On Thursday, March 12, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a mandate to close all Michigan schools grades K-12 through April 5 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Spring Break is the following week for Kalamazoo Public Schools and, as of this posting, that is still happening, which means students should be returning to school on April 13th.
In the meantime, it’s more important than ever for our kids—and us!—to read. What books do you plan to read?
Last month, we asked Communities In Schools board members what they are reading. Here’s what a few of them said:
Not that long ago, we introduced you to our newest board members and they shared their favorite children’s book. You can read that post here.
Need to get your freshly washed hands on one of these or other books? Even though the Kalamazoo Public Library is currently closed during this pandemic, their online branch never closes. They have a solution for self-isolation boredom. You can check out their large variety of digital options, including eBooks, eAudiobooks, eVideos, eMusic, and eMagazines. It’s easy to browse and you can filter your search in several ways, including by age (adult, juvenile, or teen). Here’s their website.
Also, keep in mind our three wonderful independent bookstores that serve this community. Like other small and local businesses, they are part of what makes Kalamazoo so special and they continue to need our support. They are here for us and you can help the local health of our economy by turning to them (without even setting foot outside your home!) for your reading needs instead of going to Amazon.
Here are quick links to each of their websites and Facebook pages:
empowering and uniting minority students on the campus of Western Michigan University. Because they value community service, they began partnering with CIS three years ago, initiating a female empowerment group, Young Women With A Purpose, at Kalamazoo Central High School. CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough says, “Their passion for serving our students runs deep. By creating a safe place, our students can open up; they feel more connected to themselves and others in the group, and, in turn, feel more connected with school.”
In a few short years, the Black Student Union has grown their volunteer force from one to 12, expanded their programming to meet needs, and reached into Linden Grove Middle School. Linden Grove’s CIS Site Coordinator Tamiko Garrett recounts Ms. Carney, who teaches strategic math, saying, “My student has gone from hating math and being disruptive in class to looking forward to math because he knows that on Tuesdays, Autumn is going to be there to help him.”
Kalamazoo Central’s Principal Valerie Boggan says, “We talk often about giving back and the students from the Black Student Union are examples of how to give back. KC students look forward to the exchange and appreciate having relationships with students who are able to relate to their life and school experience. The passion they bring to create change and to generate enthusiasm around reading, writing and verbal expressions is phenomenal! I look forward to the continued partnership.”
Parents, too, are noticing positive changes in attendance, behavior, or academics and will stop by CIS to make sure their child continues working with these Western students. The high school students themselves have been recruiting other students they think could benefit from this Champ’s support.
Mt. Zion’s director of youth ministries Reverend Morris “Mo” Brooks, comes out to Central each week to work with the KC Men of Change, and sees them in action. He says, “What the Black Student Union is doing is great! It’s encouraging to see them reaching out to youth. It takes a lot of energy to go to college and, in many cases, also work. This awesome group of young people is doing just that—going to school, working, and then choosing to spend time with youth. And they’re doing a phenomenal job with the students!”
This year’s Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award, sponsored by Western Michigan University, has been awarded to Von and Fran Washington. At the 10th Annual Champs Celebration, CIS board member Namita Sharma presented the award to the couple. This prestigious award was established by the Communities In Schools Board back in 2010 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.
Both Von Sr. and Fran Washington are educators, creators and professional performers, involved in the world theatre scene for years. For over 20 years, Von served as a theater professor and director of Western Michigan University’s Multicultural Theater program, retiring in 2010. Because his tenure overlapped with Diether’s time as University President and because of Diether’s deep appreciation of the arts, they developed a mutual respect and admiration.
Like Diether, this talented couple has a gift for poking holes in assumptions and challenging us to a truer, deeper understanding, always with an eye towards improving the lives of young people and improving the quality of life in Kalamazoo. Diether would be especially delighted that this year’s award goes to Fran and Von Washington.
This couple and their company, Washington Productions, provide an accurate and in-depth view of the African American experience through the performing arts. These two truth tellers extend the dialogue of race, culture, identity, and what it means to be American. By creating and bringing works to life that celebrate a variety of world views and not simply through the lens of the dominant culture, the Washingtons stir the dreams and imaginations of our young people. They have directly influenced thousands of young people and how they view themselves and the world around them. That is no small feat.
For decades now, the Washingtons have known what research is now telling us: that a child’s sense of self and an understanding of their place in the world is linked with school attendance, graduation, and academic achievement, particularly for youth who are members of non-dominant racial/ethnic groups. Master storytellers, the Washingtons use their theater skills to conjure living moments from history for our youth. Moments that could easily have become forever lost, are lifted up and become wondrous, real, and exciting, right before children’s eyes. For many students, this is their first exposure to live theatre and the art of storytelling.
Education for the Arts Director, Bryan Zocher considers their presentations as the bedrock of EFA’s Arts For All school programming. He says, “By reaching 5,000-7,000 students annually over 20 years, Von and Fran may very well be the single, most powerful means of introducing African-American history and spreading a message of inclusivity and respect in our community.”
“Community leaders struggle every day to fill in gaps, gaps of every kind,” says their nominator, Mayor Bobby Hopewell. “As Mayor of Kalamazoo, in this city of promise, I stand in awe of Von and Fran Washingtons’ work as truth tellers and gap fillers, particularly when it comes to tackling history. They help all of our children learn and integrate the African American story into the American story.”
Just as Diether asked tough questions, always with the intent of challenging us to be the best we can be, the Washington’s work helps us challenge our assumptions and consider alternative, and too often overlooked, points of view. By making it their life’s work to tell stories that would otherwise go untold, the Washingtons break myths that limit understanding of who we are and feed truths to our young people—as well as those that are educating and nurturing them. Sharing a vision of the African American experience allows all of our youth—regardless of color—to fill that yawning gap of understanding and develop a bigger, truer identity of who they are and what it means to be an American.
Von and Fran Washington, we thank you for tirelessly sharing your passions and gifts with our kids and this community. Congratulations on being selected as this year’s recipients of the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence!
Today we highlight Angelita Aguilar, one of seven school and community partners honored with a 2016 Champ Award. Her award was sponsored by State Farm and CIS Board member Namita Sharma presented the award.
If you found yourself on a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight, encircled by hungry sharks—did I mention your boat is leaking?—this Champ is who you want at your side.
As Dean of Students for Kalamazoo Central High School, Angelita Aguilar is a calm, rock solid person others turn to for support and guidance. Approach her office and you just might encounter this common scenario: the phone ringing, several staff seeking her input, a parent waiting to ask a question, a student approaching, looking for guidance. Angelita is at the center of it all. You’ll recognize her by her attitude, always one of “How can I help? What more can I do?” You’ll also recognize her by her ears. They are the ones turned up full-volume to listen.
Angelita, her very name means messenger, angel. She lives up to her name. She’s a down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of person who has shrugged off her wings and hangs with students succeeding and students struggling.
She advocates tirelessly for what works for kids. Because she understands the CIS mission, she empowers students to take full advantage of the community supports and resources CIS offers at Kalamazoo Central High School.
Too often, in this noisy world, messages aren’t always received, but when Angelita speaks, kids and grownups alike listen to what she has to say.
At a parent advisory meeting, Angelita stood up and talked about the Communities In Schools’ approach and how she couldn’t imagine a Kalamazoo Central without CIS. A parent at that meeting was so inspired that, after that, she called Kalamazoo Central’s CIS Site Coordinator, Deborah Yarbrough. “I thought I knew about CIS,” said the parent. “But, Ms. Aguilar, she really knows and connected the dots for us. She explained all the supports you bring into the school. Now I want to be part of CIS. What can I do to help?”
Deborah says, “Angelita’s office is always available to assist students I’m working with. I’ll walk into her office with a student that has given up—and when we leave, these students have an academic plan and a sense of hope. I can’t imagine Kalamazoo Public Schools or Communities In Schools without her.”
We can’t either.
Angelita Aguilar, we thank you for helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.
Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Storiesby R.J. Palacio. Stories of the experiences of three middle school students whose lives were affected by Auggie Pullman who was the subject of the book Wonder. Both books are geared to middle school age students but I enjoyed both stories because of the message of compassion developed in both stories.
Gray Mountain by John Grisham. Another legal thriller focused on the impact of clear top coal mining on the health of the people and environment in the communities where the practice takes place.