Cate Jarvis: Built for Helping Kids in Schools

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 Cate Jarvis, School Grief Support Counselor.

Since 2006, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. From the beginning of this partnership, Cate Jarvis, one of Hospice’s School Grief Support Counselors, has been supporting grieving students. She runs eight-week sessions of “Grief 101” in seven to ten Kalamazoo Public School buildings each year. By the end of this school year, she will have held fall, winter, and spring sessions at Hillside Middle School, Kalamazoo Central High School, Loy Norrix High School, Lincoln International Studies School, Washington Writers’ Academy, Woods Lake Elementary, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary, Milwood Magnet Middle School, Woodward School for Technology and Research, and Prairie Ridge Elementary School.

Originally from Detroit, Cate was surprised to find she had made her way to Kalamazoo. “I grew up in the city of Detroit and everything was there,” she says. “I didn’t know that there was anything past Ann Arbor!” Cate holds degrees from Western Michigan University, a bachelor in Family Studies and Masters in WMU’s Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. We met up with Cate at Walnut & Park Cafe in downtown Kalamazoo.

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

Pop Quiz

There are many definitions of grief out there. Author and undertaker Thomas Lynch says, “Grief is the price we pay for being close to one another. If we want to avoid our grief, we simply avoid each other.” How do you define grief?

Grief is a natural process that you go through when you have lost someone or something. Not just death of loss of a loved one, but it could be losing one’s sense of safety and losing a sense of how one functions in the world due to a variety of things: incarceration, foster care, recent changes in home or school. Who am I going to be without this person? Who is going to take care of me? In that process of grieving, you can feel many different emotions, such as anger confusion, sadness, and relief.

Then why is it, when grief is a natural process, does it seems we have a tendency in this society to rush past or avoid grief? Even the very terms we use when referring to grief, like “get over it,” suggest we want to quickly brush it aside. Is this an accurate perception? If so, what do we lose out on by not fully embracing loss?

I think that’s an accurate perception. It’s not a comfortable subject to discuss, so often, people just don’t. What do we lose out on not embracing hope? That’s a good question. Two of the big one’s we potentially lose out on is resilience and the ability to be connected to other things and people. …We go through grief because we are connected.

When it comes to grief, you never get over it. You live with it. You let it be. Sometimes grief is going to be more and sometimes it’s going to be less.

What does a grieving child look like? How does grief manifest itself differently in children than in adults?

In kids, usually you see behaviors like withdrawing, sadness, and anger. They may appear worried and a lot of times you see an underlying agitation—they can’t sit still and may get frustrated easily. Adults can have these same behaviors but they have more life experience and cognitive ability to keep that contained. You may see crying with both kids and adults, as well as depression, substance abuse, a sense of hopeless, anxiety and worry, and a stressed-out presence.

With adults, they may believe that their grief will be a burden to someone. I see this in the teen years but not with the younger children. That makes sense: as we get older, we take in societal messages about how we should or should not express our grief. We learn that often people don’t know how to respond. And so, in some instances, we may try and keep that burden to ourselves.

How should we respond to someone who is grieving?

Acknowledge the loss. Acknowledging is better than not acknowledging it. Saying something is better than not saying anything at all.

In talking recently with a mother whose adult child is dying, I was reminded that grieving is hard work. She was exhausted. She mentioned that she could easily be consumed by her grief. One way she was trying to keep this from happening was consciously trying to be more child-like in the way she was dealing with her grief. You know, how sometimes kids seem to be sad one moment and then minutes later they are laughing and enjoying something. Grownups, on the other hand, may feel guilty. How is it that I can feel joy or happiness in this time of sadness?

Yes, kids can compartmentalize their grief. With grief, kids dip their toe in the water a bit. You might be giving a long explanation to a question they’ve asked about the loss they are experiencing and then they are like, So what’s for dinner? They process information differently than adults. Adults process it all the time, whereas kids are processing it in chunks of time.

… I like that idea of being childlike with grief, that’s probably very healthy. Giving yourself space, time, love, and self-care, it’s important to do that. People who are grieving need a break from grief.

As you’ve been working with children over the years, any surprising insights about loss or grief?

It’s surprising the amount of grief and losses that a young child or teenager experiences…It also makes you realize that we are made for it.

You’re saying we’re built for grief.

Think about it. Think of the losses you’ve experienced throughout your life. If you took those out, what would be left? I realize that’s a philosophical way to look at it, but it is stunning to consider how much loss our kids endure. It is endurance; it’s a marathon.

Think of a child—elementary school age—who has witnessed her mom being arrested. So she goes to live with her granny, and then a few years later, when she’s in middle school, her granny dies. That right there is a lot of loss to deal with…

I’ve been doing this work for so long—and that is one of the great things about our partnership with CIS in the schools—is that I will see this student when they are in elementary school. CIS may again refer that student when they are in middle school or again in high school. Grief and loss is processed at developmental levels. So what a child may experience as a third grader, they may struggle with that loss again—in a different way—as a teen in junior high school, and then again in high school.

That loss keeps coming back up is a common and natural part of the grieving process. Say that student is now a senior. Senior year, everything changes. There are many milestones, they are getting ready to graduate, and the very people who are supposed to be there and help them navigate and celebrate these milestones aren’t there. They are missing their mom who isn’t there to guide them through the process. It can be overwhelming.

What are you currently reading?

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells and Mindfulness for Teens by Dzung Vo. I just finished reading The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson. Put that on your to-do list if you haven’t read that yet. It’s about the great migration and told from three vantage points.

Any favorite places in our community?

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s public preserves, like the Portman Nature Preserve. Also, Al Sabo Land Preserve.

Favorite word?

It’s more like a phrase: let it be.

We can learn to let grief be. Not everything is fixable and that’s okay. There is a big word that captures this idea somewhat, and that is acceptance. But I don’t like that word.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’ve learned about Bondi Beach in Australia. It’s somewhere I want to go. It’s east of Sydney and there is a whole culture to it. Big surf, big waves. Looks like a good time.

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

I would say it has not been just one person, but rather a collective, usually always women and they are either my age or a little older than me. They give me perspective and offer somewhat of a mentoring relationship, but it’s not an official mentoring relationship. These women have a little bit more life experience than I do, and they walk me in off the edge. I respect their opinion and insight. I appreciate that they have faith in me.

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

Learn more about Cate and what she has to say about the Hospice partnership with CIS in our upcoming CIS Connections.

On Track to Realizing Her Dreams

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 Nejaya Moore, a 2018 graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School. A CIS alumna and Kalamazoo Promise Scholar, Nejaya is currently enrolled at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC), working on her Associate degree, and planning to pursuing her life-long dream of becoming a police officer. She’s looking forward to entering the 16-week basic police training academy offered through the Kalamazoo Law Enforcement Training Center at the college.

“She’s smart. I knew she could do it!” says CIS Success Coach Jenna Cooperrider.

We found Nejaya in the KVCC library with her nose in a book. She was a good sport and let us pop this quiz on her. [Nejaya is featured in the recently released CIS Annual Report, found here. She reflects on CIS and the many opportunities community supports that have helped her succeed. You won’t want to miss it!]

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I like to do random research on astrology because I’m obsessed with Chinese zodiac signs. I found out that lucky numbers can tell when your expiration date is and your lucky days. Learning more about astrology is one of the things on my bucket lists.

What else is on your bucket list?

Skydiving. Also, speaking in front of a huge crowd. I want to see what that feels like.

What are you currently reading?

10th Anniversary by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro. It’s part of a series. I started with the 12th book in this series, The 12th of Never, then read the 11th book in the series. I’m going backwards!

Thinking back on your years at KPS, who was one of your most influential teachers?

Ms. [Kelly] Killian. She was my fifth grade teacher and is one of those teachers who always inquires of their students. She wants to know about you. She really cares…Not long ago, I was out at King-Westwood picking up one of my younger brothers. She saw me and immediately recognized me!

What is your favorite word right now?

Cheese. I really don’t like cheese because I’m lactose intolerant, but it’s just a really fun word to say. Cheese.

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

Quite a bit of people. [CIS Success Coach] Ms. [Jenna] Cooperrider, for sure. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be in college right now. She’s helped me with a lot more than just school, too…she provided me a warm coat on a cold day…she’s given me good advice on my love life.…Ms. Cooperrider is understanding, adaptable, and she won’t judge you on where you come from.

Also, one of my former teachers, Ms. [Sharon] Sankarsingh. In elementary school—I went to King-Westwood—I got picked on for wearing glasses…Only two or three in my class had glasses then…I would purposely break them so I didn’t have to wear them. That made my academics much worse. I didn’t start wearing glasses until high school. When Ms. Sankarsingh noticed, though, she put a stop to the bullying. She also moved me to the front of the class. I didn’t like that then because I didn’t want to sit in the front. I wanted to sit in the back and not be noticed as much, but that was bad for my eyes. And my grades. Now I understand why she did what she did.

You are a Kalamazoo Promise scholar!

When I first heard about the Kalamazoo Promise, I thought, That’s cool, but I didn’t’ quite have a full understanding of what it was all about. I was just a kid…But yes, I have 100 % percent of the Promise. It really helps with school. Without it, most kids I know wouldn’t be going to college. Books are expensive. It really helps that the Promise can also help pay for my books. Just for my math book, well, it cost $170!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A police officer. I’ve always wanted to be a police officer and help people. For a brief time, though, I considered becoming a teacher because they help, too. I wanted to be the kind of teacher that understands kids and is cool.

Any advice you have for your younger self? Other students?

Put the main thing first: your education. There were moments I needed to take advantage of and catch up on school work, but I chose to do something else. So, I’d say: pay attention to education more than playing around with friends.

Anything else that might be interesting to know about you?

I wrestled in eighth grade, and joined the wresting team again in high school, in my twelfth year…I was one of two girls.

That’s courageous to put yourself out there like that.

Not really. Living with four brothers, I’ve always been constantly wrestling with them.

Thank you, Nejaya!

You can learn more about Nejaya in the CIS Annual Report.

Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo’s Founding Executive Director Retiring

Pam Kingery, Founding Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

On behalf of the Board of Directors of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), CIS Board President Tony McDonnell announces the retirement of our founding Executive Director, Pam Kingery, which will occur at the end of June, 2019. [Look for McDonnell’s article on Pam’s retirement in the upcoming CIS Connections.]

In 1998, the City of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools, with the input of many community stakeholders concluded that they had strong mutual interests for investing resources to improve the education and graduation of KPS students. Economic development, social justice, quality of life and workforce development interests intersected to create a local affiliate of Communities In Schools (CIS). Representatives of this community selected Pam Kingery as the person who could breathe life into this promising approach for supporting kids. As McDonnell notes, “In December 1999, Pam Kingery took on the challenge of developing the Kalamazoo version of Communities In Schools, using a national model to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life.”

In 2003, CIS joined with the Chamber of Commerce’s Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program [KAAAP] and the Kalamazoo Public Education Foundation [KPEF]. Pam’s leadership has been “extraordinary” says McDonnell. “We all—the board, the staff—this entire community—owe her a debt of gratitude.”

Assures McDonnell, “the CIS Board has already embarked on its search for the next executive director. We look forward to a smooth transition and finding someone with the same passion and drive, a new leader who, in the wake of exciting opportunities and intriguing developments, will take this incredible organization to the next level, and help us serve even more students.”

Before Pam retires, Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids wanted to find out what she has discovered along the way. Here’s our conversation with her:

Kids first! This has been your mantra over the years. So, let’s start with kids first. Tell us a story about one of the 12,000+ kids CIS has helped that has stuck with you over the years.

I still think of one of those first kids. His site coordinator worked so hard to get him eyeglasses. While he was incredibly excited to see clearly, he ended up tossing the glasses out of the third floor window of his school—what was then Vine Alternative [now KAMSC]. The frames of the glasses, purchased by his Medicaid coverage unfortunately branded him as low-income with his peers. He pointed out he would rather go back to not seeing than to have other students bully him for his Medicaid-frame glasses.

And I can’t help but think of the young man who had school failure after school failure. He had moved around a great deal, often missing school. At age 15, the CIS site coordinator took him for an eye exam. Following the exam, the optometrist informed them that the student was legally blind. He received glasses with extremely thick lenses.

All the way back to school, the site coordinator, worried about how the student would be perceived by his classmates, tried to prepare him for the possibility that kids might make fun of his glasses. But this young man was totally enthralled with everything he could see. He was especially taken by the trees. For the first time, he could see that the green of the trees was made up of individual leaves. He said he didn’t care if he got made fun of for thick lenses. He was just so happy to be able to see. At fifteen, his whole world suddenly opened up. You can’t help but wonder, how might things have been different for him if his vision problem could have been identified earlier, when he was five and not fifteen?

What happened with the first student?

With both of these students, we dipped our toe in the water with vision as one significant barrier to success. The first student I mentioned, it is because of him that we reached out to The Junior League of Kalamazoo. He had introduced us to the complex challenges with solving vision care needs and what kids and their parents were contending with at the time. Back then, I think there were three options for Medicaid frames and these were easily identified by other kids as evidence of poverty. So, while we were able to meet his need, it came at such a great social-emotional cost to him. Junior League gave us that first vision care grant of $5,000 and it allowed us to help that student upgrade his frames, and it helped many other families struggling to meet their children’s vision needs, some families who couldn’t even access the Medicaid frames.

As is always the case, there were lots of incredibly caring teachers, who on top of everything else they do, were trying to get glasses for kids. Others like the Lions Club and the KPS nurse were also working very hard to help with glasses, one student at a time. What we added was this organized, systematic approach to making sure that all kids who failed vision screening could then be supported to get them across the glasses finish line.

It’s one thing to be screened for vision—or any other need for that matter—but if nothing happens as a result, screening has no value. That we’ve been able to take identified needs and create systems for intervening is what I am still most excited about in terms of what CIS is able to do for kids and families. The creation of an ongoing system—one we’ve built together with the Kalamazoo Public Schools and the community—means lots of kids will continue to get lots of help long after any one of us is gone.

Back in 1999, you started CIS here in Kalamazoo from scratch. What was one of the first ingredients you used to get started?

I don’t know if it’s an ingredient, so much as a realization. What struck me early on is that this thing we were trying to create was not going to be successful if I was a traditional leader in the traditional sense of one charismatic person who would create and carry this organization on her shoulders. No one person could do this and sustain it. We would only be successful if what we were trying to do was owned by many, many more people that just me.

And early on, you did see that sense of shared ownership, beginning with our board, and our founders. And since then, together, we have only continued to grow the systems of support and the number of students and schools CIS serves.

I hope that our sustainability over the last almost twenty years suggests that my educated hunch was correct. I think the joint ownership and passion for CIS and what it could be, has made for a much broader and stronger foundation. Organizations come and go. When an organization has been “owned” by one person, it is especially easy for that organization to go with that person. Joint ownership makes it a lot harder to let something go. It’s this shared sense of passion and ownership for CIS and its mission that so many people have invested in; it’s the glue that holds this organization together.

[An article posted last month in Nonprofit Quarterly, speaks to Pam’s collective leadership approach. You can read it here.]

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

The creation of a systemic approach and the assembling of an incredibly talented staff and board. You can create a wonderful system, but if you don’t have talented people to do the work, it’s impact will be nonexistent. And if you have talented people, but no organized system to apply their talents, there will also be limits. It’s because of those two things—in combination—that I feel such optimism for the future of CIS.

What advice would you give to the person who will ultimately step into your position when you retire at the end of June?

Listen.

When examining myself and when I’ve messed up is probably when I’ve succumbed to the temptation to talk more and not listen enough. We can all probably listen better and more often. I don’t think there are too many of us who are listening too much. It’s good advice for all of us to take in and listen more, whether we’re at work, at home with our family, our kids, with friends, you name it. Listen.

Back in 2014, you helped kick off our “What’s your Story?” series by sharing your own moving story. [You can read that post here.] You said that your mother instilled in you a love for education. You also said that you were the first and only person in your family to receive a college education.

Pam as a little girl, with her mom

I had originally told staff the story of what my mom had only told me as an adult. Growing up, I remember how my mom always talked about how much she loved school. But it wasn’t until years later, as a grown adult with my own kids that she told me she had dropped out in high school because she was so incredibly poor.
I have this photo of my mom as a child and she is wearing a potato sack for a dress. She described herself as a bow-legged child who always had a terrible haircut. She and her sister literally got their hair cut by having a bowl placed on their head, and dull scissors used to cut around the bowl.

Pam’s mother (right) with younger sister

Kids made fun of her and she finally couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out of high school. She ended up going to Detroit at age sixteen—by herself—and got a job.

That knowledge about my mother’s experience informed my thinking around what we are doing with CIS Kids’ Closet. From that very personal story, I know that sometimes the piece of clothing we offer is far more than that piece of clothing. Through Kids’ Closet, we aren’t just handing out pants or socks. We are also handing dignity to that child. We are sending the message to kids that, as adults, we are going to care for and protect you.

In speaking with CIS staff, some of the qualities they mentioned that you possess that have helped us grow into the organization we are today: a visionary leader, someone who is passionate, compassionate, ethical, fearless, and thoughtful. Which of your qualities has helped you best lead the CIS team in Kalamazoo?

Pam leading the CIS crew during a staff development training

I’d like to think that I am a life-long learner. That I never stop learning and trying to find out how we can improve and how we can do a better job for kids. Being open to learning and considering new ideas and flexibility is a really important trait. Flexibility is a one of those things that is both a strength and a limitation.

How so?

When you let flexibility drive you, you can unknowingly keep reinventing the wheel. Instead of building on what you’ve learned, you can end up with twenty or two hundred different ways of doing something because you are trying to be flexible with everybody. There are benefits to having standards for the way some things are done based on evidence. I’m glad I’m flexible but there is, I think, an inherent tension between those two things: when to be flexible and when not to be flexible. There is a time for flexibility, a time for creativity, and a time for standardization.

We know you love a really good book. What are you currently reading?

I just finished Tim Geithner’s book, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. I found it a fascinating book… I was on plane to Austin the other weekend and a young kid, about 22 years old, came up to me and said, I saw you reading Tim Geithner’s book. He definitely wanted to know what I thought of the book. Turns out he worked for a think tank in Washington, D.C. with some of Geithner’s former colleagues.

I’ve started reading Relationshift: Revolutionary Fundraising that CIS Board member Terry Morrow recommended. It’s written by Michael Bassoff and Steve Chandler. Members of the CIS Development Committee and other staff are also reading the book thanks to the generosity of Development Chair, Darren Timmeney who purchased several copies for us.

Pam, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids. And thank you for your leadership. Your relentless focus has given Kalamazoo a priceless gift; a proven way for the community to collectively and systematically address critical needs for students—whether it’s a pair of glasses, or shoes, a tutor, a mentor, or mental health support—so barriers to learning are overcome and students, surrounded by this web of community support are empowered to stay in school and achieve in life.

 

Principal Amira Mogaji: Guiding Leaders of Today and Tomorrow

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 Principal Amira Mogaji.
Principal Mogaji was working as the CEO/Head of School at a Montessori school in her hometown of Philadelphia when she was recruited by Kalamazoo Public Schools to lead its Northglade Montessori Magnet School. Now in her eighth year as principal, she says, “I love making a difference here and helping our students achieve the Kalamazoo Promise.”

Principal Mogaji serves on the Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism (ABAR) committee at both the school and district level. Her leadership extends beyond the district as she is a board member for Montessori for Social Justice as well as the American Montessori Society (AMS), the national board governing body for American Montessori schools in the U.S. and abroad.

She and her husband, Olatubosun, have six children at home. This includes: one KPS graduate who is in WMU’s aviation flight science program, two who attend Northglade, and three “little, little people,” including two-year-old twin girls.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough, she is also working towards completing her dissertation for a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Management.

We met in the school’s Peace Room. Peace education is an essential component that is infused throughout a child’s Montessori education. Mogaji’s own passion for engaging in peace and justice work flows through her work, home, and community life. Peace and justice isn’t something that just happens. It is challenging, hard work and, as you will discover, Mogaji doesn’t take the easy way out when conflicts arise. Instead of choosing to disengage or yell back with an unkind remark, Mogaji, always mindful of the example she is setting, responds from a place of peace.

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

Pop Quiz

You clearly enjoy welcoming students in the morning, don’t you?

Greeting kids in the morning is my favorite part of the day. I love to see their faces and feel their energy coming into the building. I can quickly discover if someone is struggling and it’s an opportunity to check in with parents, too.

Two days a month I’m not here as I have meetings and I miss it. Otherwise, I’m out there in rain, snow, monsoon, you name it. Everybody deserves a hello and it may turn somebody’s day around. It’s important how you come into the building.

I’m always struck by the sense of peace and zen-like atmosphere of your school. As the leader of the building, I’m sure you have a hand in creating this environment. You seem to radiate peace.

Thank you. I’m not always zen, as my kids can attest to when I am trying to get ready for school each morning. [She laughs.] Hurry up, we can’t be late! For the most part, though, things don’t ruffle me.

What does ruffles you?

Dishonesty bothers me a lot, to the point that I have to manage how I manage that feeling. In my personal life, if I find you to be dishonest, I’m not going to bother with you. I’m a bubbly person and I love everybody until I find you to be dishonest. That said, when it comes to my work, I don’t have the right to not give 100 percent of myself. I must be intentional and give everybody the same support.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

When twins learn how to, one: get out of their cribs and, two: open the door, your life changes forever. Life as you know it, is over. [She laughs heartily.] I haven’t slept since Wednesday!

What are you currently reading?

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve been reading a lot of articles about it [like this one].

It’s nice for this book to come out; some things can’t come from people of color. [The author and anti-racist educator, Robin DiAngelo, is white.]

It helps to explain the difficulty of doing anti-bias/anti-racism work. People who want to do this work—and I believe everybody has good will—but you find people automatically start blocking things and they become defensive. I see it all the time. They want to do the work and then they get stalled. The book helps explain this.

Anti-bias/Anti-racism work is not something that is not done to people. But rather, it is what you do with yourself, in your own journey of self-transformation. All of us need to go through it and become the best we can be. This book can help with that. I have friends who are white who love the book and it is helping them on their journey and I have friends of color who love it as well. It’s helping them, too.

May I ask what, as a Muslim woman, has been your own experience with bias and racism?

I’m always randomly selected at airports. I have been yelled at and told to get out of this country and go back home. My car has been vandalized in the Walmart parking lot. I was in the doctor’s office with my children and in the waiting area we were yelled at and called terrorists. Unfortunately, over the past few years these kinds of things have been happening more often.

That is stressful. How do you handle that?

I carry my passport at all times. And when it comes to flying, since I’m always randomly selected I have to add an additional hour and a half or more to my schedule so I won’t miss my flight…

Honestly, it stresses me out to think that some people are afraid of me… My self-care is walking around Walmart and buying things I don’t need [laughs heartily]. In fact, I was there recently and one of the ladies who worked there informed me she was okay with me being covered. This I can handle, she said. But if you had all black on, I wouldn’t like that. I’d be afraid of you. A lady who worked at Walmart felt she could say that to me, in front of other people.

Incredible. How do you respond to something like that?

The way I see it, my job as a person—as a covered, black, woman—is to set the best example I can so that when situations like that occur, people will think, Oh, that was a nice lady. You need to set a good example and give a good experience to people. You may be the only contact they’ve ever had with a Muslim.

Where else, besides Walmart, do you like to frequent in the community?

The public library. Always!

What is your favorite word right now?

Intentional. I try to be intentional in everything I do. My second favorite word is kindness.

Can you tell us, from your perspective as a principal, what it is like to have CIS in your building?

I love CIS! My experience has been very positive. Over the years, we’ve had a few staff and they have all been strong people. I’ve been most appreciative about the people and the way in which Pam [Kingery] and those helping with staffing Northglade do this. CIS understands that we are a unique school. All schools are unique, but we are really unique and CIS takes that into consideration. They have always invited me to come in and participate in interviews.

The way CIS operates in the building, whether it’s during the day [post about CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer here] or when Ashley [Serio] is running the after school program, it doesn’t feel like a separate entity. We’re working together to support kids. I laugh with the CIS staff every day. We have fun! It’s those relationships that children see—between CIS staff and the teachers and administration—and how we are all here together. We’re a family. Children can’t go to mom because they don’t like what dad says. We are one, collective voice.

CIS really remove barriers for children. It’s just a wonderful program!

What drew you to Montessori?

I knew of it when I was a student at Chestnut Hill College and had learned some about the philosophy having taken a Montessori class in elementary education. But I fully appreciated the beauty of it when I was a CEO/Head of School in a Montessori school in Philadelphia. It was in a very poor area with a high percentage of socio-economically disadvantaged students. It was awesome working there…

Montessori is a great way to educate children in an urban setting. That is the reason why I’m here: on the northside of Kalamazoo, in a Title I, American Montessori Society accredited Montessori public school, providing high quality Montessori education to children who would not otherwise have an opportunity to have it.

We have one of the lowest behavioral referrals in the district.

Why do you think that is?

There is a level of respect children have for each other here. That is because Montessori emphasizes respect for self, for others, and for the environment. We focus on the whole child and our children have opportunities to meet Montessori outcomes which are not all academic, such things as responsibility, global citizenship, and self-regulation. They learn to walk to the bathroom without the whole class—in kindergarten they are learning that. They have freedom within limits and as self-directed learners, they are figuring out how to prioritize their work, a skill some students may not learn until college! So while our children are learning to read, write and do math, it is also important to learn things like, How do you care for others? How do you help someone in need? What if someone is hungry?

We all recently learned that one in six children in Kalamazoo go hungry. We know this because the upper elementary students researched hunger, they wrote persuasive essays, and went from class to class sharing what they learned. Hunger, they said, is not justice. The children collected food and donated it to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes.

A Montessori education provides opportunities for those kind of conversations to exist. We support the children in what they want to learn more about—whatever that is. We all have a place in the world and it’s our job to find out what our responsibility is in it.

My husband says Islam is a way of life. It’s not about ‘when do you pray?’ It’s more about what kind a person you are. It’s about giving back to the world. The same is true for Montessori. It is a way of life. It’s about how you treat children, giving them opportunities, and meeting them where they are at—that is very important. Follow the child. That is a famous Montessori quote: Follow the child.

Not necessarily an easy thing to do.

When children do get off task, we have conversations, reflecting on how can you be respectful to yourself? Others? Your environment? You are not getting all you need because you are not doing your work. So what do you need? What is it you are not getting? These are the conversations we have with each other and that is the beauty of it.

With Montessori, we’re offering children options in their learning environment. Today, do I want to read sitting in a chair or work on the chalkie [a moveable table] or floor? That’s one less argument to have. We don’t have to be on their backs all day.

I happen to think we have the most wonderful children in the world!

What’s your philosophy of leadership?

A leader is there to serve, and to serve everyone. Leaders set a good example and model the expectation…We have lots of leaders here—students and teachers—and my job is to grow the leaders in this building.

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

Obviously, my parents. And I have a really wonderful and supportive husband who gives me the strength I need to take risks. I trust him and he’s wise. He doesn’t just say, Go for it. He says, You should do this because of a, b, and c reasons. Take, for example, my being on the board of directors for the American Montessori Society. I never would have submitted my application and run, except for his encouragement. While I wasn’t sure about it, he pointed out that they contacted me about running. They’re reaching out to you about doing this because you are the best, he’d said.

I never would have put myself out there like that, in that arena of running for an elected position, without his support. He really has been most influential in my life. We’re partners in everything.

I have to add that my children make me want to be my best self. While they don’t say it, we are models for our children… If I see them fussing or not being kind—of course, sometimes it may be a developmental stage—but I can’t help but wonder, what in the environment is causing the child to act this way? Have I been fussy lately? Do I need to adjust myself? That’s a Montessori way of thinking.

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

In the weeks to come we’ll be featuring Ashley Serio, a graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools and Northglade Montessori’s CIS After School Coordinator. In the meantime, practice peace with yourself, your neighbors, friends, and strangers at Walmart.

Pam Dalitz: In School 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 Pam Dalitz, a CIS volunteer at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, or, as she refers to the school, her “second home.” Pam also serves on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC), advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment.

Pam, who is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, retired one and a half years ago “from a bunch of careers.” She started as a recreation therapist, went back to school and became an exercise physiologist working in the physical therapy department at Borgess. Eventually, she attended Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s nursing program. She worked 12 years as a registered nurse and then retired from the health field.

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

Pop Quiz

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

How to teach kids to read. I didn’t really know how to do that until taking this SLD reading class. The SLD way is so different than how I learned to read as a kid. I’ve tutored multiple students and I’m currently only working with one SLD-mentored student. [To learn more about SLDRead, go here.]

Any tips you can impart when it comes to helping kids read?

Take the SLD reading course! Be open-minded. It is amazing.

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading a lots of kids’ books, particularly The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey and Henry and Mudge and the Sneaky Crackers by Cynthia Rylant. I’m also reading a John Muir biography but I’m not reading that one to the kids, though. And I just picked up The Hot Cripple by Hogan Gorman from the Parchment Community Library.

What is your favorite word right now?

‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ That’s my favorite phrase at the moment: ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ and I’ve been saying it a lot. But a favorite word? ‘Unbelievable!’ For a while, I was into ‘macabre.’ I’m off of that one now. Oh, ‘Whoa’ is another favorite. I like words!

Tell us a bit about your volunteer work with CIS.

I’m the kind of person who bores easily, but the kids make it so interesting and the work is really inviting. [CIS Site Coordinator] Martha Serio is a great boss! Also, it’s nice that there isn’t tons of paperwork.

Do you help Martha with paperwork?

No, I just go in and work with the kids, tutoring them. I also help in Ms. [Chyna] Campbell’s second grade classroom. Sometimes I’ll help with classroom papers, but now paperwork is much more fun than when I was a nurse and charting to help the hospital get reimbursed for units of morphine. By the way, Ms. Campbell is an amazing teacher and I admire her so much. She has her stuff together, and at such a young age!

I also like working with Martha. She is energetic and I find her easy to get along with because she’s very direct. I don’t have to guess what she wants. I get anxious if I don’t know what is expected of me and she lets me know. Martha goes above and beyond. She really cares, making sure students’ needs are met, whether it’s for academic, or social and emotional support. She’s always getting hold of their parents so everybody is working together to attend to the needs of the kids.

How often do you volunteer at Spring Valley?

I help in the second grade classroom two days a week. I also tutor several children two days—sometimes three—a week. I have a warm spot for kids that struggle in school. I really like working with them.

Where does that warm spot come from?

As a kid, I was given the diagnosis of ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder]. I struggled, too. It was hard for me to stay focused, stay quiet, and stay in my seat. I would try and work in my seat and then I’d find myself across the classroom. Oh, there I go again, I’d think. I knew what was expected of me, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be seen as “the bad kid,” but I was…

Those that have struggled in school sometimes end up being the best support for kids. So tell us, what made you decide to choose CIS as a way to share your time and talents?

I got into volunteering with CIS thanks to my hair salon, Honoré! They really should get credit for it.

We love Honoré Salon! They are a great CIS partner. [Read here how Honoré Salon, a 2016 Champ recipient, supports kids through CIS.]

I go to Kristin Peterson who—every time—does a wonderful job. I recommend her and Honoré to everyone in our community. Shaun Moskalik, the owner, I love him! Anyways, Honoré collects coats each year for CIS. I started buying up a few coats and bringing them into the salon and donating them to the cause. Then, one time, while getting my bangs cut by Mindy [Meisner], she started telling me about her volunteer work with CIS. You should talk to CIS about volunteering, she said. Kristin, Shaun and Mindy, they all encouraged me to follow up with CIS.

Even though you’ve retired from nursing, you still carry that health background with you when you work with kids. Do you have any thoughts on the health of children these days?

Yes, I worry about our kids’ health. When kids don’t have set bedtime hours, they often come to school exhausted. I’ll ask kids what their bedtime is and some say 7:30 or 8 o’clock. But others, the tired ones, are staying up late and playing video games.

I also ask students what they like to do, and while some mention playing sports, many—far too many—identify sedentary activities, like video games and watching television. You don’t hear much more about kids gathering informally to play outdoor games. I’m a huge Red Rover fan and I probably still have ruptured organs from playing that game! But seriously, that sedentary lifestyle worries me. I wonder about the heart disease and diabetes we’ll see in the future.

I must say, though, I do love seeing the healthy snacks, like fruits and pretzels, available in the school. That’s a good thing.

As a former exercise physiologist, do you see a connection between learning and movement?

Definitely. Activity is huge for learning. It gives the brain a boost in oxygen, it reduces stress, and can help kids rest their eyes a bit. There is this Go Noodle program that Spring Valley uses and the kids love it.

Never heard of it. What is Go Noodle?

They are little videos, about two minutes each, that can easily be played during the school day. It lets kids take a small break, get up and Go Noodle to burn off some steam. I think they have videos geared to all grade levels, maybe even for grown-ups. Basically, kids “noodle” for relaxation and can then re-focus. The kids love it and so do I!

Where is someplace you like to frequent in the community?

Bow in the Clouds Preserve. It’s the 60 acres of land preserve behind Nazareth Campus. Also, the Kalamazoo Nature Center. I love to hang out there.

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

My dad was definitely one of my caring adults. He was a huge role model for me. He ran an industrial laundry. He worked 12-14 hour days but always had time to do fun, recreational activities.

Bertha Walker also comes to mind. She was a community mental health social worker and we worked together at Crisis Stabilization (which is part of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services but was affiliated with Borgess Hospital at that time). She was the senior staff. She was no nonsense and was all about our team getting the work done. We never doubted that she cared about us or the patients we served. She’s been gone now over eight years.

When you think back on 2018, what is one of your fondest memories that you carry with you into this new year?

My first year following retirement was last year, so I got out the bucket list. As part of a mission trip, I got to go into the gypsy camps of Romania last year and that amazed me. I also went dog sledding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That is something I wanted to do my whole life!

What are you most looking forward to this year?

My other volunteer is with the Sierra Club and I’m looking forward to some local and national trips with them. When I see a hint of spring, that means we’re getting closer. I can’t wait! I also love walking my dog. It’s a simple pleasure, just walking my little dog.

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

Nkenge Bergan: Keeping the Focus on Kids

At the 11th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Nkenge Bergan was honored with a 2018 Champ Award which was sponsored by Chase. CIS Board Member Pam Enslen presented the award.  

Positive. Hard working. Forward thinking. These are just three of a host of wonderful qualities that only just begin to describe Nkenge Bergan. As Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools, Nkenge refuses, for convenience-sake, to lump students into categories based on a single need to make it easier for grownups to render a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For Nkenge, it’s about helping students succeed academically while also being prepared to respond effectively to the needs of the whole child.

As many of you know, Kalamazoo Public Schools incorporates CIS within 20 schools to increase our collective impact on children. Artrella Cohn, Communities In Schools’ Sr. Director of Community Engagement and Student Investment, says, “Nkenge lives out this partnership. She goes above and beyond to ensure that CIS is able to perform effectively in the schools. She carves time out of her busy schedule to meet with me on a regular basis with an eye on how we can both assure that students can be served to our fullest capacity.”

Spend just a few minutes with Nkenge and you’ll quickly learn that she seeks to understand where students and families are coming from and actively encourages the adults around the table to do the same. As she often says, “But what do our kids need? That’s what I care about!” Her mantra is much like the traditional greeting among the African tribe of the Masai who place high value on their children’s well-being. “Kasserian Ingera,” they say to one another. It means: “And how are the children?”

Living to the beat of this kid-focused mantra, Nkenge works with CIS to problem-solve, modify program designs, and identify needs as well as gaps in service delivery. This is the kind of input that helps our system of integrated student services work, so CIS, KPS and our partners are positioned to move students forward in areas of attendance, behavior, and academics.

Barriers and challenges naturally arise when working together. Moving forward doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, a lot of behind the scenes planning and coordinating—and not giving up.

Oprah Winfrey once said, “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

Nkenge always gives her personal best. It’s that stick-to-it-ness and mindset of ‘let’s figure this out together’ that Nkenge brings to the partnership table, always with an eye for doing her part—and helping others—to seize each moment and keep moving forward for kids’ sake.

Nkenge Bergan, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

From left: Pam Enslen, CIS Board Member Nkenge Bergen, Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools, Darren Timmeney, Market Manager and Community President of Chase Bank in Southwest Michigan, and Kevin Bing, Vice President, Commercial Banking, Chase.