Ashley Serio: Former Promise Scholar Lifting Up Future Promise Scholars

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 Ashley Serio, who serves as the CIS After School Coordinator for Northglade Montessori.

Ashley began her career with CIS almost six years ago, first as an AmeriCorps VISTA, then as Youth Development Worker (YDW), serving at both Northglade and Edison Environmental Science Academy. She has also worked in CIS Think Summer for five years.

Ashley grew up in Kalamazoo and attended Spring Valley Center for Exploration and then went on to Milwood Magnet Middle School. Upon graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, Ashley used the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship to attend Western Michigan University. She graduated in 2016, earning a degree in university studies with a focus in business, health, and family consumer science.

Back in February, we popped over to Northglade and popped this quiz on her. Alright, Ashley Serio: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS after school coordinator?

Getting to know the kids and build meaning relationships with them. I love helping them grow and seeing that growth, well they inspire me and my staff in many ways. They help us grow, too. It’s just awesome to watch.

How have the kids helped you grow?

They make me want to be more patient, more present, and more aware of everything. I’ve come to understand that everyone’s experience impacts them differently and it’s important to be aware of those experiences.

What is one of the most challenging aspects of being an after school coordinator?

Not feeling like I can ever do enough for the kids. I want to be there even more for them, provide them more, and there is a limit to what I can do within the confines of this role.

As a graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, who were some of your favorite teachers?

My favorite high school teacher was Mr. [Christopher] Bullmer. He passed away last year. I did slam poetry and had him for language arts.

He had a positive impact on a lot of kids, didn’t he? I’m a little surprised, though, that you took his slam poetry class. I’m trying to picture you doing slam poetry.

Until very recently, talking in front of people was one of my weaknesses. I’d just get so nervous. But with my work at CIS, I was encouraged both by Cara [Weiler] and Ms. Stacy [Jackson] to do this very thing. They both pushed me beyond myself. I’m now doing trainings and sharing information with others. I’m becoming comfortable with doing this…The work that I do is so ingrained in my life now, it comes naturally. We all struggle, no matter how much we come to know and learn. But, as a CIS after school coordinator, I do have confidence in what needs to be done and I enjoy sharing that passion with others, too.

So, back to your KPS teachers. In addition to Mr. Bullmer, any other favorite teachers come to mind?

Oh, yes, definitely! At Spring Valley, it was Ms. Julie Jones, my second grade teacher, and Kairi Hokenmaier, my third grade teacher, and Michelle Larson, my fifth grade teacher. At Milwood Magnet Middle School, two of my favorite teachers were Mr. Atiba McKissack [now principal at Hillside, you can find his pop quiz here] and Ms. Dawn Kahler.

Did your favorite teachers have any overarching characteristics?

They were each dedicated to their jobs. They built quality relationships with their students, while also showing us that they were learning along the way, too.

I also think it says something about them, the fact that, to this day, they are working with kids one way or another.

The way you just described your favorite teachers reminds me of you—the focus on building relationships and life-long learning.

Oh, my! I can only hope I can be as good with kids as they have been. To think that I could teach kids as well as they did…wow. I mean, I’m not a teacher like them, but I’m still helping students, just in a different way.

[A CIS volunteer enters the CIS room. Ashley immediately rises to greet Ariel Slappy to see how everything is going. Ariel, a student at Western Michigan University, came to volunteer with CIS through her “Teaching as a Profession” class.]

Ashley Serio with CIS Volunteer Ariel Slappy

Your colleague, Steve Brewer, gave us a glimpse of what his work as CIS site coordinator looks like during the daytime [his interview here] at Northglade. Can you give us a glimpse of what an average afternoon in the life of a CIS after school coordinator is like?

Every day is different! I should also say that while Steve and I have different roles within the school, we work well together and we’ll each step out of our own role to step into each other’s role to get things done. For instance, you could see he was busy elsewhere in the building so I stepped in to assist our new volunteer. He does the same for me.

CIS After School Coordinator Ashley Serio sorting through CIS Kids’ Closet items with CIS Site Coordinator Steve Brewer

The term “after school’ is in your title, so the assumption might be that you are just in the school after the school day is over. But here you are, and it’s not even noon!

Yes, typically I’m checking in with students during day, to see if they are okay and if they are able to get their work done. I want to be fully present with the kids and after school staff so I use this time for program preparation and doing data work, planning for field trips and lessons and activities—all before program time begins. And then, it’s two and a half hours of after school programming with the kids.

What does that look like for you?

When the school day is over, our students—we have about 50 in the program—come into cafeteria and the staff and I greet them. I’m always with students during dinner time. I take attendance, the students wash their hands and have dinner. For Black History Month, we decided to try something new, so I’ve been reading a book aloud to the students for ten minutes each day. We’re reading Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia.

After the students finish eating they go to recess. I take that time to clean up, go back to the CIS office and catch up on paperwork. Following recess, the students split up into three groups and go into their classrooms for their Core Time. I float around, going in and out of each of the rooms, and supporting however necessary. Sometimes, a kid may need some time away from their group so I might bring them back to the CIS space and they can do what they need to do to regulate themselves and then get back to their room.

Tell us more about what Core Time looks like for Northglade students.

On Mondays, our focus is on SEL [Social and Emotional Learning], Tuesdays it is STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math], and Wednesdays is ELA [English Language Arts], and then, on Thursdays, the students participate in clubs.

Each class is focusing on something different. But across the board, we’re all focused on self-management and relationship building. We’re exploring our personal emotions and what they look and feel like, how we can interact kindly and help each other. This has become a regular part of what we do on a weekly basis. We’ve found, through trial and error, some great ways to engage students in ways they find meaningful.

Can you share an example?

Sure. Last week, in [Youth Development Worker] Ms. Paige’s group, the students did a bucket-filling activity. The idea behind this is that we feel good about ourselves when we are kind to others. We can build up others by filling them with kindness. When others’ buckets are filled up, that helps to fill up our own bucket. If we are mean to others, it not only spills out their bucket, but it spills out our own as well.

So, for the activity, the kids each made their own buckets and randomly selected the names of three other students. They then wrote something positive about each student and put the slip in their bucket. This was all done anonymously.

That makes sense. The anonymous bucket activity encourages the kids to respond in a more intrinsic way, rather than being driven to “be kind” for some external reward. It’s not about “Oh, look, see what I wrote about you!” It’s more about, “I felt good writing something nice about you.”

Yes! And the kids love doing this and reading what is in their bucket!

So after Core Time in which we are doing various activities like what I just described, the kids move into Homework Time. Again, I’m checking in here and there. I’m helping wherever necessary. Kids have all different kinds of needs, so you need to meet those needs in different ways. I might find I need to work one-on-one with a student or work with a group of students who might be confused about something related to their homework.

You mentioned Thursdays are club days. What clubs do you currently have going on?

The kids get to select two options for their clubs. Right now we have “Around the World” which focuses on learning different places and cultures food, languages, customs, and traditions. We have “Olympic Club” where kids can learn about different winter Olympic sports and how to play them. We also have “Animal Club” where kids are learning about different animals. The Kalamazoo Nature Center is partnering with us on this and coming in to help us learn more about animals.

Principal Mogaji, whom we recently interviewed [interview can be found here if you missed it] said that she appreciates how you take the Montessori philosophy into account when running the CIS after school program, so that children receive a consistent message as their learning stretches into the after school hours. Can you share an example of how you do that?

I do work hard to extend what they know in the school day into after school as much as possible. We avoid extrinsic awards, for example. Also, the rules and norms we go by are aligned with the school day. The Northglade students worked to develop these so we are essentially going by what they chose to develop, such as being peaceful with our bodies, respecting each other, the environment, and the school. We talk a lot about that.

What are you currently reading?

Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’m not very far in yet, but it’s good. It’s interesting to hear about her life from her own perspective.

What are you becoming?

A better version of myself, although I don’t know what that means yet.

What is your favorite word right now?

Love.

What do you love?

The kids that I work with. Food. Sleep. My friends and family.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

In the summer and spring I like to be outdoors, so I enjoy visiting Asylum Lake. Also, I like to go any place that has good food. I like to be comfortable warm, and fed.

What places for good food?

Saffron, Crow’s Nest, and Studio Grill. I’m vegan so my options are limited. Those restaurants have a great selection for that.

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

My mom. She’s always been there for me. Most of my life it’s just been her and me. She’s supported and encouraged me. And obviously, I’m a lot more like her than I ever thought I’d be! We both do the same job and love it! [Ashley’s mom, Martha Serio, is on her thirteenth year as the CIS Site Coordinator at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. In 2015, she received National CIS’s Unsung Hero Award.] I never thought I’d want to do the same work as my mom. I grew up watching her be stressed out worrying about the kids. But as soon as I started working the CIS summer program, I loved it. And working for Ms. Stacy [Jackson] during that time helped me definitely figure that out.

Anything else we should know about you?

I’m not usually very good talking about myself, I guess! I mostly work, sleep and eat. I do like to travel. I want to go to Italy within the next year.

Why Italy?

It’s beautiful from all the pictures I’ve seen. I’ve been to Paris, London, and Berlin. I studied abroad in college and loved Europe in general. So, Italy is next!

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

Boo!

Did we scare you? No? Well then, here are a few facts about kids in America that are plenty scary.

61,423 children are incarcerated throughout the United States. It is estimated that 10,000 of those children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day. A number of these incarcerated kids don’t have a system of support. Jamal says that if it weren’t for his CIS Site Coordinator, he’d “be dead or in jail or in prison somewhere.” Listen to his story here.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. Today in the United States, 11 teens will die as a result of texting while driving. (Text while driving and you are 23 times more likely to crash.) We’re proud that two of our CIS partners—AT&T and State Farm®—have both been leaders and are at the forefront in helping combat this growing epidemic. We wrote about their effort’s in this post, It’s Never Okay.

More than 13% of children reported being physically bullied, while more than 1 in 3 said they had been emotionally bullied. Researchers have found that providing social and emotional learning programs in schools not only decreases negative behaviors like bullying, but it increases positive attitudes toward school, positive social behavior, and academic performance. At CIS, our school and community partners know this. That’s why Twelve Days of Kindness and other creative approaches to enhancing social and emotional learning often get woven into CIS after school programs throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Every day, children suffer loss that can include the death of a loved one, divorce, incarceration of a caregiver, or other separation issue. One out of every 20 children aged ­fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. This statistic doesn’t include children who lose a “parental ­figure,” such as a grandparent that provides care. (Owens, D. “Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care” Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2008; 10:1) Fortunately, for over a decade now, CIS has been able to turn to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. In Times of Grief and Loss, Hospice is There.

More than two million kids have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. Fortunately, there are wonderful organizations like SLD Read. Our Site Coordinators love supporting this terrific partner and their exceptionally trained tutors who, through a multisensory program, help students with dyslexia, learning differences, and other reading challenges to develop lifelong language skills.

This list could go on. Our kids face challenges every day. The good news is that you can make a difference. Thank you for getting involved, whether it’s donating, partnering, or volunteering. Our 12,000+ kids need you.

Twelve Days Of Kindness

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12 Days of Kindness Calendar

We’re taking the next two weeks off from blogging and will return here to meet up with you again in January. To tide you over until then, we thought we’d share a really cool and kind idea: the Twelve Days of Kindness.

In December, each day after school, students at Woods Lake began focusing on acts of kindness. As part of Kids in Tune (a partnership of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, and Kalamazoo Public Schools) one student has been reading out loud the day’s theme to the rest of the students and then everyone practices that theme. Students carry forward the themes of each day, adding to their musical and kindness repertoire. Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Health Initiatives says the students have responded overwhelmingly to the activity. “Each day, a number of teachers, staff, Kids in Tune volunteers have had opportunities to pass out ‘kindness coupons.’ There were a variety of incentives associated with the Twelve Days of Kindness, including rounds of applause from their fellow Kids in Tuners. It’s been fun for kids and grown-ups, alike!” The themes, which Deb and Eric Barth came up with and incorporated into December programming were:
A1_EveryDayPlease and Thank You Day

Be Kind to Your Instrument Day

Kind Smiles Day

Kind Words and Compliments Day

Kind Listening Day

Be Kind to Your School Day

Post-it Notes of Kindness Day

Kindness Crafts Day

Kindness Chain Day

Write Kind Letters Day

Be a Kind Helper Day

Culmination of Kindness Day

When was the last time you did something kind? What acts of kindness have you benefitted from? Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that “you cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” So, during these next few weeks, let’s all do some kindness while we still have time. See you back here in January.

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One of the many kindness letters written

How ‘Bout them Grits?

rising-upWe’ve heard from a number of you about how much you enjoyed reading the latest CIS Connections (“It’s All About the Grit” issue) on social emotional learning. That’s why we thought you might enjoy a gritty post. So, here goes…

We’ve all experience challenges and setbacks. It’s a part of life. Yet, some kids in their young lives have had more than their share of unwanted and un-asked-for difficulties.

Resilience is the ability to respond in a healthy and productive way in the face of adversity or stress. It’s part of the social emotional learning continuum.

Researchers have discovered that adults who overcome adversity have at least one thing in common: someone in their childhood who believed in them and stood by them. Resilience researcher and psychologist Julius Segal referred to this “charismatic” adult as someone “from whom a child gathers strength.”

A critical element to success within school is a student developing a close and nurturing relationship with at least one caring adult. Students need to feel that there is someone at school who they know, to whom they can turn, and who will advocate for them.

Dr. Robert Brooks, who studies resiliency outlines six ways grown ups can be charismatic adults for children.

  1. Identify and appreciate a child’s “island of confidence.” While charismatic adults don’t deny a child’s problems or difficulties, they acknowledge a child’s strengths—their islands of confidence. Always begin with the strengths.
  2. Accept children for who they are. Accept the child for who they are and not who you want them to be. One way to do this is to listen to children. Give them focused, undivided attention builds their sense of confidence. You are sending the message: You are important.
  3. Involve children in problem solving. Problems are meant to be solved. Give kids opportunities to solve them. It’s hard to be resilient when  you don’t know how to proceed when confronted by a problem.
  4. Offer opportunities to contribute to the well-being of others. This is one of the CIS basics!
  5. Help children recognize mistakes as an opportunity for learning.
  6. Provide positive feedback and encouragement. Catch kids being good. When they do something right, let them know it.

Speaking of grit, if you haven’t seen this interesting and gritty Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth an
d her research on grit being a key predictor of success, you might want to check it out. It is definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

Now get out there and pass our kids some grits!

Don’t Quote Me

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Four of the twelve new CIS interns. The BSW Social Work students (from left to right) are: Lexy Maciarz, Katie Palazzolo, Gretchen Schultz, and Victoria Kiel

As I sit down to write this post, I’ve just returned from being part of the orientation for our new interns. All twelve of them! It’s a CIS bi-annual ritual that I always look forward to; welcoming all those fresh, new faces, excited to be linked to aCIS Site Coordinator and begin their work within a Kalamazoo Public School. Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Learning, supervises the social work interns. “Welcoming our interns each year is like going back to school for me. My social work internships played an important role in my life. The joy of direct practice and mentorship by an experienced practitioner is the heart of what makes social work education so unique. An internship is the core process to becoming part of the profession and going on to make an impact on your chosen community. From the standpoint of our children, they benefit from one on one service by students who have specifically chosen this type of work as their life focus. These interns want to be there for our kids and they create opportunities and learning moments that stay with the children long after the internship is over.”

We’ll introduce you to this year’s nine social work and three health interns—all affiliated through our partnership with Western Michigan University—in a future blog post. Yes, we had them take our pop quiz and, being the good college and graduate students they are, they were up for the challenge! But, for now, thought you might be interested in a “behind the scenes” look at the exercise we did as a way to get to know each other better and begin the conversation about what it takes to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

We placed a quote in each of the four corners of the room. The interns were instructed to read each one and then stand by the quote that spoke to them the most. Then we discussed what they picked and why it resonated with them. Here are the quotes they read:

I might just be my mother’s child, but in all reality I’m everybody’s child.

Nobody raised me; I was raised in this society.

Every child you encounter is a divine appointment.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.

Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.

Which one speaks to you? Perhaps several or all do, but which one resonates with you the most right now? Why?

Each quote, I think, speaks to a dimension of what CIS and its school and community partners are trying to do, not just here in Kalamazoo, but throughout the country: recognize that every child is our child. And, if we hold this to be true, we must expect the best and set high standards for all of our children. Every moment with every child is a moment we must seize. As CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Lauren Longwell said at the training, “Our kids need us to be consistent. They need us to be present to them. We need to show up and be there for them.” Our children learn to believe in themselves because we believe in them. And they will, as one of the interns pointed out, “live up to as low or high as we set the bar.” So we might as well set the bar high and see where it takes our kids—and us. Hey, that sounds pretty good. Okay, go ahead and quote me.

Wondering who the four quotes are attributed to? In order of how they appear above: Tupac Shakur, Wes Stafford, John Whitehead, and Lady Bird Johnson.

 

Knock, Knock

knockknockThis has been a tough winter. And it’s not over. With all this snow falling, ice damming, roof leaking, pipe bursting weather, my humor has taken a hit. What about yours? When was the last time you had a chance to thaw out and have a really good laugh? Not just a chuckle or snort but a full blown, eye-watering laugh that just doesn’t rumble above the surface but goes deep beyond the frost line?
Kids who can appreciate and share humor are happier and more optimistic, have higher self-esteem, and can handle differences (their own and others’) well. They are able to connect better with peers and handle adversities that come their way.
A sense of humor doesn’t just help kids emotionally and socially. There are physical benefits as well. Laughter relaxes the body (muscles stay relaxed for up to 45 minutes) and boosts the immune system. It lowers stress hormones, lowers heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure, aids digestion, and can decrease pain.
Laughter is a free resource and we need to mine it. We are wired for laughter, after all. I recall silently commending myself on having a child with an advanced sense of humor until the nurse told me my two month old’s grins were gas related. A baby’s first laugh typically occurs around the 4th or 5th month. In fact, scientists have teased out four distinct stages of humor development. I read (somewhere) that, on average, children laugh 200 times a day, adults, just 15-18 times a day.
knockknock2Humor can facilitate mastery and learning. Nobody knows this more than educators. Every day principals, teachers, site coordinators, and others wield humor with finesse to impart an important lesson, diffuse a situation, connect wth a student or parent. “Humor, like other forms of play, are intimately tied to social, emotional, and cognitive stages of development,” says Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Learning. ”It’s a great tool children can use to help them throughout their life. The power of play, with humor being one aspect, can stoke the flames of creativity and innovation, necessary ingredients for strong kids and ultimately a strong work force. Humor can heal, connect us to others, and help us deal with challenges in life.”
Years ago, I worked at a homeless shelter/single room occupancy residence in Pittsburgh. The individuals living there didn’t have much to laugh about as they had lost much—families, jobs, homes, physical and/or mental health, their sense of dignity. “What this place needs is a good laugh,” one of the residents said one day as she scanned the somber faces lined up for dinner. Turns out, she was right. We ended up incorporating a humor class as part of the rehabilitation programming. It was led by a local comedian—I forget his name but on an interesting side note, he had a tiny part in the movie, Silence of the Lambs, which was filmed in Pittsburgh. He appears towards the end of the movie—holding a box of flowers I think—and knocks on a door. (Who’s there?) Anyways, his comedy classes and his sense of humor helped change the tone of the building. Residents began smiling and laughing more. They hadn’t lost their sense of humor after all. And if laughter wasn’t lost, maybe another job, another beginning at life was possible.
We owe it to our children to help nurture their sense of humor. And we don’t have to be a comedian to do it. Just pay attention. We all have the ability to tap into the humor that is all around us. Just make it a goal to find one or two things every day that you find genuinely funny. Share your insights. Ask a child to share with you the funniest thing that’s happened to them recently. This builds a child’s habit of noticing humor.
And the next time a great comedian comes to town, like Costaki Economopoulos, go see him! (Don’t take the kids, though.) I promise you’ll laugh way more than 18 times.

Failure is Never Fatal

Jenee McDaniel, CIS Site Coordinator and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School
Jenee McDaniel, CIS Site Coordinator and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

Every 26 seconds, a child drops out of school.

This alarming statistic disturbs me more than any other national statistic out there. Why? I think it’s because it is entirely preventable. There is no such thing as a dropout gene. It’s not that a kid wakes up one morning and says, “Oh, well. I think today is the day I will drop out of school.”

Dropping out, as we say in CIS,  isn’t an event. It’s a process. Too often, it is the result of not having a need met. Day after day. What’s standing in the way of a child’s success is hunger, a pair of glasses, shoes, a warm coat, dealing with emotions in a healthy way, coming to school late or not at all. A sense of hyper-hopelessness sets in.

“Dropping out is cumulative,” says Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS).”It’s the piling on of stuff to where it feels so overwhelming that a child feels the only option is to drop out. The community resources that flow through CIS allow our Site Coordinators to keep things from piling on.”

Perhaps a student is struggling in math and reading, failing a core class, their attendance isn’t what it should be, or their grade point average is suffering. Sometimes, the difference between being college ready and not college ready isn’t so huge but, to a child, it feels insurmountable. Having that extra caring adult in their life can help them find the courage to address obstacles and continue on with their educational journey.

Now, more students who are in need of that little extra push are getting it thanks to a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Hired this fall, three Success Coaches are working within four KPS schools. Lisa Brown is at Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal Ollie is at Loy Norrix High School, and Missy Best is at Maple Street Magnet School and Hillside Middle School.

“We need a larger footprint at larger schools,” Pam Kingery says. “CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows us to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. For students who need a moderate degree of support, having that one-on-one coaching support can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.”

“Success,” John Wooden once noted, “is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” The CIS Success Coaches are supporting Kalamazoo Public School students in the courageous journey of becoming the best they can be. O’Neal, Missy and Lisa are working closely with the schools and CIS staff to determine what students will best benefit from this individualized support.

The students already involved in the program are working with their Success Coaches to build on their unique strengths, creating a success plan, which includes goals that support school success, graduation and readiness for college or other post-secondary training.

Sometimes, success is just around the corner. It just takes determination and often the support of others to get there.

If you are interesting in finding out more about Success Coaching, contact CIS Director of Social Emotional Learning, Deb Faling, LMSW @ 269.337-1601 x 203.