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.”

#LightsOnAfterschool

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

 

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