Pop Quiz: Gary Heckman

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 CIS volunteer Gary Heckman, who is also a 2019 Champ recipient. [If you didn’t get a chance to read about the great work Gary is doing with middle school students, click here for that post.]

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

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

CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best has come to rely on him and says the students have, too. She says he is “an irreplaceable part of the team.” Gary modestly says, “I do a little bit here and there.” One of the biggest “little bits” he does is supporting students academically by serving as a push-in tutor for Ms. Alexandria Hopp’s strategic math class and Ms. Jamie Ottusch’s seventh grade science class.

Gary grew up in rural Indiana, twenty miles northeast of Fort Wayne, near the tri-Lakes. As he puts it, “Only preachers and teachers had degrees in my town that was not even really big enough to be a town.”

Alright, Gary: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

How did you become involved volunteering with CIS?

When I retired, I wanted to do something in the schools. I did research and found that CIS is the way to do it. [In “retirement,” Gary still works two days a week doing building inspection services for Oshtemo and Coopers Townships.]

What insights have you gained about kids from volunteering?

The other day with the students, we were sitting around the table having a conversation about tides and oceans and stuff. I learned a number of the kids here haven’t been to the Great Lakes, haven’t gone 40 miles from their home. They just haven’t done stuff like that. It’s bothersome how poverty creates a lack of opportunity for kids.

I’ve also noticed how some of the toughest kids are the ones whose moms have band-aids and candies in their purses. They keep their kids going. Their moms really support them…I know there are a lot of dads and grandpas out there and I’d love to see more of them volunteering in the school. These kids, particularly the boys, could benefit from greater male involvement.

[Come on, dads and grandpas! Join Gary and sign up here today to become a CIS volunteer.]

What are you currently reading?

Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. The author, Michael Sorkin, is an architect talking about his daily walk to work; it’s all very deep into city history and the architecture he encounters during this twenty minute walk.

I just finished From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel Dennett; he’s a philosopher and linguist. And before that, I read Enlightment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steve Pinker.

Once every year or two, I’ll read some fiction, but nonfiction is what I enjoy reading most.

What is your favorite word right now?

Blower door.

That’s a new one! Nobody has ever told us that is their favorite word!

I’m doing a blower door test on a house tonight.

I have one foot in the building trades and one foot in academics. [He chuckles.] As a former plumber, electrician, and steam operator at a small college, I also have a degree in sociology, which is, as I say, the dismal science. It’s the study of social problems and yet, you don’t do anything about it.

But you are doing something about it.

[Nods head affirmatively.] I guess that’s right.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

The Air Zoo. I have a membership—the grandparent plus two—and love going there. I wish I could take all the kids there!

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

I have a couple of mentors, Tom and Jim. One taught innovation and entrepreneurship, and the other heads an award engineering firm. Also, growing up, I had two Kens who I’d consider mentors.

What characteristics would you say these mentors have in common?

They saw the real world, they had broader views, patience, and innovation. Every one of them could get things done. I should add that I have had some moms and ladies in there, too, who have been caring adults and influenced me. One of my teachers as well as the neighbor mom next door. She was elegant and even though she never went to college she was all about education.

Anything else should we know about you?

I was not a strong student in middle school. And yet, here I am! [CIS Site Coordinator] Missy makes this volunteer experience fun. She intentionally works hard at this, and supports us, knowing that volunteering can sometimes be frustrating.

It’s not necessarily easy work, is it?

That’s right. But I’m enjoying it. I like working with the kids. Missy and [CIS After School Coordinator] Shannon [Jones] are wonderful and the teachers and principal are all great to work with, too. Principal Mark Tobalski is terrific and really provides strong leadership for the school.

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

Champ recipient Gary Heckman with CIS Staff Melissa Best & Shannon Jones

School is about to start and our kids need you. Consider becoming a volunteer today. To learn how you can help, go here.

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.

YOUTH HAVE LOTS OF LOVE FOR THE HATE YOU GIVE

It was exciting to learn that this year’s Reading Together book is written by author Angie Thomas, the inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015. [Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids featured Walter Dean Myers and his 2013 “Reading is Not Optional” visit to Kalamazoo in this post, “Finding Words in Your Pockets.”]

Even more exciting is that Thomas’ book, The Hate U Give, is resonating with our youth. CIS After School Coordinators Phillip Hegwood, Shannon Jones, and Katherine Williamson incorporated the Reading Together Book as part of CIS programming. Hegwood, who oversees CIS afterschool at Maple Street Magnet School says part of the reason for such a strong and positive response from students is due to the powerful themes woven throughout The Hate U Give, themes such as isolation, privilege, racism, violence, and activism.

Here’s what two students from Hillside Middle School told us about how the book has impacted them and what, if given the chance, they would ask the author. (Their school also selected The Hate U Give as their all-school read.) And they just might get the chance! Angie Thomas will be in Kalamazoo on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7 pm to talk about her book. More information on this event noted below.

 

I’d ask, “Is this a true story? What aspects of this story happened to you?”

I’m gaining some insights from reading her book. You know, like the main character in the book, she is scared to speak up at first. But something I’ve discovered is that it’s important to speak up. Don’t be scared to say what’s right!

-Zechariah, 8th grade, Hillside

 

I would ask Angie Thomas, “How were you able to do this so well? How were you able to compare real life to the life you have created in your book?” She really was able to capture real life—and the world of black and white—so real-like. How was she able to do that?

Reading and seeing the movie, The Hate U Give, is the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me. That book by Angie Thomas has really helped me and has given me more courage…I have two copies of the book and watch parts of the movie almost every day!

-Annie, 7th grade, Hillside Middle School

 

“When we read together, we grow together.” This is essentially the motto of Kalamazoo Public Library’s Reading Together program. The Hate U Give, this year’s Reading Together book, is doing just that. So, let’s keep growing together! Please note that the event, originally scheduled to be held at Chenery, will now be at Miller Auditorium. Following Angie Thomas’ talk will be a book signing, with Bookbug/this is a bookstore selling copies of The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, Thomas’ newly-released second book. Hopefully, you have already RSVPd by now. Due to seating capacity, RSVPs are no longer able to be accepted at this time.

What are CIS Staff Reading?

It’s National Reading Month and a time when Kalamazoo Public Schools hosts literacy activities throughout the schools. We prepare ourselves by engaging in the annual ritual of asking: What are you reading? Here’s what some Communities In Schools (CIS) staff are reading…

I just finished Perfect Peace by Daniel Black which was an amazing story reflecting a mother’s desperate decision to acquire something she’d always wanted through methods that the rest of the world would see as imponderable. When the truth is revealed, a story of unconditional love, family, and sexuality is born.  I am currently reading Evicted by Matthew Desmond, Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson, and Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer.

-Stacy S. Jackson, CIS After School Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

[Note: As part of Reading Together, you can meet Pulitzer Prize winning author Matthew Desmond on Friday, March 16 at 7pm at Chenery. It’s free, but KPL would like you to first register here. ]

 

The last book I read was Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo. This book inspired CIS volunteer, Dr. Zhu, to help with tutoring. (See the blog post by clicking here.)

-Emily Kobza, Director of Development & Business Engagement

 

I am reading The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. I just finished Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo – recommended by Dr. Jim Zhu.  Very good reads!

-Missy Best, Senior CIS Site Coordinator, Milwood Magnet School

 

With my four-year-old, I’m reading Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.  With my seven-year-old, I’m reading Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses. With my (38-year-old) spouse, I’m reading a collection of poetry with authors that include Mary Oliver, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, and Clare of Assisi, among others.

Thanks for asking one of my favorite questions!

-Angela Van Heest, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood Upjohn Elementary School

 

I’m reading Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

-Shannon Jones, CIS After School Coordinator Milwood Magnet School

 

I am currently reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I took my students to see the movie. They had such good discussions comparing and contrasting the book from the movie they encouraged me to read it.

-Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts

 

I’m always reading several…

-Maggie Walters, CIS Success Coach, Loy Norrix High School

 

I’ve just started reading The Shack by Canadian author William P. Young. This was a favorite of my Mother’s. She had me buy extra copies a few years back, before she passed, so she could share them with others who also lived at her nursing home. I saw the movie when it came out and loved it.

-Kelly Cedarquist, CIS Site Coordinator, King-Westwood Elementary

 

I just finished The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. It’s the kind of book you can’t stop thinking about. I’m now reading Ordinary Light: A Memoir by poet Tracey K. Smith. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. I also love reading work by local writers, so each night I’m reading one poem by Elizabeth Kerlikowske in Off the Wall: How Art Speaks and studying the accompanying painting by Mary Hatch. A stunning and fun book!

-Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I have been reading books in the King Killer Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss. I am currently on the second book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear. A couple books ago I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which probably is the best book I have read in the last year. I highly recommend it.

-Jenna Cooperrider, CIS Success Coach, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry.  Honey bees are frequently in the spotlight. I’m fascinated by them. I’m a beekeeper. Looming as an even larger concern are our native pollinators and native bees. Complex topic and simple steps that everyone can engage in.

Also reading The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich. It’s that time of year to continue to educate myself, prepare, and network with other beekeepers before the first nectar becomes available. Great information.

-Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts

 

My book club (The Lovely Ladies of Literature) is reading The Patternist series by Octavia Butler. We are on Book 1, Wild Seed. The interesting thing about the series is that she wrote them in the opposite order that you read them in. So, the last book that she wrote is the first book that you read. Also, there was a fifth book, but she shelved it because it didn’t really flow the way she had hoped for.

-Artrella Cohn, Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment

 

I recently finished a fascinating, but tragic story called Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It is a fictional story but is based on a little known historical event that took place between 1854 and 1929, where over 200,000 orphan children were sent across the Midwest by train to be placed with families, often to be used as free labor. It was excellent. I am presently reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. I learned of this author at Cara’s SEL [Social Emotional Learning] training and so far am really enjoying it!

Joan Coopes, CIS Site Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary

 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. It’s historical fiction. And this, from the NYT’s book review: A finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Narrow Road to the Deeper North portrays a singular episode of manic brutality: imperial Japan’s construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in the early 1940s. The British had long investigated this route, but they deemed the jungle impenetrable. Once the Japanese captured Burma, though, its army needed a more efficient resupply route, and so the impossible became possible in just over a year by using some 300,000 people as disposable labor. Flanagan’s late father was a survivor of that atrocity, which took the lives of more than 12,000 Allied prisoners.

Keely Novotny, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am usually reading three to four books at a time.  I always have one book I listen to in the car, one I can pick up and put down easily, one I read before I go to sleep, and one I can’t put down.  The car book at present is The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. It is the story of a young woman from Sweden who loses her job in a bookstore and decides to visit her elderly pen pal in a dying town in Iowa, and what happens next.

The pick up/put down book is often short stories or essays.  Currently it is Spoiled Brats, a book of short stories by Simon Rich. The summary on the back of the book starts out with “Twenty years ago, Barney the Dinosaur told the nation’s children they were special. We’re still paying the price. From “one of the funniest writers working today (review from Rolling Stone) comes a collection of stories culled from the front lines of the millennial culture wars.”  I have only read the first story in which the narrator is a guinea pig living in a second grade classroom.

My bedtime book is from the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place.  Flavia is an eleven-year-old girl growing up in England in the 1950s.  She is fascinated with chemistry and uses her extensive knowledge of poisons and decay to help the local inspector solve murders.  This is the ninth book in the series.

And, finally, the book I can’t put down is Need to Know by Karen Cleveland. The protagonist is Vivian who works for the CIA who, while trying to find out more about a Russian handler and the agents he handles, finds information that threatens everything that matters to her. I read the first chapter of this book online in an email I get about books. The sender takes the first chapter of a book and breaks it into five segments and sends each segment daily for a week.  At the end of the week, this one got me….

-Barbara Worgess, Project Manager of School Based Health Initiative

 

Keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids and you’ll soon find out what our volunteers have been reading! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dropping In

“I’m here for the first time and I’m here to work. I want to get my C up to a B in math.”

“I’m here because my mom thinks that if I put in the extra effort during lunchtime, I’ll do better in school…I think she might be right.”

These are just what two of the more than 30 Milwood Magnet Middle School students have to say about the new Homework/Tutor Drop-In Lab in their school. Initiated this school year by CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best after “feedback from teachers, parents, and the students themselves” students may now drop in for help with homework during their Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes (from 10:41 to 1:17).

“The response has been wonderful,” says Missy. “I’ve had parents dropping in to see how things are going and encouraging their student to take advantage of the lunchtime support. Students are coming to the lab because they are stuck and want help,” says Missy. “Others come because they want a quiet space to finish up their homework.”

Missy wanted to model the drop-in support after labs that many colleges offer. “It’s a great way to meet students’ needs and address parent and teachers hopes for wanting additional support for struggling students,” she says. So she spoke to Milwood Magnet principal Mark Tobolski about the idea and “he said, ‘Let’s try it.’ The principal has been very supportive of CIS and helped us get this lab up and running. He helped with key logistics, like figuring out how to get kids through the lunch line more quickly and how to do lunchtime passes for kids wanting to drop into the lab.”

Student holding a lunchtime pass.

Missy also credits CIS volunteers like Dr. Jim Zhu, professor of mathematics at Western Michigan University with successfully implementing the Homework/Tutor Drop-In Lab. [We popped a quiz on Dr. Zhu so stay tuned to Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to see how he did. Hint: He totally passed.]

Dr. Zhu talking math.

When students drop into the lab they are choosing to surround themselves with a community of support. On this Tuesday in November, CIS volunteers Dr. Jim Zhu and Lynetta Carnes are both on hand to help. [Lynette, having just finished her regular volunteer time in Mrs. April Rocco’s classroom, stopped in for the first time. “It worked out today that I could stay a little longer and help out.”]

Lynette reviewing school work that student shares with her.

CIS after school coordinator and former math teacher Shannon Jones is there as well, working with a small group. “How lucky are our kids?” Missy says, a big smile on her face. “Shannon is terrific with the students.”

Shannon with a student.

Travis Guerrero, a CIS intern through WMU’s School of Social Work, is walking around and checking in with kids to see how they are doing.

“The kids are responding to the one-on-one immediate feedback,” he says. “Someone is at their side, able to let them know if they are doing it right or if they are on the wrong track. They can quickly adjust and that helps them get up to speed and where they need to be when they are back in the classroom.”

Missy (right) and Travis checking in with students.

Later, Michael Harrison, CIS Associate Director of Site Services drops in. He pulls up a chair and start talking math with a couple of young men.

The room is humming with learning. At moments, it is quiet enough to hear pencils scribbling. At other times, snatches of conversation can be overheard. Comments made by grownups, like:

What are you working on?
Can I help?
I want you to find your own answer.
Independent variables…
If I distributed biscuits to everyone at this table and…
What book are you reading?
If I brought in ten cookies and…
That one’s still gottcha, huh?
This is definitely right! Open the bracket and…..
Minus 52. Correct.
You are doing a linear equation!
Remember, you can only add terms that are similar…..
Perfect!
Yes, multiply this!
You are really picking this up. Excellent!

From left: Michael Harrison, Lynette Carnes, and Shannon Jones.

“Today was a great day,” says Missy. “We had a lot of students but we also had grownups to help. We need more volunteers, though! Our kids keep showing up. They are asking for this academic support and we need more volunteers who are willing to show up for kids.”

Can you help out? Just an hour a week can change a life. Our kids need you at Milwood Magnet Middle School and at 19 other CIS sites throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools. To become a CIS volunteer, click here.