The Courage to Create

When was the last time you pulled out some pen and paper and wrote a letter? Who did you write to?

On Saturday morning, about 70 Kalamazoo Public School students wrote letters to Struggle, Justice, Courage, Depression, Future, Power, Spite, and more in “Courage to Create” poetry workshops held at Western Michigan University as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration.

Kalamazoo Central High School’s Assistant Principal Greg Straka was one of several Kalamazoo Public School staff who wrote alongside Kalamazoo Central, Loy Norrix, and Phoenix High School students. For today’s post, we share his lovely letter.

 

 

Dear Prayer, Hope, and Love,

I am writing this letter in deep appreciation of your groups many talents. It is your ability to work together in a life changing way that I would like to focus my attention.

In times when it seems all is lost, and there is nothing right in the world, the three of you are always there. I gain peace when I pray for my students. I see Hope shine her beautiful face in the eyes of Giants, as Hope also lives in me when I think of their future. Love is there also, as a quiet presence. A hug, high-five, handshake, and smile are evidence that my prayers are being heard and that my vision of a hopeful future in the loving, capable hands of our student leaders will eventually come to fruition.

Again, thank you.

Sincerely,

Greg Straka

In the months to come, we’ll publish a few works that students created during this workshop, so keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Pop Quiz: Dr. Jim Zhu

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 more. Today we feature Dr. Jim Zhu, Professor of Mathematics at Western Michigan University. Dr. Zhu is also a CIS volunteer who comes out to Milwood Magnet Middle School each Tuesday to tutor students as part of the new Lunchtime Homework Lab (featured in this recent blog post, “Dropping In”).

One of the students, an 8th grader who spent his lunchtime in the lab working on math said this about Dr. Zhu: “He made it easy to understand stuff. I’m coming back.”

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

 

POP QUIZ

Optimization is one of your research interests. Thinking about this mathematical term from an educational standpoint, how can kids optimize their academic success when it comes to math?

Practice, practice, practice. While I’ve been into math for a long time, I see that there are many fields for which this is the case. For example, learning math is not much different than learning to play piano. What’s the most important thing in learning piano? Practice, practice, practice. You can learn all the theory you want, but it is practice you want to do, that will help you succeed. Ultimately, it’s your finger hitting the key. In math, it’s when your pencil hits the paper.

How did you get involved with CIS?

One of our faculty members at Western Michigan University, Professor Nil Mackey, sent out an email saying CIS is in need of tutors. I wanted to help.

Dr. Zhu talking math at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

For years I have seen students who are not well prepared with math knowledge. They have not had enough practice during their high school years and they didn’t have enough practice in middle school. With my own son, I have seen this. He attended the Portage schools, and like many school systems today, the emphasis is on conceptual stuff and not enough practice. Students need to be encouraged to practice math. Practice, practice. It’s as simple as that. Practice leads to doing math well.

What are you currently reading?

Reading with Patrick. It’s a touching story written by Michelle Kuo, who is a family friend and grew up in our community. This is Kuo’s personal story of helping kids in the Mississippi Delta and it inspired me to help with the tutoring.

What is something you’ve recently learned?

There are surveys indicating that two thirds of Americans are not financially literate. This adversely impacts people’s ability to manage their own financial situations as well as  understand the impact of policy changes to their own lives and to the country. The lack of basic training in math is largely responsible for this undesirable situation.

What is your favorite word right now?

It’s a Chinese word from a Buddhist tradition. It roughly translates to “Let go.” Don’t try to grasp and get hold of everything. Many things are out of your control.

What is something you love about our community?

It’s quiet and peaceful, but also vibrant. There are a lot of opportunities. My son grew up here and participated in a number of activities—tennis, piano—there are good piano teachers here! There are also opportunities to attend cultural activities. Western Michigan University often offers free concerts for faculty and the community.

Also, the community spirit. I really appreciate the community leaders here and those who have the desire to contribute. You see this with the Kalamazoo Promise.

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

My grandparents. When I was a little guy my parents were quite busy. I am from a big family and my grandparents were very close to me. I have many dear memories.

Where did you grow up?

From China, Changchun, an area very close to North Korea. Many of my childhood friends were Korean.

Dr. Zhu, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!

 

Welcome, Dr. Montgomery!

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo welcomes the ninth president of Western Michigan University, Dr. Edward Montgomery, who began his tenure one week ago.

Western Michigan University partners with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public schools to help kids stay in school and achieve in life. Here are just a few ways WMU has worked with CIS and the Kalamazoo Public Schools to support our 12,000+ kids:

 

 

We look forward to our continued partnership with WMU and what the future will bring with Dr. Montgomery at the helm.

Dr. Montgomery earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and both master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Harvard University. He comes to WMU from Georgetown University where he served as professor of economics and dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy since 2010. No stranger to Kalamazoo, he has coauthored research with CIS Board Member Randall Eberts of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research—not to mention that his son is a recent WMU grad!

You can learn more about WMU’s new president, Dr. Edward Montgomery, by clicking on the links below:

Official WMU biography: http://wmich.edu/president/biography

Go here for Second Wave Media’s “Nine questions about Dr. Edward B. Montgomery, WMU’s ninth president.”

WMUK’s Gordon Evans interviewed Dr. Montgomery in May and rebroadcast it last week on WestSouthwest. You can listen to it here.

Click here for “10 things to know about Western Michigan University’s new president” from MLIVE.

Champs Among Us

 

This past Wednesday, CIS board and staff had a fabulous time hosting the almost 400 people who gathered at the Radisson for the 10th Annual Champs event to honor community partners who share in the CIS vision— an engaged community where every child fulfills his or her promise— by actively putting forth time, energy, talent and resources to drive this vision to reality.

 

All in for kids, this year’s Champs are:

Evening Custodians: Mike Free, Ike Thurman, and Chalene Watson,

KPS Custodians of Milwood Magnet Middle School

Kalamazoo College Men’s Baseball Team, CIS Higher Learning Partner

Pfizer, CIS Business Partner

Prevention Works, CIS Nonprofit Partner

Rotary Club of Kalamazoo, CIS Service Club Partner

Susan Knox, CIS Volunteer

The CIS Board also honored Von and Fran Washington with the Diether Haenicke Promise of Excellence Award. This award is named for Western Michigan University President Emeritus Diether Haenicke. As educators, creators, and professional performers, this couple and their company, Washington Productions, use the performing arts to extend the dialogue of race, culture, identity, and what it means to be American. They gave an unforgettable acceptance speech that awed us all. We’ll feature the Washingtons next week.

Special thanks to the event sponsors:

  • PNC,
  • Maestro,
  • Lawrence Productions,
  • BASIC,
  • Borgess,
  • Fifth Third,
  • Greenleaf Trust,
  • Miller-Davis Company,
  • Schupan & Sons,
  • TowerPinkster,
  • Warner Norcross & Judd,
  • Western Michigan University,
  • Bronson,
  • First National Bank of Michigan, and
  • Kreis Enderle Hudgins & Borsos.

As Von Washington Jr., Executive Director of Community Relations with the Kalamazoo Promise, and emcee who kept the event flowing said, “You are all champions for children!”

In addition to hearing brief, yet memorable remarks from Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice and CIS Board President Dr. Tim Light, guests were treated to a performance of “Glorious.” As many of you know, “Glorious” was conducted by Dr. Eric Barth, Kalamazoo Kids In Tune Curriculum Director.  (Kalamazoo Kids in Tune is a partnership of The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.) The children were joined by soloist Christine Mason, a CIS Youth Development Worker at Woods Lake.  Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, along with students from Arcadia, El Sol, Spring Valley, Woods Lake and Woodward Elementary Schools and Kalamazoo Central High School, Maple Street and Milwood Magnet Middle Schools filled the ballroom with glorious sounds. Bravo to all involved in the performance (both in front of and behind the scenes)!

Curt Johnson, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, shared his CIS story—which we’ll be publishing here in the coming weeks —and lifted up the voices and needs of the more than 11,000 students that CIS serves throughout 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools. Thank you, Curt!

A special shout out to our CIS Site Teams, the CIS Site Coordinators, After School Coordinators, Youth Development Workers, VISTAs, and interns who provide the infrastructure to support the hundreds of marvelous volunteers and community partners who work to help children stay in school and achieve in life.

So, keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids to discover the Champ experience. You’ll be able to read what our various presenters said about their efforts and thanks to CIS volunteer, Don Kingery, you’ll be able to see what guests saw (and missed!) through his photographic lens.

We think you’ll agree it’s not just a one day event!

Sitting at table, left to right: Namita Sharma, Carolyn H. Williams, Sid Williams, and Moses Walker

 

What’s Staring At You?

 

It’s poetry month and we couldn’t let it slip by without posting a poem.

Poetry isn’t afraid to handle difficult topics. Ignoring, denying, or pretending that something doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes, we must name that which stares us in the face. By giving it a name and dragging it into the light, we see it for what it is. Samantha Hoehle does just this with her brave poem, “A Constant Battle.”  A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, Samantha wrote this on the campus of Western Michigan University during a “Courage to Create” poetry workshop offered as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration.

 

A Constant Battle

Racism stares at me from across the table.
Callous, he tries to fill my head with beliefs that cut me to the core.
I do not want to live with him.
I do not want him to talk to me.
I wish he would disappear.
But he has dug his roots deep into the earth—
And while many of us try to uproot him,
Others create avalanches of hatred and ignorance
Pushing the dirt back into our holes,
Adamant he stays.
Racism reaches out his hand to “help” us,
Sneering upon rejection,
Blatantly stating he is in the right.
But no. He is wrong.
Racism tries to creep in, and I push him out, continuing to dig.
I will not let him turn me into something he would be proud to see.
I am not sorry.

Samantha Hoehle

 

And if you missed the two student poems we published back in January, you can find them here.

 

Three New Sparks with CIS

From left to right: Ellen Sudeikis, Tate Vogt, and Jamie Morgan.

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 interns!

All three fabulous Western Michigan University students are working towards their bachelor’s degree in the School of Social Work. Here they are, in no particular order (drum roll, please): Tate Vogt (from Jackson, Michigan) is with the CIS team at Northglade Montessori Magnet School, Ellen Sudeikis (from Chicago, Illinois) is with the CIS team at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, and Jamie Morgan (from Albion, Michigan) has joined the CIS team at King-Westwood Elementary School.

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

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

  • All about ethics
  • How to change the power steering lines
  • The new WMU football coach played for the Broncos during his undergrad at Western

What are you currently reading?

  • Lord of the Flies/ The Giver
  • Harry Potter
  • Me Before You

 What do you love about Kalamazoo?

  • The breweries and taphouses culture-bringing people together
  • The variety of restaurants
  • How nice everyone is, especially in comparison to Chicago!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • A substance abuse counselor
  • A good father
  • A social worker and a mom

What is your favorite word right now?

  • Soda pop
  • Absolutely, as in “Absolutely, I’d love to do that.” When someone says that, it makes you feel like they really want you to be there.
  • Passionate

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

  • The election and beyond
  • Time management
  • How am I going to manage taking four classes, working at Red Lobster five times a week, and interning for 30 hours?

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

  • My mother and father. My mother helps me with all my needs and my father pushes me.
  • My father, He supports me in many ways. He is my rock.
  • My brother is my caring adult.

Thank you, interns. Welcome aboard!

What is the world coming to?

If you stepped onto the campus of Western Michigan University this past weekend and peeked into the “Brown and Gold” room you would feel hopeful about the future.

On Saturday, about 75 Kalamazoo Public School students chose to spend part of their day participating in a “Courage to Create” poetry workshop. “Courage to Create” is just one of a number of fun and educational offerings students can participate in, along with families, as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration. We love celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with young people.

“These kids are great!” said Elizabeth Kerlikowske, President of Friends of Poetry. She is right. Giants and Knights sat side by side, wrote poetry, and many shared their works aloud. The students were polite, kind, they took risks with their writing, and listened to each other. They set a good example for grownups!

What is the world is coming to? Love and goodness, for starters. Here are two terrific examples of what students created:

Love

Love smiles and embraces me with the biggest hug. “I love you!” she shouts as we go on with the day. As we walk along, she is just singing that one song, “All you need is love, love, love.” As corny as she is, you can’t help but smile because Love just gives you the warmest feeling.

As we are walking, we see a couple fighting, so of course, Love walks up to them and asks, “Oh, where is the Love? Isn’t Love stronger than anything else? You must embrace it!” To my surprise, the couple turns to each other with the biggest smiles. “I love you!” they shout.

I guess Love is really unexpected.

-Saquaya Baker, a junior at Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Goodness

I take Goodness with me wherever I go: to school, events, family functions, you name it. She is very popular! Her kindness makes others smile and want to be around her. She makes me a better person as well. When I have negative thoughts, she is always there to keep me in check because her motto is, “Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.” It’s a nice reminder every once in a while when I am in a bad mood.

However, Goodness isn’t always there to guide me. When I moved to Kalamazoo from Birmingham the beginning of my eleventh grade year, she left for some time. I think it was because I pushed her away. Anger and Depression took her place, but I did not want them there, so I asked her to be patient with me and come back because I could not get through my situation without her. To my great appreciation, she returned, all smiles, with the bright colors she loves to wear and the fantastic Dad jokes that can make anyone’s day just by hearing her laugh at them. We are the best of friends again and we are changing the world one smile and helping hand at a time.

-Sidney Washington, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School

In the months to come, we’ll  publish a few more works created during this workshop, so keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

Pop Quiz: O’Neal Ollie  

O'Neal Ollie
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

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 O’Neal Ollie who is the CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School. CIS Success Coaches allow Communities In Schools to have a larger footprint in larger schools. CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows CIS 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 from O’Neal Ollie can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal then headed to school in Riverside, California and later returned to Kalamazoo, graduating in Sports Management from Western Michigan University. Today, O’Neal and his wife Terri are proud KPS parents of son Bass, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School who is also enrolled in college, and daughter, Symphony, who graduated from Kalamazoo Central, was honored by the YWCA in 2014 as a Young Women of Achievement, and is now in her third year at Michigan State University. O’Neal notes that “it’s my wife Terri who keeps all of us on track.”

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

POP QUIZ

O'Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni
O’Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Oh, my goodness. I learn so much stuff. For a person that thinks he knows everything, well, that is a tough one. Okay, I learned about dual enrollment. That is the process of enrolling a student in college while they are still completing high school with eligibility to play high school sports. My son is a senior at Kalamazoo Central and plays three sports.

Favorite word?

At this time of the year, it is football because my son is in his senior year.

What are you currently reading?

Sports Illustrated, because of the Olympics, which were so good with swimming, gymnastics, and track.

You graduated from Kalamazoo Central. Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Vern Davis and Clarence Gardener. Also, Coach Don Jackson. He taught PE, probably one of my biggest mentors in school. Mr. Davis was a math teacher and Mr. Gardner was general business & accounting. Both coached as well.

My counselor was Nelson Stevenson and he was my main man. He enrolled me in Upward Bound. That was my introduction to college. We stayed on Western’s campus-in Bigelow Hall-for eight weeks. I learned the social aspects of college and thought, this is going to be great! I have life-long friends that I made from attending Outward Bound.

Mr. Davis made you feel so good about yourself. He made it easy to learn. It probably helped that he was a former NFL player. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles and was All-American. I had his class fourth hour. “Don’t ever make me come look for you,” he’d say.

Coach Gardiner’s business and accounting was the most useful class I’ve ever taken. I still write my checks the way he taught me in school. When I went to college, I majored in accounting until I changed to sports management.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve always been interested in school and sports administration. But, regardless of all I’m doing work-wise, I can’t forget I’m a dad. I learn a lot from my son and daughter.

Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O'Neal
Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O’Neal

Like what?

Things I never expected to learn, like, what it means to go prom dress shopping. That is a whole process and it’s a family event.

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

My mom, my second mom, and my third mom. I have eight older siblings and my oldest sister, Ida Buchanan, was a secretary in my building when I was in high school. I would much rather my mother than my sister Ida get a hold of me. She did not play. Still doesn’t. She still works, going between Hillside and Linden Grove Middle School.

My mom, I always appreciated how hard she worked and the way she had a way of breaking things down to make us understand things. One of my favorite quotes she said was when I came home crying one day. “You’re crying because folks are talking about you?” she said. “You start crying when folks stop talking about you.”

Thank you, Coach Ollie!

We continue to talk about O’Neal Ollie in our soon to be released newsletter, CIS Connections. O’Neal and his CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker, share their insights about helping students get on track to graduation. And if you missed Montrell’s interview with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, you can read it here.