Finding Words in Your Pockets

(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner
(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner

Last week, the Kalamazoo Public Library introduced kids and grownups alike to Walter Dean Myers as part of his “Reading is Not Optional” tour sponsored by the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council and the Every Child a Reader Foundation.

What a treat! It’s not everyday you have a chance to meet the national ambassador for young people’s literature. A prolific and award-winning author, Mr. Myers is the third person appointed to this post since it was created in 2008. In honor of his visit, KPL put one of his quotes—“Reading is not an option” on a bunch of buttons. Very cool.

On Wednesday, I attended a breakfast/talk hosted at the library. It quickly became clear that Mr. Myers, considered by many to be one of the most important writers in children’s books, is the kind of man who calls things like he sees them. A tall man, Mr. Myers is funny, bright, and spirited. He has an uncommon knack for appearing to be laid back and feisty all at once. I was expecting Mr. Myers to read some of his work, throw out a few interested tidbits and then be on his way.

He didn’t do this. He didn’t read any of his work and what he said was not what I expected to hear. One of the first words out of his mouth was “poverty.” When Mr. Myers talks about poverty, he isn’t talking about economics. He is referring to, “pockets of language poverty” that our children experience. Anyone who works with kids these days knows that too many of our children are growing up with not only a scarcity of food and lack of sufficient housing, but also, a dearth of words.

Some researchers have even taken the time to document this “pockets of language poverty.” Every hour, a child growing up in poverty is exposed to 1,500 less words than a child who is not being raised in poverty. This means that by the time the poor child is four years old, he or she is behind by 32 million words. This word deficit is mind-boggling. It makes the heart heavy to think about all the children who have deep pockets from which they pull out nothing.

“Literacy is a tool all kids need,” Mr. Myers said. “Either you read or you suffer,” he said. “A child will pay the penalty for a lack of literacy throughout their life.”  These aren’t warm and fuzzy statements to make and Mr. Myers knows it. But he is the kind of person who, from what I could tell, calls it like he sees it. “I’m an old black man. I can say whatever I want,” he told the audience. We laughed but we know his comments are true and need to be spoken aloud. Mr. Meyers is serving our nation well as an ambassador, for we too will pay the penalty for every child we fail to reach.

The good news is that our kids here are part of a community that has committed itself to being the education community. Together, as parents, community partners and educators we are filling the pockets of language. These pockets are deep. It is not a matter of simply tucking a word in here and there. To be successful, we must, asSuperintendent Dr. Michael Rice says, have a “drumbeat of literacy.” For the sake of all our children it’s time for all of us to play, and play hard.

Have you picked up your drumsticks, lately?

Want to know more about Walter Dean Myers? Check out his NPR interview here. And if you missed local coverage of his visit, check out Erin Gignac’s article here on MLive.

Reading is not optional

Pop Quiz: Interns

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 have compiled some answers from the newest members of our CIS family: our 2012/2013 interns! We have 13 fabulous college students from Western Michigan University School of Social Work (five working on their Masters and four working towards their bachelors) and four from Western Michigan Music Therapy. Here they are, in no particular order (drum roll, please): Sarah Thompson, Luke Norcross, Lauren Buckley, Courtney Maynard, Calli Carpenter, Brad Hatfield, David Malinowski, Courtney Neff, Jordan Snellenberger, Juna Spencer, Natalie Schneider, Lyndsay Nuyen, and Robyn Hoffenblum.

Alright, interns: pencils out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.


What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

  • Cell phones don’t work well when they fall into fish tanks
  • A lot about the Amish community and their customs when it comes to leaving the community
  • I learned a little bit about CEU’s (Credit Educational Units)
  • I need to be able to speak up if I need something
  • Some new Michael Jackson songs
  • I’ve recently learned a lot about audio technology involving synthesizers, mixers, speakers, etc.
  • How to play “Big Black Car” by Gregory Alen Isakov
  • The process for mandated reporting
  • The top twenty music hits
  • What the third “W” in “BW3” is for (beef on weck)


What are you currently reading?

  • Working Poor in America
  • Married to the Military
  • Odd Girl Out
  • Hunger Games
  • Unbroken
  • Music therapy research
  • A family therapy book by Virginia Satir
  • Pride & Prejudice
  • Team of Rivals
  • Middlesex
  • The Subterraneans


What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • Someone that somebody else will look up to
  • Working in a veteran’s hospital with combat soldiers with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]
  • Social worker
  • A licensed MSW (Master’s in Social Work) with my private practice working with families and couples.
  • School Social Worker
  • Mother and wife
  • Working with children in a hospital setting
  • A practicing music therapist
  • Psychologist
  • A successful music therapist working in a psychiatric hospital who also conducts research


What is your favorite word right now?

  • Fantastic
  • Flow
  • Clasp
  • Anxious
  • Buddy
  • For real
  • Extrapolate
  • Yes
  • Moxie
  • Rafiki (means friend)


Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

  • Starting my internship
  • I would like to make a positive influence with the students I work with this year.
  • My wedding
  • Homework
  • Applying to grad school
  • Will this weather ever be consistent?
  • Spring break
  • My need to learn more popular [musical] repertoire
  • Upcoming national music therapy conference
  • Attacks on American Embassies


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

  • My mom always said that she hoped at any given point in life, if asked, she would want to be able to say she was growing, transitioning, and learning. I admire this.
  • My mom has made a big difference in my life by always giving me love and support, especially when I need it the most. She wants me to succeed.
  • My dad—always told me I can do whatever I want to do as long as I work hard at it.

Million Dollar Machine

The below guest post comes from Emily Kobza, Director of Development for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Two weeks ago I found myself in Chicago at the International Manufacturing & Technology Show, one of the largest manufacturing tradeshows in the world. This seems like an odd place to find someone like me whose work really doesn’t have anything to do with manufacturing so let me explain that I was there tagging along with my husband whose job is related to manufacturing.

There I am, wandering around McCormick Place, checking out things like inserts, deburring machines, and workholding solutions, and I get to the North Pavilion (or was it South??) where there are these HUGE displays of machines and robots doing everything from drilling holes to sorting parts to playing blackjack. (I’m pretty sure the blackjack dealing robot was for show only.) A friend of mine, whose business was participating in the show, refers to it as the “million dollar room.” I was pretty impressed.

And then my aha! moment happens. I realized that, contrary to my perceptions, operating these machines is more than pushing a button and watching it go. These machines are complex pieces of equipment that involve lots of technology and so the people who operate these machines utilize many different skill sets on a daily basis have to keep these million dollar machines running and producing.

As I listened to and talked with different vendors, I discovered that there is concern about a “skills gap” that exists in manufacturing. With many individuals close to retirement age, people are a little worried about having enough skilled workers in the pipeline to meet the demand. One company is actively recruiting individuals to train as service technicians. In their first year, these trainees will train not only domestically, but also internationally.

All this leads me back to my work here at CIS of Kalamazoo. What we do with our partners and the community to help every child succeed in school can help ensure that we have a pool of skilled workers capable of thinking on their feet, creatively solving problems, and constantly innovating. Indirectly, what I’m doing every day does have something to do with manufacturing.

What skills do you think kids today need to be successful tomorrow? Let us know!