As Kalamazoo Public School students prepare to step into their second month of school, they have a community of support that launched them into a successful year of learning.
On Saturday, August 17th, the Beyond the Backpack School Readiness Fair took place at Bronson Park. Hosted by Collaboration Kalamazoo, the fair, designed to increase school readiness for students, was a huge success. More than 1,100 in attendance, families were able to learn about community resources available in literacy, dental and other health supports, and more. From free glasses to free backpacks and supplies, with the support of our community and collaborating together, more students are on the path to success this school year.
With more than 1,100 individuals in attendance, families were able to learn about literacy supports in the community, access dental education and additional health resources, including mental health education, immunizations, sign up for health insurance, and more. In partnership with Hiemstra Optical and VSP Vision Care, 34 students were served on the Mobile Vision Unit, with 27 receiving glasses. Students also benefited from free haircuts and fresh hair styles from area barbers and stylists. The event provided free and much needed backpacks for students, but certainly went “Beyond The Backpack” to prepare students for a successful school year.
Kids deserve a chance to give back. We must create environments for young people in which everyone’s gifts are nurtured, and service to others is both expected and rewarded.
This opportunity to give back to peers and community is one of five basic principles underlying the work we do at Communities In Schools (CIS). [You can learn more about the 5 CIS Basics here.] At the end of last school year, we met up with four students doing just that, giving back. Here’s their story.
These dedicated elementary students volunteered during their lunchtime and chose to give up recess (which they love!) to help with the food pantry.
Matthew Krieger, a Western Michigan University student working towards his Masters in Social Work, interned with CIS during the 2017/18 school year and provided the boys with guidance and direction. His favorite part of working with the boys? Seeing the look of pride that comes with mastering skills. “They have many skills now that they did not know before,” Matthew said. “Now they know to face food to the front, to place food with the same type, and to make room by consolidating items.”
These skills extend beyond organizing a pantry. “There is also a sense of group togetherness,” he noted. “We are always working on vocalizing our needs in a clear way. I have seen improvements in their ability to express their feelings and needs to each other, which helps them to avoid conflict. I really enjoy seeing them use their words to communicate what they’re feeling.”
Ask any of the students why they volunteer and they will tell you, “Because it’s fun!”
Kensavion said he has looked forward to being part of the team that keeps the pantry up and running for his school. “Kids need food,” he said. Along with his three other peers, he has been part of the team that makes sure Woodward’s pantry is well-stocked.
“There is a lot of food that comes off the truck,” explained Andrew, “and we get to take it out of the boxes and put it in the cabinets.”
“We help put food away and people come and get it because they are hungry,” said Dawon, “and then they won’t be hungry anymore and won’t be starving and can do better in class and do a good job.”
“So they can survive,” added Lashaun. He is right. Food is a basic, human need and in living out the CIS basic of giving back to peers and the community, these students have been doing all they can to make sure hungry students and families have what they need.
To learn more about how Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes partners with CIS in the schools to combat hunger, check out this conversationwe had a few months back with Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.
Dreon Smith recently graduated from Loy Norrix High School. In May, he reflected on his CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Dreon has given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Dreon with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar.
I still remember that day. I was a fourth grader in Ms. Clawson’s class at Washington Writer’s Academy. I was nervous and scared as I made my way to the CIS office. I got there and saw my cousin, Dalanna. She is the CIS site coordinator at Milwood but back then she was at Washington. Well, Ms. Hoskins—that’s what Dalanna told me to call her at school—she introduced me to this tall dude. Turns out he was Mr. Larry Manley, the CIS after school coordinator.
Thinking back on that moment, it was like I was a young branch that became planted in CIS. I became a part of something that was bigger than me. I also became part of the first group of students who got to be part of the CIS after school program at Washington.
Not only did my grades begin to improve, but I grew in ways I didn’t know I could. Sports has always been important to me. So it really helped that Mr. Manley liked basketball just as much as me. He used basketball to help us kids grow. It was a way for us to talk and learn and dream. He taught me how to be a young man and how to be a gentleman. You know, like at lunchtime, let the ladies go first.
With CIS, there’s always been people there to catch me. Like Ms. Melissa [Holman], who worked with CIS Think Summer. It was a time when, as a branch, I had to learn to grow a different way. See, I’d had some surgery and my dream of a sports career over. There I was, a middle school student with a pin stuck in his hip, in a wheelchair. I’d wanted so badly to be part of CIS in the summer but now I didn’t even know how I could make that work. It was Ms. Melissa [Holman] who caught me then. She helped me to get there. Literally. If I didn’t have that ride, I would never have been able to go.
CIS helped me find my voice by giving me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. I’ve been able to explore my passion for poetry and music. My grandma loves music and can sing and I wanted to get into that too. I believe putting poetry and music together really gets your voice out there. One CIS partner that especially helped me with that: Bangtown Productions. We wrote and performed songs and to this day, you can find some of them on YouTube, songs like “Rise Above It”—we performed that one at Bronson Park.
CIS helped me find my voice by helping me speak up about things that are important to me, like funding after school programs. Back in 2013, when I was in 7th grade, I was one of the student representatives who went to City Hall. We wanted the Kalamazoo City Commission to help us: keep the lights on! Thanks to our voices—and those of you who advocate for after school funding to remain a priority, the lights have stayed on. At least for another year.
When you find your voice, you can do things you never thought possible. Just this year, I wrote a poem called “We have something to say” and it was a finalist for the MLK Courage to Create Poetry contest. I read it on the campus of Western Michigan University. That was really special, to think that people came to hear my voice…
Now back to when I left eighth grade. There wasn’t an after school program at Loy Norrix; it kind of hurt. It had really helped having the structure, the homework help, and all the enrichment activities. Monday through Thursday it had been a big part of my life. So, in 9th grade, I found myself going home after school and struggling to get homework done. And even though my mom and dad were on me, I didn’t always make the best choices, like choosing to sleep over doing homework.
In 10th grade, things started to look up. Ms. Trella [Artrella Cohn], who I knew through CIS Think Summer caught me and connected me with Mr. [Montrell] Baker, who has been my CIS Site Coordinator ever since.
One thing I’ve learned along the way is that I like helping people. A lot of freshman look up to me. Being tall helps! They literally look up to me. So, by connecting me to a lot of opportunities, Mr. Baker has helped me with being able to give back to my peers and other, younger students. Because I’m really good at math, I’ve been able to tutor students that need help with math. I volunteer with the food pantry we have at my school, thanks to CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. I do a lot of the heavy lifting and sorting, and stacking the food items. I’m working Tuesdays and Thursdays at Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School. Through Literacy Buddies, I support students in their reading.
Most recently, I have become involved with the Men’s group which is led by Dr. [John] Oliver. Young men meeting with older men. We talk about our futures, current events—important things that need to be talked about for us to grow. Some of my good friends are a part of the group and for some of them, I never knew their stories until we had that group. It’s meant everything to me, to hear from those higher branches. I’m going to be that higher branch some day. And I’ll be passing that wisdom they poured into me, down to the next branch.
I’m grateful to CIS for catching hold of me, nourishing me, and feeding my desire to help others. Thanks to CIS, I am the young man I am today. And I’ve made great friends along the way. We have all came together as one through Communities In Schools.
As for my future plans? I have a few ideas. I’m thinking about going into business or communications, or maybe I’ll pursue teaching and coaching in a sports area. What I know for sure is that thanks to all those of you who have nourished me, I am using the Kalamazoo Promise to go to college because I’ve been accepted to KVCC!
I’d like to close with a poem I wrote for this occasion. But first, thank you all for doing your part. Know that when you work and volunteer and partner and donate to CIS—you’re making sure the kids that come after me will have the “Mr. Manley’s,” the “Ms. Melissas,” the “Ms. Trellas,” and the “Mr. Bakers” they need to grow strong, so they can be there for the next group of branches that have yet to even bud.
Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, volunteers and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature CIS volunteers Isaiah and Dedrenna Hoskins, the mother and son team supporting students at Washington Writers’ Academy. Since 2010, they’ve been distributing Friday Food Packs which are made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. At Washington Writers’, these packs are provided thanks to Bethany Reformed Church. Each pack that the Hoskins deliver, holds enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend hours when other food options may be scarce.
We caught up with Isaiah and Dedrenna this summer, out at Arcadia Elementary. They were preparing the cart with food packs but took a short break to answer our questions. Although Isaiah is mostly nonverbal, he listened carefully to the questions. While he was patient with us, and often smiled, when it was over, he immediately jumped back into action. He knew he had a job to do and that the kids were counting on him!
Alright, you two: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What are you currently reading?
Pigs in the Parlor by Frank Hammond and Ida Mae Hammond. And Isaiah likes the Berenstain Bears books and Dr. Seuss.
What are your favorite words right now?
Roots and responsibility. Yes is one of Isaiah’s favorite words.
“Yes, yes!” pipes up Isaiah.
What is something you love about Kalamazoo?
The diversity. The openness of the place.
What has most surprised you since you began volunteering with CIS in the schools?
Just how much of a great need there is…our kids need us and I’m glad Isaiah and I can help.
It’s clear you and your family values volunteering. Why do you choose to give back through CIS?
It is just who we are. We give, and not necessarily in expectation of getting something back. But, you know, you always get something back when you volunteer.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My parents. They’ve been my foundation, a strong foundation, and wide spreading. That gets us back to my favorite words: roots and responsibility.
As Dedrenna said, “Our kids need us.” If you would like to be in the schools, helping students, volunteer with CIS today. Go here.
You can learn more about Dedrenna and Isaiah and what it means for them to be giving back in the schools to kids in this year’s CIS Annual Report.
Today is Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service. Some of you might recall helping Mayor Bobby Hopewell kick off the first ever day of recognition back on April 9, 2013. That morning, as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo staff and AmeriCorps VISTA gathered on the steps of City Hall, we were excited to partner with Mayor Hopewell, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), The Spirit of Kalamazoo, and New World Flood and its founder, Todd “TJ” Duckett. We celebrated college spirit and gathered college gear for students in Kalamazoo Public Schools. A friendly competition quickly ensued to see which Michigan public college or university could offer up the largest number of contributions during this one hour only event. As community members and downtown business folks like Jen Ward, owner of The Station, visited City Hall to drop off donations, the excitement grew.
We can’t recall which college or university won that day. It doesn’t matter as the real winner that day was our kids. And our 12,000+ kids continue to be the ultimate beneficiaries of VISTA support throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
As the nation’s mayors and county officials increasingly turn to national service as a cost-effective strategy to address local challenges, it’s worrying that the the President’s budget proposal calls for the elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers AmeriCorps. It’s distressing that this vital federal agency that helps millions of Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service is on the chopping block. (In 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service leveraged an additional $1.26 billion dollars in outside resources to increase their nationwide impact. That’s even more than the federal investment.)
Kalamazoo AmeriCorps VISTA members, past and present, we thank you for helping expand CIS’s capacity to meet student and school needs. Thank you for being part of the solution to help students stay in school and achieve in life!
Did you know that VISTAs commit to a full-time year of service and receive a stipend which is set just above the poverty level? In addition to the stipend, VISTAs are eligible to receive an educational award at the completion of their year of service. Each VISTA is assigned to work as part of a CIS site team in two schools.CIS is grateful to those past and present VISTAs who have chosen to serve their country through AmeriCorps. Currently, CIS has five citizens serving as Volunteers In Service To America (VISTAS) throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. If you see them, take a minute and thank them for their service:
Pamela Tate, Brenda Morris, Samantha Pennington, Stephen Brewer, and David Hamilton.
Over the years, our VISTA’s have worked closely with their CIS Site teams in a variety of ways. Click on the links below to find out how VISTAS working with CIS make a difference in the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
…get kids off to a great start. VISTAS helping CIS organize the pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and many supplies local businesses, faith-based groups, service organizations, and community members generously donate so kids start the school year with the basics they need to succeed.
Anyone who sets foot in a school knows that the role of a custodian is vital to the health and climate of a school. At Milwood Elementary School, students, their parents, along with KPS and CIS staff, and every community partner and volunteer who serves Milwood Elementary, is better because of Mike McCurdie. CIS Project Manager Missy Best says, “As Milwood’s wonderful custodial staff person, Mike has also really gone above and beyond to do things for CIS.”
Milwood’s CIS Site Coordinator, Dalanna Hoskins, agrees. She tells us Mike embraces his work as a custodian, going above and beyond to assure that the learning environment is ready every day for children. “Every now and then I bring him coffee, or free coffee coupons to let him know much we appreciate his help,” she says. And today, as guest blogger, Dalanna Hoskins shines the spotlight on one of her favorite custodian and tells us how other schools will soon benefit from Mike’s ingenuity.
“Mr. Mike” is what I call him. Before I even set foot in Milwood, Mr. Mike was supporting CIS staff, volunteers, and partners. For more than a decade, Mike McCurdie has served as custodian at Milwood Elementary School. Since the time of Renita Ellis (Milwood’s first CIS After School Coordinator) to now, we know we can count on Mr. Mike. Whenever I need help or assistance with access to the school or unlocking rooms or bringing in boxes of supplies –whether it’s clothes, backpacks, or other basic need items from CIS Kids’ Closet or items from one of our partners, like shoes from First Day Shoe Fund—Mr. Mike is always there to help me with getting these much needed resources into the school for our kids.
Most of you are probably familiar with the Friday Food pack program that exists throughout many of our CIS sites and made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. It was first piloted right here at Milwood Elementary, back in 2003. We credit our steadfast partner, Milwood Christian Reformed Church, with helping us get this program off the ground. Mr. Mike, too.
From the beginning, he has always there, helping with the food pack deliveries. As the program expanded and the number of food packs grew, Mr. Mike grew tired of always using the huge flat beds for the food packs. They were big, heavy, and cumbersome to wheel around. He knew there just had to be a better way. When, due to renovations, we temporarily moved to the school building on South Westnedge, Mr. Mike realized that the flat beds were not going to work at all. So, he came up with the idea of using wooden scooters instead.
The dolly that Mike made:
And we have been using them ever since. In fact, it works so well that we are going to recreate his dolly for other CIS sites!
Today we highlight Oshtemo Area Churches, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Their award was sponsored by Borgess and CIS Board member Carolyn H. Williams presented the award.
Imagine, a number of churches individually supporting one school, independent of each other. Good things are getting done. The support is greatly appreciated. But now, picture this: six churches of various denominations coming together as one in partnership with Communities In Schools to serve the students, families, faculty, and staff of Prairie Ridge Elementary School. That’s exactly what happened and that decision was a game changer.
As Principal Karen Spencer puts it, “When these six churches: Heritage Christian, Centerpointe, Lifespring, Voyage, Lighthouse, and Oshtemo United Methodist chose to work together, to create a team, on behalf of our children—that support multiplied exponentially.
These six churches, known together as the Oshtemo Area Churches, meet monthly with CIS Site Coordinator Carly Denny and CIS After School Coordinator Alexis Arocho to discuss both academic and nonacademic barriers to student success. “OAC,” they say, “is sensitive to the needs of the entire school family and works closely with CIS to align and integrate a student support strategy. Even outside of these meetings,” say Carly and Alexis, “OAC can be counted on to communicate, brainstorm, and troubleshoot, as necessary.”
In various combinations and forms, these six churches have become part of the fabric of the school. We’ve found that six equals one and one is as big as it gets. What does the power of one look like? Here’s a glimpse:
– Nearly one half of all our CIS volunteers at Prairie Ridge found out about how they could help through Oshtemo Area Churches. OAC has recruited and funneled through CIS, committed and caring adults to tutor students on a daily basis.
-OAC reinforces the importance of literacy through tutoring support and supporting the school’s “Books to Bikes” reading initiative—providing new bicycles raffled off to students who read the most in February.
-More students are ready to learn so they can receive the full benefit of the excellent teachers at Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Students, who once arrived late to school or not at all, arrive on time because they have the winter apparel they need. On Mondays, students arrive focused and ready to learn because members from the churches took time to distribute Friday Foodpacks. And they work with our 2008 Champ, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, to purchase enough food for more than 75 Prairie Ridge families, providing 4 days of food on a monthly basis.
-Family involvement is nurtured. Students celebrate with their home and school families during Thanksgiving Family Night and Back to School Bashes, organized, run, and led by the OAC.
-From one, an “Impact Group” was born. Composed of CIS and Kids Hope volunteers working within the school, the group meets weekly to encourage each other and plan events, such as this year’s “Harvest Party” and last year’s CIS after school “End of the Year Picnic.”
-Six as one can wrap their arms around an entire school. Each grade level within the school has been adopted by one of the churches, encouraging the classes with small notes and gifts. That reach can extend beyond the school and into the home. So, for instance, children, who might otherwise have had nothing to open for Christmas, had a present to open that morning.
-Teachers are provided with needed school supplies. Teachers and staff within the school feel appreciated and cared for in small and big ways. The OAC pooled together their money and catered lunch from Taco Bob’s!
While it can be tempting to go it alone, OAC sets a shining example for us all: when grownups set aside differences—denominational or otherwise—and literally come together as one through CIS, it’s the students who benefit.
As Principal Karen Spencer says, “Every day—every hour—I turn around and see the evidence of the care and concern OAC has shared with our children…OAC is now a part of our culture and part of who we are. We are eternally grateful.”
Oshtemo Area Churches, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
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 another member of the Communities In Schools site team at Hillside Middle School, Terra Mosqueda. Embarking on her second year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS, her work spans between Loy Norrix High School (three days a week) and Hillside (two days a week).
Terra grew up in Rockford, Michigan and it was college that brought her to Kalamazoo. She started at Western Michigan University studying Child and Family Development and then decided to change her focus. After taking some classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College she decided to take a year off and try something else other than school.
“Being a VISTA has made me lean more towards social work,” Terra says. “School has always been my biggest obstacle. I didn’t try very hard in high school. And I want to work to make sure kids don’t go down my same path. Honestly, I never thought I’d be in a school again! But I really enjoy the relationships I’m making, especially with the students. Being a VISTA gives me opportunities to try new things. I get to talk to people I’ve never thought I’d have a chance to talk with by being in the schools.”
Like her other colleagues who are VISTAs with Communities In Schools, Terra helps nourish a college-going culture. To this end, she has planned college trips for Loy Norrix students and at Hillside she’s created a “college window” that she changes every few weeks.
She orders food from CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes to keep the food pantry stocked. She makes sure CIS Kids’ Closet is organized and filled with essentials, like clothing, hygiene, and school supplies.
Alright, Terra: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
It’s not so much something I’ve learned as something that I’ve opened up to. and that is that no two kids have the same learning style. If two kids are sitting next to each other and I show one how to do a math problem, that same approach may not work for the other student. I have to bend my mind and think of other ways to help that child. At the same time, this helps me in that I expand and come up with new ways of thinking.
What are you currently reading?
With a Pistol in his Hand by Americo Paredes. It is about Gregorio Cortez, a Mexican outlaw still known to this day. When Gregorio eventually dies, he does so in my great-grandfathers house; it’s mentioned in one of the chapters. It’s a really interesting read, and I get to learn a little more about what my great grandfather experienced in his life with his compadre, Gregorio Cortez.
What’s your favorite word right now?
Go. I always say “Go” to the kids as a way to encourage them to be in the right classroom, do their homework, and such. “Go” is both encouraging and demanding. It’s the best of both worlds!
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m really leaning towards social work. It’s so important to keep kids in good environments. I want to help them graduate with the Kalamazoo Promise and do what they want to accomplish in life.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom and dad, equally. My mom was the caring one and my dad helped me by pushing me. They had the good cop-bad cop thing going on and it worked well on me.
Thank you, Terra!
Are you or someone you know interested in becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA? The next group of AmeriCorps VISTA members will come on board in August. To find out more, go here.
In the weeks to come, we’ll introduce you to Fred Myles and Precious Miller, two more CIS team members from Hillside. In the meantime, if you missed the post about Principal McKissack, you can read it by clicking here. You can read about Katherine Williamson, Hillside’s CIS After School Coordinator, by going here. To learn about Nicholas Keen, Youth Development Worker at Hillside, go here.