September 7, 2021

Together, We Can Do So Much

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” That wisdom, shared by Helen Keller, applies to most everything we accomplish at Communities In Schools. It most certainly applies to a long-time partnership that benefits second grade students throughout Kalamazoo Public Schools. Since 2009, as part of their annual Rotary Is For Reading Campaign, Kalamazoo Rotary has joined forces with Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) to promote literacy and college awareness throughout all second grade classrooms in Kalamazoo Public Schools. Each spring, Rotarians, dressed in college gear, read a college awareness book to the students and then gift each student with their own copy of the book.

In 2020, Rotarians were preparing to roll out the new book, What Do You See In Room 21 C?, when Covid-19 arrived. With the pandemic still with us a year later and students doing distance learning, it seemed the annual literacy and college-awareness event might come to a grinding halt. But thanks to the ingenuity of the Kalamazoo Rotary, they were able to step virtually into classrooms this past spring and pull back the curtain on the new book.

The Rotary Club arranged for Kzoom to film Sidney Ellis reading the new book. (In addition to serving as Executive Director of Douglass Community Center and recently taking on the role of Rotary President, Ellis is also a professional storyteller.) Second grade teachers were then able to share the video with their students via their Google Classrooms.

The new book, published by Celery City Books, the publishing arm of the nonprofit Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry, tapped local talent and took over two years to complete. What Do You See In Room 21 C? encourages children to imagine possibilities and be the best student they can be. It is written by published author and long-time CIS staff member and KPS parent Jennifer Clark. Leslie Helakoski created the beautiful illustrations and Scott Matteson served as the book’s designer. The development of the book was made possible thanks to the generosity of a CIS donor. 

When the project for creating the new book began, Kalamazoo Rotary formed an advisory group. Kevin Brozovich, Sidney Ellis, Pam Kingery, Ann Rohrbaugh, and Von Washington Jr. served in the group, providing encouragement and support throughout the project. They reviewed the book twice in its development. First when the narrative was completed and again when both narrative and illustrations were done and ready for lay-out.

“They were so supportive throughout the project,” says Jennifer Clark. “Their input, along with a host of others [listed in the acknowledgement section of book], really made What Do You See In Room 21 C? so much better than if I were to have just gone off into the woods and written it myself.”  

Before writing the book, Clark held several focus groups and sought feedback from various stakeholders. In addition to the Kalamazoo Rotarians, Clark obtained feedback from parents, grandparents, KPS staff and administrators, librarians, CIS and Kalamazoo Promise staff, and recently promoted second grade students. Their input, such as a desire to see relatable characters, diversity, and humor is reflected throughout the book. Having an opportunity for students to do hand-on activities was also a common response, particularly among students and teachers, so the book includes 13 activity pages at the end of the story. 

Rotarian Kevin Brozovich, who is also Chief People Advisor with Rose Street Advisors, will tell you that this new book supports Rotary is For Reading’s goal of helping second graders take their work seriously, understand the importance of school, and ultimately take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise.

To celebrate the book’s release with the community, Kazoo Books, located at 2413 Parkview Avenue, will be holding an open house from noon to three on Saturday, September 25. (Slap on a mask and come on down! There is plenty of parking behind the store and the entrance is at back of store.)

Can’t make the open house? Visit Kazoo Books online or stop by the store to get your own copy. You can also visit the Kalamazoo Public Library to see what you can see in Room 21 C!

To learn more about this exciting and Kalamazoo-grown project, check out Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s article, “Future-Ready Reading,” in the September issue of Encore Magazine.

Rotary Club of Kalamazoo also received a 2017 Champ award and you can read about that in this post, “Living Out Service Above Self.”

To celebrate the book’s release, Kazoo Books will be holding an open house from noon-3p.m. on Saturday, September 25th. See flyer above!

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