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Life Lessons with Chelsey

ChelseyHello Readers! We are thrilled to introduce you to Chelsey, a CIS alumni and recent high school graduate.  She has graciously agreed to talk with us about her experience with the program. I know you will be inspired, so without further ado…

When did you graduate from high school?

Technically, I graduated April 1, 2016, but I walked the stage June 5, 2016.

What are you doing now?

As of now, I am a full-time college student at UTA and a part-time worker at a pet daycare and resort.

Tell me a little bit about your life before getting involved with CIS.

Before CIS, I was a drug addict in an alternative school. I overdosed on drugs at school and got suspended as well as 60 days in alternative school. I didn’t clean up until well into my 60 days when I began regularly meeting with the alternative school counselor.

How did you first hear about CIS?

I first heard about CIS when I was almost done in the alternative school, and the counselor recommended I begin seeing multiple counselors at the public school when I got there.

When and why did you get involved with the program?

I got involved with the program at the end of October in 2015—my first day back in regular school.

What changed about your life when you started working with Amber?

When I started working with Amber, my life changed in so many ways. She was practically feeding me because she sent me home with food every night when my family started moving from hotel to hotel. Not only did she help me in that sense, but she also helped me with my state of mind when I got diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression and stopped eating. She made sure that, after moving hotels for the 7th time, I always had a way to get to school when my parents wouldn’t take me. She also introduced me to some amazing people who have helped me get to where I am now. This includes Rachel, Lindsey, Lauren, James and Cathy Webb and so many others. As far as I’m concerned, Amber changed my life.

If you could talk to her right now, what would you say?

I actually talk to her all the time, but I’d love to say that everything would be so different right now if it weren’t for you and CIS. I wouldn’t be successful in college, work, staying clean or pretty much just generally a successful, good person. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me. You can really say you’ve changed the entire outcome of my life, and I will be forever grateful.

What advice do you have for students who are struggling right now?

Don’t let it be a terrible thing. Yes, I completely understand it’s hard right now, but now you know struggle, and you know you don’t want to live that way. You have to convince yourself and believe that it can’t and will not always be this way. You will make sure that it doesn’t happen. Grades are so important, and so are the people you surround yourself with. Also, make sure that you know your worth, because when you go through tough times you tend to blame yourself and have negative self-talk. It’s definitely not your fault. You are not less of a person just because you’re struggling. Take a breather. Everything has a way of working itself out!

What makes you excited about the future?

I’m excited about everything coming up in my future–speaking events with CIS, college events, my scholarship stuff, my future in business. I hope sometime in my future I can be the Amber to a Chelsey.

You are amazing, Chelsey!  We’re so proud of you.  Thanks for sharing what CIS has done to support you on your journey.


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Spotlight on Staff…Meet Lauren Sly!

Lauren's Picture

Where are you located (which school)?
I am a Program Director. I supervise 6-7 of the CIS programs at multiple schools.
How long have you been with CIS?
3.5 years
What three traits define you?
Hard working, Big heart, Enthusiastic
What made you choose social work?
Originally I wanted to be a lawyer–a guardian ad litem. My Pre- law advisor suggested I look into social work for my degree, and I fell in love with it. In my classes, I found that in this field I could actually make a difference in people’s lives. That sense of vocation for the field of social work has continued to grow throughout my career.
What are some of the challenges you face as a school social worker?
Each day is different, which can be good or bad. Having variety keeps your job interesting and keeps you on your toes. But if you had a difficult day the day before, and you come in and it gets harder, it can be tiring. It’s in these moments that the grit of a social worker is tested. We must have the ability to focus in and work through situations that might make others break down.
What are some of your favorite parts of the job?
I love getting to work with other social workers and help grow them in their abilities. When we help strengthen social workers, they, in turn, are able to help their students become stronger. The work of our organization creates a ripple effect.
Do you have a story that stands out in your mind as a highlight of your work with Communities in Schools so far?
There is one story that will always stay with me. While working with a sibling group, one sister had to go to the hospital for a few health concerns. This girl was homeless and was staying with a friend on her couch. We were working to get her Medicaid benefits that her mother was trying to deny her. When she needed to get her prescriptions filled, she came in very discouraged and ready to just quit trying. This young girl was fighting to survive, struggling with conflict with her mother and overwhelmed with needs. That’s when I told her to focus on her day at school and that I would take over fighting for her Medicaid benefits. She wanted to protest until I reminded her that as an adult and a social worker, it is my job to make sure she has what she needs in this world. She cried and told me no one had ever told her that. Growing up, she was always on her own and didn’t know it was okay to rely on people. I sent her lunch, and when she came back at the end of the day we talked about what I had done on her behalf. Within four days we had everything straightened up and she had her medicines. A few months later she ended up moving in with a relative in another state, but when she left she was healthy, happy and knew she could ask for help.
Ten years ago, who did you think you would be now?
I thought I would be a super busy lawyer bouncing from case to case.
What’s one thing you couldn’t live without?
The support of my co-workers, staff, and organization
What are you listening to/reading these days?
Outlander, Serial and Undisclosed podcasts
Do you have any pets? What kind?
Lots of pets– two paint horses and two corgi dogs
If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
Being a lawyer is still a dream. I think that I would like to continue to gain experience and one day, later in my career, be a guardian ad litem and eventually a juvenile/ family court judge.
What advice do you have for kids who are struggling in school?
You always have a choice. You can choose to make the best or the worst out of things, but you will always have someone who cares about you and your choices. She is sitting right here.
What would you most like to tell yourself at age 13?
Don’t stress so much and apply for scholarships early
What is your dream for the students you serve?
My dream is that they find their way in the world, that they make choices they are proud of and learn from the ones they are not so proud of. I hope that when they are done working with us they know it is okay to ask for help. I hope they leave feeling that they had support and strive for their dreams.


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Summer Struggles

When you think of summer break, what comes to mind? Maybe you associate summer with travel or camps that allow you to explore extracurricular interests. You might think of family road trips to the beach or soccer camp with your friends.  Unfortunately, this is not the meaning of summer for everyone.  For low-income students, in fact, summer can be a real struggle.  Have you heard of a phenomenon called “summer learning loss”?  Studies show that it is a leading factor in the achievement gap between lower and higher income students.  Summer break puts low income students behind their peers academically and impacts long term success with college and careers.  In addition to causing challenges in the classroom, this time when schools are out of session creates problems with getting their physical needs met.  Some students rely on the healthy meals provided at school and the opportunity to be in a safe environment during the week.  This is a serious problem.

Here are a few specifics to put this into perspective:

  • We have more than 25 million low-income public school students in the US.
  • One 2011 study concluded that the average student “loses” about one month’s worth of schooling during a typical summer break. The impact is largely concentrated among low-income students.
  • Low income students often start school behind their middle class peers and continue to fall further behind each summer.
  • By the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged youth are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.
  • One study estimates that only 4% of youth from the lowest income bracket participate in summer camps, as compared to 18% of the highest income youth.
  • Six out of every seven students who receive free- and reduced-price lunches lose access to them when school lets out.

 

In a 2013 Slate.com article, Matthew Yglesias sums it up with this statement, “The basic reality is that parents’ ability to provide enriching summer activities for their children is going to be sharply constrained by income. Working-class single moms in urban neighborhoods—exactly the kind of parents whose kids tend to have the most problems in school—are put in a nearly impossible situation by summer vacation.”

The good news is that we’re starting to take notice and take action to fill the gap. A source from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education says, “With high-profile champions like President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan, summer learning is beginning to get the attention it deserves – and it’s starting to take a new shape.”  Rather than focusing on remedial study programs, summer learning is being re-envisioned to include more hands-on learning, creative projects, sports, skill-building and relational curriculum.  According to the article, this fresh perspective comes from “a strong desire to use summers more strategically as a natural time of year to pilot innovate partnership, teaching and assessment strategies while helping youth living in poverty to get a leg up on their middle class peers.” They see summer as opportunity to develop more dynamic, non-traditional programs.

This trend is encouraging. A quick online search revealed a wide array of summer programming geared toward low-income students across the country.  A few highlights include the L.A. KIDS program, through the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation department. Their mission is youth development in low-income areas.  They strive to “provide valuable programs and nutrition in a well-supervised, safe, structured and nurturing environment”.  They have more than 100 recreation centers in the greater Los Angeles area offering a summer sports academy that includes free transportation and lunch. The Texas Department of Agriculture organizes a Summer Feeding Program to provide nutritious and free meals to children 18 and younger during the summer months. School districts and other eligible sponsors may serve as summer feeding program sites.

Social workers at Communities in Schools of Greater Tarrant County are also doing their part. Several schools put on a week-long summer camp for their students.  Summer Camp YogaThey are also delivering packets to parents during home visits with information on summer camps, summer feeding programs, swimming safety tips and fun, free summer activities in the area or distributing flyers and hygiene kits or passing out scholarship applications for summer school.  CIS is joining efforts across the country to provide support, educational enrichment and food during the summer for kids who wouldn’t have access to these resources otherwise.

Sources:

http://www.summerlearning.org/

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/07/summer_learning_loss_summer_vacation_hurts_kids_in_school_and_is_especially.html

http://www.education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Journals/spring2010/why-summer-learning/

http://www.laparks.org/lakids/

http://www.squaremeals.org/Programs/SummerFeedingPrograms.aspx

 

 


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All the News That’s Fit to Print

It’s a good day in the office when your organization is recognized by one of the beacons of journalistic integrity and quality. In honor of the new school year, the New York Times featured an op-ed piece by Communities in Schools’ president Daniel J. Cardinali. In the piece, Cardinali tackles tough questions about why kids don’t go to school — ultimately insuring early dropout — and speculates on theories about what it takes to keep them in class. As you might have guessed, Cardinali concludes that CIS is the best solution. Take a moment to read what he wrote; he says it better than anyone else can.

How to Get Kids to Class by Daniel J. Cardinali

 


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Mythbusters

Unlike our slightly whacky friends on the TV series Myth Busters, I offer you no exploding crash dummies, no spontaneous combustion, no free falls from deadly heights…just the facts. Here at CIS as we tell the Communities In Schools story, we come across some interesting myths. While most are understandable, some must have their roots in Comic-Con legends. Here are some fun myths/facts:

  1. CIS is part of Fort Worth ISD. CIS here in Tarrant County owes its beginnings to Fort Worth ISD because Trustees allowed CIS its first shot at establishing credibility inside two Fort Worth high schools and we are still serving them 23 years later …But no, CIS is not part of Fort Worth ISD. CIS is an independent non-profit organization that now serves 46 schools in 10 school districts. BUSTED!
  2. CIS picks the students we serve. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Educators inside our schools pick (actually refer and recommend are better terms) our students based on their observations of risk factors and student/family needs. To further dispel this myth, CIS is required by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to provide hard documentation that the students we serve meet TEA at-risk criteria. BUSTED!
  3. TEA pays for CIS programs. Well, if 15 cents on the dollar is “paying for” CIS, then yes. The truth is that Legislative funding for CIS is administered by TEA. Here in Tarrant County, school districts pay about half of the costs for their CIS programs, TEA pays for about 15% and the remaining 35% is generously provided by local community organizations, foundations and individuals. So no, TEA does not pay for CIS programs. BUSTED!
  4. CIS social workers come from the planet Krypton and are more powerful than locomotives, can leap tall buildings in a single bound and are faster than speeding bullets. Well, the powerful locomotive part is of course correct, but the rest…maybe not so much. Miracle workers – yes; angels – probably so, but super-heroes from Krypton? No; much more down-to-earth and real than that. BUSTED!
  5. CIS is dropout prevention; students drop out of high schools, so CIS is a high school program. This one is partially true. CIS serves students in 16 high schools, but the remaining 30 schools are middle and junior high schools and elementary schools. Why? Because dropping out of school is not an “event” that happens in high school. It is a “process” that begins in early childhood. Our goal is to interrupt that process all along the way so that the dropout event never takes place. BUSTED!
  6. CIS is a school. Oh my! Not even close to our skill set. We do the things inside schools that professional educators wish they could do for students and families but cannot. BUSTED!
  7. CIS chooses the schools we serve. Superintendents and Principals know which schools need a CIS program and they set their priorities for expanding CIS into additional schools. Our job is to raise the matching funding so that we can say YES when they ask for new programs. BUSTED!
  8. CIS is a great place to work. It turns out that the votes are in on this one. CIS has been recognized by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce as a “best workplace for women” in the mid-size company category. TRUE!
  9. CIS is the largest employer of social workers in Tarrant County. This is true also and we are always looking for the next great social worker(s). Apply now. Visit our website at www.cistarrant.org for more information. TRUE!

These last two are not really myths, but I just couldn’t pass up a chance to reach out to some great social workers. I hope this helps to clear up some misconceptions, but let us know if you have questions.

– Mike Steele, President and CEO of Communities In Schools of Greater Tarrant County


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Nonprofits Need Unbiased Assessment

We recently came across a blog that discusses the importance of charities being evaluated by an independent source rather than conducting self-evaluations. Communities In Schools is proud to be an organization that regularly undergoes outside evaluation. Our data is verified every school year by third parties, including the official records of each school and the Texas Education Agency. We rely on this data validation to confirm that our programs are effective, and that we are having a positive impact on students.

We have included the Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Most Charities Shouldn’t Evaluate Their Work: Part Two” below. To access the full article, click the link at the bottom of this blog post.

Most Charities Shouldn’t Evaluate Their Work: Part Two

 So what should happen if no one has properly evaluated an idea yet? If it’s important, an independent and suitably skilled researcher should evaluate it in enough detail and in enough contexts for other charities and donors to rely on the findings. The leading medical journal The Lancet cites a tenet of good clinical research: “Ask an important question, and answer it reliably.

A countercultural implication follows from this. It’s often said that the evaluation of a grant should be proportionate to the size of the grant. It’s also often said that evaluations should be proportionate to the size of the charities. We can see now that both views are wrong. The aim of an evaluation is to provide a reliable answer to an important question. From there, the amount worth spending on an evaluation is proportionate to the size of the knowledge gap and the scale of the programs that might use the answer.

To illustrate, suppose a small company has developed a new drug for breast cancer. The “first-in-(wo)man studies,” as they’re called, involve only a few people, for obvious safety reasons. Relative to the cost of dispensing the drug to those few women, how much should the company spend on evaluating the effect on them? The answer is “a lot,” because the answer is important for many people. So the cost of the “pilot” is irrelevant. So too is the size of the company running the “pilot.” Often, the cost of robustly evaluating a program will exceed the cost of delivering that program—which is fine, if the results are useful to a wide audience.

Conflicted out

So not only are most charities unskilled at evaluations—and we wouldn’t want them to be—but also we wouldn’t want most charities to evaluate their own work even if they could. Despite their deep understanding of their work, charities are the worst people imaginable to evaluate it because they’re the protagonists. They’re selling. They’re conflicted. Hence, it’s hardly surprising that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation study found “some, though relatively few, instances of outcomes being reported with little or no evidence to back this up.”

I’m not saying that charities are corrupt or evil. It’s just unreasonable—possibly foolish—to expect that people can be impartial about their own work, salaries, or reputations. As a charity CEO, I’ve seen how “impact assessment” and fundraising are co-mingled: Charities are encouraged to parade their self-generated impact data in fundraising applications. No prizes for guessing what happens to self-generated impact data that isn’t flattering.

To my knowledge, nobody’s ever examined the effect of this self-reporting among charities. But they have in medicine, where independent studies produce strikingly different results to those produced by the protagonists. Published studies funded by pharmaceutical companies are four times more likely to give results favorable to the company than are independent studies. It’s thought that around half of all clinical trial results are unpublished, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which half that might be.

Who should do evaluations?

Skilled and independent researchers, such as academics, should normally take on evaluation of ideas. They should be funded independently and as a public good, such that charities, donors, and others can access them to decide which ideas to use.

For the full blog visit http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/most_charities_shouldnt_evaluate_their_work1  


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Poverty as a Childhood Disease

The devastating growth and developmental effects poverty can have on a child has become so apparent that there was recently a call for pediatricians to begin addressing childhood poverty as a national problem rather than dealing with it on a case by case basis. The following article discusses not only how the decrease in social mobility is forcing children who were born into poverty to remain there, but also how the stunts in developmental growth caused by poverty can even affect a child’s genes. Do you think we need to begin viewing child poverty as a national problem?

“Poverty is an exam room familiar. From Bellevue Hospital in New York to the neighborhood health center in Boston where I used to work, poverty has filtered through many of my interactions with parents and their children.

Me, I’m one generation out. My mother will tell you about her Depression childhood, the social worker who checked the family’s pots to see whether they were secretly able to afford meat, the landlord who put the furniture out on the street. It wasn’t character-building or noble, she says. It was soul-destroying, grinding and cruel.

And it’s even crueller, now that social mobility has decreased and children who grow up poor are more likely to stay poor.

At the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies last week, there was a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty as a national problem, rather than wrestling with its consequences case by case in the exam room.

Poverty damages children’s dispositions and blunts their brains. We’ve seen articles about the language deficit in poorer homes and the gaps in school achievement. These remind us that — more so than in my mother’s generation — poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness.

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on the idea of toxic stress, in which a young child’s body and brain may be damaged by too much exposure to so-called stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine. When this level of stress is experienced at an early age, and without sufficient protection, it may actually reset the neurological and hormonal systems, permanently affecting children’s brains and even, we are learning, their genes.

Toxic stress is the heavy hand of early poverty, scripting a child’s life not in the Horatio Alger scenario of determination and drive, but in the patterns of disappointment and deprivation that shape a life of limitations.

At the meeting, my colleague Dr. Benard P. Dreyer, professor of pediatrics at New York University and a past president of the Academic Pediatric Association, called on pediatricians to take on poverty as a serious underlying threat to children’s health. He was prompted, he told me later, by the widening disparities between rich and poor, and the gathering weight of evidence about the importance of early childhood, and the ways that deprivation and stress in the early years of life can reduce the chances of educational and life success.

“After the first three, four, five years of life, if you have neglected that child’s brain development, you can’t go back,” he said. In the middle of the 20th century, our society made a decision to take care of the elderly, once the poorest demographic group in the United States. Now, with Medicare and Social Security, only 9 percent of older people live in poverty. Children are now our poorest group, with almost 25 percent of children under 5 living below the federal poverty level.

When Tony Blair became prime minister of Britain, amid growing socioeconomic disparities, he made it a national goal to cut child poverty in half in 10 years. It took a coalition of political support and a combination of measures that increased income, especially in families with young children (minimum wage, paid maternity and paternity leaves, tax credits), and better services — especially universal preschool programs. By 2010, reducing child poverty had become a goal across the British political spectrum, and child poverty had fallen to 10.6 percent of children below the absolute poverty line (similar to the measure used in the United States), down from 26.1 percent in 1999.

“Poor families who benefited from the reform were able to spend more money on items for children: books and toys, children’s clothing and footwear, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia who has studied the British war on childhood poverty.

Dr. Dreyer said: “Income matters. You get people above the poverty level, and they actually are better parents. It’s critical to get people out of poverty, but in addition our focus has to be on also giving families supports for other aspects of their lives — parenting, interventions in primary care, universal preschool.”

At the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, the most unexpected speaker — to a room full of pediatricians — was Robert H. Dugger, managing partner of Hanover Investment Group, who made the economic case for investing in young children. “History shows that productivity increases when people are able to access their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Mr. Dugger told me. “There is no economic recovery strategy stronger than committing to early childhood and K-through-12 investment.”

Think for a moment of poverty as a disease, thwarting growth and development, robbing children of the healthy, happy futures they might otherwise expect. In the exam room, we try to mitigate the pain and suffering that are its pernicious symptoms. But our patients’ well-being depends on more, on public health measures and prevention that lift the darkness so all children can grow toward the light.”

Klass, Perri. “Poverty as a Childhood Disease.” New York Times 13 May 2013. Web. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/poverty-as-a-childhood-disease/