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‘It is a win for everyone’

Local students’ lives improve due to BBBS/CIS partnership

More than a decade ago when Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) employees began identifying students in need of mentoring, the agency knew exactly where to turn: Big Brothers Big Sisters. Since that time, the two organizations have worked together to help improve the lives of Kalamazoo Public Schools’ (KPS) students through mentoring.Both agencies’ leaders agree that the partnership is mutually beneficial and leads to successful outcomes for students. “CIS plays a critical role in the selection of Littles for programs offered for KPS’ students,” says Amy Kuchta, Big Brothers Big Sisters’ chief executive officer. “Because of our powerful partnership, Big Brothers Big Sisters is able to provide services directly to the kids who need them. CIS is the link that makes sure we are able to reach the kids who are in the greatest need of our services.”

CIS executive director Pam Kingery says in order to best serve students, her agency forms partnerships with organizations that offer evidence-based approaches to their programming. “Big Brothers Big Sisters has the expertise and track record for supporting high quality mentoring,” Kingery says. “And because CIS provides a consistent way to identify students who need mentors, BBBS has been able to expand the ways in which community members can become mentors. It is a win for everyone.”

Last school year, nearly 100 Kalamazoo Public Schools’ students had mentors as a result of the Big Brothers Big Sisters/CIS partnership. The Bigs in Business, Bigs on Campus, and school-based programs all have Big/Little matches that have grown out of the collaboration. For example, twice a month, Kalamazoo Central High School students are transported to Stryker to visit their Bigs in Business mentors while Loy Norrix High School students head to Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Stryker. Middle school students from Maple Street are paired with Bigs at National Flavors.

Littles participating in Bigs in Business programs show a lot of growth from their involvement, says CIS site coordinator Deborah Yarbrough. “We’re seeing the students take more initiative and responsibility – whether it’s getting homework turned in or chores done at home.”

Jenna Cooperrider, a success coach with CIS, agrees and remembers a student who was failing school and at risk of dropping out before being matched with a Big Brother. “We connected him to Big Brothers Big Sisters and that,” she says, “was his turning point. Today, he’s not just passing all of his classes, he’s getting A’s and B’s!”

This anecdote is backed up by Big Brothers Big Sisters’ most recent Youth Outcomes Survey. The survey of children served from July 2015 through June 2016 shows that 93 percent of Littles reported improved or maintained grades. The same survey found that 94 percent of the Littles had higher expectations for their education.

“Studies show time and again that mentoring has a positive impact on children’s academic performance,” Kuchta says. “It’s important that the students most in need of attention from an additional caring adult are provided that relationship. Our partnership with CIS helps ensure that this happens year after year and, as a result, students’ lives are improving.”