Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo is one of hundreds of CIS programs embedded in public schools throughout the country, each with the goal of filling gaps in the education of disadvantaged students. That may take the form of finding winter coats for poor kids so they don't miss school on cold days. Or, in Kalamazoo's case, it means giving extra help to struggling kids when the regular school day is over.
Kids in the Kalamazoo after-school program get help with their homework, tutoring if needed, a hot meal, and a bus ride home. This is every working parent's dream child care situation. It fills in those odd hours after school but before the work day is done, and it uses that time to do away with the homework and meal chores that fill precious evening hours before bedtime.
There is a catch. The Kalamazoo program isn't available to middle-class parents, who generally have enough money to find other child care options. At each Kalamazoo site, CIS executives team up with school principals and teachers to identify the students who are on an academic or behavioral cusp and invite them to take one of the after-school slots. "The kids we are providing this for are kids who are struggling in reading or math, who may have some behavioral issues, may have school attendance issues. We're trying to move the needle on those four areas," Kingery says.
In some cases, it's working. "My son went from being an average student to having a 3.5 GPA," says Glenda Shevitski, whose 11-year-old began the program this year. "It's absolutely amazing."
Without the bus ride home, the kids who benefit most from the Kalamazoo program wouldn't have been able to enroll. "Many of the kids who needed the program the most, their parents couldn't consistently provide them with the transportation," Kingery says. "The parents would say, 'Oh sure, I'll do that.' Then it would be, 'Well, I can only do that one day a week because gas is so expensive. Or my car broke down.' "
Many of the kids in the Kalamazoo program have at least one parent working multiple jobs, even if that parent doesn't work a lot of hours. Some of the kids are technically homeless. These living situations can make transportation schedules a nightmare, which the after-school program only partly rectifies with the school bus. Shevitski knows her son is better off than a lot of other kids. "A director from [the] program called and asked if we needed help with Thanksgiving. I said, 'No, we have food stamps. We're fine,' " she says.
Some of the children in the district receive all their meals at school. At Milwood Elementary School, which has partnered with CIS for seven years, parents can sign up for food packs to be sent home on the weekends. A local food bank comes in on Fridays and discreetly places the packets in these students' lockers. "Those kids really look forward to those food packs. If there is ever a time when maybe a child got missed, they start to panic," says Milwood Principal Sara Glendening.