What Do I See?

This is the third installment of our Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) blog series in which we cover topics and resources that we hope  provides support to students and families during these challenging times. The two previous posts are: Staying Fit While Socially Distancing and 3 Easy Science Projects Students Can Do at Home. 

These days, most of us aren’t traveling many places and taking in new sights. What Do I See? is a fun way to get some culture and practice writing at the same time.

Right now, The Kalamazoo Valley Museum has a wonderful virtual tour called Filling in the Gaps: The Art of Murphy Darden. Mr. Darden is an artist who lives in Kalamazoo and for many years has used his artistic talents and love of history to shine a light on people, places, and events that we all need to know about to help fill the gaps in both our Kalamazoo and nation’s history.

Here’s how to play What Do I See?

  • Round up some family members, some paper, and pencils or pens.
  • Go on a virtual tour of this exhibit by visiting it here. You will find that the museum has organized the exhibit into three areas: “A Broader History of Kalamazoo,” “Civil Right’s Heroes,” and “American’s Forgotten Black Cowboys.”
  • After having a chance to explore some of Mr. Darden’s works, each person participating in What Do I See? selects one piece of Mr. Murphy’s artwork or one of the artifacts he has collected. Do not yet let each other know what you have picked.
  • Study the piece. Wonder about it. Ask yourself questions. (What do you find most interesting about it? What colors do you see? What type of feelings live in this piece? Use your imagination to wonder what happened moments before. What is going to happen?)
  • Now, using paper and pencil (or pen), write down some words and phrases to describe what you see. You can write your description as a poem or a story. You may decide you want to pretend to be something within the piece (like a horse, a tree, or a cowboy hat) and write from the perspective of that thing.
  • There is no right or wrong way to do this! All you have to do is use some words to tell the story in your own way.
  • Take turns reading aloud what you have written.
  • See if others can guess what piece of art or artifact you selected. See if you can guess what they described.

This same process can be done with other exhibits that are available. While there are many exhibits out there, here are three more local places you may want to consider:

  • The Black Arts & Cultural Center is hosting a virtual gallery of local artist Linda Manguiat-Herzog. Throughout March you can go here to tour her work.
  • The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts has several interesting exhibits going on now. Their current exhibit information can be found here. While several pieces can be found on their website, if you plan to go in person, first check here for their temporary hours and visitor guidelines.
  • The Ninth Wave Studio’s virtual gallery features a variety of artists and can be visited by going here.

Or, if you and your kids want a break from screen time, you can even stroll about your house, identify a picture, a photo, a painting, or an interesting knick-knack to write about.

Have fun learning, writing, and sharing! If you are in kindergarten through twelfth grade and end up writing a poem you think needs to travel beyond your family, consider submitting this month to Poems That Ate Our Ears. It could end up on a bus or in a book (story about that in Encore here). You’ll find contest rules here at Friends of Poetry. If you are any age and feel quite satisfied with whatever you wrote and want to share further, Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids would love to see it! You can send your piece to us at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org. Who knows. We might, with your permission, publish it on our blog.

Note: The photograph used at the top of this post comes from photographer Janine Kai Robinson who posted this on Unsplash. You can also play What Do I See? by visiting her virtual gallery of photographs she maintains here.

Don’t Discount What Seems Small

A glimpse inside the backpacks from Berkshire Hathaway
A glimpse inside the backpacks from Berkshire Hathaway

Little things make a big difference.

Recently, Precious Miller, Senior Site Coordinator at Hillside Middle School reminded us of this truth. She has been, like so many of our Communities In Schools site team members throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public School buildings, distributing school supplies to students who need them. Just the other day, she gave a student a binder. She didn’t think much more about it until she saw that same student moments later in the hallway. “Thank you again for the binder,” he said. “I feel perfect!” Precious noticed he had “the biggest smile on his face and seemed to be walking with pride.” Precious again told him, “You’re welcome” and wished him a good day. Later, she overheard him saying to a teacher, “I finally got a binder!” and noticed he continued to brag about his new item for school.

“In the day to day,” she says, “it’s good to remember how big of a difference we can make in a student’s self-esteem. Even if—to us—it is ‘just’ a binder.

Whether its erasers or paper, crayons and markers, scissors, glue, and backpacks, the list goes on. these ‘little’ supplies fuel our kids’ success. When our CIS staff hand out a school supply, the student knows the community cares, that you are behind them, cheering them on.

Thank you for helping our kids get off to a great start!

Berkshire Hathaway

Borgess Nurse Council

Bronco Express


Fetzer Institute

First United Methodist Church

Flynn Thiel Boutell & Tanis


Hiemstra Optical

Junior League of Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo County Association of Retired School Personnel

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Kalamazoo Public Library

Kushner & Company

Miller Johnson

Old National Bank

Stryker – Tax

Stryker Instruments – CXC

The River


West Kalamazoo Christian Church

WMU Lee Honors College

Zion Lutheran Church

And numerous individuals like Pat, James, Martha, Noelle, Jennifer, Kelly, Ward, Joan, Andrea, & Katherine

We were able to catch a few of you in the act of dropping off the much needed school supplies:

Old National Bank dropping off items to CIS as part of their "Tools to Schools to Schools" initiative.
Old National Bank dropping off items to CIS as part of their “Tools for Schools” campaign.


Donation of school supplies from WMU Lee Honors College
Western students wrote notes and placed them inside the school packs.
Western students wrote notes and placed them inside the school packs.
Supplies received from Hiemstra Stuff the Bus
Supplies received from Hiemstra Stuff the Bus


Kushner & Company providing much needed school supplies
Thank you, Kushner & Company!
Cosco dropped off some much needed backpacks.
CIS Site Coordinator Melissa McPherson (left) is all smiles as Costco employees drop off some much needed backpacks.
Thank you all!
Thank you all for helping!

It’s A Wonderful Life

The President of Communities In Schools, Dan Cardinali, was in Kalamazoo early last week to see our partnership with Kalamazoo Public Schools in action.  We kept him busy during his two day visit. He, along with the State Director Jeff Brown, visited Edison Environmental Science Academy, El Sol Elementary, Loy Norrix High School, Arcadia Elementary School, and Woods Lake Center for the Arts. (To learn more, look for an article on the visit in a future edition of The Excelsior.)

In between these school visits, a number of us gathered at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to celebrate Mr. Cardinali’s visit and the work this community is doing through CIS. We titled the event “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I’m posting below the opening remarks made last Tuesday by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Given recent events and the mourning that is taking place throughout our country, these words take on even more meaning.

We titled this afternoon’s event after the 1946 Frank Capra movie, It’s a WonderfulLife. Why? Because it’s December and it is cold outside. But, even more so, this classic movie which stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, celebrates the goodness of life. It reminds us of the impact one individual can have in transforming lives, how a person’s actions—both big and small—can have ripple effects which wash over an entire community, making it a better place to live.

Kalamazoo, like the cinematic town of Bedford Falls, is an amazing place. Here in ourtown, Dan, we want you to know that we dream big. We want all our children to live life wonderfully. This community has embraced the CIS mission and owns it–surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Here, we want every child to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise®. Life here IS wonderful.

But not all of us are fortunate enough to be living it wonderfully. Like any other place in America, our town is not immune to poverty, racism, all those things that creep into and eat away at the soul of a city. Here in Kalamazoo, way too many of our citizens are living below the poverty level. For many of the children, wonderful is just out of reach.

Remember in the movie, that bridge? The one upon which George Bailey finds himself all alone on that cold night, the one upon which he contemplates ending his life by falling into the icy waters below?

That bridge doesn’t just exist in some black and white movie. It stretches far beyond us, casting long shadows across our country. It is a bridge built on hopelessness and illiteracy, paved in unmet needs and bolted firmly in place by despair and poverty. Children who believe they have no other place to stand find themselves, just like George Bailey, on the edge of that bridge. Far too frequently a child is slipping away from us, dropping out of school. Wonderful is just too far out of reach.

Just like the movie, though, there is good news in the midst of troubled times. The good news is that the world is filled with caring people. Kalamazoo is steeped in resources of the heart. As CIS folks, we see this everyday, our Site Coordinators and partners who are on the front lines working with teachers and other school staff, reaching out to children who are about to plunge into the icy waters below, and in some cases, salvaging the children who have already slipped through the ice. The good news is that we have each other. Together, we are an army of opportunity, clothing our children in hope, feeding our children with love, and helping our children learn.

By the end of the movie, George Bailey is surrounded by family and members of his community. He had some help in getting to that point. George Bailey had Clarence the angel. The Kalamazoo Promise® is our Clarence the angel, for it is a gift, a miracle. But, just like the movie, even angels need help. You, me, all of us together are what gives wings to the Promise.

In the movie, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. Here in Kalamazoo we can imagine that every time a bell rings, a child is being lifted up–a child is staying in school and succeeding. A wonderful life is within reach because of all of you and hundreds of others in our community.