Caring Adult Series: Mr. Blink

 

Johnny featured with some caring adults. Back,from left: CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters, KPS Principal Julie McDonald, KPS Teacher Chad Chambless.

If you follow our blog, you know that CIS has been asking caring adults to think back to when they were young and in school and recall that caring adult they felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, that, even after all these years, they still carry within their hearts?

Members of the CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy were up to the challenge and in the weeks to come, we’ll find out who their caring adults are as we will publish each of their letters.

Today, we are excited to share a letter written by one member of the passionate, talented, and dedicated team who infuse Edison Environmental Science Academy with hope, love, and learning.

 

Dear Mr. Blink,

Many people do not believe I was ever a shy person.  Thirty six years ago, you had that shy 7th grader in your social studies classroom and on your volleyball team.  My brother was a star football player at the high school, breaking all sorts of records.  I was known as “Dean’s little sister” or “little Sharick.”  I was 12, trying to figure out who I was, what I stood for, and who my friends were.

Honestly, I don’t remember you doing anything particularly special just for me, but you made me feel special, gave me my own voice and always called me by my first name.  You allowed me to be a typical 7th grade girl – moody and well, a 7th grade girl.   You would talk about choosing friends wisely and being true to yourself.  As an adult and an educator, I now see that you took every advantage of “teachable moments.” By the time I started 8th grade, I was a new person, no longer as shy, knowing who I was (at least as much as a teenager can), and chose my friends wisely.  Most of my best friends are friends of 30+ years!

Thank you for taking this shy, 12 year old under your wing and allowing me to fly.  You were an integral part of my decision to become a teacher.  I hope I have made a difference in my students’ lives just as you have mine.

Thank you so much,

Julie (Sharick) McDonald, M.A.

Principal
Edison Environmental Science Academy
Kalamazoo Public Schools
 
 

Who is your Mr. Blink? If you are up to the challenge of reflecting on and writing a letter to your caring adult, email it to me at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org and we just might publish it!

And, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read the Story of Success within our freshly published annual report, take a few minutes to learn how KPS Principal Julie McDonald, her fabulous teaching staff, CIS staff, and other caring adults are helping Johnny succeed. Hint: To address the needs of the whole child, it often takes more than one person, one organization or resource. Johnny identifies a number of caring adults that have empowered him and gives a special shout out to: The Kalamazoo Promise®, Friday Food Packs (made possible thanks to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes), First Day Shoe Fund, the Edison School Based Health Center (staffed by Family Health Center), Open Roads, and WMU College of Aviation.  These last two resources are offered as part of CIS after school programming funded through the Michigan Department of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers You can find it all here.

 

 

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, What’s the Ugliest Lie of All?

One of my colleagues kept suggesting I write an ugly post to remind folks to come out to our Ugly Sweater Party with the Young Professionals that is going on later this afternoon, Tuesday, December 9 at Old Burdicks Bar & Grill. 5-7pm. I told them no. “Admission is free with minimum $10 donation or a new item from the Wish List,” they’d remind me.

“I’m coming to the party,” I said. “But I DO NOT WANT TO WRITE AN UGLY POST.” But they didn’t seem to take the hint and kept nudging. I must admit, we’re all pretty good about that at CIS.  About not letting go or giving up when we believe in something. Especially when it comes to kids. (There must be something in the water here because it is a trait we share with Kalamazoo Public School teachers, staff, administrators and countless community partners and volunteers.) So, buckle up.

Here comes ugly.

That’s what he said. It feels like I heard that a thousand times as a young girl. For the first two of my school age years, I walked to my friend’s house, waited while she finished breakfast so we could walk safely together to school. My friend’s father would regularly tease me, say, “How are you doing, Ugly?” Or “Hey, everyone, here comes Ugly!” I didn’t say anything to my parents or teachers. I was embarrassed because a part of me believed him. I did have a huge gap in my front teeth. So big it felt like a car could drive through it. And why did I agree to that stupid shag haircut in first grade? What other classmates looked like Mrs. Brady?

Kindergarten picture, pre-shag haircut


Fortunately for me, my friend and her family moved after a few years. I also have a pretty strong ego. (My husband complains that it’s too strong.) And it didn’t hurt that I was accidently born into a family that could pay to close my gap with braces, that I had opportunities outside of school to feel good about myself. Mostly, I got over the ugly because of caring adults. This experience, though, is one of the things that drew me to CIS. It took a while to believe in myself, for a host of caring adults, like my parents, an orthodontist, two piano teachers, and a slew of fine school teachers to wipe away the ugly. It left a scar I’m content to bear—it’s made me hyper-focused on all the ugly things children hear along the way. The messages we send—intentional or not—that seep into their psyche until they believe the ugly.

Here is the ugliest truth of all: too many of our kids lose hope in themselves every day. Kids  who have come to believe they are nothing but a bad grade, who feel as empty as their tummies, and begin to believe that the Kalamazoo Promise® isn’t for kids like them.

It’s hard to take in all this ugly. But we owe it to our kids to hang in there with them and give them hope. Every day, our CIS Site teams along with hundreds of volunteers and school and community partners are doing just that. Here’s just one great example of the kind of beauty that cuts at ugly:

When Kalamazoo Central High School identified some young men with patterns of missing school, skipping classes, academics slipping—clear warning signs that these students were at risk of dropping out—CIS Site Coordinator Deborah Yarbrough jumped into action and started meeting with each student to connect them to a men’s group. Some of them told her: “It’s no use. I’ve messed up too badly. What’s the point? The Promise isn’t for kids like me.”

“Just come once,” she said. “Promise me that.” And they did. Again and again because CIS partner, Pastor James Harris and his team were surrounding these young men with love, speaking to each, as Nelson Mandela says, “in his own language, that goes not to his head but his heart.” So the site coordinator wasn’t surprised, when one day Pastor James dragged a bag of trash into the group.

“What’s this?” he asked the young men.

“Trash,” they said.

“You sure?” he replied.

The young men realized that they couldn’t be sure, not until they searched through it. Turns out, mixed in with all that trash was a 100 dollar bill Pastor James had tucked inside an envelope. The lesson learned that day? Despite missteps along the way, value resides inside each of them and they do not need to throw their life away.

This is the kind of beauty that CIS Site Coordinators are orchestrating every day. Putting just the right resources—volunteers like Pastor James, Kalamazoo College students, or a grief therapist from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan—with the right kids at the right time. They do an awesome job of it and kids can’t help but stumble into their own beauty.

But the ugly side of this same coin is that we need more people to step up. To donate, volunteer, and partner. To advocate for both integrated student services and stable and adequate school funding.

So, if you have survived this ugly ride, thanks for hanging in there. Come on down to Burdick’s and hang out with us from 5-7pm. Bring a donation of $10 or some new clothing item for CIS Kids’ Closet (packs of underwear, winter boots, and sweats especially needed). They’ll be plenty of food, fun, and prizes for the ugliest sweaters. (I even hear that Burdick’s is making a signature drink for CIS!)

And, if you didn’t like this ugly post, I don’t want to hear it. Stop downtown at Burdick’s and let my colleague know. (You can’t miss her. She’ll be the one wearing an ugly sweater.)

Can’t make it? We understand. It’s a busy time. We just ask that you take a moment to consider making a donation to CIS. No matter the amount, your contribution takes a bite out of ugly. ‘Tis the season after all. No matter what form of action you choose to take, it reminds our children—and all of us—that they are a treasure worth fighting for. That is one beautiful message that will never go out of season.

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Partners on a Solid Footing

Today’s post is written by Donna Carroll, Director of Health Initiatives. Heather Haigh, Executive Director of First Day Shoe Fund originally ran this piece in their Fall 2014 newsletter.

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) and First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) go back a long way. In early 2000 Valerie Denghel was a tutor at Edison Environmental Science Academy with CIS. Valerie noticed that many of the children she saw at the school didn’t have appropriate shoes for school. So Valerie began buying shoes for one child at a time. Valerie went from buying shoes for individual children to creating the First Day Shoe Fund. CIS has partnered with FDSF since its beginnings to help identify children in need of shoes and to create the infrastructure needed to get the shoes onto little feet.  In 2005 CIS and FDSF partnered to distribute 160 pairs of shoes. This Fall we worked together to distribute 1,654 pairs of new shoes to students.  

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo has been serving  students in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2003.  Our mission is to surround students with a  community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.  We are part of a nationwide network of passionate professionals  working in public schools to remove barriers that get in the way of student success, smoothing the path toward graduation.

We work to connect the right resources to the right students at the right time. CIS works closely with Kalamazoo Public Schools to reach those students most in need of services, many of whom live below the poverty level and face significant risk factors.

This year CIS will serve 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools, including 15 schools that will offer after school programming under 21st Century grants. We think of our site coordinators, who head up our site teams in the schools, as the bridge that connects community resources to students in the buildings. Site coordinators work to bring resources available to the whole student body (what we call Level One services) as well as having a caseload of between 50 and 75 students who receive more targeted services such as individual tutoring, mentoring or counseling, based on an assessment of the student’s needs. The site coordinator leads a team that might be made up of a VISTA, a social work intern or a health intern.

CIS values the partnership we have with First Day Shoe Fund. The FDSF focus – of providing new shoes to children in Kindergarten through third grade to ensure that children have both the physical comfort of correctly sized shoes and the sense of pride and belonging that comes with having appropriate footwear to start the new school year – meets a basic need. New shoes are one of the many pieces of the puzzle that fit together to help all of our children achieve the Promise.

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Mis(Thanks)giving

As I busy myself with upcoming preparations, like menu planning and making out a grocery list, and debating if it would be best to shred or slice zucchini for a new recipe I’m going to try out, these mundane thoughts are interrupted by something much more important, wondering what Thanksgiving will be like for some of our 12,000+ kids.

A child so hungry he rummages through a garbage can, snatching and stuffing into his pockets a partially eaten sandwich, a bit of apple. He is worried about his younger sister who isn’t yet school age and wants her to have some food in her belly before the day slips away.

I think of the student who messed up big time on a homework assignment. The class was learning about sequencing and the student couldn’t figure out how to put in proper order the steps for making a bed. It seems a basic thing, something any third grader should be able to do. But, spend some time with this student and it becomes apparent that she is a bright child, one who likes to please and struggles to do her best. However, she does not have a memory of her head ever touching a pillow. She often sleeps on floors and, if lucky, the couches of friends or family. She is one of 2.5 million children (1 in 30) who is homeless in this country. It’s hard to figure out the steps to making a bed when you don’t have one, when the only pillow you’ve ever seen is in a book.

And then there’s the sixth grade girl who shows up to school every day wearing shoes that are so badly worn that the soles flap up and down as she walks through the halls. She feels like a clown. Though some of her classmates tease her, one offers up a pair of their own worn, but respectable pair of shoes.

Or what about that high school student who has been missing too much school lately?

These students bring to mind a conversation I recently had with someone. She said that as a child she was thankful for school each and every day. “I didn’t want to leave it. I’d figure out strategies to stay as long as possible. Anything to not go home.” School, she said, was her haven.

For too many children, weekends, holidays, and snow days take away the haven of school, the solace that comes in knowing they will have a breakfast and a lunch, a warm and stable environment that isn’t always a given once the school bell rings at the end of the day.

What will these children—who sleep on floors and worry where their next meal will come from—what will they doing on Thanksgiving? Will they have enough to eat? Anything to eat? Where, on Thanksgiving night will they lay their heads to sleep? Unfortunately, for many children throughout our nation, Thanksgiving is no different from any other day. It will just be what every other 364 days of the year means: survival.

The good news is that in each of the above situations, CIS was able to reach out to these children because of you. We—and those students and their families—are thankful for YOU.  You give out of your abundance— your heart, financial support, resources, and time. These students—and many more—are doing well and able to focus on school because of you.

What are you thankful for? We’ll leave you with just a few things our 12,000+ kids tell us they are thankful for: school, CIS, mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers, teachers, principals, secretaries, the Kalamazoo Promise®, dogs, phones, football, shoes, glasses, clothes, food, presents of any kind, a bed to sleep in, a room of my own so that I can walk into it. Their lists go on. And it includes you.

 

Communities throughout the country are partnering with CIS to make a difference for students and their families, particularly during the holiday season. You can get a taste of what is going on by checking out this great post by Steve Majors.

 

 

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POP QUIZ: MISSY BEST

(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.

POP QUIZ

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

Yes.

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?

Wise.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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