cistarrant

It's In You.


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

Research-Based “Warm Fuzzies”?

If you have even a passing acquaintance with Communities In Schools, you know that CIS is based on decades of research about why young people drop out of school and what it takes to keep that from happening. This research drives the CIS program model. The model is school-based. It is a comprehensive, wrap-around service approach that depends heavily on collaborative support from dozens of partner organizations who are experts in their own fields. It serves not just students, but whole families. In educational circles, the concept is known as integrated student services.

We also talk a lot about “intensity” and we implement the CIS model in ways that maximize the number and regularity of interactions with individual students. This supports the understanding that occasional brushes with caring adults don’t change the courses of young lives. In fact, our founder Bill Milliken puts it best when he says “Programs don’t change people; relationships change people”.  And this, you may think, is where the research-based stuff goes out the window and the “warm fuzzies” begin. But wait! Not so fast, my friend.

Paul Tough’s 2012 book called “How Children Succeed” recounts the work of numerous other researchers. For decades, society has worked under the premise that cognitive ability (how much we know) was the single most reliable determinant of how a person’s life would turn out. But, it turns out that certain psychological traits were more reliable predictors of what allowed high school students to make it through to graduation. Those traits, including an inclination to persist at boring and often unrewarding tasks, the ability to delay gratification, the tendency to follow through on a plan…also turned out to be valuable in college, in the workplace and in life in general. This led to some obvious questions like, why do some young people have these traits and some don’t? Can these traits be taught and learned? How?

Most answers turned out to be rooted in childhood development and the medical fields of neuroendocrinology (the study of how hormones interact with the brain) and stress physiology (the study of how stress affects the body). Don’t bail on me here…I promise to stay in the shallow end of the research pool.

Scientists have reached a consensus that the key channel through which early adversity causes damage to developing bodies and brains is stress. Cascading chemical signals through the brain and the body are triggered in reaction to intense situations…..stress. In fact, the evolutionary rush of chemicals designed to save our life from lions on the savanna, is a massive and damaging over-reaction to the stresses of the 21st century. What was designed to give us a momentary surge of protective energy is activated for months on end as stresses about hunger, homelessness, family violence, abuse, grief and loss, and countless other stressors that overwhelm some children. Eventually, stress-management systems overload and break down under the chemical strain. Stress physiologists have found a biological result of this phenomenon as well. The part of the brain most affected by early stress is the prefrontal cortex which is critical to self-regulatory activities of all kinds. As a result, children who grow up in stressful environments generally find it harder to concentrate, harder to sit still, harder to rebound from disappointments, and harder to follow directions. And all of these have a direct impact on their success in school.

These self-regulatory processes are generally referred to as executive functions. Here is where the research shakes hands with CIS. The reason that researchers who care about the gap between rich and poor are so excited about executive functions is that these skills are not only highly predictive of success; they are also quite malleable, much more so than other cognitive skills. The prefrontal cortex is more responsive to intervention than other parts of the brain, and it stays flexible well into adolescence and early adulthood. So if we can improve a child’s environment in the specific ways that lead to better executive functioning, we can increase his prospects for success. Furthermore, it turns out that there is a particularly effective antidote to the ill effects for early stress, and it comes not from pharmaceutical companies or early-childhood educators. Parents and substitute or supplemental family figures (hello CIS social workers) who are able to form close, nurturing relationships can foster resilience in children that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment and can even reverse the chemical imbalance that caused the damage. Executive functions and the ability to handle stress and manage strong emotions can be improved, sometimes dramatically, well into adolescence and even adulthood.

So it seems that close, nurturing relationships do not just make for happier children. Research indicates that kids with these relationships are also be more likely to graduate from high school, to stay out of jail, to delay pregnancy, and to have more positive relationships with their own children…breaking family cycles of damage due to childhood stress. For those of us at Communities In Schools, this is changing the picture of education; one student and one family at a time.

Using words like “relationships” can sound all warm and fuzzy but in fact, even this part of CIS is rooted in cold, hard science. The effect is not just emotional or psychological, the neuroscientists say; it is biochemical. Yes…research-based warm fuzzies. Who knew?

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


Leave a comment

My First Semester as a CIS Project Manager

Alfi Thazhathel is a new Project Manager serving in Crowley ISD.

I joined Communities In Schools in fall of 2013 as a Project Manager, eager to begin my career in Social Work, especially working with students at a school.

The training sessions were intense–it seemed like there was so much information to absorb! My fellow co-workers encouraged me along the way, reassuring me and empowering me as I moved toward my first day working inside the school.

On my first day at North Crowley 9th Grade Campus, I was introduced to the school staff, a friendly group who welcomed me with open arms. I truly enjoy working with each and every staff member. They make me feel as if I am making a difference and a vital part of the school’s team. Similarly, the students at the school are very respectful and understand that I am there to help them succeed. In just a short time, we have developed strong relationships–they view me as someone who is always there for them.

Even in a short time, there have been many successes to celebrate.  I have coordinated school-wide events, class field trips, and other activities for the students. I have provided effective individual services and case management, with many students showing improvements in grades, attendance, and behavior. Low self-esteem and anger are prevalent at my school, and group sessions with students who struggle in these areas are already proving very successful at addressing the issues.

As with any job, there are some challenges, mainly paperwork! It can be difficult to keep up with intense documentation as time flies by each day. However, a critical part of the CIS model is accountability and tracking the effective and performance outcomes of our program. Student data allows us to analyze our practices, improve where needed, and monitor students’ progress throughout the year. Another challenge is finding adequate time to meet with the students, to provide them with the in-depth support we desire for them. We are constantly trying to strike a balance between providing them with the support they need for individual or group sessions without interrupting classroom time.

Despite the challenges, I truly enjoy going to work every day. I can see the difference I am making. Seeing students come in to my office with a frown and leaving with a smile truly makes my day. The dream I had of making a difference in the lives of young people is slowly coming true. I am thankful to be a part of the CIS team.

Alfi J. Thazhathel, LMSW


Leave a comment

No Rich Child Left Behind

At Communities In Schools, we are all too familiar with poverty’s effects on youth and their education. We found the following article interesting, as it dispels some rumors about the correlation of family income and education and uncovers some shocking truths. Do you find the statistics shocking?

We have included a portion of the article, “No Rich Child Left Behind” by Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon below.

“Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.

In a more recent study, my graduate students and I found that 15 percent of high-income students from the high school class of 2004 enrolled in a highly selective college or university, while fewer than 5 percent of middle-income and 2 percent of low-income students did.

These widening disparities are not confined to academic outcomes: new research by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and his colleagues shows that the rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.

In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?”Image

To continue reading about the effects on poverty and education and possible solutions, read the full article at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/no-rich-child-left-behind/


1 Comment

Report to the Community Recap

Communities In Schools’ 7th annual Report to the Community Breakfast took place on Tuesday, February 5th at The Woman’s Club of Fort Worth. CIS was delighted to share program outcomes with key stakeholders, confirming that their investments are yielding a positive return in the lives of thousands of Tarrant County students. Guests heard a detailed report of the stay-in-school and graduation outcomes for the past school year as well as personal accounts from students served by the program.       

CIS has a strong track record of successfully keeping at-risk students in school and providing them the support they need to graduate. The CIS “report card” from the 2011-2012 school year can be found at http://www.cistarrant.org/about/results. A few key outcomes include:

  • Total Students Served in 38 Schools……………………23,297
  • Intensively Managed Students……………………………3,307

Of those students receiving intensive case management:

  • Stay in School Rate: 98%
  • Improved behavior: 95%
  • Graduation Rate: 95%
  • Post Secondary School: 76%

These results confirm the effectiveness of the CIS program. Proof also lies in the personal accounts from students who have worked intensely with CIS social workers, resulting in positive life changes. At the Report to the Community Breakfast, students Emahni Holliday and Christine Thompson shared how CIS intervention has transformed their lives.

Emahni Holliday is a student at Central Junior High School. Emahni has experienced many trials that would be difficult for any child to overcome. At a young age Emahni found herself beginning to act out both at school and at home. Emahni explains she felt “angry” almost all of the time, and eventually she started abusing drugs. It seemed as if no one could correct the path she was on. Emahni then met her CIS social worker and things took a turn for the better. She developed a relationship with her social worker that allowed her to start connecting with those around her, including her Assistant Principal. Then this past Thanksgiving, Emahni’s older brother passed away. In a situation where she would usually react with anger and misbehavior, Emahni has been able to work through her anger and sadness in a healthy way with the help of her CIS social worker and others with whom she has begun to develop relationships. Those around Emahni have noticed the change in her and her future has begun to look very bright. 

Christine Thompson is a senior at Azle High School. Christine’s father operated a meth lab in her house when she was only 6 years old. Her father would leave her and her older brother at home to go on drug deals, and even at such a young age Christine knew she was living a nightmare. After Christine developed a rare lung condition from the fumes of the meth lab, her father was arrested and charged with drug possession, a controlled lab, and two counts of child endangerment. Afterward, Christine was placed into the custody of her mother and step-father and things seemed to be improving. Christine entered high school with a positive attitude, she made the honor roll and was even a member of the school marching band. Things were looking good until she learned her father had passed away. Christine had trouble coping with the devastating news, and her grades slipped as she gave up on her dream of going to college and becoming a nurse. However, it was then Christine was introduced to CIS, a program that she says has “change her life forever.” Christine developed a relationship with her CIS social worker, Ms. Haas, which was a blessing, especially when Christine’s mother was soon thereafter arrested for drug possession. Feeling hurt and betrayed, Christine was able to turn to her social worker, Ms. Haas, to help her through her grief and depression.  Christine pushed through yet another trial in her life, improved her grades, set goals, and was recently accepted to Lubbock Christian University with an academic scholarship to study nursing.

 

If you would like to see more success stories you can visit our website at http://www.cistarrant.org/success-stories.


Leave a comment

Texas High School Graduation Rates Tied for 3rd in the Nation

According to the US Department of Education, Texas has achieved a graduation rate of 86%. These statistics show Texas is truly making an effort in its education program by providing students a quality learning experience to better equip students for future success. Texas ranked number one in the country for graduation rates among Asian and white students, and tied for first among African-American students.

Students participating in Communities In Schools of Greater Tarrant County programs graduated at a rate of 95% last year, which is higher than the state average. CIS is contributing to these high graduation rates by providing targeted, intensive case management to the most vulnerable students. The dedicated CIS workers are helping support students to ensure they can “succeed in life,” by taking the first step and receiving their high school diploma.

For the full article, please visit: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/news_release.aspx?id=2147510173


Leave a comment

An Inspirational Student Finishes School Year Strong

Jenny Rodriguez is a very intelligent student and makes friends easily despite being shy and private about her home life. Jenny has a rare disease of the immune system called Hereditary Angioedema (HAE). She lives with her mother, Tracy, who suffers from the same disease and her older sister, Vicky, who did not inherit it. They almost never make it through a complete school year in one district, let alone one school. Let me tell you a little about this student and the obstacles she has faced throughout this school year.

First, I want you to imagine what it is like to be in Jenny’s shoes: Imagine you are stressed because you don’t have a stable home to live in, you live in fear because you have previously been taken from your mothers care and placed in a foster home. Child Protective Services found your mom unfit to care for your needs and called her neglectful when she had long hospital stays. When mom was in the hospital, she was unable to make it to the bank to cash her SSI check to pay rent so you are evicted. No matter how much money your mom makes it seems you can’t get approved to rent another apartment. You are tired of seeing your mom stress over roommate situations that are less than ideal- sometimes leading to hostile and unhealthy situations. What is the point of making new friends? In a few weeks you will probably be at a new school in a new district.

Scenarios similar to Jenny’s cause difficulties at school, but when you also have the same symptoms and disease as your mom, it gets a little more complicated. Like most people when stress is high, the immune system tends to fail causing people to get sick. A symptom of HAE is spontaneous swelling, which can be severe and painful. Sudden swelling attacks due to Jenny’s stress have caused her to miss several days of school. When Jenny returns to school, she is overwhelmed by missing instruction and make-up work, which stresses her out and triggers another episode. The cycle is continuous.

The first few months I worked with Jenny, I had to do a few home visits to make sure she was actually sick and check on the living conditions. I helped mom and student figure out a system to get the absences excused when Jenny was sick. Mom couldn’t always call because twice this year she was on life support and had to receive meds through a port in her chest. I wrote to the doctors to fax notes to the school directly rather than send them with the patient who was already overwhelmed.

For the holidays, CIS helped get them food and found a family to adopt them so they had presents. Jenny returned in the spring. Tracywas able to find a temporary place with the Carter’s, a family who interestingly enough was already on my caseload as well. The Carter’s consistent of a single mom, Harriet, and a 7th grade boy and 8th grade girl. Harriet had always lived with her parents due to her inability to get or keep a job until her parents were fed up and told her to move out. Using the Family Crisis Fund, we were able to get the two families in an apartment in Euless. Through the McKinney Vento Act, the school distract was able to provide bus transportation for the students which also helped improve Jenny’s attendance.

The families have now been living in the apartment for four months and both mothers have found work at the Racetrack in Grand Prarie. Jenny completed a “Child Skills” group which taught her various ways to handle and address stress. At the end of the school year, Jenny had completed three trimesters at the same school. She has made significant progress in attendance. By providing her with a supportive community, Jenny has adopted a new “I can achieve anything attitude” and knows where to lean when her mom is sick or stressors arise. I told her how proud I was of her for her constant perseverance and for making it through the school year. I am not sure if this would have been possible if I had not intervened with the family. For that, Jenny is my greatest success story.