In the Shelter of Each Other

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec,  Joan Coopes, former Communities In Schools Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School, presented the 2020 Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award to Howard Tejchma. As both volunteer and CIS Site Coordinator, Gulnar Husain relentless pursued a more just and welcoming world for all. For more than 38 years, she relished volunteering throughout our community. The Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion.

There’s an old Irish proverb: “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” You could say this year’s recipient of the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award is a shelter of sorts. Howard Tejchma, or, Mr. Howard, as the students call him, has been volunteering at Arcadia Elementary School for the past decade. Working closely with Kalamazoo Public School teacher Holly Bishop, he supports several of her fifth grade students in a “lunch bunch” setting. The students look forward to his weekly visits, readily giving up recess to be in the shelter of his kindness.

With a degree in physics from Kalamazoo College, and a fierce curiosity for how the world works, Howard weaves in game playing, life lessons, and math and science support, all while nurturing a safe space which awakens students’ curiosities. Howard takes moments that arise—like the time one student had difficulty losing at a card game—to discuss how to be a good sport, a good listener, to take turns, to share. Gathered under the roof of his patience, children dream, wonder, and question. They discover their place in the world.

“Mr. Howard has been a blessing to me and my students,” says Ms. Bishop. “He has unique conversations with them and tries to connect on a personal level with each and every one. He is teaching them to be good humans. I truly hope that he wants to do this for as long as I am teaching, because he is always welcome in my classroom.”

As Howard is a tenor singer and has performed solo in the Kalamazoo Bach Festival, we thought he might appreciate the legendary Quincy Jones’ musical take on CIS. Thinking of it as an orchestra, Jones says, “CIS is the conductor who makes sure all the individual musicians are playing from the same score and coming in when they’re needed.”

Since 2010, our kids have counted on him coming into their lives at just the right times.

Howard, you play your part beautifully and inspire children—and us!—to do the same. May this musical metal sculpture serve as a symbol of your outstanding service.

Howard accepting his award.

Howard Techjma, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Stay tuned. Next week we’ll run Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids’ last face-to-face interview we did before the pandemic hit. It is with Howard and you won’t want to miss it!

Dr. Sandy Standish: Shining Her Light For Young People

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, CIS Board President Namita Sharma presented the 2020 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by Zoetis, to Dr.  Sandy Standish. A decade ago, this prestigious award was established by the Communities In Schools Board to honor Diether’s extensive contributions to his adopted home of Kalamazoo and in particular, his service and genuine concern for the children and young people of our community.

Those of you who’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Standish know she’s dedicated her life to the education of young people. For thirty two years she shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, it wasn’t in her to “take it easy.” Instead of hiding her light under a bushel, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s, better known as KCReady4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all four-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.

Parents want their children to be on solid footing when they start kindergarten. Yet, not every child is at the starting line with their peers. Not all families have the luxury or the means to access high-quality early care and education. At CIS, because we are in a similar business—creating systems of support for students kindergarten through twelfth grade—we’re particularly impressed with her remarkable work over the years of rallying this collective effort. To change mindsets about the way we work together to support and educate our children, to change the landscape of how things are done—or not done—requires vision, a teamwork mentality, passion, and more.

With her usual grace, humor, and expertise, she has been a fearless advocate for early education, because Dr. Standish knows this: Children who receive high-quality early care and education do better in school and life. In that safe and consistent space, they learn basic skills, as well as social and emotional skills, all building blocks for future success.

Sandy, in naming you the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence recipient for 2020, we give you this Blue Hydrangea Bulb blooming out of a vintage base, a symbol of your award from the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board.

Dr. Standish accepting the 2020 Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award.

Thank you for educating our children, and for illuminating a pathway for Kalamazoo county to continue to support some of our youngest citizens. By shining your light, you have made our community a brighter place for all.

Dr. Sandy Standish, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.

A Parade of Ugly For a Good Cause

We may not have the annual holiday parade or the Holly Jolly Trolley this year, but Kalamazoo has a parade of ugly sweaters! If you follow this blog or have walked around downtown enjoying the Christmas lights, you probably already know about the 2020 Ugly Sweater Contest and Exhibit.

“Given these challenging times, we had to reimagine this event,” says Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) Executive Director James Devers, in referencing the ugly sweater party that CIS has hosted for the past five years. The event brings awareness to the CIS “whole child” approach of supporting students, which includes providing essentials that—when missing—can get in the way of learning. “We had to figure out a new way to raise both awareness and funds for the work we do throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools.”

Reimagine, indeed. Toss in loads of creativity, a handful of mannequins, and a host of elves, er, sponsors, and you have one friendly, yet ugly competition and exhibit to help support the 12,000 students CIS works with throughout the year.

Kalsec is the presenting sponsor helping to transform this Ugly Sweater event into a new and beautiful thing. Kalsec CEO Scott Nykaza says, “There is, quite simply, no better way to support the success of students in Kalamazoo than through supporting efforts performed by everyone at CIS.”

In addition to presenting sponsor Kalsec, the following sponsors have each designed and hand-crafted ugly sweaters for CIS virtual and storefront exhibits to help raise vital funding for students: Abraxas/YMCA of Kalamazoo, Edwards Garment, Fifth Third Bank, First National Bank of Michigan, Friends of Poetry, Humphrey Products, Husted’s Farm Market, Rotaract of Kalamazoo, Unifab Corporation, VIP team at CIS, and WMU Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Some of the ugly sweaters on display at the Exchange Building.

Thanks to in-kind sponsors PlazaCorp (providing the storefront window) and Memories Bridal & Evening Wear (providing the mannequins), the community can visit these unique sweaters in person now through December 18th. The window display is located downtown at the Exchange Building, on the southeast corner of W. Michigan and S. Rose, across from Bronson Park. These ugly creations are also being featured on the CIS Facebook page during “12 Days of Sweaters.

The sweaters are also on virtual display, here on the CIS website through the end of December. You can visit the sweaters virtually or in person and then cast your vote for the ugliest sweater. Each dollar donated in support of a sweater is considered a vote. The first $2,500 raised will be kindly matched by Kalsec. Voting concludes on the last day in December and, at that time, the sweater with the most in donations/votes will be crowned the winner.

“The sweaters may be ‘ugly,’ but the cause is beautiful,” says Devers. “Every vote, which translates into every dollar given, supports students in our community, empowering them to stay in school and succeed in life. It doesn’t get more beautiful than that.”

[You can catch this recently aired video of Devers speaking about the event with Fox 17 here.)

Building Our Future: National Society of Black Engineers

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the National Society of Black Engineers was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey Products and Lake Michigan Credit Union. Kalamazoo Central High School’s CIS Site Coordinator Jennifer Miner introduced us to this dedicated group of college students who champion children. [If you missed this virtual event, you can click here to watch the Champs Celebration. At the 29-minute mark,  Max Doggett,  current External Chair of the Western Michigan chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, accepts the award on behalf of his team.]

For the past five years, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at Western Michigan University has been working through CIS to funnel six to eight volunteers from their society to support Kalamazoo Central High School students. Two times a week, these engineering students consistently share their time, talents, as well as their stories with our students. Together, they build upon each other’s work, constructing something bigger than themselves.

Principal Valerie Boggan loves seeing the positive impact they have with students. We share her appreciation for this partnership. These engineering students create enthusiasm around learning and shine a light for our kids. The National Society’s mission is: to increase culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community. To see this mission in action is powerful and shines a light for our students.

Working with young people is like building a very important building, something bigger than the Empire State Building and more impressive than the Eiffel Tower. Through their very presence and listening, these engineering students are inspiring our kids to be the best students and people they can be. A young person realizing their full potential is a more impressive sight than even the great pyramids of Egypt.

National Society of Black Engineers, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.

 

Cultivating Future Scientists: The Edison Science Club

Zoetis Senior Scientist Dom Pullo during the virtual Champs Celebration.

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, The Edison Science Club was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by BASIC Benefits and Miller-Davis Company. Edison Environmental Science Academy’s CIS Site Coordinator Cameron Massimino introduced us to these Zoetis-led volunteers who champion children. [If you missed this virtual event, you can click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November.]

 For 16 years now, science-minded volunteers make monthly visits to Edison Environmental Science Academy. Initiated by Zoetis Senior Scientist Dom Pullo, the volunteers enhance about 27 fifth graders’ learning of science through inquiry and hands-on activities.

Photo credit: Freshwater Photography
Photo Credit: Freshwater Photography

In Science Club, students become scientists! Wearing lab coats and lanyards, and occasionally donning goggles and gloves, students extract DNA from peas, investigate circuit theory, study water filtration, and more. Thanks to a grant from Zoetis, CIS was able to purchase state-of-the-art microscopes so students can view specimens close-up.

The Science Club even recruited Cash, a very friendly and hairy, 105-pound volunteer. Cash assists Zoetis veterinarians (Dr. Theodore Sanders, Jr. – DVM, MS, MBA, DACLAM Executive Director Animal Research Support, Dr. Marike Visser –  DVM, PhD, DACVCP , and Dr. Paul Reynolds, DVM – Retired) in demonstrating animal check-ups. [Cash sat down for an interview with us and we’ll be publishing that conversation in the near future.]

As Edison students look on, Dr. Theodore Sanders, Jr. demonstrates an animal check-up (photo taken last school year).

In addition to Dom Pullo and the three veterinarians noted above, the Edison Science Club has been supported by a number of dedicated volunteers over the years, including: Blair Cundiff, Jacqueline Killmer, Shannon Smith, Teresa Miller, Joshua Kuipers, Stacey Wensink, Sherry Garrett, Kelsey Lammers, Kelly Turner-Alston, Kelly Kievit, Matthew Krautman, Brianna Pomeroy, Tiyash Parira, Tobias Clark, Lisa Yates, Elizabeth Graham, Ben Hummel, Clark Smothers, Adam Schoell, Rose Gillesby, and Thomas Berg.

Dr. Paul Runnels accepting the Champs award for his team.

Fifth grade teacher Mrs. Rocann Fleming says both students and staff LOVE the science club. These dedicated volunteers, some who’ve now retired or moved on from Zoetis, still show up and inspire young minds. Their passion for science is contagious.

“I’ve learned,” says one student who dreams of becoming a veterinarian, “there’s a lot you can’t see in this world that is real—like bacteria!—so wash your hands.” “Well, I’m going to be a scientist,” says another girl. “I’m not sure what kind yet, but probably a woman scientist!”

Edison Science Club, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.

Mikka Dryer: Grateful For the Opportunity to Volunteer

At the 13th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Mikka Dryer was honored with a 2020 Champ Award which was sponsored by Fifth Third Bank. Milwood Magnet Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best introduced us to this CIS volunteer who is a champion for children. [If you didn’t get a chance to learn about the great work Mikka is doing with students in Dr. Brandy Shooks’ ESL classroom, click here to watch the Champs Celebration. This video will remain accessible throughout November. Mikka’s award is at the 14:33 minute marker.]

Mikka Dryer, 2020 Champ Award recipient

Born and raised in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mikka lives in Portage with her husband Cory. She says she’s “grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer with CIS as my job as Supervisor of Community Health, Equity and Inclusion at Bronson provides me the flexibility to do so.

We sat down with Mikka at Milwood Magnet Middle School, shortly before the pandemic hit and schools were closed.

You’ve been volunteering out at Milwood Magnet Middle School for the past four years, with the last three of those years supporting a small group of young ladies who are part of KPS teacher Brandy Shook’s ESL [English as a Second Language] class. How did you come to volunteer through CIS?

When my daughter was in middle school and upper hours, I had an hourly job and couldn’t take off time from work to volunteer in her classroom or at her school. With my job now, as a salaried employee, I have that flexibility and wanted to start volunteering through CIS. For me, it’s a way to give back to kids whose parents are in the same position I was in…I know there are parents just like me, that want to volunteer in their child’s school but just can’t give back because of their job.

I want to give back and am grateful I have the opportunity to do this now, even though I couldn’t do it with my own daughter.

What insights have you gained from volunteering?

There is a difference between raising my own child and coming into a volunteer experience where you are interacting with kids you don’t know. So I’m learning about them and asking them questions. It’s not intuitive to me because I don’t know their lives and what they are going through and dealing with. I’ve gained understanding and tolerance. Also, as I’m walking through the halls and the bell rings, it brings me back to my own middle school days. Some things haven’t changed.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished a book called On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. It’s a young adult book and the follow up to her book, The Hate You Give. I’ve really enjoyed both of the books. I wanted to read her latest book because last year, we all read The Hate You Give as an all-school read. We really bonded over they book. [We ran this post about last year’s Reading Together book and how students had lots of love for The Hate You Give.]

What is your favorite word right now?

Through an equity lens.

I say this and think about this often in the work I’m in. I’m always considering what I’m doing through an equity lens. Am I considering all people, all voices, historical events, oppression, people who have had experienced life in different ways than me? Am I taking into account the whole situation? Whether I’m at work, volunteering, or how I’m spending my money, am I approaching what I’m doing through an equity lens?

Taking into account the whole situation and various perspectives is a much fuller way to experience life.

Yes, you feel fuller because you are considering others and their perspectives, not just one’s one. I can relate to people better because of it.

What question have you asked recently?

Can you tell me more about that? Why do you feel that way?

I’m trying to ask more questions at home. At work and out in the community I’m accepting, tolerant, and open, but at home, well, it’s a space I need to work on. I want to be more tolerant and understanding of my family members and asking them questions helps me do that. And they are less likely to shut down. Instead of responding with “Get over it,” “That’s not important,” or “Move on,” I’m trying to ask more questions and really listen to what they have to say.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

I love walking my two dogs. I love Portage trails, being out in the sun and walking outside trails, biking paths, and enjoying the sunshine.

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

As a young person growing up, I’d definitely say my parents, James and Tako Keller. They had five kids and I was the middle child. They loved and supported me, and still do. I had a good childhood even though I probably wasn’t the easiest adolescent to parent, and yet they still supported me. They have always had my back.

Anything else should we know about you?

My daughter Nayah wants to open her own bakery one day and I’m happily obligated to be her taste tester. She recently moved out on her own, and one thing I’ll miss is having tasty treats at least three times a week!

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

2020 Award Recipients Honored Tonight

Bring out the snacks and get ready to throw some confetti at your computer screen! Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) hosts its annual Champs event tonight, Tuesday, October 27th at 6 p.m. and you can be a part of it! Just go here, to https://ciskalamazoo.org/champs. This year will look a bit different as CIS has elected to host a virtual celebration. For those who can’t watch tonight, the celebration video will remain on the CIS website through November.

Kalsec is the presenting sponsor for this event which honors community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality. “When I think about CIS, I think about an organization supporting education in every possible way,” says Dr. Scott Nykaza, CEO of Kalsec, Inc. “I think about equity and how CIS levels the playing field so that all students are set up to succeed, and I think about the kindness of our community.”

That kindness will be on full display during this thirteenth year of celebrating those who are making a difference in students’ lives. This year’s Champs who support our Kalamazoo Public Schools students are:

Mikka Dryer, CIS volunteer
Science Club facilitated by Zoetis, CIS volunteers
Family Health Center, a nonprofit, CIS health partner
Western Michigan University National Society of Black Engineers, CIS higher learning partner

Howard Tejchma will be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established 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. For the past decade, Howard Tejchma has been working with a small group of Arcadia students during lunchtime. His fifth grade “lunch bunch” looks forward to his weekly visits in which he facilitates games and weaves in life lessons.

The CIS Board will also be honoring Dr. Sandy Standish with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. For 32 years, Dr. Standish shined her light as an innovative educator in Comstock Public Schools. Following her “retirement” from public education, she took on the role as the founding director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s. She spent the next decade collaborating with community partners to build a system of high-quality pre-kindergarten programs accessible to all 4-year-olds in Kalamazoo County.

Keep following us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. In the weeks to come we we will bring you more about these fabulous receipients.

 

Gary Heckman: Building Confidence, Curiosity, & Bird Houses

Champ recipient Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best (left) & Shannon Jones (right)

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Gary Heckman was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Humphrey. CIS Board Member Rex Bell presented the award and Milwood Magnet Middle School’s CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best and CIS After School Coordinator Shannon Jones were on hand to congratulate Gary.

Upon retiring three years ago as the plumber, electrician, and steam operator for Manchester University, this grandfather of four plunged himself into a new campus of learning as a CIS volunteer at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

Gary Heckman has rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work: helping students build positive relationships with adults, building their confidence, and developing their curiosity as to how things work. CIS Senior Site Coordinator Missy Best says Gary has quickly “become an irreplaceable part of the team, sharing his time, talents, and tools to help both students and staff.”

“I just do a little bit here and there,” Gary modestly says.

One of the biggest ‘little bits’ Gary does is serve as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class. A champion of hands-on activities, Gary’s been known to dig into the tool box he’s carted into the school, extracting baking soda, vinegar and cups, magnets and paperclips, and popsicle sticks to reinforce the classroom learning.

Missy says his enthusiasm, positive attitude, and sense of humor has endeared him to students who look forward to his visits each week. One of those students, Areona, says “Mr. Gary has a way of helping me understand math. He’s patient and kind.”

So what are some of the ‘smaller bits’ he does at Milwood Magnet?

When CIS partner Family Health Center pulled up to the school in their dental van, Gary was there, assisting the site coordinator by escorting students to and from their scheduled dental appointments. Another day, CIS After School Coordinator Shannon Jones tapped Gary to help with an upcoming STEM project that involved soldering a drone.

Another ‘bit’ involved helping to hang a bat house in the school’s courtyard. He used a clamp system he devised to safeguard the building. And while he was at it, he built a post for the school’s bird house.

Here’s one final ‘bit.’ He’s in the hallway, noticing a student struggling in a “worn out, beaten up wheelchair that was too large for her.” Later, he connects with Lucinda Stinson, Executive Director of Lending Hands. Thanks to their joint efforts, the student now has a brand new wheelchair, complete with foot rests that Gary adapted to comfortably fit the student.

Construction is a team effort. Along with CIS staff, Principal Mark Tobolski and teachers like Ms. Hopp and Ms. Ottusch, Gary is sharing his expertise and empowering students to build their academic success.

Gary Heckman, thank you for helping kids stay in school and succeed in life.