In Kalamazoo, we continue to be inspired by the national CIS office unveiling of What We Are Made Of. Initiated earlier this school year, this collaboration between pop artist Jason Mecier and CIS students resulted in 3-D mosaic portraits of students being displayed in a gallery in Washington D.C.
Since then, we’ve been thinking a lot about what we’re made of. We’ve been curious about what others are made of. CIS staff told us what item represents part of what they are made of, and if you missed that January blog post, you can learn what they said here.
During April’s poetry month, Mrs. Andrea Walker and her fifth grade class at Woodward School for Technology and Research collaborated with student leaders from Woodward’s Poetry Club to create a combined What We Are Made Of piece.
Inspired by the national campaign, CIS of Kalamazoo created a What We are Made Of exhibit as part of our 12th Annual Champs Celebration. The local photo exhibit, sponsored by Warner Norcross + Judd, was a collection of six CIS students from the Kalamazoo Public Schools reflected in mosaic form. Each portrait was assembled with elements from the students’ lives that represent who they are as individuals. Below are a few samples to share from the event.
Here’s Sophia’s along with what five items she identified represent her and her story:
1. Venezuela My home country.
2. Soccer / Running Shoes I have played soccer the majority of my life. I participate in the Girls on the Run Program. It is my first time being in a program like this.
3. Wolf If I were an animal, I would be a wolf because of the way they think and they are fast.
4. Pizza It is my favorite food.
5. Puzzles I love to do them with my lunch buddy mentor at school.
Here’s Matt’s mosaic:
Here’s his response to five items that represent his identity and story:
1. Lion Symbol of confidence and bravery; I stand up for what I believe in.
2. Mom’s Obituary My mom passed away a couple of years ago.
3. Sketchbook & Pencils I like art and use it to express myself and how I feel.
4. Hammer Represents my dream of giving back to the community by building more schools and activity centers for kids.
5. Brick It’s solid and can’t be easily broken.
We so appreciate learning what kids are made of and hearing the stories that shape who they are. You can check out the National CIS website page hereand discover more stories. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and you may spot a few students from Kalamazoo who are featured along with other CIS students from across the country on the site!)
At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Rod Raven was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Comerica. CIS Board Member Bob Miller, CIS Site Coordinator Joan Coopes, and CIS After School Coordinator Myah VanTil presented the award.
Bob: “Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.” Magic Johnson may have said this, but this next Champ lives it. By day, Rod Raven is the lead activity helper at Arcadia Elementary School. After school, he serves as Arcadia’s basketball coach for both boys and girls. Regardless of what position he’s playing, Coach Raven works with CIS to assure students have what they need to succeed in school and life.
Like basketball, teamwork is key when it comes to CIS. Each of us must do our part so kids succeed. Mr. Raven plays his positions exquisitely. And he has such a gift for getting kids to invest in each other.
One way he does this is by giving former students a chance to live out one of the five CIS basics that every child needs and deserves—and that’s an opportunity to give back to peers and their community. We love seeing young leaders like Linden Grove Middle School’s Devin Harris and Kalamazoo Central High School’s Keyten Thompson-Johnson and Le’Montae Daniels-Thompson, who, after a full day at school, come to Arcadia and give back by coaching, mentoring, and modelling positive behaviors for our students.
Myah: Like any good teammate, there are times Mr. Raven has turned to us for helping students, and times we’ve turned to him. I remember when I first started out as Arcadia’s CIS after school coordinator. One of my students was really struggling. I knew I could turn to Mr. Raven. Together, we came up with a behavior plan. His input—combined with the trusting relationship he had with the student—resulted in a complete turnaround: the student’s attitude dramatically improved, his assignments were completed and turned in on time, and behavior incidences went to zero.
Joan: Young men at Arcadia will come up to Myah and me and comment with great pride that Mr. Raven is teaching us how to be gentlemen. As the “Young Men of Arcadia,” they dress up in a shirt and tie on Fridays and practice the life skills Mr. Raven is teaching them from his open playbook, such as politeness, manners, listening, and making good choices.
Bob: Here’s what two of these gentlemen-in-training say about being part of Coach Raven’s team, in which academics always come first: Jazary says, “He’s brought our team far and helped us get better at basketball and school. He gives us lots of training. We’re even learning during recess!”
Mohammad appreciates that he’s always learning something new. “I’ve never played basketball before and he’s teaching me. It feels good to be part of the team.”
Both agree that if you want to be on Coach Raven’s team all you have to do is just work really, really hard.
Rod Raven, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
The title of this post was inspired by the postscript Izaiah Markel noted in a letter he wrote to the President of the United States. He, along with his peers at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, wrote letters to their elected officials during the CIS After School Program at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts.
CIS After School Coordinator Phillip Hegwood initiated the letter writing project as a way for students to let their voices be heard, advocating in a constructive manner for something they feel passionate about: the importance of extending their learning day through after school supports and experiential learning. As the letters from officials start trickling in, he’s expanding on the writing project by asking students to reflect on the experience of writing the letters as well as discussing the responses they receive.
Associate Director of Site Services Michael Harrison points out that this project “is not only a creative approach to strengthening literacy skills but it boosts confidence. Learning to communicate with someone who can effect change builds confidence.” That, he says, is a “powerful lesson. It’s something our young people can carry into other aspects of their lives.”
Just what did Kayla, Izaiah, Zi’arra, Jesus, Whysper, Jazmin, Cruz, Renell, Tarqes, Grace, Lisandra, Taisia, Jasmine, Tiana, Navia, KaVon, Aniyah, Walter, Devin, Arielle, Akeelah, and Yousef want their elected officials to know about the importance of the CIS After School program? Here, in their own words pulled from their letters…
Students explain that after school provides a safe place to learn and grow.
“After school program is very important. That is because lots of kids don’t have a safe space to go after school, or a quiet workplace. After school provides that. It is from 2:20-5:30 p.m. here at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts…”
“Do you know about the after school program? The after school program is a class where you can do your job, have great teachers and students, a class that you can share and help people, and the after school program expects you to be a good person and no one will forget an after school program.”
“After school program is a great way for students to work on homework, to achieve better grades in school so we can go on to 7th grade…”
“The after school program provides a nice environment for us to meet new friends. After school program is a nice way to teach us how to do productive things together, and it teaches leadership skills. It also teaches housekeeping, and everyday useful skills for students.”
“They care for us and they watch over us and they keep us safe.”
Students sharethe benefits to their own growth.
“It made me a better person because we have art and it shows my talents/artistic abilities. After school gives me a lot of confidence in school.”
“…after school program helped me get smarter and improve my grades and study.”
“…[it] helped me with my homework and any problems I had at school at home (really any problems I had).”
“It helps me improve my grade in ELA (English Language Arts). I had a C- and since they have a big homework system I got a B+.”
“In after school I can talk to someone when I am mad or sad.”
“…and helps us talk to students if we’re too shy to talk. It even makes us feel at home.”
“It helps me focus throughout school, that’s why I love after school. They taught me that it’s okay to get stuff wrong in class. So now when the teacher calls on me in class I answer it with confidence even if I just guess. After school gives me every possibility and every chance.”
Students express appreciation for the CIS staff, partners, and volunteers.
“The coaches help us so much with our homework.”
“…they even teach us other languages!”
“…I can talk to someone when I am mad or sad.”
Students state facts about the benefits of being involved in CIS after school programs.
“…it helps students stay out of the streets and gangs. Research shows more than 70% of kids drop out due to drugs or early pregnancies.”
Students care about the younger students who are coming after them.
“Also I think it will help other kids who want or are going to be in program someday.”
“Please don’t let it end so that the new sixth graders next year will have the same opportunities as us.”
Students express themselves in honest and straight forward ways.
“Honestly, if I never went to the after school program I would just be at home playing video games and watching TV all day. I probably would not like my mom as much because she does not understand how to help me with my homework and we would fight about it. The after school program gives me an opportunity to eat dinner because there are nights where we don’t have any food in our house. We get free transportation so I can also play sports. My mom gets some sleep so she can go to work at night, and that helps the economy.”
“I will be honest, I don’t know who you are but I know you are African American and it makes me happy that there is a black person in power to help make decisions, so please fund after school programs.”
Students urge their officials to continue funding after school programming.
“So I hope you think about this…”
“I hope you can see how important it is to have after school.”
“Students will be happy and we will all remember you did the right thing.”
“So can you try to help us?”
PS. Students pepper their letters with P.S.’s.
P.S. Please don’t get rid of after school programs.
[To Mayor Hopewell] “P.S. I saw you at the chili cook out.”
“P.S. We <3 After School!!!”
[Note: <3 = love]
CIS After School serves students in 15 after school sites—11 elementary and 4 middle school sites. CIS After School is available in the Kalamazoo Public Schools thanks to the support of federal dollars awarded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
Wednesday, May 15th will mark the twelfth year of Champs, a celebration in which Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) recognizes those who are making a difference in kids’ lives. Kalsec, a local company with business around the world, is the presenting sponsor for a second year, demonstrating its continued interest in the educational success of Kalamazoo’s children.
So, who will be honored this year? Drum roll, please! This year’s Champs are:
Dedrenna Hoskins and Isaiah Hoskins, CIS Volunteers Gary Heckman, CIS Volunteer Rod Raven, Lead Activity Helper, KPS Arcadia Elementary School Swan Snack Emporium, CIS Business Partner
The Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC) will also be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established last year by Gulnar’s family to honor her long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and work as a CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School. This award recognizes CIS volunteers who emulate Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children. Last year, 828 individuals volunteered through CIS, contributing over 14,000 hours of service. Behind the scenes, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council—composed of CIS volunteers ranging from college students to seniors—works to strengthen and support these tremendous volunteer efforts. The VLAC members are Jeme Baker, Jashaun Bottoms, Chartanay Bonner, Pam Dalitz, Theresa Hazard, Moises Hernandez, Dedrenna Hoskins, Rollie Morse, Richard Phillips, Howard Tejchma and Marti Terpstra.
The CIS Board will also be honoring Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Established in 2010, this award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. Barry Ross and Jane Rooks Ross together have brought joy through music to the children and youth of Kalamazoo. They have created experiences to hear music, experience music, learn music and connect through music. Through their vision, collaboration and endless work, Barry and Jane have touched many lives in the community. They have given time to find new and creative ways to use music to expand human potential. Family Discovery Concerts, Marvelous Music, the Instrument Petting Zoo, and Kalamazoo Kids In Tune reflect just some of their efforts.
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 Julie Davis. As we’re on the heels of Administrative
Professionals Day and on the cusp of our 12th Annual Champs event, we
thought it would be fun to meet up with this former KPS secretary and Champ (once a Champ, always a Champ as we say
at CIS) of ten years ago and see what she’s up to these days.
“The sound of men playing horseshoes was part of the soundtrack of my childhood,” Julie Davis says, recalling her “idyllic years” spent growing up in the farming community of East Lynn, Illinois. She smiles as she recounts formative years spent driving tractors and “helping” with baling hay. “And I was watching—without knowing I was watching—equipment break down and seeing someone use some random thing that had been laying on the ground to make it work.”
Without realizing it at the time, Julie was learning to make do with whatever
tools you have—or don’t have—in any given situation. Her knack for making
things work—no matter what life throws at her—has served her well, both in her
personal and professional life. As a single parent, she raised two beautiful
daughters, Jodie and Abby, and happily watched as they got degrees from University
of Michigan and Syracuse University, respectively. Throughout her 33-year career
as a school secretary for Kalamazoo Public Schools Julie made things work on a
daily basis; eight years at Loy Norrix High School and then 25 years at Arcadia
Julie retired in June of 2017. Three months later she was diagnosed with two
different kinds of cancer, one in each breast. She underwent two different
kinds of treatment and is doing fabulous now (as you’ll see, she did fabulous even
then). She enjoys traveling often to Washington, D.C. to play with her two
grandchildren, Sam, seven, and Norah, four.
We almost didn’t meet up with Julie at Anna’s
House. In fact, we walked right by her. While her trademark shoulder-length
blond hair has been replaced by short, white hair, her smile, joyous spirit,
and laughter haven’t changed a bit.
Alright, Julie Davis: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
It’s so different to see you sitting and
just relaxing. In your role as secretary at Arcadia Elementary School you were
I loved every second of every day! I have so many fond and funny memories of
working at Arcadia. And so many stories!
Will you tell us a story?
Sure. I’ve got thousands of
There was this first grader
who zipped his neck into his coat. Thankfully, it was a plastic zipper. I told
him, “I’m going to get this unstuck for you but it’s going to hurt. But I’ll do
it really fast.” He gave me the okay and I grabbed a bit of his neck and the
coat and we did it. And off he went. We were best friends after that. I still
remember his name. Eric.
And here’s another story. A
third grader wanted me to pull her tooth out. This was in the 90s. ‘It’s not
ready, honey,’ I told her, but she wanted that thing out. She was adamant and
wouldn’t go back to class until I pulled it. I know anticipation can drive kids
crazy. So I put on a rubber glove, pinched as hard as I could and out came the
tooth. It made that cracking sound when it came out, the kind of sound that
says it wasn’t quite ready to come out! The next day, I received a percentage
of what the tooth fairy brought her—a dime and three pennies.
And then there was a time….
Okay, bear with me. It’s going to
take a minute, but there is a question at the end of this.
You received a Champ award back in 2009. Gulnar [Husain, who served as CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia at that time] rightly described you as kind and compassionate. She wrote: “Her patience has no limits…when all the phone lines are ringing simultaneously, a deadline for a report has to be met, a sick child has to be taken care of, a dose of medicine, ice pack, or band aid has to be given to a student, visitors have to be greeted, or a teacher’s question has to be answered, Julie is there to take care of everyone’s needs. It would be understandable if she lost her cool, but she doesn’t! She remains calm and composed and has the uncanny ability to keep everything under control.” So, what’s your secret?
I think it’s not really even a secret. I’m just thankful I was in a job that
I was designed to do. If only everybody could be in that position! That is a
wish of mine. That everyone could get up, brush their teeth, go out and behave
as themselves, and accomplish something for others at the same time. I was designed
for my job. I loved my job. I was just out there being myself and it seemed to
work for everybody. [She laughs.]
CIS partners would often comment how
you always made them feel at home. I won’t ask you what your secret is, but how
do you do that, make people feel at home?
I think, by nature, I’m relaxed most of the time. However, at a fairly young
age, about 14, I learned that if you act at ease, it puts others at ease. Having
learned to be relaxed in any situation has served me well throughout my life,
including my time at Arcadia, especially with regard to the daily interactions
I enjoyed with families whose language I could not speak.
As you know, Arcadia is a wonderfully diverse school. I’m so thankful I got
to be with people of diverse cultures because getting to know these families
changed my life. It changed me for the better. When you are relaxed, it opens
you up. Because I was relaxed I could embrace and feel those differences. I
loved how those differences moved within me—and moved me.
I grew up in a farming community where the only diversity was the age of the
farmer. To have the chance to meet people from other countries and cultures was
so enlightening. How I grew! That is something I miss, not having an opportunity
to be in regular contact with these enriching relationships.
From your perspective as a
former secretary, what was it like to have CIS in your building?
I can’t separate what CIS does from the people. People like Gulnar, of course, who was CIS. I think of Gulnar, and even before and after Gulnar—of the character you need to have to be really committed to the CIS mission. The CIS people worked with students who had needs. Their time and energy spilled over to everybody, not just those on a “list.”
Everyone I know whose been involved with CIS has fit. They’ve shown a
commitment and dedication to children and their families, and that stood out to
me. I’ve seen that commitment in those who didn’t have to be there, such as the
college students volunteering through CIS. When I was their age, I couldn’t
imagine being committed to something other than trying to get through my
classes. These young people could have been home and enjoyed spring break, but instead
they wanted to stay and work with kids. I loved seeing that kind of dedication
in the CIS staff and all the volunteers and partners. They were in school with us wanting to do this
because of their love for children and watching them succeed.
What have you found to be the most
surprising about retirement?
I’m really good at being lazy. I was so busy every day at Arcadia; who knew
that lazy would work for me so well! So lazy is what I’m doing at the moment.
Do you have a pet peeve?
Oh, yea! Tailgaters. And let me tell you, pet peeve isn’t the word for it.
Because I wouldn’t say to a pet what I would say to a tailgater.
What are you curious about?
[Starts laughing.] I’m curious about thousands of things, but a funny one,
just sprang to mind. I was working at Loy Norrix. This was before cell phones. I
had to be there at seven. And there was a girl at the payphone every morning. Back
then, Loy Norrix had a phonebooth inside the building, in the hall just down
from the office area where I worked. I was always curious about who she was
Maybe your curiosity can finally be
satisfied. Maybe there is someone reading this right now who knows something!
Wouldn’t that be something? Let’s see, it would have been between 1984 and 1992
that this happened, practically every day during the school year.
What is something interesting
you’ve recently learned?
[Laughing.] I’ve learned that after a certain age you can come across
something that is really interesting, something that you didn’t know, and a few
day later, somebody asks you, “What is something interesting you’ve recently
learned?” and you can’t recall what it is. I’ve learned lots of interesting
things since I’ve retired, but can’t recall one of them now!
Can we talk some about your
experience with cancer?
Sure. I’m open about it. You know, when I received the diagnosis, the first
thing out of mouth was, “Lord, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get some glory
out of this somehow.” I tell you, when you have peace and joy, life is good. It
doesn’t matter what comes your way. With faith, you can say, “Well, this is
unexpected” and you move forward.
I was going to ask, “How and in
what ways did the cancer diagnosis change your perspective?” But it sounds like
this experience hasn’t changed your outlook on life in any way.
My outlook has remained the same. It didn’t rock my faith foundation. I
thought, “Okay, so I have cancer. That’s what’s happening now.” I knew God was
going to walk me through it. The biggest challenge came with handling the side
effects of some chemicals and that gave me insight into other people’s experiences
and I’m thankful for that empathy.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading my Bible in the book of Acts. I’ve read it a billion times, but
now, suddenly going through it this time, it’s like oh, my gosh! I’m relating
to what the first Christians experienced… We come at it knowing how it ended.
When you know the ending, you don’t get all anxious. But they didn’t know the
Although I’m reading the Bible
exclusively right now, I really enjoy reading a variety of genres. I think my
all-time favorite is Cider
with Rosie by Laurie Lee.
What is your favorite word right
Since you want just one word, it
would be content. If you wanted to know why I’m content, that would take lots
and lots of words.
Behind every successful person
is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My parents, George and Helen.
Here’s one story about them. Everybody that crossed their path was drawn
to them. They married in 1933 and lived in a little house in the country…Dad
had a job with A&P in their warehouse, He went to work one day and the owner
pulled him and the one other employee, Joe, aside and said, “I have to cut you
both back to half time.”
Dad came home that evening and told my mom, who was pregnant at the time,
that he lost his job. He had given his half to Joe so he could have full-time
work. How he explained it to her: “Joe has two kids. We have a cow, chickens,
and a garden so I feel we’ll be okay.”
That’s who they were. That story is as much about my mother. They just
both shook it off, said okay, and
Sounds a lot like you!
Thank you, Julie Davis, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.