potential. It’s good to be able to make a difference.

-Kira Boneff, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Elementary school-aged children do not often get the opportunity to make choices about their activities, especially in school, but the clubs at CIS Think Summer! gave them exactly this opportunity. Every afternoon, the students spilt up into their choice of clubs, which rotated every two weeks. This approach allowed students of different grades to mingle and make friends, as they were split up into 1st-2nd grade and 3rd-5th grade groups.

The clubs were split into five different topics: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Arts and Crafts, Health and Wellness, Life Skills, and Leadership. Each coach got to switch which club they were leading every two weeks as well, which allowed us, as coaches, to meet and work with many students outside of our grade levels.

I was lucky enough to meet a lot of the younger kids through clubs, an opportunity that I might not have otherwise had as a 4th grade coach. Some of the offerings included Hands-On Science, Cooking Club, Debate Club, and Let’s Move Sports Club.

In addition to allowing the kids to have a say in their schedule, the clubs provided an opportunity to help them grow through non-classroom experiences. The kids learned about chemistry and plants in Hands-On Science, about healthy eating in Cooking Club, and about public speaking skills in Debate Club. Providing all of these experiences helped us work toward one of our main summer goals: giving students educational and fun opportunities to help grow up on the track to success.

-Kira Boneff and Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates

 

One great thing about CIS Think Summer! is that every Thursday is a celebration/field trip day. One of the most memorable and favorite field trips among the elementary students was going to Binder Park Zoo. Each coach was paired with around five kids, and was free to venture wherever they wanted. Coach Sadina from the 4th grade Achieve Team had a great time with her group.

All the children in her group wanted to go to Wild Africa first so that they could see the giraffes. To get there, they all  rode in the Safari Tram. Along with giraffes, the children saw ostriches, monkeys, zebras, and a variety of birds. Toward the end of the safari the kids went on an artifact scavenger hunt where they earned their ultimate safari training.

After Wild Africa they decided to go and visit other animals such as the bears, hogs, chipmunks, wolves, flamingos, and peacocks. One student took the liberty of marking down every animal the group saw on the map so that they could try to see them all!

Another fun part of this field trip wasthat all the elementary students got to ride the train to Battle Creek. It was very exciting to see everyone in a great mood riding together as a group. It was a great day for CIS Think Summer!

-Sadina Sackett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate

 

Honestly, if you were not a part of CIS Think Summer! you missed out on a lot of fun. I think the number one reason why it was awesome to be a part of it was because of the people involved.

Kalamazoo is a very diverse place to live. We love this because it is really hard to be “sheltered.” It makes for more dynamic ideas and creates a more comfortable atmosphere. That was easily Coach Bryce Burnette’s favorite part of being an Americorps VISTA.

He admits he is a little biased, but believes that secondary had the most fun this summer. The staff were very close and that had a huge impact on the program. It made the experience more enjoyable for the students especially because it was clear that everyone was having a good time.

Lastly, the students were fantastic. The future of KPS is very bright and CIS is doing a lot to make it an even better and more enjoyable experience.

-Bryce Burnett, AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate