Oh Say Can She See?

What if, right now, you could do one thing that would positively impact a student’s academic performance? Would you do it? What is that one thing, you ask? It’s helping students get the eye exams and glasses they need so they can focus on schoolwork, see the board and be able to read their textbooks. Vision problems are a huge barrier to learning. If you can’t see well, it’s hard to be a good student. Undiagnosed or untreated vision problems may result in delayed reading and poorer school performance. That’s understandable as these students can rapidly grow frustrated, bored, develop behavior problems, and feel isolated from their classmates.

Children’s vision health in the United States is considered by many to be a public health emergency. According to the National Vision Commission on Vision and Health, only 17% of children with families earning less than 200% of FPL (Family Poverty Level) have seen an eye care provider (compared to 23% from more affluent families); uninsured children are three times as likely to go without eyeglasses when needed; 24% of parents did not follow up for a vision exam due to lack of financial resources; and 15% of Asian, 19% of black, and 16% of Hispanic children have visited an eye care provider compared to 23% of white children.

Here in Kalamazoo, almost 1 in 5 children failed a school vision screening last year. So what does this mean? The child needs a follow up vision exam with an optometrist to determine why they failed. It may be that they had glasses but weren’t wearing them that day, perhaps because they were lost or broken. Or, the child is experiencing a change in vision that is common in the elementary years. This means the child needs glasses to read. Or perhaps there are other eye problems that need to be addressed.

When it comes to vision care, CIS’s goal is to follow up with all families of children who failed the vision screening to ensure that they get an exam and, if needed, glasses. Why is this help even needed? Frequently, a family may have Medicaid or My Child insurance which pays for glasses but if the child has broken or lost two pairs in a year, they may have to wait many months before the glasses can be replaced. For some of our children, this could mean losing half a year of focused, productive learning. For other families with private health insurance, large deductibles can pose a barrier. For uninsured families, the cost is insurmountable.  CIS is able to assist families in all of these instances, whether it’s working with the family to navigate through the health care maze, determine which optometrists accepts their insurance, or assisting with scheduling and assuring students get to their appointments. In cases of financial need, CIS is able to tap the Bernard Palchick Vision Fund, and pay for exams and glasses. Last year, CIS funded exams and eyeglasses for 221 students in Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Over the years, CIS has created a system for eye care, assuring that students who fail the vision screening get the follow up and resources they need. Last year, CIS site teams followed up with over 625 students who failed their vision screening. This coordination is, as you might imagine, a tremendous undertaking of human/financial resources—following up with teachers and students, calling parents, assisting with paperwork, and doing what it takes to bridge the gap between an identified need—in this case, vision care—and ultimately connecting the student to the right vision care provider.

It’s worth it, because students receive the vision care they need to be successful. Last school year, a fourth grade student who received glasses as a result of the work of her CIS Site Coordinator, jumped three reading levels. Glasses are no small thing. For this child or any child.

We are grateful to our CIS friends who support the vision fund and have allowed CIS to build and sustain a system of care for kids who need it most by putting the Jen DeWaeles, Derek Millers, Stacy Salters, Gulnar Husains, Deborah Yarbroughs, and other dedicated site coordinators  into the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Because of you, a clearer, better vision of the world awaits.

EmailFacebookPinterestShare

Open Letter to Kids’ Closet Supporters

 

Loy Norrix’s CIS Site Coordinator Elnora Talbert (center) was on hand to thank Jayne  and Jim  Mayer when they dropped off school supplies collected by Zion Lutheran. Thank you Zion Lutheran!

So many cool things can happen while waiting in the checkout lane of the grocery store. Here’s one thing you need to check out today: the below post. It is written by our own Emily Kobza, CIS Director of Development & Business Engagement.

Dear Kids’ Closet Supporter:

You donated items or made a monetary gift to our Kids’ Closet sometime in the past to help make sure that kids in our community have the basic clothing, school supplies, and personal hygiene products that they need so they can attend school comfortably and with dignity, ready to focus on learning.  You never had the opportunity to know who benefited from your donation or what need it met – you just did it and trusted us to make sure that the student who needed a winter coat, a backpack, or a pair of sweatpants would be able to get that item.  I want to share what this meant for one student.

A manager of a local business contacted me in early September to let me know that they wanted to donate a couple hundred travel-size personal care products to the Kids’ Closet.  We made arrangements for me to pick them up later that week.  As she was helping me load the donations into my car, the manager shared her shopping experience with me.  She was excited that she had been able to take advantage of both a sale on these items and a promotion so she could get 260 items for the price of 200.  As a fan of Extreme Couponing, I was impressed!

The cashier at the store helping to ring up these items was interested in why she was purchasing such a large quantity of personal care products.  The manager explained that her business was donating these items to the Kids’ Closet of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo to make sure that students were in school every day and able to focus on learning without the distraction of being embarrassed about their personal appearance.  As she pushed her shopping cart away from the checkout lane, the cashier thanked her for making this donation.  The manager said something along the lines of “Thanks, but I really like doing this, and I know it makes a difference for kids.”  The cashier said, “No, I really want to thank you for what you’re doing because my child benefited from the Kids’ Closet.”  She went on to say that her child came home from school last year with a small bag of items.  She said she was a single mom and while she had a job, sometimes it was still hard to get everything her kids needed.  She really appreciated the help that the Kids’ Closet had provided to help meet the basics for her child.  Needless to say, the manager and I both got teary-eyed as she relayed this experience to me.  She said, “I knew that this made a difference, but to hear it directly from someone who it made a difference for was really amazing.”

Project Coordinator Sandy Dee (left) and Hiemstra’s Vice President Todd Totzke (center) dropping off donations from their “Stuff the Bus” collection. CIS Director of Health Initiatives Donna Carroll is on right. Thank you Hiemstra Optical!

We know you don’t get to see the smiles on kids’ faces or hear them or their families, say “thank you,” but I wanted you to know that your donations are making a difference.  On behalf of the thousands of kids who have accessed the Kids’ Closet, thank you for your generous support.

Last year, CIS distributed over 13,000 Kids’ Closet items!  Interested in removing barriers to learning by helping to fill Kids’ Closet with new clothing, personal hygiene products, and school supplies for K – 12 students? It’s a  great  opportunity for our local businesses and faith-based organizations to get involved in helping our students achieve in school and in life. Contact Emily at ekobza@ciskalamazoo.org for to find out how you, your business, or service-oriented group can help.

EmailFacebookPinterestShare

Know the ABCs of School Attendance

Attendance research is discovering what schools have known all along: Our teachers can teach our children….if the children show up. Turns out, attendance is a significant predictor of student performance. Kids who are absent early and often are at greater risk for dropping out of school as well as a whole host of economic, marital, social, and psychiatric problems in adulthood. What’s more, researchers are finding that even students with good attendance suffer academically in environments where absenteeism is a problem.

While attendance is important at all levels of education, attendance in early grades is critical. Much of the work (not to mention money) that helps a child gain school readiness skills in preschool or Head Start programs is negated if that child is chronically absent during kindergarten and first grade. They may have entered kindergarten with the same level of readiness skills as their peers, but by third grade they are woefully behind. In one study, students with poor attendance in their kindergarten and first grades scored an average of 60 points below similar students with good attendance on third-grade reading tests. In math, the gap was nearly 100 points.

September is National Attendance month. However, just because September is slipping away doesn’t mean attendance goes on the back burner. Far from it. Every school day counts, whether it’s in September, March, or May.

According to the National Center for Student Engagement, achieving high attendance rates occurs when parents, schools, and the community work together to get kids to attend and stay in school.

Thank you school and community partners, donors, and volunteers. Together, we are encircling our children and singing the ABCs of attendance…

Alarm Clocks & After-School Coordinators

Boots & Backpacks

Clean Clothes

Deodorant

Eyeglasses

Food in the belly

Gloves & Good night sleeps

Hats

Interns

Jackets

Kindness

Love

Mittens

Nurse Practitioners

Opportunities

Parents & Principals

Quality Programming

Respect

Site Coordinators, Socks & Shoes, Success Coaches

Teachers & Tutors

Underwear

Volunteers & VISTAs

Warm clothes

Xtra support

Youth Development Workers

Zippers that Work on Coats

A terrific op-ed piece written by Dan Cardinali, president of Communities In Schools recently ran in the New York Times.  You can read  ”How to Get Kids to Class” here.

EmailFacebookPinterestShare

Don’t Quote Me

Four of the twelve new CIS interns. The BSW Social Work students (from left to right) are: Lexy Maciarz, Katie Palazzolo, Gretchen Schultz, and Victoria Kiel

As I sit down to write this post, I’ve just returned from being part of the orientation for our new interns. All twelve of them! It’s a CIS bi-annual ritual that I always look forward to; welcoming all those fresh, new faces, excited to be linked to a CIS Site Coordinator and begin their work within a Kalamazoo Public School. Deb Faling, Director of Social Emotional Learning, supervises the social work interns. “Welcoming our interns each year is like going back to school for me. My social work internships played an important role in my life. The joy of direct practice and mentorship by an experienced practitioner is the heart of what makes social work education so unique. An internship is the core process to becoming part of the profession and going on to make an impact on your chosen community. From the standpoint of our children, they benefit from one on one service by students who have specifically chosen this type of work as their life focus. These interns want to be there for our kids and they create opportunities and learning moments that stay with the children long after the internship is over.”

We’ll introduce you to this year’s nine social work and three health interns—all affiliated through our partnership with Western Michigan University—in a future blog post. Yes, we had them take our pop quiz and, being the good college and graduate students they are, they were up for the challenge! But, for now, thought you might be interested in a “behind the scenes” look at the exercise we did as a way to get to know each other better and begin the conversation about what it takes to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

We placed a quote in each of the four corners of the room. The interns were instructed to read each one and then stand by the quote that spoke to them the most. Then we discussed what they picked and why it resonated with them. Here are the quotes they read:

I might just be my mother’s child, but in all reality I’m everybody’s child.

Nobody raised me; I was raised in this society.

Every child you encounter is a divine appointment.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.

Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.

Which one speaks to you? Perhaps several or all do, but which one resonates with you the most right now? Why?

Each quote, I think, speaks to a dimension of what CIS and its school and community partners are trying to do, not just here in Kalamazoo, but throughout the country: recognize that every child is our child. And, if we hold this to be true, we must expect the best and set high standards for all of our children. Every moment with every child is a moment we must seize. As CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Lauren Longwell said at the training, “Our kids need us to be consistent. They need us to be present to them. We need to show up and be there for them.” Our children learn to believe in themselves because we believe in them. And they will, as one of the interns pointed out, “live up to as low or high as we set the bar.” So we might as well set the bar high and see where it takes our kids—and us. Hey, that sounds pretty good. Okay, go ahead and quote me.

Wondering who the four quotes are attributed to? In order of how they appear above: Tupac Shakur, Wes Stafford, John Whitehead, and Lady Bird Johnson. 

 

EmailFacebookPinterestShare

Calling Out That Person Who Is Behind That Face

Think back to when you were young and in school. Maybe you were in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Who is that special person for you, that, even after all these years, you still carry in your heart?

Who is your caring adult? That is the question CIS has been asking lately of the caring adults we place in the paths of thousands of Kalamazoo Public School students. As part of our mindfulness training, we’ve asked it of our volunteers and we recently asked it of staff during our back to school training. We ask the question because at CIS, we know that behind every caring adult is a caring adult.

So it is not surprising that many of the caring adults recalled by our staff, volunteers, partners, and friends are teachers. After all, teachers help us learn and think. They teach us lessons about abc’s and place-values in math while they challenge us, love us, and help us believe in ourselves and recognize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. They help us find our place in the world. Maya Angelou said this of teachers: This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.

Below are three letters written by our volunteers and staff. In the months to come, we will be posting more of these letters on our blog. In the meantime, a special thank you to all those teachers—whether you are teaching now, retired, or gone from this world, you make a difference. We can not help but carry the lessons you have taught us and impart them to a new generation of learners.

Mr. Ray Schroeder,

You made everyone feel equal, regardless of their social or economic background. Watching you helped me understand that it isn’t about what you have or don’t have, but how you give back.

 

Dear Mrs. Mein,

You taught our 12th grade Honors English class a valuable lesson through the infamous summer reading project you assigned—doing what you’re asked (and doing a good job) matters, even if no one is “checking up” on you. Your warmth, humor, and willingness to share yourself with us endeared you to all of us. You seemed to understand what high schoolers needed. I haven’t forgotten the time you let me run out of the room when something someone said got the best of my hormonal teenage self.

Thank you for making each of us feel special and cared about—even if we were the umpteenth class you’ve had—we still felt like we were your favorites!

PS. If it weren’t for you, and your summer reading project, I wouldn’t know who Somerset Maugham is or read Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or deepened my friendship with my high school best friend.

Dear Mr. Lake,

You saw me hide my flute case before band practice. I know you saw me because our eyes met even though you wore the thickest glasses. I tried to polish my flute and make it gleam like the other new ones, but it was just impossible. You saw me and my anxiety and in front of everyone, you said, “It’s not what it looks like, it’s what it sounds like.”

Thank you so much for giving me the space and encouragement to continue when I felt inadequate. You gave me courage to play away and stop worrying about what things may look like to others. I still see your eyes behind those big glasses, nodding me along.

Who is your Mr. Schroeder, your Mrs. Mein, or Mr. Lake? We’d love to know and possibly post your letter (signed or anonymous). If you’d like to be included in this “recalling a caring adult” project, contact Jennifer Clark at jclark@ciskalamazoo.org or by calling 269.337.1601 x 213.

 

 

EmailFacebookPinterestShare