Rebecca Achenbach: Each Student & Family is Unique

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 Rebecca Achenbach who, in the Fall of 2019, stepped into the role of CIS Site Coordinator for Linden Grove Middle School. She also worked throughout 2020 CIS Think Summer, serving as the CIS Think Summer Quality Coach, in which she was responsible for ensuring high quality programming for the student participants.

Rebecca attended Nazareth College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Western Michigan University. She holds a liberal arts degree, a degree in early childhood education, a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and Geography, as well as a Masters in Family Life Education with a certification in Adolescent Development.

Since she was 21 years old, Rebecca has been connected to the Kalamazoo Public Schools one way or another. She first interned in a preschool setting and later owned and operated a preschool, offering before and after school programming for K-6 grade students. (Many of the students attended KPS.) She gained additional experience running before and after school programs (held in KPS schools) for the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo. She is also a proud KPS parent. Her daughter graduated from Loy Norrix High School in 2018, and her younger child will be starting at Norrix this fall. Throughout this time, she also worked closely with the theater and forensic programs on a secondary level.

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

Pop Quiz 

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world during these challenging times?

During this challenging time I am realizing how much I love the extra time I have with my family, my music, my writing, my gardens, and the appreciation for all things simple.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS Site Coordinator?

The best part of being a CIS Site Coordinator is that I get to work with not only the students that attends Linden Grove, but their whole family units.

Given the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How are you continuing to support students during this challenging time?

The work is the same, but the needs look different, and vary more frequently. I feel barriers have increased for families, but as an organization we have thought creatively “out of the box” to meet the new needs that families have, or may come across. I feel the closure has allowed families to see more of a value of the services we provide, and I feel the connections have become so much stronger between CIS, families, and the school.

When it comes to CIS thinking “outside the box,” can you share more about that?

Thinking outside of the box to me in the CIS realm means not letting past experiences I have had determine how I will work with all my families. Each family and student is unique, and so each student and family I work with, and that process will be different, and you have to be prepared to try new things. I am glad I already had this mind set, as we move forward in our thinking, and how we will now work with families and our students that we may not actually have physical contact, or in person interactions with.

What are you currently reading?  

I am currently reading The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer and also The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?  

My favorite phrase, concept, quote right now is to remember to move in the Way, or the Tao.

To remember I (we) are merely instruments in the hands of the forces, and to try to live in balance with what is going on in our world around us. To stay in a state of balance, rather than a state of how I (we) think things should be. The more you can work with the balance, the more you can stay in the moment, enjoy present life, and allow yourself to not resist, but to ebb and flow in our current situation.

Anything else you want us to know?

I enjoy writing and music. I play piano, ukulele, percussion, and I sing. I also love theater, and working with students in a theatrical setting. [In her role as CIS After School Coordinator, Rebecca shared her passion for theater with the students, initiating a theater club at Linden Grove Middle School last year. She had the students finish the theater club using Zoom and is planning to offer the club virtually again this fall.]

Thank you, Rebecca, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

 

 

High School Student Follows Through on Volunteer Commitment

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 Kohler Briggs. Kohler will be a senior this fall at Loy Norrix High School and Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center.

This past spring, Kohler reached out to Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo to see if there was a project he could help with, as part of his volunteer work with the National Honor Society. Since launching Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids in August of 2012, we’ve racked up hundreds of posts. We wondered if Kohler could use his organizational and technical skills to create one document that could systematically capture all the posts published in Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. We were ecstatic when Kohler agreed to help us.

A month into the project, the pandemic struck and school buildings physically closed. Despite these challenges, Kohler continued to work on the project. He recently provided us with an 18-page document that will allow us to easily access past posts. This archived information holds a wealth of information, from students overcoming obstacles to succeed in school, to the school and community members who volunteer and partner with CIS to support our 12,000+ kids, to innovative programming making a difference for students, and much more. We are so grateful to Kohler for sharing his time and talents with us!

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

Pop Quiz

You went through and chronologically organized and hyperlinked almost nine years of blog posts for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. [At the bottom of this post is an example of the work Kohler did for us.] Thanks to you, we now have hundreds of blog posts at our fingertips. What did you get out of doing this project?

I loved learning about the variety of different ways CIS assist students and families in our schools. I also loved learning about the many individuals, including teachers and other students, that are working to improve our communities both inside and outside of school.

The pandemic disrupted school and life. How have you been holding up? What was your experience of doing distance learning?

I am doing well, but I was extremely busy during distance learning. I missed seeing all my classmates and teachers and missed receiving in-person instruction. I did like how I was able to learn at my own pace and had the time to give extra attention to subject areas that needed it.

In navigating these challenging times, what have you learned about yourself? 

I have learned that it is very important for me to take breaks while working. When we were still doing in-person classes, I never had much time to step away from my work. When I had more opportunities to take a bit of time off during online school, I found that I was much less stressed and more productive when I returned to working.

With summer upon us, what are you currently reading?

I am about to start reading Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Xendi.

What is one of your favorite school subjects?

I love almost anything involving science, especially dealing with the environment.

We know there are probably many, but can you share with us one teacher who has inspired/influenced you throughout your years with Kalamazoo Public Schools?

This year, I took AP Language and Composition with Ms. [Brianna] English at Loy Norrix. Ms. English did a great job with helping me improve my writing skills.

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

The most important caring adults in my life are my parents. They are always open to questions and support for my academic endeavors.

Thank you, Kohler, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

Here’s an example of Kohler’s work. If you missed any of these posts, you can easily access them by clicking on the titles he has hyperlinked to the published post.

2020 Posts

June 9              Jerrell Amos: Learning to Adjust When Life Throws a Curve Ball

June 2              In Schools, and Now Beyond

May 19            Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer: Finding Ways to Connect With Students During Time of Physical Distancing

May 12            CIS Supporting Students Through This Pandemic

May 5              #GivingTuesdayNow – Together We…

April 21           Take Care of Yourself and Read

April 15           Celebrating Our Community of Support

March 31         Connectedness During a Time of Social Distancing

March 24         The Community is Here With You

March 17         A Time to Read

March 10         Catching Up With Elissa Kerr: One Sweet Conversation

March 3           Meet Paul Runnels

February 25     Meet Teresa Miller

February 18     Teacher Andrea Walker: An Open Book

February 11     Courage is Contagious

February 4       Fifth Grader Passes Pop Quiz With Flying Colors

January 21       Tribute to Moses L. Walker

                          Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo 2019 Annual Report

                          2018-19 Gifts of Kindness

January 14       Sara Williams: Rolling Up Her Sleeves for Kids

 

 

CIS Think Summer is underway!

Boxes of materials and supplies sent to CIS Think Summer! students.

CIS Think Summer! is in full swing this year for elementary and secondary students thanks to continued support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. CIS Think Summer! is designed to reduce summer learning loss and increase academic and enrichment opportunities. Until this year, students’ CIS Think Summer experience has always been an in-person summer program with interactive field trips occurring at least once a week. “Due to COVID, our programming, including field trips, had to be cancelled and we had to shift CIS Think Summer to an online platform,” said Dr. Tamiko Garrett.

To fill the holes in the students’ enrichment schedule, Dr. Garrett reached out to a number of individuals and organizations to see if they would be willing to offer one-time presentations that align with the career themes (food, health, and entrepreneurial focus) promoted during CIS Think Summer!

CIS is grateful to all those who have already and will be sharing their knowledge and expertise with our students. “All have been willing to step up and present without hesitation,” says Dr. Garrett. “Their commitment has helped us ensure that, despite these challenging times, students still have interactive experiences. We can’t thank them enough!”

Next week, we’ll introduce you to Jessica Waller, Vice President of the Salty Snacks Division with the Kellogg Company. A proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, she helped us kick off CIS Think Summer! with a fun, informative, and interactive presentation for our secondary students.

MAUREEN CARTMILL: BEE-ing THERE FOR KIDS

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 Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator for Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts.

Maureen was born and raised on the east side of Michigan, in what is now known as Farmington Hills. As far back as seventh grade, she planned on teaching. Half-way through her undergraduate studies at Western Michigan University, with teaching positions becoming increasingly difficult to find, her mother, a first grade teacher, suggested she specialize. “WMU’s Speech Pathology and Audiology Department was number one in this half of the nation. I could work in an elementary setting. Decision made.” Maureen received a Bachelor’s in Speech Pathology and Audiology while minoring in Elementary Education. Then, the graduate degree she pursued in Reading ultimately transitioned to a Master of Arts in Counseling and Personnel.

After seven years with CIS, Maureen retires at the end of this month. Prior to CIS, Maureen supported students in various positions within Kalamazoo Public Schools. Maureen had been teaching at Chime Elementary for two and a half years when her career “took a detour.” Someone at Northglade Montessori Magnet School—where her daughters were attending school—discovered she was a certified teacher. She was hired and served as the permanent substitute in the school’s library. She then went on to Parkwood-UpJohn Elementary to serve as librarian [a position a certified teacher could fill if a media specialist were not available]. Over the years, funding for Maureen’s position changed, and her titles changed with it. No matter, she says, for “thirteen amazing years I specialized in reading support, coordinated the library, and ran building-wide literacy programs and events.”

While the entire CIS and KPS family will miss her presence, we feel good knowing that in  retirement Maureen will still buzz about doing good works and making the world a sweeter place.

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

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?                                                                                            

My immediate and extended family are healthy. I feel fortunate. Several family members are essential workers. There is a 16 month old I have not held in almost three months. Visits with my mother are now through a window. But…we are all healthy and waiting to reconnect.

Constantly working on a phone and a computer is a strain. I yearn for barrier-free communication. Communities In Schools offers us a great deal of support to combat the isolation you can feel working from home. I appreciate that. I miss the Woods Lake staff and students. Oh, and I cook now.

What are you learning about yourself in all this?

Hitting the” pause button” has been healthy. Prior to Covid-19, I would be locked in third gear from early morning until late at night. Stationed at home I find that I enjoy the solitude. My children are grown. There is no music playing and the TV remains off during the day. If someone pops into my head, I call, right then, and check in on them. I make time for prayer. I appreciate simplicity. I know I am fortunate.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS Site Coordinator?  

Relationships. I’m involved with students through their entire elementary experience. I love watching them grow physically and emotionally. I love watching friendships evolve that could last their entire lives. With children, no two days are the same. You guide and support them through the rough days and celebrate and share hugs on the days they succeed. We are a resource. Our door is always open.

I genuinely love being part of a team that supports children through their personal journey as well as their academic journey.

Given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How have you continued to support students during this challenging time?   

Initially, it was a rush to make sure families had all the essentials they needed. I spent most of my day on the phone talking or texting with parents. The Kalamazoo Community was/is incredibly supportive. The list of resources for families grew every day.

Once KPS initiated their breakfast and lunch outreach and their virtual classrooms, I took a step back. Parents were overwhelmed with calls, texts, emails. The job of trying to educate within the home became a big responsibility. Currently, I feel my job has transitioned from basic needs to emotional support. Contact with students has diminished. When calling, I always begin by asking the parent how they are doing? How has the past week been for them? What can I help them with today? It helps me gain a better understanding of the climate within the home. I believe by supporting the parent, I am supporting the student. To promote some family activity, I dropped off board games to several of our families, old favorites like Sorry and Charades.

The students you work with had already been dealing with other stresses in their lives before this pandemic. And now, this pandemic layers on additional stress for both these young people and their families. How are students coping? Are you seeing any common threads as to how students are responding?  

Students are struggling. Consider that two thirds of a child’s waking hours were spent at school. School provided variety, structure, social connectedness, and physical and intellectual challenges. After two or three weeks, the novelty of a vacation begins to wane. Everyone misses their friends. Students who have cell phones are making some social connections. Families with one phone are at a disadvantage when the parent needs to take the phone to work. Parents who work from home must have their phones available to them. Not everyone has a computer, iPad, or WiFi. Students are lonelier and more isolated.

What are you currently reading?

I am not reading anything at the moment. I must keep my Master Gardener’s certification current, so I am watching webinars on pollinators, vegetable garden pests and diseases, and the proper pruning of fruit trees. Were you aware that there are many varieties of bushes and trees that are critical for the survival of overwintering bee colonies?

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

Initially, it was “One day at a time.” That has transitioned to “Be safe and take care of those you love.”

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go?

I will visit independent establishments. It will be a full-day event:

Coney Dog. We love the owners. Shout out to Katherine and Bill and son Michael.

Crow’s Nest. You have been closed too long.

University Roadhouse. A neighborhood destination.

O’Duffy’s Pub. The best place for Happy Hour with friends.

People who don’t know you, may not realize that you have been a beekeeper. What initially drew you to beekeeping?

I watched a swarm of bees cross our property and, like a tornado in reverse, the bees disappeared beneath an outbuilding 12 feet from our back door. No one we called knew how to remove them. (Close your eyes and don’t read the next few sentences.) We placed a shop vac hose at the entrance of the hole and began sucking the bees as the entered or exited the hive. Little did we know there were 40,000 to 60,000 bees setting up housekeeping. Guilt overcame us when the next day there was an article in the Gazette informing the public that honeybees were disappearing at alarming rates due to Colony Collapse Disorder. TURN OFF THE SHOP VAC!!! The public was invited to an informational meeting in Comstock. Shortly after, the Kalamazoo Bee Club was born. I was a convert. I bought my first “Nuc” of bees a year later.

How many times would you estimate that you have been stung?  

With my calm and disarming ways, I was certain I would never be a target. The answer is three.

Okay. Two more bee-related questions. Given your background in bees, what are your thoughts on these murder hornets having made it to the US? Also, can you share a fun bee fact with us?  

The Murder Hornet is one more potential challenge facing the honeybee. Currently we have no concerns in Michigan, but experts will be watching vigilantly. The image of hornets ripping the heads off honeybees and decimating bee colonies is a bit chilling. Michigan beekeepers are more concerned with such things as varroa mites, insecticides that make their way into pollen and nectar, and hive beetles.

Fun fact. Bees need to use the bathroom during the winter. It’s called a cleansing flight. As soon as there is a day that reaches 35-40 degrees, they’ll leave the hive to relieve themselves. You can see evidence of the flight in the snow just outside the entrance to the hive. You don’t want constipated bees.

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

My parents raised five children but it was my mother who held down the fort while my father had to travel. The five of us were born within three and a half years. I am the oldest. My mother was clever, resourceful, creative, patient, definitely outnumbered, and at times justifiably frazzled. She went back to teaching when I was in second or third grade. By junior high I would walk to her elementary school to catch a ride home. I loved to watch her teach. I look back now with the lens of a teacher and what seemed magical to me at the time was exemplary classroom management, moment to moment character education, and strong academic instruction. On her desk there was a word of the week which she integrated into daily conversation. Her students made those words their own. My favorite Barbara Loughlin reminder was “If you concentrate and cogitate, Mrs. Loughlin won’t have to reiterate.” She is the reason I decided on elementary education.

Anything else we should know about you? 

My faith sees me through both trials and triumphs. I’ve been blessed with an amazing family and friends that make me laugh. I have loved every job I’ve ever had because they’ve involved children and families. I’m a little concerned about the Detroit Tigers trajectory.

Thank you, Maureen, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

CIS Supporting Students through this Pandemic

During this pandemic, with all Michigan schools closed for the remainder of this school year and many people out of work or with reduced hours, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) students and families are disproportionately more vulnerable than ever. To ensure that this pandemic does not widen gaps in equity and accessibility, CIS has been working hard to make sure students continue to have access to the resources and caring relationships they need to maintain the gains they have made this school year and to realize their full potential. During this challenging time, here are just a few examples of what that CIS support looks like:

 

  • Providing regular check-ins with students and families via phone and video calls to maintain relationships and to connect them to community resources for basic needs services and reliable information.
  • Passing out educational packets and books three days/week at schools and community distribution sites in cooperation with Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) as part of the district’s “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch meal distributions.
  • Packing food boxes at the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food pantry for distribution at their drive-through pick up sites.
  • Dropping off items (non-contact deliveries) for families that lack transportation to make it to a community distribution site.
  • Engaging with CIS partners as we work together to mobilize coordinated community support for all of Kalamazoo’s students and families.

    

“The needs of our students and families have increased exponentially due to the pandemic,” says Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo James Devers. “At the same time, the personal needs of staff, along with those of their family, friends, and extended circles have increased as well. And yet despite that, our CIS team have made heroic efforts to stay connected to and to support Kalamazoo’s students, families, and partners. We remain grateful for the outstanding friends and donors who continue to support us as we work to eliminate barriers in students’ lives so they can continue to succeed.”

In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to one member of our team, CIS Success Coach Nazhly Heredia-Waltemyer. You won’t want to miss it!  In the meantime, be sure to follow our CIS Facebook page, here, where we will continue to update you as to how CIS is responding to student/family needs during this crisis.

 

The Community is Here With You

Today’s guest blogger is Jane Asumadu. As CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School, Jane hopes to share her passion for education, particularly reading and writing, with students. As a Kalamazoo native, former Japan resident, and world traveler, Jane hopes to share her experiences with the community. 

We have found ourselves in a fairly difficult situation. Rapid changes mixed with uncertainty have caused a lot of anxiety in our community. However, through these difficult circumstances, we can become more resilient as a community. 

So, we have been presented with some challenges. How can we continue learning for our students at home? And how can we stay connected when we have been advised to stay apart? Below, I have compiled a list of some of the resources available for students and families as we tackle school closures and social distancing, but still want to encourage growth and learning. In next week’s post, I will discuss ideas of staying connected, physically and emotionally.

Local resources

  1. Kalamazoo Public Schools is distributing food and learning packets at select locations and times until Friday, April 3. Breakfast and lunch will be packed up and available for pick-up by all students up to 18 years old on Mondays (two days worth of food), Wednesdays (two days worth of food), and Fridays (three days worth of food). 

Distribution Schedule:

  • 11:30-12:30 – All KPS school buildings except Greenwood, Indian Prairie, Winchell, ALP, South Westnedge School
  • 11:30-12 – Interfaith
  • 11:30-12 – Eastside Neighborhood Association
  • 12:30-1 – Fox Ridge Apartments
  • 12:30-1 – New Village Apartments 

For more information contact Chartwells/KPS Food Service: (269) 337-0458.

  1. Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is continuing to offer meals for all local residents for pick-up by appointment and through their Mobile Food Initiative. Contact them at (269) 343-3663 to set up an appointment or for more information. KLF is also still looking for volunteers during this time, as well.  
  2. The South Michigan Food Bank has a number of pantries in our area that they support. Please call the 211 hotline and ask them to help you get in contact with one of these pantries. They are also holding their own food distributions (no appointment required) at these locations and times:
  • Fresh Fire AME (2508 Gull Rd., 4th Saturday of every month, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Milwood United Methodist Church (3919 Portage St., 1st Tuesday of every month, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.)
  • Westwood Neighborhood Food Pantry (538 Nichols Road, 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month, 10 p.m.-12 p.m.)
  • Valley Family Church (2500 Vincent Ave., Portage, every Tuesday starting March 24, 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.)

     3. YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo is closed to the general public, but is still providing childcare services for the children of those who are considered to be essential workers at this time. Visit their website for more details.  

Online resources

Due to the sudden closure of schools, many students probably did not have time to gather the materials necessary to continue learning at home. Thankfully, several local and national companies are offering free services for students online. Below is a short list of sites I recommend, but many, many more still exist.

  1. KPS Continued Learning Hub – The websites listed in this hub should be familiar to KPS students. With their KPS login, students can access sites like Compass Learning and Khan Academy from home. To get started, click here.
  2. Kalamazoo Public Library – Let’s Get Digital is another hub listing a variety of free media available to those with or without a KPL card. Just as their website boasts, “…[kpl.gov] is our online branch and it never closes!” [Also, see last week’s post “A Time to Read,” here.]
  3.  Scholastic Learn At Home is an initiative by Scholastic Books that offers two weeks of day-by-day interactive learning for students of all ages.
  4. Audible is an audiobook app. They are offering free audiobooks for kids, “for as long as schools are closed.” Students can stream select titles in six different languages from a desktop, laptop, phone or tablet by clicking on this site here.

An obvious obstacle with all these amazing resources is access to the internet. Fortunately, companies like Comcast and Spectrum are offering two months free internet to those who may need the support.  

Reach Out

Ironically, despite the necessity of social distancing, there is no better time than this to stay connected within our community. More than ever, it is important to check-in with our family, friends and neighbors. If you or someone you know is in need of extra support, reach out to find ways to help. The services and supports are available, they just need to be connected to the right people. When I find myself dealing with stressful times, I often think of this quote by author Zora Neale Hurston, who said, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” Through patience and support, we will make it through. 

My heart goes out to everyone during this challenging time. Remember to reach out for help when you need it, and take care.

Jane Asumadu

Teacher Andrea Walker: An Open Book

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 KPS teacher Andrea Walker, known as Miss Walker by her fifth grade students at Woodward School for Science and Technology.

As a single parent, Miss Walker worked hard and raised her two children. Both are graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools, having attended the very school their mother has been teaching at for the past 12 years. Now grown and in college, one attends Kalamazoo Valley Community College and the other, Western Michigan University.

When you walk into Miss Walker’s homey and welcoming classroom, you can’t help but notice how she decorates her room with Nemo. She knows that the kids who swim through her class each year aren’t that different from Nemo, the adorable clownfish, and his friends who have challenges to navigate in life. As one of the many fantastic teachers at Woodward and throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Miss Walker is showing up each day for kids and helping them learn and grow.

She compares herself to an open book. Her life, as you will soon learn, is filled with interesting chapters, with pages yet to be written.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you’ve been asked recently?

[Laughing.] You don’t want to know that answer, especially the day after a full moon. [Note: We interviewed Miss Walker during her lunch break, the day after a full moon.]

Tell us, then, a question you recently asked.

Just yesterday, I asked my students, Where’s the empathy?

I want them to understand feelings and when someone is being mean to someone else, what is the appropriate response? It’s not to laugh, as that can hurt feelings. I want them to connect to each other and express understanding and empathy for what someone else may be going through.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished the book, Mermaid. I didn’t really like it and was surprised because I love Jodi Picoults’ other works. This just wasn’t an amazing read like her other ones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Seriously.

Seriously what?

That’s my word. Seriously. That’s what I often say to the kids, Seriously?

What are you curious about?

The overall depression and anxiety in our kids these days. It worries me.

Have you seen an increase in this over your 12 years as a teacher?

Yes, it’s been growing. There’s a lot of trauma kids are dealing with, as well as a lot of anxiety these days.

Does having CIS in your school help you as a teacher?

Oh, God, yes! CIS helps me tons as a teacher. And not only with the basics [school supplies but CIS provides that emotional and social backing that our kids need. During the day, CIS helps with such a range of things, from personal hygiene issues we might have with a student to tutoring support, and whatever else they may need. Oh, they just do so much. And having CIS after school as well extends the learning day and keeps students safe. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before, when we didn’t have CIS.

You’re also the leader teacher in CIS after school. What does that entail?

Yes, I’m the core teacher for the third, fourth, and fifth graders during CIS after school. That means I meet with the students for one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll reiterate the facts in math or ELA [English Language Arts] that they have been learning during the school day. We’ll go over strategies and skills and do pre-test preparation. We’ll also do some book studying. I also like to have them play learning games; they don’t realize they’re learning because it’s in the form of fun games.

When you were a kid, where did you grow up?

In Indiana, Portage. I’m originally from Hobart, Indiana and went to Hobart High School and then we moved to Portage, Indiana.

What brought you to Michigan?

I got a job working at Spencer’s Gifts. This was the one in St. Joseph, Michigan. And it was around that time I then started back to school. I was working nights at Lakeland Medical Center in the OB unit as a clerk.

Is that what brought you to Kalamazoo?

The Promise brought me to Kalamazoo. As a single mom, I knew it would be hard, if not impossible to pay for my children’s college education. So when I graduated with my associate degree from Lake Michigan College, my kids saw me walk across the stage. And then I packed them up, and we moved to Kalamazoo so they could get the Promise. I started working at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum as an interpretation specialist, assisting with tours and such. And then I started back to school to get my teaching certification at Western. I interned at Washington Writers’ Academy.

Poetry isn’t part of the American childhood education that it once was. Yet, poetry is important to you. You make a concerted effort to incorporate it into your classroom each year. Why?

I’ve always liked poetry. And you’re right, curriculums touches on it very little.

I love the awakening that occurs in my students when we do poetry. I love seeing the lights go on for them when, in doing and seeing things differently, pieces fall in place and start fitting together for them. I like bringing the work of Dr. Seuss into the classroom. I’ll tell them the story of his whole life and how things progressed for him. It’s an exciting way to engage them in learning. They’re interested in that and take it all in.

I really do love that awakening in the kids…the joy that goes with listening to and creating their own works of poetry,  that this is something they can create for themselves…you see it on their faces as they light up.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Math! I’ve only taught ELA for the past ten years. Because we don’t have our students switching classes this year, I teach it all to them. So I’ve been relearning math with the new curriculum.

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

I’m the only one in my immediate family who has gone to college. The person who pushed me to go to college was a nurse, Barbara Davis. She’s still a nurse and a friend of mine to this day. You’d be better as a teacher than a nurse, she told me. I’m a late bloomer.

At the hospital, we had this chalkboard up at work for noting announcements. I drew all the Sesame Street characters on it. Barbara said to me,  I think your calling is to be a teacher.

Huh, I thought. I had never even considered that possibility until she mentioned it.

She was right! From just the little I’ve been able to see you in action with your students, you are clearly born to teach. Yet, you didn’t see that in yourself until someone else pointed that out. Thank goodness she did!

You know, until talking about all this now, I didn’t realize how many different types of jobs I’ve held along the way to get there!

In the CIS Annual Report [recently out and can be accessed here] you are one of the people who shared what you are made of. You said you’re a book.

That’s right. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What books have helped shaped who you are?

Are you ready?

Uh, hope so.

All the Nancy Drew books, The Box Car Children, Are You There God? It’s me Margaret by Judy Bloom. Oh, I could go on.

The books I enjoy now with my students, oh, there are so many of them. But one of my favorites is Flush by Carl Hiaasen. It’s one of my favorites for school here because it is relatable and teaches about bullying. I also read aloud to them Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We had a “Wonder party” for our fifth graders. We closed down the hall, had a party, and cake. The kids loved it.

Thank you, Miss Walker, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Courage is Contagious

Despite the weather, on Saturday, January 18, 2020, Kalamazoo Public School students ventured out to participate in “Courage to Create” poetry workshops held at Western Michigan University as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration. “Courage to Create” is a collaborative effort of Western Michigan University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Friends of Poetry, and Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Jayla Smith

For today’s post, we share a poem that was created during the workshop by former CIS intern and Western Michigan University School of Social Work student Jayla Smith. Last school year, as Jayla was completing her bachelor’s degree, she served as a CIS intern at Lincoln Elementary School. “It was a great experience,” she says. “I loved working with CIS in the school…It confirmed that I wanted to continue to further my education and pursue a career in social work.”

Originally from Detroit, Jayla came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. In addition to her studies, she is currently interning with the Kalamazoo Promise Scholars Program on Western’s campus. She will be graduating this spring with her Master of School Work (MSW). During the MLK Courage to Create workshops, Jayla welcomed the middle school and high school students, and supported the poetry facilitators. Jayla also sat and wrote alongside the students during the poetry exercises. When students were invited to read aloud some of the work they created, Jayla shared her poem, encouraging others to share. Here’s her poem:

 

My heart resides in a glass box that I keep inside my refrigerator.

She gets cold easily so keep her close to the bulb,

but she is still not satisfied.

I paint her walls red with hot sauce

and she screams that her eyes burn.

What do you want?

 

It takes courage to create. It also takes courage to stand up and let your voice be heard. So thank you, Jayla, for modeling courage for our students.

The upcoming MLK Courage to Create celebration, in which students who participated in the annual MLK Courage to Create contest read alongside community poets, will be held on Wednesday, February 19th on the campus of Western Michigan University, in the WMU Multicultural Center in the Adrian Trimpe Building. The celebration starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public.

 

Principal McKissack out at WMU (in 2016) with Hillside students and staff. Hillside students are rock stars when it comes to Courage to Create. Come out and see how they do this year!