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.

Stacy Jackson and Her Many Moms

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 Stacy Jackson.

A graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools (Loy Norrix, Class of 1991), Stacy went on to graduate from Davenport University with a degree in accounting. Stacy’s CIS career began in 2011 when she gave a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, working at Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central High School. After that, she moved into the role of CIS after school site coordinator at Edison Environmental Science Academy. Since 2013, she has also served as the elementary site coordinator for CIS Think Summer.

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

Pop Quiz

Diane Lang taught you math during your middle school years and is clearly one of your favorite teachers. In your letter to her that we published several years back as part of our “Caring Adult” series, you wrote: You showed me that hard things (algebra) don’t always have to be hard. [Click here to read the entire letter.] Name another Kalamazoo Public Schools teacher who impacted you.

Mr. Bill Arney, my 9th grade Social Studies teacher at Loy Norrix High School helped me through the 9th grade career aptitude test. I took it and tested for social work. We talked about the potential outcome, and knowing my personality, said that I probably should go with my second pick, which was accounting. I’m sure he’d be pleasantly surprised that I figured out how I ended up doing both.

Favorite word?

That’s an interesting question. I say, I know, right? I say that phrase a lot. It’s a quick way to show empathy but since that’s not one word, I’ll say: smile. I like to walk past people and say, Smile! I do that with kids, too. It can give them an opportunity to tell me why they aren’t smiling. I think there is power in a smile.

Can you talk a little bit about being a CIS after school coordinator?

Stacy (left) at Edison with Principal Julie McDonald

Persistence comes to mind, because it is key. We must persist and we must help kids persist. It’s sometimes too easy for grownups to give up on kids if they have given up on themselves. I think of CIS as a vehicle through which we can help students, be there and show them we’re not giving up on them. When kids really feel that someone has their back, they stick with it and can push themselves to a place—both student and person-wise—farther than they can imagine. We just need to be there and not give up on them.

This makes me think of the time one of my after school kids was refusing to go to class. In talking with him, it quickly became clear that he wasn’t acting up just to be naughty. There’s always a reason behind behavior. Sure enough, he admitted he’d acted up the day before with a guest teacher. He knew he’d let his teacher down and that she was probably going to be disappointed with him. He didn’t want to face all that.

I told him, Ms. B is still going to love you, but you have to own your stuff. We discussed how, when you make mistakes, you need to own up to your behavior. People will still love you, Ms. B will still love you, but it’s important to own your stuff. Now get into class! And he did.
That’s another phrase I like to say. Own your stuff!

There are both good and negative consequences to behavior. If you are going to accept the good, you also have to accept the bad. In my role as after school coordinator, that is a part of what I’m always doing, with both students and CIS staff. I want to provide a safe space for kids to be after school and to have access to academic supports, and to be surrounded by people that care. I mother everyone. I’m the mother of everyone! [Stacy laughs.]

Sheldon Turner agrees! I remember last summer when we interviewed him for this blog [you can read his interview here] he described you as a mother figure.

I love Sheldon!

Any favorite places?

Studio Grill of course! I also love the greenery of Kalamazoo and all the many parks we have here. I like beach areas and really enjoy being by the water. Water is my favorite element.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I’m working on my spiritual growth. In Discerning the Voice of God, Priscilla Shirer talks about body, mind, and spirit; how God leads through our conscience to help us make decisions.

My pastor always says we have moral compass inside us, that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, yet, until recently, I’ve thought of my conscience and God as two distinct, different things. But I’m seeing that the Holy Spirit is guiding our conscience, helping us make more Christ-like decisions so we can be out there doing the work that is needed in this world.

What are you currently reading?

I just started the Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson. I joined my first book club this year and we’re reading some crazy books! Who thinks up this crazy stuff, these incredible story lines?

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

My mom. She is a strong woman and as a single mom raised me and my brother—we were 17 years apart. I also was fortunate to have a family and community of support. In addition to my mom, my Aunt and three of my mother’s best friends helped raise me and I give credit to each of them for the different pieces of me. One of my mother’s best friends, Ms. Willie Mae Lee, showed me how to be sassy.

You definitely know how to rock sassy!

[Stacy laughs.] Mrs. Barbara Loftin gave me humility and gentleness. My Aunt Iris Salters taught me the power of education. Ms. Bobbie Ryan worked in the unions most of her life and taught me to fight for injustice. And within all of that, my mom-mom encouraged me to be me, to not be anybody outside of who I am.

I owe a lot to all my moms, and the many others who have provided and continue to provide influence, but especially my mom-mom, Ms. Mabel Salters. She’s no nonsense, she’s a conqueror, and she’s everything I want to be.

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