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 Jayda Fair, a 2020 graduate of Loy Norrix High School. A CIS alumna and Kalamazoo Promise Scholar, Jayda now works for CIS as a youth development coach. She supports students at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts while also acclimating to her new role of being a mother to daughter Na’riyah. She is looking forward to attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) next semester and ultimately obtaining a degree in social work.
We met up with Jayda over Zoom and popped this quiz on her. [Jayda is featured in the recently released CIS Annual Report, found here. She reflects on CIS and the community supports that have helped her succeed. You won’t want to miss it!]
Alright, Jayda: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What three words describe you?
Outgoing, fun, and open.
The pandemic disrupted life as we know it. Did it disrupt your educational and/career plans? If so, how?
Actually, pregnancy changed my plans way more than the pandemic did.
Motherhood can do that to you! Your daughter is beautiful. [Na’riyah made a brief appearance at the beginning of this interview.] In being a new mother and navigating these challenging times, what have you learned about yourself?
I have more patience than I realized. And the days go by quickly!
What are you currently reading?
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. It’s like a poetry book. It’s about these high school kids who don’t like school, but as part of their class, the teacher has them writing poetry…It’s the “all-school” read for Maple Street.
Thinking back on your years at KPS, who was one of your most influential teachers?
At Woods Lake Elementary, it was Ms. [Mary Jo] Reilly. When I first started getting bullied, she picked up on it. She comforted me, addressed the situation, and got my parents involved. She connected me to CIS. I was quiet and becoming involved with CIS helped open me up.
In high school, Ms. [Niambi] Pringle was a positive influence for me. She was like a mother figure. When I wasn’t feeling good or had a problem on my mind, she’d notice something was wrong, and took me under her wing.
As you have had the opportunity to be part of CIS as a young person, from first through twelfth grade, how would you explain CIS to others?
CIS is a movement that is all about empowering young people. CIS is there for you…It was there for me.
What is your favorite word or phrase right now?
YFE. That stands for: Your family is everything. My family and I take family seriously.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
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 Ashley Serio, who serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Northglade Montessori.
Ashley began her career with CIS almost six years ago, first as an AmeriCorps VISTA, then as Youth Development Worker (YDW), serving at both Northglade and Edison Environmental Science Academy. She has also worked in CIS Think Summer for five years.
Ashley grew up in Kalamazoo and attended
Spring Valley Center for Exploration and then went on to Milwood Magnet Middle
School. Upon graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, Ashley used the Kalamazoo
Promise scholarship to attend Western Michigan University. She
graduated in 2016, earning a degree in university studies with a focus in
business, health, and family consumer science.
Back in February, we popped over to Northglade and popped this quiz on her. Alright, Ashley Serio: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
is one of the best parts about being a CIS after school coordinator?
Getting to know the kids and build
meaning relationships with them. I love helping them grow and seeing that
growth, well they inspire me and my staff in many ways. They help us grow, too.
It’s just awesome to watch.
have the kids helped you grow?
They make me want to be more patient,
more present, and more aware of everything. I’ve come to understand that
everyone’s experience impacts them differently and it’s important to be aware
of those experiences.
is one of the most challenging aspects of being an after school coordinator?
Not feeling like I can ever do
enough for the kids. I want to be there even more for them, provide them more, and
there is a limit to what I can do within the confines of this role.
a graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, who were some of your favorite teachers?
My favorite high school teacher was
Mr. [Christopher] Bullmer. He passed away last year. I did slam poetry and had
him for language arts.
had a positive impact on a lot of kids, didn’t he? I’m a little surprised,
though, that you took his slam poetry class.I’m trying to picture you doing slam
Until very recently, talking in front of people was one of
my weaknesses. I’d just get so nervous. But with my work at CIS, I was encouraged
both by Cara [Weiler] and Ms. Stacy [Jackson]
to do this very thing. They both pushed me beyond myself. I’m now doing
trainings and sharing information with others. I’m becoming comfortable with
doing this…The work that I do is
so ingrained in my life now, it comes naturally. We all struggle, no matter how
much we come to know and learn. But, as a CIS after school coordinator, I do
have confidence in what needs to be done and I enjoy sharing that passion with
back to your KPS teachers. In addition to Mr. Bullmer, any other favorite teachers
come to mind?
Oh, yes, definitely! At Spring Valley, it was Ms. Julie Jones, my second grade teacher, and Kairi Hokenmaier, my third grade teacher, and Michelle Larson, my fifth grade teacher. At Milwood Magnet Middle School, two of my favorite teachers were Mr. Atiba McKissack [now principal at Hillside, you can find his pop quiz here] and Ms. Dawn Kahler.
your favorite teachers have any overarching characteristics?
They were each dedicated to their
jobs. They built quality relationships with their students, while also showing us
that they were learning along the way, too.
I also think it says something about
them, the fact that, to this day, they are working with kids one way or another.
The way you just described your favorite teachers reminds me of you—the focus on building relationships and life-long learning.
Oh, my! I can only hope I can be as
good with kids as they have been. To think that I could teach kids as well as
they did…wow. I mean, I’m not a teacher like them, but I’m still helping
students, just in a different way.
[A CIS volunteer enters the CIS room. Ashley immediately rises to greet Ariel Slappy to see how everything is going. Ariel, a student at Western Michigan University, came to volunteer with CIS through her “Teaching as a Profession” class.]
colleague, Steve Brewer, gave us a glimpse of what his work as CIS site
coordinator looks like during the daytime [his interview here]
at Northglade. Can you give us a glimpse of what an average afternoon in the
life of a CIS after school coordinator is like?
Every day is different! I should also say that while Steve and I have different roles within the school, we work well together and we’ll each step out of our own role to step into each other’s role to get things done. For instance, you could see he was busy elsewhere in the building so I stepped in to assist our new volunteer. He does the same for me.
term “after school’ is in your title, so the assumption might be that you are
just in the school after the school day is over. But here you are, and it’s not
Yes, typically I’m checking in with students
during day, to see if they are okay and if they are able to get their work done.
I want to be fully present with the kids and after school staff so I use this time
for program preparation and doing data work, planning for field trips and
lessons and activities—all before program time begins. And then, it’s two and a
half hours of after school programming with the kids.
does that look like for you?
When the school day is over, our
students—we have about 50 in the program—come into cafeteria and the staff and
I greet them. I’m always with students during dinner time. I take attendance, the
students wash their hands and have dinner. For Black History Month, we decided
to try something new, so I’ve been reading a book aloud to the students for ten
minutes each day. We’re reading Gone
Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia.
After the students finish eating
they go to recess. I take that time to clean up, go back to the CIS office and
catch up on paperwork. Following recess, the students split up into three
groups and go into their classrooms for their Core Time. I float around, going
in and out of each of the rooms, and supporting however necessary. Sometimes, a
kid may need some time away from their group so I might bring them back to the
CIS space and they can do what they need to do to regulate themselves and then
get back to their room.
us more about what Core Time looks like for Northglade students.
On Mondays, our focus is on SEL [Social and Emotional Learning], Tuesdays it is STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], and Wednesdays is ELA [English Language Arts], and then, on Thursdays, the students participate in clubs.
Each class is focusing on something
different. But across the board, we’re all focused on self-management and
relationship building. We’re exploring our personal emotions and what they look
and feel like, how we can interact kindly and help each other. This has become a
regular part of what we do on a weekly basis. We’ve found, through trial and
error, some great ways to engage students in ways they find meaningful.
you share an example?
Sure. Last week, in [Youth Development Worker] Ms. Paige’s group, the students did a bucket-filling activity. The idea behind this is that we feel good about ourselves when we are kind to others. We can build up others by filling them with kindness. When others’ buckets are filled up, that helps to fill up our own bucket. If we are mean to others, it not only spills out their bucket, but it spills out our own as well.
So, for the activity, the kids each
made their own buckets and randomly selected the names of three other students.
They then wrote something positive about each student and put the slip in their
bucket. This was all done anonymously.
That makes sense. The anonymous bucket activity encourages the kids to respond in a more intrinsic way, rather than being driven to “be kind” for some external reward. It’s not about “Oh, look, see what I wrote about you!” It’s more about, “I felt good writing something nice about you.”
Yes! And the kids love doing this
and reading what is in their bucket!
So after Core Time in which we are
doing various activities like what I just described, the kids move into Homework
Time. Again, I’m checking in here and there. I’m helping wherever necessary. Kids
have all different kinds of needs, so you need to meet those needs in different
ways. I might find I need to work one-on-one with a student or work with a
group of students who might be confused about something related to their
mentioned Thursdays are club days. What clubs do you currently have going on?
The kids get to select two options for their clubs. Right now we have “Around the World” which focuses on learning different places and cultures food, languages, customs, and traditions. We have “Olympic Club” where kids can learn about different winter Olympic sports and how to play them. We also have “Animal Club” where kids are learning about different animals. The Kalamazoo Nature Center is partnering with us on this and coming in to help us learn more about animals.
Principal Mogaji, whom we recently interviewed [interview can be found here if you missed it] said that she appreciates how you take the Montessori philosophy into account when running the CIS after school program, so that children receive a consistent message as their learning stretches into the after school hours. Can you share an example of how you do that?
I do work hard to extend what they
know in the school day into after school as much as possible. We avoid extrinsic
awards, for example. Also, the rules and norms we go by are aligned with the
school day. The Northglade students worked to develop these so we are essentially
going by what they chose to develop, such as being peaceful with our bodies,
respecting each other, the environment, and the school. We talk a lot about
What are you currently reading?
Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’m not very far in yet,
but it’s good. It’s interesting to hear about her life from her own perspective.
What are you becoming?
A better version of myself, although I don’t know what that means yet.
What is your favorite word right
What do you love?
The kids that I work with. Food. Sleep. My friends and family.
Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?
In the summer and spring I like to be outdoors, so I enjoy visiting Asylum Lake. Also, I like to go any place that has good food. I like to be comfortable warm, and fed.
Behind every successful person is
a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My mom. She’s always been there for
me. Most of my life it’s just been her and me. She’s supported and encouraged
me. And obviously, I’m a lot more like her than I ever thought I’d be! We both
do the same job and love it! [Ashley’s mom, Martha Serio, is on her thirteenth
year as the CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In
2015, she received National
CIS’s Unsung Hero Award.] I never thought I’d want to do the same
work as my mom. I grew up watching her be stressed out worrying about the kids.
But as soon as I started working the CIS summer program, I loved it. And
working for Ms. Stacy
[Jackson] during that time helped me definitely figure that out.
Anything else we should know about you?
I’m not usually very good talking about myself, I guess! I mostly work,
sleep and eat. I do like to travel. I want to go to Italy within the next year.
It’s beautiful from all the pictures I’ve seen. I’ve been to Paris,
London, and Berlin. I studied abroad in college and loved Europe in general.
So, Italy is next!
Thank you, Ashley, for hanging
out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Kanequewa Steward graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Last month, she reflected on her CIS experience at the 11thAnnual Champ Celebration. Kanequewa has graciously given permission for us to publish her remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
PNC was the Student Spotlight Sponsor and Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Kanequewa with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help her continue her education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar.
Good evening, everyone. When writing this speech, I didn’t know where I should start. I have so many memories and was conflicted on what I wanted to bring up first. Has anyone ever felt so alone it made you want to give up on everything? You just thought, “I can’t do anything right. No one loves me, so why am I here? Do I matter? Who would miss me? We all have been there once in our lives, right? Well, I know I’ve struggled with this multiple times that it’s not even funny. Now I know, everyone’s like, “Where is she going with this?” Well, I’ll tell you…
It all started in the 6th grade when I got connected to CIS and started attending the CIS after school program. My sister and I used to go after school all the time. Mr. [Kevin] Lavender—he was our CIS site coordinator—was the best. He always helped me when I needed it. Made sure I kept my grades up, and he was a person I could confide in at such a young age.
Yeah, I know you’re all like, “How could a middle-schooler know what was so good for her at the time?” Well, it goes like this. “I was struggling with letting my anger out on other people. I knew I had a big heart, but I was always afraid to show it. But being part of Communities In Schools gave me an outlet. I could come and have fun, get help on homework. I could even cry when I needed to.
Now, going into high school I thought my CIS years were over and that was the end, not yet knowing they had summer programs, and most importantly, Mrs. Yarbrough. Taking part in CIS Think Summer opened up many doors for me. I met so many people that cared about me, they were always making sure I was okay, and that I had what I needed. It’s something I wish I could continue to do now.
Okay, so do we all remember when I asked my question about feeling helpless and what not? Well, in 10th grade I went down a bumpy road. My heart was broken and I was starting to lose hope and faith. It was at the point to where I self-harmed at least twice a day. I knew why I felt this way, but then again, I didn’t. I was only 15. Why should I feel such pain? I always thought my past was my fault. So it ate me up inside. I didn’t want to live, saw was no reason for it, until I met Mrs. [Deborah] Yarbrough.
Now some of you may ask, “Who is that? What do she do?” And that’s why I’m going to tell you.
Mrs. Yarbrough is the CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School. I went to her office one day and I cried. I cried so hard I couldn’t see—and she let me. She held me and she told me it was going to be okay. She isn’t someone who says stuff to make you feel better. She said it because she knows how it feels; when you just need a break from the world. And she allows you the time to get that. While I was dealing with so much, Mrs. Yarbrough went out of her way to provide me with services. And boy, did they help! From group therapy, to one-on-one therapy. She provided the best help there was. Not only did she help me then, but also when I lost some friends in a tragic incidence I knew exactly where to go to: her. She’s always known how to help me get by; and I thank her for that.
Communities In Schools has saved my life. CIS has provided me with hope, lifted me up when I was down, and gave me so many resources I couldn’t have gotten on my own. And, at this moment, being a part of CIS has helped me deal with the death of a friend who’s been a friend since third grade.
So, here I am. Without CIS support, I would be somewhere, not knowing what to do for myself or if I should even live. This program created many opportunities and I’m thankful to have had you with me through my journey.
I want to thank everyone that helped me and guided me. It wasn’t easy, but guess what? We did it! I’ve graduated from Kalamazoo Central and have been accepted into Adrian College! And it’s not the end, but the beginning to a new life, a happy and healthy life. Again, thank you for having the faith I didn’t have. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.
Curt Johnson will soon start college. Having graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School this past spring, Curt reflected on his CIS experience at the 10th Annual Champ Celebration held this past April. Since then, a number of guests in attendance have asked us to publish it. Curt has graciously given permission for us to publish his remarks here, at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
While Curt gave the speech that follows, he did add additional comments at times. For instance, when he noticed Angelita Aguilar (a 2016 Champ—you can read about herhere) in the sea of almost 400 people, he called her out and thanked her for her support through the years.
PNC was the Student Showcase Sponsor and when Curt finished his speech, Steve Powell, on behalf of PNC, presented Curt with an Apple iPad Pro as a gift to help him continue his education this fall as a Kalamazoo Promise scholar.
Here’s Curt’s speech:
I’m happy to be able to share my story with you and my experience with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. CIS has helped me a lot. I first became involved with the CIS when I was in sixth grade at Milwood Magnet Middle School. During conferences, one of my teachers recommended CIS to my mom and me. For that, I am grateful. Ever since then, CIS has been like a home base for me throughout my education.
One of the reasons I thought CIS was a good fit for me was because moving into a new school would be a way to make friends and meet new people and find out more about myself. I’d recently moved to a new neighborhood, having been adopted into a new family when I was going into fifth grade.
The CIS After School program kept me busy after school. Staying busy is important for kids and teenagers; without extra-curricular activities kids begin to look for things to do that aren’t good for them and could end up getting them into trouble. We always did fun activities. I especially enjoyed going to the gym and eating snacks. We also did homework while we ate our snacks.
I gained a lot of new experiences through CIS. For instance, as part of the after school program, we had an opportunity to sign up for various activities throughout the week, so I was always busy. I was introduced to different cultures, various forms of dance, music, and even food. I also found my passion for music through CIS. This was during seventh and eighth grade and it was thanks to CIS partner Bangtown Productions. We probably made around 20 songs throughout the two-year span. I still have the CD’s we made.
Over the years, CIS has helped me with school. That help is especially fresh in my mind this year, as I’m a senior preparing to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise. I’ve appreciated the tutoring opportunities and the really helpful tutors that CIS has provided. It’s been great having WMU students help me with chemistry. These college students are going to school for engineering so they explain things, and get me through it.
Throughout my high school years at Kalamazoo Central, my CIS Site Coordinator, Ms. Yarbrough has taken me under her wing. She checks up with me regularly, making sure I’m staying on top of my academics. She also helps resolve problems and situations. Those situations can range from serious issues to just needing a granola bar so I can focus and get through the day. I want to give my site coordinator a shout out for always keeping my best interest in mind. She makes it clear what I need to do, what I should do, and if anything is wrong—let the problem be known—so we can fix it.
I know that some kids have a hard time talking to adults, so having a CIS person like Ms. Yarbrough in their school—whose job is to be there and help you get through your school days so you can graduate—is important. As a high school student, the emotional support I’ve received from CIS helps me get through the school year. Kids deal with a lot of stress and people like Ms. Yarbrough and other CIS staff understand. This emotional support is important to so many kids—as you’ll often find many students lining up at the CIS door, waiting to talk with Ms. Yarbrough. Just like a lot of other kids, I don’t have to break down, because I have somebody I can talk to, somebody I can trust. Someone always make sure I say how I feel so it’s not affecting me during the school day.
As I reflect on my six years with CIS, I think what I’ll take away most from the experience is having gained friends, opportunities, met CIS staff and mentors and people I can turn to if I need help. Without the support and guidance from CIS, the chances of me walking the stage and receiving my diploma would have been very slim. I will be graduating this June and plan to attend Southwestern Michigan College. I’m interested in social work and theatre.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the years I’ve spent with Communities In Schools. I would also like to thank all the people I’ve met over these years of being involved with the program—the CIS staff, the partners, the volunteers—and to all the people who I haven’t met, who have given money, time, effort, and patience to helping all of us kids.
Thank you, Curt! We’re excited for all that the future holds for you. You know where to find us! Stay in touch!
Did you catch Curt Johnson along with Deborah Yarbrough, CIS Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Central High School, on The Lori Moore Show? You can watch it here.