(From Left) Judy Moran (Title 1 Achievement & Behavior Support Specialist), Victoria Kiel (CIS Intern from WMU School of Social Work), and Missy Best (CIS Site Coordinator).

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 Missy Best, CIS Site Coordinator at our newest site, Northeastern Elementary School. Prior to her work with CIS, she lived in Mount Pleasant, Michigan and was a Human Resources Generalist for Fabiano Brothers, a wholesale beverage distributor. During this time, she got her associate’s degree from Central Michigan University. When her husband, John, was transferred to Kalamazoo, she and their daughter, Isabel (now an 8th grader in the Kalamazoo Public Schools), naturally followed. “My favorite aspect of human resources was working with people. I wanted to do more of that.” Approaching the move as an opportunity for growth, Missy applied to WMU School of Social Work. “I ended up doing an internship with CIS in 2010 and I never left you guys.”

In our most recent CIS Connections, Missy contributed a great article on the important skill of organization. You can read that here.

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


What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? It’s creepy. You still want to know?


There are more living organisms living on your body than there are people in the world. [Missy shivers. So do I.] I have a happy one, too. I discovered that there is actually a radio station that plays Christmas music from October to New Year’s Day. It’s become my go-to. It’s hard to have a bad day if you listen to Christmas music, like Frosty the Snowman. I know it’s early and I might be burnt out on Christmas by the time it gets here, but right now it works for me.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished The Silkworm. I can’t say enough good things about it. J.K. Rowlings—who wrote the Harry Potter series—wrote it under the pseudonym Robert Galbraithl. It’s part of her Cormoran Strike detective stories for grown ups. It is really good. Lots of humor. I now plan to read The Giver. My daughter, who attends Maple Street Magnet Middle School, is reading it for school right now.

What do you want to be when you grow up?


You already are.

I wish. Every day I realize how much I don’t know. I rely on my instincts in a lot of situations. I wish I had all the answers.

What is your favorite word right now?

Tenacity. It’s fun to say. It’s fun to spell. I just have to keep reminding myself to be tenacious, to keep on chipping away at a problem until it erodes away.

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

My grandma. When I was young, I spent all my free time with my grandma. I can honestly say she is one of the few people who truly believed in me. Always. No exceptions. If I had an idea, she didn’t tell me it was stupid. She asked questions, she encouraged it. We had conversations; real conversations. My opinion mattered. Grandma Z—the Z stands for Zeoli—was a very unusual woman for her time. She contracted polio when she was young but still managed to become educated.  She worked as a teacher even though her parents wanted her to become a nun.

She sounds like she was a special lady. Who is your caring adult these days?

Without a doubt, my husband. He’s my best friend. He was my best friend before we married and someone who still is. I’m really lucky.

CIS—and the three hundred plus students at Northeastern—are fortunate to have Missy and a fabulous team of caring adults—like Principal Vanessa Carter, Secretary Tonya Orbeck, Title 1 Achievement & Behavior Support Specialist Judy Moran, the dedicated KPS teachers and staff, Kids Hope mentors from Second Reformed Church, parents, and many others. Go Northeastern!















How ‘bout them GRITs?

We’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 and 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!




Pop Quiz: The CIS Interns of 2014!

Have you voted today?No? Well, then, go ahead. We’ll wait… 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 2014/2015 interns! We have 12 fabulous students from Western Michigan University. Nine are working on their master’s or bachelor’s degree in the School of Social Work and three are working towards their bachelor’s degree in health. Here they are, in no particular order (drum roll, please): Kendra McCarthy, Rebecca Mohney, Jessica Smith, Victoria Kiel, Alexis Maciarz, Shawn Jones, Katie Palazzolo, Gretchen Schultz, John Schneider, Edward Kamar, Luis Hernandez, and Alexis Noel.

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

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

  • Recently, I’ve learned what dual assessment is; I’m still learning. I’m also learning about cultural humility.
  • I work as a phlebotomist and am also taking the class, Spanish for Health Professionals. I recently learned a phrase to use with patients: Necesito quitarle un poco sangre por favor!
  • I recently learned that schizophrenia may be caused by eight different diseases.
  • More about holistic health…successful aging regarding older people and health coaching. How to help people help themselves by giving them the tools they need.
  • The variety of services that are coordinated through CIS in the schools, like the dental van and food packs, working with Loaves & Fishes.
  • Recently, I’ve learned a lot about mindfulness.
  • I’ve learned how to change my car’s oil.
  • I recently learned some very important vocabulary words for my G.R.E. Also, learned the format of the test.
  • I learn almost every day from my co-workers different strategies while working with groups.
  • CIS is involved in 20 KPS schools.

What are you currently reading?

  • Stranger from a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • Textbooks
  • Who Moved My Cheese?, The Ice Cream Maker, and Successful Aging
  • Gone Girl
  • Good to Great
  • Stress Test by Timothy Geithner
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • GRE Prep Manual
  • Grace and Grit by Lilly Ledbetter

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • Social worker
  • Pediatric PA
  • School social worker and continue my passion of writing
  • Social worker in the schools or working with children who have developmental delays
  • Social worker in school setting
  • A great social worker
  • Still uncertain, but want to help children become independent and reach their potential
  • Physicians Assistant
  • Venturer

What is your favorite word right now?

  • Heyo! It means the same as new.
  • Travel. I have the opportunity to travel around Southeast Asia when I graduate and could not be more excited.
  • Colloquial
  • Be mindful, be present in the moment. Don’t rush. Relax.
  • Stress free
  • Conquer
  • Faith
  • Graduation
  • Yes, because it is a positive word.
  • Bazinga
  • Cat

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

  • Trying to figure out what I want to focus on within social work.
  • I am trying to decide what I will do after graduation—so many options but some involve tough choices.
  • I am worried that I will stress out too much with my job, my classes, internship, not get enough sleep. I need to learn/practice self-care techniques.
  • Many different things: school, bills, relationships, internship, being mindful throughout my day.
  • How I will feel/react when something happens in my internship that makes me upset or uncomfortable.
  • Being able to manage everything all at once.
  • Time management, as it pertains to school and my internship.
  • Cold weather is coming. Kalamazoo needs more shelters for homeless, warm clothes, and even services for stray animals.
  • How I did on my exam yesterday.
  • My nephew and niece.
  • Multi-tasking—assignments, interning, my job.

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

  • My parents. They’ve supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually throughout my life. Even now, through grad school.
  • My AmeriCorps team leader Jessi was a huge inspiration and taught me to be an independent and strong woman while maintaining relationships.
  • My mom when I was a child and my former foster mom/dad when I was a teen.
  • My mom. My mom has always pushed me to be the best I can be and encouraged me to get an education and do well for myself.
  • My mother! My mother has been there for me my whole life and is the only person that can, first-hand, lower my stress by just a phone call. She has taught me to be strong and have faith when in a bad situation.
  • My aunt. She has always supported me. She always has high hopes for me. She was one of the only positive role models in my life.
  • My mother and father. They have always been there for me and they have built me up when I feel the most alone. I can always rely on them to give me good advice. They have been shaping me ever since I was a little girl into the person I am today.
  • My aunt. After my mom disappeared, my aunt took more of a “mom” role and became more involved in my life.
  • My grandmother. I’ve lived with her my whole life and she raised me. She’s always been there for me when I needed it the most.
  • My second grade teacher, Ms. Jeski. She was a hockey fan and made me feel special since I played hockey.
  • Ms. Aleman. She taught me English.



Aspiring Toward a Brighter Future

AT&T Celebration at Loy Norrix High School (for more photos, check out the link at end of this post)

As one of the largest employers in Michigan, AT&T has a vested interest in assuring that students do well in school. Jim Murray, President of AT&T Michigan, told the crowd that had gathered this past Thursday at Loy Norrix High School that it’s important to “build a pipeline of talent…a good education and a high school diploma are critically important for Michigan students as they prepare for success in life,” he said. “We see this in our communities and in our workforce and that is why AT&T is supporting students and proven programs like Communities In Schools that help them.” Mr. Murray then presented a $292,238 check to Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo is 1 of 30 AT&T Aspire  recipients nation-wide (and the only one in Michigan) selected from a competitive request for proposal process from more than 1,100 applicants. Mr. Murray explained that programs were evaluated based on their effectiveness in helping students graduate ready for career or college. Selected programs use evidence-based approaches to serve students and are able to demonstrate quantitative results.

“Students should be provided with the opportunity and the necessary support to be successful,” said Rodney Prewitt, Principal of Loy Norrix High School. This union of AT&T and Communities In Schools supports our purpose by helping us to maximize students’ academic, social, and personal success. In addition, it also benefits our college going culture by helping us provide an education that is relevant to the needs of our students.” Kalamazoo Central High School Principal Val Boggan echoed similar thoughts, adding that “CIS does phenomenal work. We’ve had great success with our students at Kalamazoo Central.”

Several Loy Norrix students then spoke.

Antasia, a junior, credited her success as a student and 3.5 GPA to resources she’s received through CIS as well as “having somebody to be by my side.” Removing the barriers allows her to strive to be the best student she can be.

Malik, a senior, for whom CIS has been a part of his life since second grade, pointed out that it is often the “little stuff” that students need to help them to focus so they can be successful.  Dental care, vision support, and food packs help many students, he said.

Anasia, a freshman appreciates the guidance CIS has provided her. “They always have my back. With the help of CIS, my transition to high school was ten times easier…every student should have this support.”

Tiara Blair, a senior, said this, “Communities In Schools has given me multiple opportunities throughout my high school career. They have provided me with glasses so I can actually see the notes I need to take. CIS has also offered tutoring in subjects, like math, that I struggle in. These are just a few of their helpful tools they provide me with.

With these tools I am able to maintain a 3.7 GPA.” The audience broke into applause, as they did for the other students who mentioned their impressive GPAs. Tiara waited for the audience to stop applauding and continued. “I was one of those students who thought college was not an option for me. With the support of CIS, I am applying to Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, and Albion College. Communities In Schools has better prepared me to be accepted. Not only have they helped me figure out where to apply to, they also helped me navigate through the many employment options available. One of the programs offered was MODA, Merchandising Opportunities Design Associations at Western Michigan University. This gave girls like me a chance to try out the fashion world. We were able to design and sew our own outfits and present them in one of their fashion shows. Although it was a lot of fun, I also learned how stressful this line of work can be. I am privileged and grateful to have the support of CIS be a part of my middle school and high school career.”

AT&T Aspire, the company’s signature education initiative focused on school success and career readiness, allows CIS to support a site coordinator at Loy Norrix High School, provide in-class assistance to Algebra I students at both Loy Norrix and Kalamazoo Central High School, and support students over the summer. With an unwavering commitment to data-driven education outcomes, AT&T Aspire has impacted more than 1 million students since its launch in 2008.

We thank you, AT&T, for helping kids aspire to be the successful students they are meant to be!

Check out these pictures on our CIS  facebook album taken by CIS Volunteer, Don Kingery.





Students Shine Light on After School in Kalamazoo

“Veggie Guy” created (and later eaten) by students in the CIS after school program at Linden Grove Middle School.

Did you know that throughout our nation, 15.1 million school-age children are alone and unsupervised in the hours after school? I knew it. But only because Melissa Holman shared that statistic with me. As the CIS Coordinator of Extended Learning, Melissa works behind the scenes with licensing, programming, and basically doing all-things-after-school for CIS. She says after school programming “gives kids a safe and supervised environment in which they have exposure to a broad range of things they might otherwise not have. It can be spending some time with a caring adult, a member of the community who provides academic support, or participating in an enrichment activity like karate or dance. It can be the safe space they need to complete homework, to make friends, to learn more about their strengths and talents.”

In conjunction with Lights On Afterschool events across the nation, Kalamazoo Public School students who participate in CIS afterschool programming—a resource available thanks to the support of the Michigan Department of Education (21st Century Community Learning Centers)—have once again been coming up with their own unique ways to shine the spotlight on quality, after school programming. Students have been busy researching and posting after school facts, creating public service announcements, working on posters, creating chants, a movie, and preparing to march through downtown.

Last year, more than eighty student representatives filled the Chamber of City Hall and shared with their commissioners the importance of extending the school day. “The afterschool program provides us with food, clothes, and other things we need,” said one fifth grader. “The afterschool program helps us stay away from drugs and off the streets. The staff help us with our homework and any issues we struggle with. The staff will do anything to make sure we are respectful, responsible, and safe so we can grow up to be anything we want to be and are treated equally. This helps us so we can do the same for others who need help and think they can’t find it.”

This year, through a variety of creative approaches—speech, dance, poetry—students are sharing the importance of having after school support in their lives and how they think it impacts the community. Thanks to the talented Ja’male Jordan, former CIS Youth Development Worker turned CIS Volunteer, some of their messages have been made into a short movie. Students, along with their parents will soon have a chance to watch Afterschool: The Movie on the big screen, downtown at the Alamo. In preparing for the project, students emphasized different aspects of after school which Melissa didn’t find surprising “because every child is special and has their own unique strengths and needs, so the benefits resonate differently for each student.”

One Woods Lake student who participates in the Kalamazoo Kids in Tune program (a joint partnership between the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities In Schools and Kalamazoo Public Schools) recognizes how “fortunate I am to be learning an instrument, a skill that will be with me the rest of my life.”

For many middle school students at Maple Street it’s the opportunity to get their homework completed. “Ms. Emily and her staff make sure I get my homework completed. No excuses!”

For an Arcadia student, after school is a chance to develop friendships. “You love your family but sometimes you just need to see your friends.”

Melissa says students “attend programming because they appreciate the support and supervision as well as the range of activities they get to do every day after school.” What keeps Melissa showing up day after day? ”Just seeing the impact,” she says with a smile. “We are literally changing lives. As a child, I had that happen for me when a caring adult changed my life. I want that for all of our kids in Kalamazoo.”