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.
It was exciting to learn that this year’s Reading Together book is written by author Angie Thomas, the inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015. [Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids featured Walter Dean Myers and his 2013 “Reading is Not Optional” visit to Kalamazoo in this post, “Finding Words in Your Pockets.”]
Even more exciting is that Thomas’ book, The Hate U Give, is resonating with our youth. CIS After School Coordinators Phillip Hegwood, Shannon Jones, and Katherine Williamson incorporated the Reading Together Book as part of CIS programming. Hegwood, who oversees CIS afterschool at Maple Street Magnet School says part of the reason for such a strong and positive response from students is due to the powerful themes woven throughout The Hate U Give, themes such as isolation, privilege, racism, violence, and activism.
Here’s what two students from Hillside Middle School told us about how the book has impacted them and what, if given the chance, they would ask the author. (Their school also selected The Hate U Give as their all-school read.) And they just might get the chance! Angie Thomas will be in Kalamazoo on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7 pm to talk about her book. More information on this event noted below.
I’d ask, “Is this a true story? What aspects of this story happened to you?”
I’m gaining some insights from reading her book. You know, like the main character in the book, she is scared to speak up at first. But something I’ve discovered is that it’s important to speak up. Don’t be scared to say what’s right!
-Zechariah, 8th grade, Hillside
I would ask Angie Thomas, “How were you able to do this so well? How were you able to compare real life to the life you have created in your book?” She really was able to capture real life—and the world of black and white—so real-like. How was she able to do that?
Reading and seeing the movie, The Hate U Give, is the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me. That book by Angie Thomas has really helped me and has given me more courage…I have two copies of the book and watch parts of the movie almost every day!
–Read The Cyberlibrarian Reads, a wonderful blog by Miriam Downey, a retired librarian who is also a proud KPS grandparent. Miriam, who also co-edited the anthology Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors, (a project we blogged about here last year and includes works by students from Arcadia Elementary School) read The Journey by Francesca Sanna at the anthology launch to the grownups and kids in attendance. In one of her more recent posts, she blogs about reading Sanna’s beautifully illustrated new book, Me and My Fear, with her granddaughter. You can read her post here.
–Ask your neighbor, your kid, your friends what they are reading! We asked a couple CIS board members and here’s what they said:
There is always a good reason not to give. We don’t have enough time or money or time. We think somebody else will step up or do a better job than us. The list goes on.
Millie Ellis has more than her fair share of reasons not to extend herself, particularly to kids in Kalamazoo. That’s because Millie lives 2,000 miles away, in Dripping Springs, Texas.
There, she is busy caring for her husband who recently suffered a stroke. She is also dealing with her own health issues. Yet, despite distance and her current struggles, Kalamazoo kids are on her radar.
She learned from her friend, Shirley Street, that during the cold Michigan winters, some kids didn’t have mittens to keep their hands warm. Shirley told her of the need and that, for the third year in a row, she was doing something about this by knitting mittens. Her mittens would go to CIS Kids’ Closet and from there, CIS staff in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools would be providing them to students who needed mittens.
Shirley knew about the need thanks to her daughter, Sue Warner, who lives in Kalamazoo. A long-time CIS friend, volunteer, and partner, Sue is Kalamazoo Public Library’s Head Librarian of Youth Services. Sue Warner is a knitter too, and has been knitting mittens and hats for Kalamazoo kids over the years.
Back to Texas. When Shirley shared with Millie how she was helping kids in Kalamazoo Public Schools, Millie was moved. She wanted to figure out a way to “help those kids in Michigan,” too. The next time the friends connected, Millie said, “I found some yarn. I’m going to knit some mittens, too.” And she did.
When a box from Texas (mailed by Millie) showed up at Sue’s door, Sue was stunned. “I thought she might have managed to knit a few pairs of mittens, but Millie had knit 52 pairs!”
Sue dropped off the load of mittens, made with love from Texas, and some of the CIS staff tried on a few.
Knitters make something beautiful—in this case mittens—by interlocking loops of one or more yarns. To knit is “to join closely and firmly, as members or parts (often followed by together).” Despite her own hardships, Millie made it her mission to make the lives of kids a bit better and a bit warmer this winter. Millie joined with Shirley, who connected with Sue who connected with CIS, who now gets these mittens into the hands of children.
Thank you, Millie. And thank you Shirley, Sue, and all you knitters (and non-knitters, too!) who join together with CIS to create a caring, loving community for our children.
Have you read the new anthology, Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors? If not, you may want to add it to your summer reading list. Published by Celery City Books, the anthology includes the work of a number of Kalamazoo Public School students from Arcadia Elementary School. Poems by Reem Ahmed, Nour Abdullah, Hala Alhasan, Nada Alhasnawi, Faris Bukhader, Nabaa Eyddan, Lisbet Lopez, Taema Qwam-Alden, Roziya Rustamova, Abdullah Tayara, and Ritika Verma are woven throughout the anthology. These fourth and fifth graders are published alongside prominent poets and writers from Michigan and beyond.
If you want to read a book on immigration policy, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are a neighbor, have a neighbor, or are interested in exploring the theme of immigration and what kids have to say about it, this 116 page anthology is for you.
Here are nine things you may not know about this anthology project:
What readers are saying.
CIS friend and community advocate Deborah Droppers says, “I applaud the anthology of essays and poems found in Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors. The anthology uses the written word to encourage thoughtful discourse on the challenges that each of our communities face while celebrating the amazing things that happen organically when people believe in the power of conversation between neighbors that are close and beyond our picket fences.”
Retired KPS teacher Carol Hodges says this: “Opening this anthology in the middle, I find a child’s poetic love letter to the country of Iraq juxtaposed against the complex musings of an American man teaching English to Arabs in the Mideast. Then there is the story of a Nigerian woman named Rejoice who fears being deported. How different is her modern-day experience from the 1919 steerage voyage of the young British woman leaving shame and servitude behind?This volume is thin but it is far from an easy read. You’ll need time to ponder.”
The people behind the pages.
Were it not for the support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the children’s voices might not have been heard. A shout out to Arcadia Elementary School teachers Debora Gant, Holly Bishop, Erin Young, and Donna Judd for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students. Also, Donia Ali and Grace Gheen are two shining stars at Arcadia who are part of the fabulous Kalamazoo Public Schools Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. They were instrumental to the success of this project in so many ways.
It’s in the bag.
The anthology is now part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s impressive list of books available as a Book Club in a Bag. Karen Trout, Reading Together coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library says, “KPL’s 2016 social justice resolution includes the statement: KPL values compassion and champions everyone’s right to be welcome in a safe environment in the library and in the wider community. Adding this title to our Book Club in a Bag collection–and encouraging local dialogue about the issue of immigration–is a perfect way to put this institutional commitment into action.” Book Club in a Bag is open to all Kalamazoo Public Library district resident cardholders.
At a reading at the stunning sculpture gardens of Roan and Black in Saugatuck, award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl talked about the project and helped the voices of the children reach an even wider audience. Ridl contributed three of his own poems to the anthology.
Students got a lot out of this anthology project.
The Arcadia fourth and fifth graders wrote poems, some for the first time. Their work was published and they have had opportunities to read their work to others, at home, school, on the Kalamazoo College campus, and at Bookbug. They’ve read alongside well-known Michigan poets and writers like Buddy Hannah, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, Lynn Pattison, Kit Almy, Phillip Sterling, Marion Boyer, and Alison Swan. They’ve even been approached by audience members asking the students to autograph their copy of the anthology and have graciously done so. (Kudos to Arcadia Principal Greg Socha for all his support of this project, including his wise suggestion of giving students the opportunity to practice their signatures in advance of readings!)
Student are giving back to the community.
One can’t help but think that the students have given more than they have received. Like the other contributors, the children donated their work and all proceeds benefit Justice For Our Neighbors in Kalamazoo, a legal clinic for immigrants.
Also, their words make grown ups think! As one reader said, “I know immigration has been a hot topic but it didn’t really hit home until I read the children’s ‘Dear Country’ poems.” Similar sentiments have been shared by other readers. A reader who attended the June Bookbug event said, “I’m humbled by the bravery of these children. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to read before a group of people, let alone leave one’s country and then read so beautifully in a brand new language. How many of us could do that? I don’t know if I could!”
Jennifer Clark, co-editor of the anthology, works on special projects and initiatives for CIS and worked with the students on this anthology project as a CIS volunteer, offering workshops at Arcadia Elementary School. She can’t sing the praises enough of the CIS staff at Arcadia. Thanks to Caitlin Bales and Rachel DeNooyer for all their support! CIS volunteer Cindy Hadley also worked behind the scenes, escorting students to and from the poetry workshops. Go, Cindy!
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!
Borgess Nurse Council
First United Methodist Church
Flynn Thiel Boutell & Tanis
Junior League of Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo County Association of Retired School Personnel
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
Kalamazoo Public Library
Kushner & Company
Old National Bank
Stryker – Tax
Stryker Instruments – CXC
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:
Over the next few months we will be introducing you to our award winners honored at our recent annual Champ Celebration. You won’t want to miss these special installments to our blog. Today, we officially kick this series off with New World Flood, one of eight organizations and individuals honored with a Champs award. Moses Walker, CIS Board Member and Lauren Longwell, Lead AmeriCorps VISTA (based at Washington Writers Academy) presented the award.
Presence is a powerful change-agent. Presence combined with a downpour of passion is unstoppable. That gets to the heart of our next Champ, New World Flood. This partnership, which started four years ago began, as most floods do, with a single drop: supporting students in the CIS Think Summer Program. Loy Norrix graduate and New World Flood founder Todd “TJ” Duckett rained hope, kindness, and passion upon our kids during a family barbeque picnic. He spent time connecting, listening, taking pictures with the kids, and talking about the importance of school and learning.
New World Flood has kept right on raining—through fall and winter, and summer after CIS Think Summer. Showering support by speaking to over hundreds of CIS Think summer students to conducting student focus groups, co-facilitating discussions for a young men’s empowerment group, to reflecting with young men on the value of service and giving back at the past two CIS Transformative Youth Leadership Summits.
Artrella Cohn, CIS Director of Secondary Sites says this about the founder of New World Flood. “TJ has always been the biggest man on campus, in personality and celebrity. Despite all the glory and attention he receives, he is just the same as he ever was—humble and approachable.” Artrella should know. When both were students at Loy Norrix, she literally cheered for him on the sidelines through four seasons of basketball and one season of football. Artrella, who then went on to U of M, admits she stopped cheering when Todd played for MSU, but she picked right back up again when he was later drafted by the NFL. “One of his greatest gifts,” says Artrella, “is that he has a way of making people feel important. He makes time for people, particularly our youth. Loy Norrix is our home and the students are always on his radar. He’s always asking, “What more can I do? How can I give back?”
For the past several years, New World Flood has promoted literacy alongside CIS as part of the First Saturdays at the Kalamazoo Public Library. One grandmother confided, “We only came to the library so the boys could meet Mr. Duckett.” And here, we thought it was our catchy flyers. “Do you think he’d let me take a picture of him with the boys?” she asked. Todd politely obliged to this common refrain and after the cameras went away, he was in deep conversation with the family. Soon, both boys were checking books out of the library.
When CIS AmeriCorps VISTAs, charged with promoting a college going culture, organized a Ready, Set, College! event for the first Mayor’s Day of Service, Todd’s organization flooded city hall with college gear from his alma mater, MSU. VISTAs and their site teams were then able to distribute these and
other college items to grateful graduating seniors, many who would be the first in their family to attend college.
And, on the day before Thanksgiving, you will find Todd Duckett championing the hungriest children in the very halls he once attended as a student: Parkwood UpJohn Elementary School. Along with Parkwood’s Principal Robin Greymountain, CIS Site Coordinator Jody Sikkema, and others he welcomes families to the High Five Turkey Drive and helps them gather up a turkey and a grocery bag full of all the fabulous fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner. This year, CIS Site Coordinators and their site teams were able to identify 200 families who, were it not for the generosity of New World Flood, would have little, if anything to eat. This distribution was just part of New World Flood’s larger effort to ripple beyond the boundaries of Kalamazoo and into Lansing, this year reaching over 800 families.
“People,” Todd reminds us, “are in need all over and we have an opportunity to take care of a few of them, if just for one day.”
New World Flood, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
And if you missed Todd Duckett and Artrella Cohn on the Lori Moore Show (or if you saw it but just want to watch it again), click here, to watch.
I can’t stop thinking about a recent Friday. It was a no school day for Kalamazoo Public Schools and my son was quite excited by this fact. He loves school but we both were looking forward to the fun day we had planned together.
First on the agenda, a visit to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. We wanted to check out the temporary exhibition “Kalamazoo for the Union” and then hit the Planetariumshowing of Sky Legends of the Three Fires to learn three stories about the night sky from Native American people of western and northern Michigan. After that, lunch out and then a visit to the Kalamazoo Public Library.
As we bundled up to head out, I couldn’t help but think of all the kids for whom a day off from school is a day off from learning, a day off from having a warm meal. You’re a lucky kid, I told him. Some kids don’t get opportunities to do these kinds of things.
Anyway, we came out of “Kalamazoo for the Union,” the temporary exhibit (check it out before it leaves town in May) and started down the stairs. There was a woman, her back to us, talking to a group of elementary students, all standing in line, eager to go into the Kalamazoo Direct to You exhibit of Kalamazoo history. I was impressed by the children’s behavior. My son was impressed by what the woman said. “Mom, did you just hear what that lady told the kids? She told them to touch stuff!”
The woman continued preparing the students, asking them to pay attention to what they would be learning. “Remember to tell us what you learn about. We want to know what you discover!” she exclaimed and sent them, all wide-eyed into the exhibit. At just that moment she turned her head and I realized it was Calli Carpenter,CIS after school coordinator from Arcadia Elementary School! And there wasAmeriCorps VISTA Bumeun Lee. Later, at the Science in Motion exhibit, we ran intoYouth Development Worker Aleena Robinson and CIS after school coordinator Alexis Arocho from Prairie Ridge Elementary School. Students were busy exploring science through the hands-on exhibits. When we came out of the planetarium show we ran into CIS after school coordinator Jay Gross from Spring Valley Center for Exploration, CIS after school coordinator Phillip Hegwood from Woodward and dozens of others as students sat on the floor, eating lunch, talking and laughing.
Lindsey Westfall, CIS after school coordinator for Northglade Montessori noted that, for a number of students, it was their first visit to the museum; they were amazed that the wonders it held were right in their hometown. What a beautiful thing to behold. Young people from all over Kalamazoo having an opportunity to fully explore all the museum has to offer.
“These school kids are really good,” one parent commented to another as we left. And they were. While I credit the students, I also credit our staff. Everywhere I turned our kids were being supervised by CIS staff who were calm and positive and the kids were modeling their behavior. Staff had clearly prepared the students before and throughout the field trip so it would be an enriching experience.
When I shared these impressions with CIS Directors of Elementary Sites Elyse Brey and Linda Thompson, I learned that, because so many students (over 200) were eligible to participate in the field trip (to reinforce their 90% or better attendance rate for school day and CIS after school program) the museum was just one location of several. Some students tapped into their inner artist while painting tiles at Art Bayouand others, for the first time ever, sank tiny fingers into bowling balls and unleashed energy down the lanes at Airway Lanes.
“Thank you for giving us an opportunity to work with Communities In Schools today!” said Art Bayou owner, Palee Haney. “I think the kids had a lot of fun painting their tiles.” They did. As one student said, “It was just so peaceful.”
CIS after school coordinator for Washington Writers’ Academy Deondra Ramsey noted that at Airway Lanes it wasn’t just about bowling. “Students had a chance to interact with each other as well as staff on a different level, whether it was bumper cars, bowling, team work with laser tag, or playing together on some of the other games.”
When one student who had never bowled before discovered he loved the sport, DaMarceo Thomas was there to help hone this new found passion. A Youth development worker for CIS, DaMarceo worked one on one with the blossoming bowler, sharing techniques and tips, like proper stance, what pins to target, how to hold the ball, and how much power to put behind the release. “Listening and focusing attention can be a challenge and yet this student listened intently. It was really fun to see,” said Deondra. While most students bowled two rounds and moved on to other activities, he spent over two hours bowling and learning from his mistakes. “The more he played, the better he got.”
I am reminded of what Mickey Ciokajlo, editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette and mlive.com/kalamazoo wrote once, “CIS serves as the glue that ties together and coordinates the many services that we already have available in Kalamazoo.” Kalamazoo is rich in resources. Unfortunately, not every kid is as lucky as mine and able to tap into these resources. But this is what CIS is all about. We have friends, donors, partners, and volunteers who support CIS and allow us to replace luck with opportunity. A day off with a day on.