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.

Mother and Son Champs: Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins

Champ recipients Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins with CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Staff Carol Roose & Laura McCoy

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Dedrenna and Isaiah Hoskins were honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Miller-Davis Company. CIS Board Member Terry Morrow and CIS Site Coordinators Carol Roose and Laura McCoy presented the award.

Terry: One of Isaiah Hoskin’s favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, wrote: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Fortunately, for our kids at Washington Writers’ Academy, Isaiah and his mother, Dedrenna Hoskins care an awful lot. For almost a decade, this mother and son have been volunteering through CIS. For years, their work initially entailed distributing Friday Food Packs, made possible thanks to our partnership with Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Each pack the Hoskins delivered held enough food to cover breakfast and lunch for a child during the weekend when other food options can be scarce.

And when summer rolls around, the Hoskins do not slow down. Oh, the places they’ll go! Our kids can count on them to tow food packs to and fro during the CIS Think Summer Program.

When Washington Writers’ recently transitioned to the food pantry model and their Food Packs were discontinued, the Hoskins did not miss a beat.

Carol: That’s right! During the school year, Dedrenna, a Quality Operations Technical Associate for Pfizer, heads straight from work to tutor students, assisting them on classwork, homework, math, reading, spelling, you name it. She’ll seek guidance from us, to help meet both the emotional and academic needs of the students she serves.

Oh, and she also has expanded her impact to even more children by serving on the CIS Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.

This year, Isaiah happily transitioned to making and bagging popcorn that is sold as a fundraiser to support the boys’ basketball team. And while his duties may have changed, what hasn’t changed is the way in which Isaiah takes up his work. He does so with absolute joy, practically skipping into the school each Friday.

Laura: A man of few words, Isaiah continues to speak to the students he serves through his actions. By showing up week after week, year after year, he is a powerful role model, sending a compelling message: this is what dedication, responsibility, and hard work look like. This is what caring and kindness looks like. And because he does his work with such joy, he’s showing our kids that good feeling you get when you choose to give back to your community. He’s also taught all of us that you don’t give up, even when things get difficult. A few years back, when his mother became seriously ill for a time, Isaiah made the trek to school alone to make sure students got their food packs.

We can tell you first hand that being a site coordinator isn’t easy. However, knowing that we can count on the Hoskins makes our job just a little less daunting.

Terry: We are all so grateful that this mother and son choose to team up each week for kids. Dedrenna & Isaiah Hoskins, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Leaders As Planters

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council (VLAC) was honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a recognition established last year by the Husain family to honor Gulnar’s long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and the community.

Gulnar immigrated from Pakistan in 1981 and for more than 38 years, she dedicated herself to volunteer work throughout the community of Kalamazoo.

The award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s desire to serve children with a consistent and unflinching passion. [To learn more about Gulnar, read this post, “A Good Life.”]

Gulnar Husain and Principal Socha

Arcadia Elementary School Principal Greg Socha and CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator Nicky Aiello presented the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, sponsored by the Gulnar Husain Legacy Fund.

Presenting the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award to VLAC at 2019 Champs

Principal Socha: I had the honor of working with Gulnar Husain for the last six of her 14 years with CIS. As the CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia she worked persistently, quietly, often invisibly behind the scenes for children. So too does this team of 11 CIS volunteer leaders who make up the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council.

Meeting monthly and working closely with the CIS Volunteer Services team advising CIS on such things as volunteer recruitment and retainment, this group of volunteers has helped transform the volunteer process. Because of their collective work, the on-boarding of new volunteers is smoother and new volunteers feel more supported throughout the entire process.

In addition to their advising role, the council members have taken on additional responsibilities such as mentoring new volunteers, assisting and leading volunteer orientations, shoring up recruitment efforts by representing CIS at various recruitment opportunities, and planning volunteer events.

Nicky: The 11 VLAC members are: Jeme Baker, Chartanay Bonner, Jashaun Bottoms, Pam Dalitz, Theresa Hazard, Moises Hernandez, Dedrenna Hoskins, Rollie Morse, Richard Phillips, Howard Tejchma, and Marti Terpstra.

They have taken up this advisory work while continuing to remain committed and passionate about their own volunteer work in various CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Each of these individuals shares their gifts and time in a variety of ways. And each, in their role on the council is truly a leader. Among other things, these leaders are planters. As a collective, the Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council plants ideas and seeds of change. They help CIS serve children more effectively by helping to plant volunteers in the paths of our children. And then they help CIS figure out ways to nurture, grow, and sustain these volunteers.

Principal Socha: Gulnar Husain’s vision stretched beyond a lifetime. She was one of the best “people gardeners” I’ve known. Throughout the school day and often well into the evening she was busy planting seeds of hope, love, and justice. She would be delighted that you are receiving this special recognition.

Volunteer Leadership Advisory Council, thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Each volunteer received a flower pot handcrafted in Kalamazoo by Grayling Ceramics. Inscribed on the pot is a quote which reads: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

Swan Snack Emporium Serves Up Dignity and Confidence

Jennifer Swan (center) congratulated by John Brandon (left) and Sara Williams (right) with Champ Award for Swan’s Snack Emporium.

At the 12th Annual Champs Celebration, presented by Kalsec, Swan Snack Emporium was honored with a 2019 Champ Award which was sponsored by Chase. CIS Board Member Sara Williams and CIS Partner Services Coordinator John Brandon presented the award.

TowerPinkster, a design firm, creates vibrant places for people to live, work and play. So it’s not surprising that when Jennifer Swan, a Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster, set her design on helping children, she would come up with an ingenious and creative plan.

Jennifer Swan, Senior Architectural Project Coordinator with TowerPinkster

Jennifer’s work schedule made it difficult to commit to volunteering in a school on a consistent basis. How else, she wondered, could she get involved in a way that impacted kids and worked with her schedule? She dug around, asked questions, and determined the CIS Kids’ Closet would be the perfect structure to incorporate into her design. Jennifer will tell you that if you come up with an idea, the first thing you should do is give it a good name. So in 2015, the Swan Snack Emporium was born.

The foundation for the Emporium was poured years earlier, when Jennifer was just a child. I grew up not having a lot, she says. There were times it was hard for my mom to buy my brother and me some of the basic necessities. Knowing what it felt like to be in school without the basics, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She sketched out a plan that would funnel new items like socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and soap to CIS Kids’ Closet. As she puts it, I want kids to have what they need and know they are okay, that they aren’t alone.

Just like designing a building, the Swan Snack Emporium relies on the collective support of the team. This is how it works: Jen purchases snacks on sale and makes them available in the office. Her colleagues can visit the Emporium and grab a bite for breakfast or pick up a snack, all the while feeling good knowing proceeds from the dollar or two they are putting towards that granola bar, microwave popcorn, or bag of Sunchips go to purchasing items for the CIS Kids’ Closet.

I know the burning question on everyone’s mind right now is: What is the number one, most in-demand snack at Swan Snack Emporium? Hands down: it’s Pop Tarts!

But seriously, Jennifer and her colleagues provide students in 20 CIS-supported schools with the basics they need to attend school every day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn. Thanks to Swan Snack Emporium, over the past four years, over 6,500 items have been donated to CIS Kids’ Closet.

Swan Snack Emporium, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.

Coach Rod Raven Receives Champ Award

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.

Myah (left) and Joan (right) listen with Rod as Bob Miller talks about teamwork.

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.

Myah (above) and Joan (below) congratulating Rod on his Champ award.