For the past five years, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at Western Michigan University has been working through CIS to funnel six to eight volunteers from their society to support Kalamazoo Central High School students. Two times a week, these engineering students consistently share their time, talents, as well as their stories with our students. Together, they build upon each other’s work, constructing something bigger than themselves.
Principal Valerie Boggan loves seeing the positive impact they have with students. We share her appreciation for this partnership. These engineering students create enthusiasm around learning and shine a light for our kids. The National Society’s mission is: to increase culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community. To see this mission in action is powerful and shines a light for our students.
Working with young people is like building a very important building, something bigger than the Empire State Building and more impressive than the Eiffel Tower. Through their very presence and listening, these engineering students are inspiring our kids to be the best students and people they can be. A young person realizing their full potential is a more impressive sight than even the great pyramids of Egypt.
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 WMU graduate student Jack Szott. This former CIS volunteer turned CIS advocate is a graduate of Metea Valley High School, located in Aurora, Illinois. Baseball and college brought Jack to Kalamazoo in 2015.
Jack holds a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Western Michigan University. Throughout his college baseball career, Jack has pitched over 160 innings for Western. He has been awarded Academic All-MAC three times and Distinguished MAC Scholar Athlete three times. He also serves as part of Western’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C). CIS is thankful that this busy college student has carved out time over the years to volunteer and advocate for our 12,000+ kids.
Jack Szott will graduate this June with his Masters in accounting and head to Chicago where he already has an accounting job lined up.
Alright, Jack: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What is a question you’ve been asked recently?
I lost my wallet yesterday for a six hour period. When I got to the bank to cash in the money for a check for CIS, the question I got was, Can I see your debit card? Nope, I said. Can I see your id? Nope. We can’t fill out the check unless we have some id. You need to find your wallet.
It’s really interesting. I enjoyed learning about his leadership qualities, how he treated people, and what got him to where he was in the position as President of the United States.
What is your favorite word right now?
So many to choose from! But right now, I’d say fortitude. I’ve been around a lot of people who have taught me how to deal with difficult situations and I admire that quality, of being strong enough to deal with what you’re going through and helping others at the same time. I think fortitude is the difference between being a good and a great person.
What are you curious about?
I’m very curious about the future that our country is headed in. We are at a turning point in many ways, such as with technology and politics. Just how we will progress? I like to think and learn about that. I like keeping up with world news and trends.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Naperville, Illinois with a brother and sister. My life was always 50/50, divided between school and sports.
Jack Szott, Western Michigan Baseball #36.
How has sports shaped you as a person?
I’ve had no single, larger teacher than sports and baseball. I have gained many insight and lessons that I could not have learned in school. While school is obviously important, sports has molded my personality. More than anything, it has given me—and I know resiliency can be a loaded term, so I’ll say—mental fortitude. What I mean by that is you fail so much more than you succeed in sports. That experience allows you to develop healthy and effective coping mechanisms. It makes it seem a lot more manageable when you are presented with difficult situations or experience failures in life.
I’ve also found that nothing teaches you to communicate better than working with teams in sports, I’ve done a lot of group projects in school and college and felt I had an advantage with being able to communicate and work with the group because of sports.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I love Marvel movies. Recently my brother and I watched all 22 movies in order. We learned from an avid Marvel fan that some of the most famous scenes and best parts are ad-libbed and were not scripted.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
Both my parents. My dad taught me to always let your actions and your own achievements speak for themselves. He taught me humility. You don’t need to explain your success to people. They will figure out for themselves. Mental toughness is something else he taught me.
My mom is very passionate and has always encouraged me to pursue what I care about, and to do it as hard as I can. Also, to have fun while doing it. If I have any issues, I call my mom.
How did you first become involved volunteering with CIS?
As Medallion scholars, we were looking for a class project. [Note: The Medallion Scholarship is WMU’s most prestigious merit-based scholarship and is affiliated with Lee Honors College. In 2016, they received a Champ award, which we featured in this post.]
Jane Baas [former Associate Dean of Lee Honors College, now retired] gave us the low-down on CIS and we began a mentorship program at Woodward. I did that for two years—during my junior and senior year. I really enjoyed that. [CIS Site Coordinator] Jen DeWaele assigned each of us a student to work with a couple times a week. [CIS Volunteer and Development Coordinator] Nicky Aiello trained us and then we started meeting with our students in the morning or over the lunchtime. I would always go in the morning and have breakfast with my student.
What a fun way to help a young person start their day. Your students must have loved that.
It was sure good for me! I really enjoyed it and hopefully, they liked it, too.
And then last year, I also volunteered during the Thanksgiving Dinner Giveaway [a Hands Up Foundation project that CIS partners on, with the support of many in the community]. I helped with unloading the truck and going around and packing the dinner bags. That is quite an amazing process! I didn’t think we’d get it all done but with all the volunteers and the system set up, well, we got it done in no time.
That really is something to witness and be a part of, isn’t it? So tell us a bit about WMU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and how you all came to select CIS this year as the organization you wanted to support.
The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (S.A.A.C.) is made up of two representatives from each WMU sports team. We wanted to come up with a fun, interactive way for our athletes to get involved, to serve the community, and donate to a good cause. We’re now in our second year of doing a dodgeball event.
As we considered potential organizations to support this year, I shared about my great experience with CIS and that I wanted to give back. A second athlete who is also part of the advisory committee said she had a similar experience with CIS and seconded the idea of selecting CIS this year. The committee and our deputy athletic director thought it was a good idea and so I reached out to CIS Volunteer Services Coordinator Nicky Aiello who put me in contact with [Director of Development] Kim Nemire. It was super easy after that.
Is this dodgeball event open to the public?
No. It’s really more for our athletes to spend some time with each other outside of their practices and games. This year, we had teams of six. Three players from a men’s sports team and three from a women’s team. Each athlete pays $5 to be in the tournament. Other athletes are also able to watch for $1. We raised $452. We had about 62 or 63 athletes compete this year. And some of those who watched, donated a dollar or more.
Well it’s a terrifically fun idea, and we’re so grateful to you, the entire Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, all the athletes who competed in the tournament, and the students who donated to the cause.
We’re so glad we could do it!
Thank you, Jack, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
As Kalamazoo Public School students prepare to step into their second month of school, they have a community of support that launched them into a successful year of learning.
On Saturday, August 17th, the Beyond the Backpack School Readiness Fair took place at Bronson Park. Hosted by Collaboration Kalamazoo, the fair, designed to increase school readiness for students, was a huge success. More than 1,100 in attendance, families were able to learn about community resources available in literacy, dental and other health supports, and more. From free glasses to free backpacks and supplies, with the support of our community and collaborating together, more students are on the path to success this school year.
With more than 1,100 individuals in attendance, families were able to learn about literacy supports in the community, access dental education and additional health resources, including mental health education, immunizations, sign up for health insurance, and more. In partnership with Hiemstra Optical and VSP Vision Care, 34 students were served on the Mobile Vision Unit, with 27 receiving glasses. Students also benefited from free haircuts and fresh hair styles from area barbers and stylists. The event provided free and much needed backpacks for students, but certainly went “Beyond The Backpack” to prepare students for a successful school year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.]
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Courage doesn’t just happen. It takes work. Just ask the seventh through twelfth graders throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools who have chosen to participate in MLK Courage to Create. For the past five years, students have had the opportunity to attend “Courage to Create” poetry workshops offered as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration held in January at Western Michigan University. They have also been submitting their poems to the MLK Courage to Create Contest. The “Courage to Create” is a collaborative effort of Western Michigan University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Friends of Poetry, and Kalamazoo Public Schools.
As one parent put it, “Courage to Create is more than poetry. It’s about community…I love that my child has an opportunity to not only practice writing, but to share their voice and read at Western with established poets.”
This year’s MLK Courage to Create celebration was held February 20th on the campus of Western Michigan University. Students who participated in the annual MLK Courage to Create contest were invited to read alongside community poets. Those present received college-themed prizes. Ten students whose poems received top scores also received an Amazon Kindle Fire. In addition, for the second year in a row, Hillside teacher Heidi Ellis received the inspirational teacher award for her support of the poetry project. Hillside Middle School was also recognized for having the highest level of school participation. (Watch out Hillside, Loy Norrix was just two submissions shy of taking this honor!)
In the months to come, we’ll publish (in the blog and in CIS newsletter) a few works that students created as a result of this project. In the meantime, here are two Courage to Create poems. Thank you, Leasia Posey and Wayne Bond, for not only your courage to create, but to share your work with us.
Proud to Be Black
I was never proud to be Black.
Maybe my ebony means nothing to me.
Like being in this skin is like being stuck in a nightmare.
Fear gunshots coming at me.
Not being as pretty as I wish I could be.
Being called a royalty.
But I never know because we never talk about Black history as often as we talk about the
Europeans crossing seas and great English writers writing stories
while my brothers and sister were shipped away to what they thought was hell.
Well, let me tell you something that isn’t anything.
Or maybe that is just everything because I wake up feeling like a slave to my own body.
I must change it for a society where I’m not the majority.
I am a minority
The lower class
The topic of conversation
But not the subject of an action
I sit and watch people my age die for nothing.
Killed by hate shot by a gun.
An action that shouldn’t be made
That’s why when I have my children
I will wish their skin is caramel
Instead of dark chocolate
My skin is bitter
Or maybe we’re sweet.
But they only chose to take the first bite and spit it out.
And not allow all the flavors to cover your tongue
Our history to fill you
And maybe for once
I will be proud to be
A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, Leasia has been writing poetry since she was seven years old. For the past two years, Leasia has attended the Courage to Create poetry workshops held on the campus of WMU during the annual MLK Day Celebration. “It has given me a place to express myself,” she says. This was her first year attending the poetry celebration. Alongside local community poets, she read “Proud to be Black,” which was one of the top ten awarded poems. Leasia has completed a poetry manuscript and hopes it will find a publishing home soon. Upon graduation, she is looking forward to using the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship to attend Western Michigan University and study journalism, creative writing, and photography.
of our time
is dictated by the beat
of a Congress that can’t understand
why our struggles
turn to outrage
and their grip on our throats
finally begins to loosen
It is time
For those fighting for change
to become their potential
and lead into a new Era.
-Wayne L. Bond II
A Career Development Specialist at Western Michigan University, Wayne Bond welcomed the students back in January, introduced the MLK Courage to Create poetry facilitators, and then participated with the students in the MLK Courage to Create Workshop.
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 Levi Soto, CIS Site Coordinator at El Sol Elementary. We met up with him at this thriving school located in the historic Vine neighborhood. El Sol functions similarly to a magnet school, accepting students from throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools district. Approximately half of El Sol’s students come from homes where Spanish is the primary spoken language and half from English-speaking homes.
Originally from Hartford, Michigan, Soto came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. While finishing his Bachelors in Social Work, Soto interned with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) and was placed at El Sol Elementary. The rest, as they say, is history. Now in his third year with CIS, Soto is also working towards his Masters in Social Work at Western Michigan University and interning with The Kalamazoo Promise. It’s probably an understatement to say Soto is busy. As part of his internship responsibilities, Soto says he’s excited to help pilot a new mentoring program. “It’s a mentoring project in which seniors at WMU—men of color who are also Promise graduates in the education field and looking to become teachers—will be mentored by WMU alumni men of color.”
Alright, Levi: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What do you love about working at El Sol as a CIS Site Coordinator?
I love the whole partnership aspect of the work we do. Take Kalamazoo College, for example. They are a terrific partner and provide us some wonderful bilingual students—anywhere from 20 to 30 each year—who serve as role models for our students while tutoring, mentoring, and offering diverse, high quality supports like the Lunch Buddy Program. I love our Lunch Buddy Program!
[To learn more about the lunch buddy program and the Kalamazoo College Civic Engagement Scholars who support El Sol and other schools, check out this blog post.]
I feel that all together—El Sol, CIS, and our partners and volunteers—we are a community, a family here. We come together and help children and families who need support, whether its academic, basic needs, or providing enrichment activities through after school.
What is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a site coordinator?
Just knowing that the students are being positively impacted by the partners and volunteers coming into the school. Without CIS, things would be a lot different. I can’t image what it would be like without CIS after school and all the resources the community provides through CIS during the school day. What everyone is doing is impactful and, in the long run, will help develop and strengthen the skills our kids need to be successful in school so they can go onto middle school, then high school, and on to college, higher learning of some kind.
What do you find most challenging about your work as a site coordinator?
Because we are a dual language school and everything is in both Spanish and English, I would say the challenge is to find more bilingual volunteers. And volunteers of color. It’s great when we can connect volunteers and partners who serve as role models for kids who also can speak Spanish. We just need more!
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I’m learning about policy planning through the administrative social work class I’m taking at Western. As part of that, I’m learning how to effect policy change.
What are you currently reading, besides text books that is?
Little books. [Levi retrieves several Newmark learning books from a resource shelf filled with books and games.]
These books are part of a series that promotes social emotional learning. I’ll read these with our students. For instance, here’s I Show Respect. It’s an opportunity to ask students how kids in the book are showing respect. I’ll ask them questions like “How do you show respect? What does it feel like to be given respect? To show respect to others?”
I really enjoy reading these with the students.
The kids respond to these books?
Yes, they really do. They are short and simple. The books have a good message and the students enjoy discussing the what and why questions that are at the end of the book.
What does your summer work with the migrant program look like?
I work with Van Buren Intermediate School District as part of their secondary credit recovery program. So I make over 200 home visits each summer. Usually, these visits with students occur after the second shift, after their families finish working. I’m meeting with the students anywhere between 8 and 11 p.m, to tutor them…It’s good we have these kinds of programs in Michigan. As part of the program, we promote college. All these kids do is work and travel. And live in fear. They are isolated and don’t go out. With the migrant program, we are able to broaden their experience, promote a college-going environment, and even take them on a tour of WMU.
What is your favorite word right now?
Diversity. I like diversity. I like diversity in my life. I have it here at El Sol, in my internship with the Promise, and in my class at Western.
Speaking of diversity, I’m noticing a rise in the Latino/Hispanic population at WMU, particularly in my program. In the past, social work has typically been composed of white female and a few males. Lately, though, we have more men, men of color and women of color, too.
Why do you think that is?
I think, at least with the Latino/Hispanic population, students are often first-generation college students. They don’t necessarily know the ins and outs of college and careers…I think that the students are finally catching up with exploring different career options…I’m making some assumptions here, based on my experience. My family were migrant workers, you know.
Can you tell us what that experience was like?
As a migrant family, we travelled from Florida, to Georgia, to Ohio, to Michigan, depending on the crop season. We were constantly moving because of the crop seasons, so it was always different friends and different schools with different state requirements.
Did you work as a child?
Yes. After school I’d pick apples and then summer was blueberries…and also lots of mosquitoes. It was hard work and I didn’t like it much. My parents settled down after a while, in Hartford. When I was twelve, they stopped working in the fields and my dad started working for a construction company. He and his brother saved up $20,000 and started their own gutter business.
L & A Gutters—it’s family owned and operated—is now the largest gutter company in southwest Michigan! I used to work there, and even got to meet Muhammad Ali when we did the gutters on his house…I guess you could say my family is the American dream come true.
What is something you love about Kalamazoo?
Kalamazoo has a lot of community involvement, as well as nonprofits and other supports we can turn to. Of course, just like anything, there is always room for improvement. There is diversity here as well. [Superintendent] Dr. Rice has said it, and he’s right, that diversity is our strength.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
My high school counselor, Rick Ward. We didn’t have CIS at my school but we had Mr. Ward. He promoted a college-going environment and provided that CIS basic: a relationship with a one-on-one caring adult. He helped me with life skills. He was a role model for me.
Our school was predominately Caucasian and it was all Caucasian teachers with the exception of the Spanish teacher. He acknowledged that the Latino/Hispanic kids—we may have made up about 15% of the population back then—needed extra support and he went out of his way to build that support within our community.
How did he do that?
Growing up Mexican means being involved in soccer, kicking the ball around…it’s more than a sport, it’s one of the things that brings us together. Mr. Ward recognized this—that soccer was an important part of our culture. He started attending our soccer games and then in school, he’d take hold of the mic and for morning announcements would tell the whole school who scored a goal and we’d hear our names. It meant a lot.
He became a part of our Latino/Hispanic community. And he still goes to our soccer games…I’m the [Hartford Public Schools] assistant soccer coach.
You really do a variety of things, don’t you?
[Levi laughs. In addition to his passion for helping students, it’s clear that soccer remains an important part of his life.] …and we have been a team for the past ten years, recognized these past eight years as a top ten within the state!
Thank you, Levi, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Do you or someone you know speak Spanish? Consider becoming a volunteer with CIS today. Our students at El Sol and at other CIS sites throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools can use your support. Start the process by going here today!
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!”
Wednesday, May 9th will mark the eleventh year of Champs, a celebration in which Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) recognizes those who are making a difference in kids’ lives. CIS is thrilled that Kalsec is the presenting sponsor for this year’s event.
So, who will be honored this year? Drum roll, please! This year’s Champs are:
Kalamazoo College Civic Engagement Scholars, CIS Higher Education Partner Diane Fuller, CIS Volunteer from Miller-Davis Company Nkenge Bergen, Director of Student Services for Kalamazoo Public Schools Woods Lake Math Squad, CIS Volunteers Black Student Union at WMU, CIS Higher Education Partner Chris Werme, CIS Volunteer
Sally Stevens will also be honored with the Gulnar Husain Volunteer Award, a new recognition established by Gulnar’s family to honor her long-time contributions to Communities In Schools and work as a CIS Site Coordinator at Arcadia Elementary School. For more than 38 years, Gulnar dedicated herself to being an effective volunteer for many causes throughout the Kalamazoo community, as well as cultivating and supporting volunteers to benefit others, particularly children. This award recognizes a CIS volunteer who emulates Gulnar’s belief that there is no greater calling than serving children.
The CIS Board will also be honoring Dr. Marilyn Schlack with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. Established in 2010, this award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. Dr. Marilyn Schlack has served as the president of Kalamazoo Valley Community College for more than three decades, becoming Michigan’s first female community college president in 1982. With her leadership and vision, KVCC has grown to four campuses and more than 10,000 students, each campus responding to unique student, educational, and community needs. Despite overseeing an expansive, increasingly complex institution, Dr. Schack has maintained a commitment to understanding the needs and challenges of individual students whose circumstances are filled with obstacles to college completion.
We thank all of our event sponsors for sharing our vision and igniting in kids the hope and belief that they can succeed in school, graduate, and be prepared for life. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Kalsec, Fifth Third Bank, Maestro, PNC, Anonymous, BASIC, Borgess, Chase, Humphrey, Miller-Davis Company, Old National Bank, TowerPinkster, Warner Norcross + Judd, Zoetis, 1st Source Bank, Bronson Healthcare, BDO USA, LLP, First National Bank of Michigan, Greenleaf Trust, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Western Michigan University, and CSM Group.
Stay tuned to Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids. Over the coming weeks we will spotlight each of these award recipients. You’ll learn what they are doing to make a difference in kids’ lives.