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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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US Grad Rates Increase, Special Programs Credited

The latest numbers from the Department of Education show increases in graduation rates at both the national and state level, with a notable increase among Texas students (READ MORE). These gains are largely credited to programs and initiatives which are deliberate in providing one-on-one support for struggling students. Today, more than ever, “schools are taking aggressive action, such as hiring intervention specialists who work with students one on one,” to keep at-risk students in school and on the path toward graduation. This is the model that CIS implements every day, reaching more than 25,000 Tarrant County students each year and 1.3 million students nationwide.

Support CIS today, because it works.

Newsday Article


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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


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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/


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Public Education in the 2014-2015 budget

Here is a post we thought was worth sharing discussing the future public education budget!

Repost from http://www.alicetx.com/opinion/article_9866063b-f629-5a46-8696-ff1ce9c48aa3.html

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed SB 1, the 2014-2015 Appropriations Bill, by a vote of 135 to 12. The House Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 1 appropriated just under $194 billion over two years for all funding sources. This funding level represents an increase in 2.1 percent over the 2012-2013 appropriations level for the biennium.

Earlier this session, I spoke about Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ announcement that the state would have $101.4 billion to spend in 2014, which represented an increase of 12.4 percent over 2011 levels. This approved budget for the next biennium would appropriate roughly $194 billion in total spending in the 2014-2015, which encompasses the general revenue funds total of approximately $99 billion. While there are many budget items that deserve comment, I want to focus on how this budget affects public education funding in our state.

The strong economy in our state has enabled us to provide an additional $2.5 billion for public education, a much needed boost to our education system. More specifically, the Foundation School Program (FSP) is appropriated $32.8 billion in General Revenue Funds and General Revenue — Dedicated Funds, a $2.5 billion increase. Apart from the FSP, General Revenue Funds are increased by $192.3 million.

Increases to specific programs include a $230.6 million increase for Instructional Materials Allotment, a $12.6 million increase for Communities in Schools, $8 million increase for the Windham School District, $5 million for Adult Basic Education, $5 million for Texas Advanced Placement Incentives, and an increase of $4 million for Teach for America. These general revenue increases are offset by a decrease of $73.4 million for the funding of state assessments, which could result from the passage of House Bill 5, which reformed the state testing system.

While the 2014-2015 budget does help restore some of the cuts made to public education in our state, more work needs to be done to ensure that resources are in place that effectively promote the educational advancement of our children.


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An Equal Shot at Success

repost from http://www.communitiesinschools.org/blog/

The Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission released a report detailing a five-pronged approach to helping students living in poverty and eliminating the achievement gap.

The report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence,” is designed to guide states and the federal government towards creating an education system that gives all children an equal shot at success. Some of the report’s five recommendations include expanding high-quality early education, better compensating teachers and improving course curricula.

What struck us the most from the Equity and Excellence Commission’s report was the emphasis on mitigating poverty. “States, in partnership with the federal government, should adopt dropout-prevention programs and other alternative-education opportunities for at-risk students,” the report recommends.

Communities In Schools in Tarrant County is on the front lines of the fight against poverty in classrooms. During the 2011-2012 school year, 93 percent of the case-managed students we served were identified as eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. We work to level the playing field and make sure that students get what they need to succeed, including food, clothing health and dental care, school supplies, and other services such as counseling and academic assistance.


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Look for the Nike Swoosh!

Allan Porowski from ICF International and Heather Clawson from Communities In Schools (CIS) recently completed a five-year, comprehensive evaluation of CIS and discovered some compelling takeaways we wanted to share!

One of the main lessons learned is that “sometimes, you have to catch falling knives.” The students working with CIS were selected because they were on fast, downward spiral concerning to grades, behavior, etc. Contradictory to the old stock market adage, CIS must “catch falling knives” everyday to ensure their services are going to the kids who need help most.

Student’s behavior patterns can be easily visualized by “looking for the Nike swoosh.” At-risk youth generally follow this pattern: “an initial downward slide followed by a longer, more protracted period of improvement.” Changing students’ initial negative behavior and turning their lives around takes time…so patience is a must to allow kids enough time to show improvement!

For the full article, visit: http://aea365.org/blog/?p=6718


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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.


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Transitioning from School to Summer

As the last days of school approach, some would say “it’s winding down”.  How wrong they are! Students are growing excited for summer and starting to itch to be free from school.  Faculty and school staff hurry to finish their last teachings of the year and prepare for the summer.  As a CIS social worker, closing paperwork is just beginning.  We have attended training to learn how to finish all of our paperwork and are now ready to begin the process of closing our students’ files by collecting their final report cards and progress reports on improvements they have made throughout the year. 

Closing files sounds like only doing paperwork, but it also means saying goodbye to students that you have worked with for at least a year or maybe more.  It means seeing students through their great times and their rough times, being there for them and helping them grow in numerous areas, which differ for every student.  As excited as I am for summer, I am also sad I will not be there for some students who rely heavily on a smile and encouraging words each day.

I will watch my students walk out the door on the last day of school and wonder how they will do over the summer and even the rest of their lives.  Will they have food to eat? Will they be safe over the summer? What kinds of choices will they make in their lives?  Summer resources, like a summer feeding program, food banks, and summer camps for kids, have been made available to families to help bridge the gap for those in need during the summer holiday.  I can only hope that I have helped them develop the tools necessary for them to succeed in their lives. 

Azle ISD is blessed to have a CIS in every school above lower elementary.  Starting in 5th grade, CIS is available to students through the 12th grade.  This means they will always have an adult who cares about them to help them break down whatever is barring them from success. Knowing this helps me feel better about the well-being of my students.

Along with being sad to see students go, it is also a joyful time to celebrate each of the student’s successes like new friends made or achieving A honor roll.  CIS is an amazing place where each employee gets to change the lives of our youth.  We have the opportunity to foster relationships with students and help them succeed.  Every day we celebrate because our students are making strides, big and small, but overall huge in an era where lack of education is a growing epidemic. 

So yes, I will be sad to see my students leave and yes, I will think about them over the summer and hope that they are all doing well; but this summer I will also be celebrating the success of another great year working for an agency that makes a difference for so many as I look forward to another awesome year to come! 

Sarah Wagle


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A Starry Night at AM Pate Elementary

As I entered the hallway, it felt like the elementary school vibe had been replaced with an art museum-like quality- creativity floating throughout the building. It was Family Art Night at A.M. Pate Elementary and an exciting energy could be felt from the smiles and laughter of the students and their families. Family events after school are not rare at A.M. Pate. The staff works hard to provide enriching activities, free of cost to families, and as the CIS social worker I am proud to be a part of the excitement.

Family Art Night was unique because of the variety of activities and involvement of each staff member. Mr. Cruz was teaching salsa dancing lessons in the science, Ms. Arrieche was creating an original painting by the cafeteria, Mrs. Layton and Mrs. Ambrose were furiously face painting in the hallway, and I was with Ms. Soncrant by the library encouraging students to create their own rings made from buttons and glittery jewels. Not only were the students lining up at the different stations, but their parents were, too, eager to take part in the activities. I felt privileged to meet my students’ parents and family members, and even better to have them be a part of what became our very own “art museum.”  As an outsider from Dallas (which to individuals from Fort Worth is a different world), this event made me feel like a part of the A.M. Pate community.

My journey at A.M. Pate has definitely had its ups and downs because of the complex issues facing my students (which on some days seem to just multiply). Yet, my students demonstrate an amazing resiliency when given the opportunity to shine and when they are encouraged to be unique. Family Art Night was just the type of event needed to showcase the potential of my students who are sometimes overshadowed by others. Even if it was for just one night, the hallways (and permanent student handprints on the outside mural) still reverberates the exciting energy of the school community reminding students to “Keep Your Eyes on the Rise.”

Blanca N. Garcia, LMSW
AM Pate Elementary, Fort Worth, Texas
School Motto: “Keep Your Eyes on the Rise”