Gracias, Pat Early

Pat Early Champ Presentation 5-31-16s (15 of 29)
Larry Lueth, CEO of First National Bank of Michigan (right) presenting CIS volunteer Pat Early with his Champ Award. CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser (left) and several MLK students are all smiles.

Today we highlight Pat Early, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. His award was sponsored by First National Bank of Michigan and CIS Board member Carol McGlinn announced his award at the Champ event. Since Pat was unable to attend the celebration as he was out of the country, upon his return he was presented with his Champ award at King-Westwood Elementary School.

MLK student congratulates Pat Early on his award as First National Bank of Michigan's CEO Larry Lueth and CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser look on.
MLK student congratulates Pat Early on his award as another MLK student, First National Bank of Michigan’s CEO Larry Lueth and CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser look on.

For the past three years, Pat Early has been volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at King-Westwood Elementary. A retired Chemical Production Coordinator for Pfizer, he tutors several hours a week. “He’s such a valuable member of our team,” says CIS Site Coordinator Laura Keiser. “I can connect him with all different kinds of kids who have various academic needs. He doesn’t back away from a challenge, and trust me, some of the kids have tested him!”

Because the students know their tutor genuinely enjoys and cares about them, they look forward to learning with Pat each week. Pat also hosts a monthly science club with fourth graders. His goal is to make science fun and hands-on. Recently, the students made lava lamps using Alka-Seltzer tablets. His demonstrations spark questions that naturally emerge as the students experience wonder.

It should come, then, as no surprise that CIS Volunteer Coordinator Kaitlin Martin turned to Pat for help with piloting Water Wizards—a collaboration between the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner’s OfficeKalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, and Communities In Schools. Pat immediately hopped on board. Using the portable model Drain Commissioner Patricia Crowley purchased, Pat teaches students about water cycles and conservation.

Most recently, Pat has worked to bring in the “Birds of Prey show and tell” from the Kalamazoo Nature Center. It’s no wonder Site Coordinator Laura Keiser and her King-Westwood team are thrilled to have Pat Early on their team!

Pat couldn’t attend the celebration so we’ll close with a letter he wrote:

Buenas Noches,

Missing the Champs celebration disappoints me. Celebrating the work done by volunteers, staff and teachers reminds us to strive for the ultimate reward:  successful students. Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood School, gives me strategies and support to be a more effective CIS volunteer. Thank you, Laura.

I look forward to working with the students so that they learn their lessons and grow as individuals.

I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina celebrating with my daughter. She is completing a five month study abroad program through Western Michigan University. She plans to continue on to medical school. Her journey started with a curiosity to learn. She has added hours of hard work to the curiosity to be successful.

I look forward to returning to King-Westwood next week to help other students on their journey.

Gracias por el reconocimiento, (thanks for the recognition).



Pat Early, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Checking out Pat's Champ Award! The Champ statues are created by local artist, Jon Reeves.
Checking out Pat’s Champ Award! The Champ statues are created by local artist, Jon Reeves.

Water Wizard In The School

CIS Volunteer Patrick “Pat” Early with student
CIS Volunteer Patrick “Pat” Early with student

Since the fall of 2013, Patrick “Pat” Early has been volunteering with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo at King Westwood Elementary. Currently, Pat tutors and mentors four boys, two days a week for 2.5 hours, giving a total of 60 hours to CIS during 2014.

Pat is a retired Chemical Production Coordinator for Pfizer, which means that science is a large focus for him. When we asked him if he wanted to join us in piloting a new program called “Water Wizards”—a collaboration between the Kalamazoo County Drain Office, Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, and CIS—he immediately hopped on board. The program involves using a portable model to demonstrate how the water cycles works and how man-made structures (like parking lots) disrupt or prevent this process from taking place. The model is about four feet by two feet and comes with a bog, houses, trees, a parking lot, and a river that runs the length of the model. When the parking lot is placed over the bog, the water floods the houses and landscape. The model not only teaches students about water conservation, absorption, and evaporation, but also demonstrates ways to manage the land and water in sustainable ways that prevent run off, flooding, and other damages.

All four boys value spending time with Pat. They consistently comment on how funny he is. Pat works to help them develop sustainable strategies for completing schoolwork or taking tests. For example, looking for the answers in the book helps with test taking but also forms a solid study habit.

Pat also attempts to impart life lessons in a subtle way. By asking how a student’s day is, and dealing with any problems together, Pat helps students take ownership of their lives and also become accountable to those around them. He works to engage them with other kids so they see themselves as leaders, rather than passive recipients to their own learning. He does this by being willing to negotiate with kids so they’re part of the process rather than just told what to do. His style of interaction invites students to join, to set their own goals, reach those goals, and celebrate with rewards upon completion.

By empowering students to participate in setting their own guidelines, he’s also teaching lessons on creating structure, time-management, and other qualities that pave the road for sustained self-esteem and self-growth.

CIS-Volunteer-Pat-Early-at-school-300x225One of the main ways Pat achieves these goals is by cultivating curiosity—specifically about science. He states that his objective isn’t to get into the nitty-gritty mechanics of any scientific experiments, but rather to generate a spirit of investigation. He uses very simple experiments—such as separating oil and water, showing the differences between a solid, liquid, and gas, or demonstrations with dry ice—to spark those questions that naturally emerge when we experience wonder. Those questions are the jumping off point either for classroom discussions now or those questions might resonate years from now when students encounter more of the nuts and bolts of science.

One obstacle that wasn’t anticipated was being prepared to help students. Pat told CIS Volunteer Services, “I needed to know what their needs are and how I can help them.” For Pat, this requires not having a pre-conceived idea of what kids need but being present and listening to what the problem is. Being genuine, engaged, and willing to help with whatever comes up.

Another obstacle Pat encountered was learning to set limits with his volunteer time. Finding balance and learning to say no to certain projects was necessary so he didn’t burn out and so the time he was able to give was quality time.

Pat is a patient communicator and always bends the conversation toward mutual understanding.Those who encounter Pat comment on his friendly and approachable nature. His enthusiasm and curiosity jump off him in even the simplest interactions. As Laura Keiser, CIS Site Coordinator at King-Westwood Elementary puts it, “Pat greets every tutoring experience with contagious positivity and energy that charms even the most reluctant students into learning. He connects readily with students, gently and calmly guiding them toward more effective self-monitoring. We are so thankful for Pat’s contribution to our community at King-Westwood!”

In addition to his volunteer work with CIS, Pat makes the time to rake roofs, shovel snow, and make homemade soup for two senior neighbors as well as volunteer at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes events.

Pat Early was nominated within the “Adult Volunteer” category for the STAR awards. Special thanks to CIS Volunteer Services for their assistance with this and the recent post on Literacy Buddies, nominated within the “Youth Group Volunteer” category. The final STAR winners within each of the 14 volunteering categories can be found here.


Think Summer! Think Water!

Water DropletWhat is the best thing that has ever happened to you? For one fifth grader, it is being a part of the CIS “Think Summer” program which is running out of Hillside Middle School this summer. “I get to see my friends and learn all kinds of stuff. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me!”

Last week, the third through fifth grade classes learned much about water from environmental experts from the City of Kalamazoo, Mike Wetzel and John Paquin. They brought in a groundwater simulation unit and gave an exciting demonstration for the students as to how water (and pollution) moves underground. The students also had a chance to meet Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner, Pat Crowley, and learn more about storm water and that “clean water is everybody’s business.” As one student later reflected, “It was quite a coincidence that the Drain Commissioner visited us and then later that day we had a horrible storm! I’ll never think of storms in the same way again.”

The following day, volunteers from the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition and Create Hope Park founder (and KPS parent) Dustin Harback gave students a chance to take what they have learned from the water experts and put their knowledge into action by sharing their own visions for clean, healthy land through art. The students wrapped up by creating water proclamations. The fifth graders urged grown ups to “properly dispose of chemicals and other products by taking them for free to theKalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waste Center. This will help keep our drinking water healthy.” And because they learned that water is everybody’s business, they too, will be taking action. “We will not waste water, we will take shorter showers, turn off water as we brush our teeth, we won’t pollute, and we will think of ways to slow down storm water.”

AmeriCorps VISTA Christina Czuhajewski took the opportunity to talk with several of the students who reflected on their experience. Here are a few excerpts from these conversations.

Christina, with Abriannah who will be entering fourth grade this fall.

What did you think about the presentation yesterday? I liked it a lot.

What did you like? That it was like real life and you got to pump the water out. It was really cool but kind of hard to (pump the water out) because it was stuck in the dirt.

Did you go home and think about what you learned? Yeah I told my mom too. I gave her a sticky note that said “protect our water, that’s what we drink.” She hung it on the refrigerator, and then she put a magnet on the refrigerator that was a rain drop..

Do you have any other comments? I want them to do it again! Because it was really cool. Water week is really cool.

Christina also spoke with Jordyn, who will be entering fifth grade this fall.

What did you like about the presentation? I’ve never thought about water like that before. But after this, I’ll think about it a lot.

Any questions you still have for them? I asked some pretty good questions and they answered them. I asked, “How many gallons do you guys pump up a day or an hour?” and they said, within a week, they pump up thousands and thousands, and they said last summer since it was so hot, for the whole entire summer, they pumped at least a billion gallons of water!…It was pretty cool.

Any other thoughts or comments? I think that I’d like them to come back and show more things about water, and to maybe the high schoolers—that’d be a good thing for the high schoolers to learn. And some of the kids down the hall didn’t get to see it. I was wondering if they could come back another time because that was a cool presentation.

A Water Proclamation

The water in our city of Kalamazoo is clean and healthy.  To make sure that it stays that way and is available to all:

We, the third grade students of  CIS “Think Summer” believe that our lands and water needs to stay clean and not be polluted.

We also believe this about water: No one should be allowed to pollute water and if they do, they should clean it up.

We urge that steps be taken by adults to make sure that all kids have clean water.

We ask that adults not litter, pollute, or put sticky gooey icky stuff in the water and clean up any pollution that is already there.

We will make sure we do not pollute the water. It is all our business.