Every year in America, 1.2 million students, or one every nine seconds, drop out of school and lose the path to a better future. On a local level, high school dropout rates for Asheville City Schools (4.8%) and Buncombe County Schools (4.65%) are slightly higher than North Carolina overall (4.27%).
The Communities in Schools (CIS) Success Coordinator program at Johnston and Emma Elementary Schools aims to change those statistics by empowering students to stay in school and achieve in life. A school-based CIS Success Coordinator connects students and their families to critical community resources that are tailored to their needs. This Coordinator also provides students with a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to learn and grow; a healthy start and future; a marketable skill to use upon graduation; and a chance to give back to peers and the community. They accomplish this by working with a site team (principal, counselor, social workers, and teachers) to develop a comprehensive site plan. The plan includes services that address identified school-wide needs, or build and reinforce student assets. It also identifies services for specific students at high risk of eventually dropping out of school. This combination of services ensures that students are getting the academic and personal support they need to stay in school and achieve in life. The CIS Success Coordinator provides holistic services within the school day and in the community to both the child and his or her family.
Here is just one example of what this means:
A student at Johnston Elementary School lost his mother to an illness two weeks after school began. He was absent for several weeks. Lisa Barlow, the CIS Success Coordinator at Johnston Elementary, and the school social worker made multiple home visits to the grandmother’s home, where the child was living. They brought the child’s school work and got services with Hospice set up for the first day he returned to school.
Lisa continued the home visits throughout the year, and provided his grandmother with resources for the family, since they were struggling to make ends meet on the grandmother’s Social Security income. Children First/Communities In Schools provided Food Boxes, Holiday Assistance, and school supplies. At one point the child’s glasses broke. Although he is a Medicaid recipient, he was ineligible to receive a second pair of glasses – even though he has a unique prescription and is almost blind in one eye. Through Children First/CIS, Lisa was able to obtain the eye prescription and purchase the glasses for him before his final exams.
Lisa reports that on a recent visit with the family the child’s grandmother told her that she was having a challenge with his teacher and school work. Lisa role-played scenarios with the grandmother and Coordinatored her on how to communicate in a positive way that would best support the child and his education. The grandmother and the child’s teacher had a successful meeting, and grandma saw positive results.
As you can see from this simple story, too many children in our community arrive in the classroom with the weight of the world keeping them from being able to concentrate on learning and thriving. By empowering students to achieve in school and life, we are building a better Buncombe County, where every person is capable of reaching his or her greatest potential.
According to the American Psychological Association, “School programs that focus on social, emotional, and academic learning from kindergarten through high school have been found to improve school attitudes, behavior, and academic performance. One approach is partnerships between schools and families to encourage learning.” The CIS Success Coordinator engages community partners and volunteers to address both the academic and social service needs of students. The result is improved attendance, behavior, academic performance, retention rates and graduation rates.
An independent study conducted by ICF International established that “Communities In Schools is the only dropout prevention program in the nation proven to increase graduation rates, graduating students on time with a high school diploma.”
The target population is economically disadvantaged children (grades K- 5th grade) and their families living in two public housing complexes and a Section 8 apartment complex in West Asheville. Action for Children of North Carolina and Buncombe County records report: 1 in 4 children in Buncombe County are living in poverty; and schools in our service area have above 80 percent eligibility for free and reduced cost lunches because their families live on income at no more than 130 percent of the poverty line.
2011-2012 Success Coordinator Outcomes:
- New books for all rising 5th graders
- Love! Learn! Read! reading workshops for all parents of k-3rd graders. Each family was given materials and new ways to read with their students
- Organized afterschool tutors
- Provided the school with new material for the media center on eliminating drop out, substance abuse and behavior motivations
- TD Bank presented a workshop on saving vs. spending to all 3rd graders. The book, “The Can Man” was given to all students who participated
- Collaborated with Big Brothers Big Sisters to offer services for all Johnston Students
- Worked with teachers to create a clothing closet
- Holiday assistance provided to families in Case Management
- School supplies given to all students
- Provided intensive Case Management for 33 children and their families
Lisa Barlow, Family Resource Center at Emma Coordinator/CIS Success Coordinator at Emma Elementary
Sara Shuster, CIS Success Coordinator at Johnston Elementary,
Children First/Communities In Schools Buncombe County
50 S. French Broad Ave. Ste. #246
Asheville, NC 28801
fax: (828) 281-3308