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Helping Students Beyond the Classrom

Less than a week before the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year I was told I would be placed at Versia L. Williams Elementary to establish a new CIS program. Of course, I was excited about the opportunity to serve a new school but I also expected there to be tons of leg work. As a social worker and project manager with CIS, we are on the front lines and we often find ourselves promoting and implementing our school based stay-in-school program alongside teachers, parents, students, and community members. The effectiveness of the CIS program depends heavily on the partnerships we build with these individuals. So… making a good first impression is priceless!

When I arrived at my new school and began meeting with teachers, staff members, and parents, I noticed a recurrent theme. The well-being and success of students and families is the core of Versia Williams. As an educational institution, the faculty and staff work to ensure students are successful in the classroom, but they also partner with parents to help students achieve success in life. The belief that school professionals, parents, and community members can positively impact the lives of students aligns with the mission of the CIS program and is evident in the work taking place at Versia Williams.

The principal, Mrs. Whatley has formed a strong team of professionals that work together cohesively with one goal in mind, student success. To help accomplish this goal, Versia Williams has master math and reading specialists, a dean of instruction, parent liaison, counselor, school psychologist, and a CIS social worker. In addition to putting together a team of professionals, Mrs. Whatley encourages staff members to collaborate with each other, asses the needs of students and their families, and implement best practices within our specialties to meet identified needs.

With this in mind, the parent liaison and I facilitated a basic computer skills course for parents. The course covered computer basics, such as learning the names and functions of computer hardware, creating an e-mail account, and accessing parent portal (an online database for FWISD parents to monitor their child’s academic progress). Since Versia Williams is a dual language campus, the course was offered in Spanish and English. In addition to providing a computer course for parents, CIS partnered with the Tarrant Area Food Bank to assist parents in completing applications for food stamps to ensure students are not hungry when they arrive at school. The resources and partnerships for each campus served by CIS are unique because they are based upon the current needs of students.

To ensure current needs are met, CIS staff members create and implement a campus plan each semester to help students overcome barriers to success. Campus plans provide a framework for the work that CIS staff do on a daily basis. After reviewing the campus plan, principals are provided an opportunity to share comments regarding the campus plan and Mrs. Whatley’s had this to say…

“Mrs. Rodriguez has developed a thorough and comprehensive plan for our campus. Our campus plan will have a major and positive impact on our students, staff and community. We are very excited about our campus plan and Mrs. Rodriguez has been a great resource and addition to our school family”.

Helping students to achieve is the foundation of the CIS program and it is also the basis for everything we do at Versia Williams. Mrs. Whatley’s comment shows that the CIS program meets a need that many schools, families, and communities share. And as I mentioned previously, first impressions do count!

 

Alecia Rodriguez, LBSW

Versia L. Williams Elementary


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School Begins at Sherrod Elementary

It’s a new year here at Sherrod Elementary and I could not be more excited! I am fairly new to Communities In Schools. I started late in the 2011-2012 school year, so this will be my first full school year with CIS. I absolutely love the school I have been placed at. Sherrod truly does function as a family unit. The students are bright, hard working, and actually excited to be at school! The teachers and staff at Sherrod have been so warm and welcoming. They have bent over backwards to make sure I have everything I need to serve their students. I am excited about all the opportunities this year will bring. Beginning school at the end of last year didn’t leave time to accomplish all I had hoped to before summer. I assured myself that I would soon have an entire school year to plan and implement all these wonderful ideas for the CIS program at Sherrod! Now the time has come to put my plan in to action and I am so excited about all the new opportunities!

When I came to Sherrod last year I was told time and time again, “You were the missing piece of the puzzle.” This school has a large support staff working night and day to serve their students. We have instructional facilitators to assist and empower teachers in the classroom, a parent liaison that does wonders getting parents involved in the school, as well as a behavioral specialist, special education counselor and a wonderful enrichment team. Despite the schools many strengths and resources, the students were still in need. Many of Sherrod’s students struggle with hunger, homelessness, violence, abuse, poverty, and numerous other barriers that influence their education. In my first days of work, I was called to help two separate homeless families find resources in their community. While talking with one family who was living in a hotel, I couldn’t help but think of the children living in that situation. Most of us can’t imagine not having the security of our own bed to sleep in at night or our own home to go to. Despite what these children were dealing with, they were still coming to school expected to focus and learn every single day. I quickly saw why I was the missing piece! I hope this year to have the time, patience, and discipline to serve as many students and families as I can.

-Christina Turner, LBSW

Project Manager


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Fond Memories

I have been employed with CIS for the past 4 years & I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with CIS.

I was first introduced to CIS shortly after I moved to Texas upon graduating from Western Carolina University. I was furiously job hunting & knew very little about Texas or the social work job opportunities here. While scouring the internet for social work jobs, I came across the CIS website. I knew the moment I stumbled upon the CIS website that this job was for me. I enjoy working with children and their families and thought CIS would be the perfect fit. So, I decided to apply for the Project Manager position.

A couple of weeks later, I received a call for an interview. I was so excited and anxious throughout the interview. I really hoped to get this job.

After a second interview, I shortly received a call from Myra letting me know I got the job. I was so excited I did not know what to do. Little did I know the exciting and wonderful journey I would begin by accepting a position with CIS.

My time with CIS has been an exciting. I have gotten to work with and help many families.  I feel that I have been able to make a difference in their lives. I am not going to say it has always been an easy journey, but it has been an enjoyable one.

Although it has been challenging at times balancing the many roles and responsibilities a CIS social worker takes on, I am happy I had the opportunity to have this unique social work experience. It is not often that people can say they love what they do, but I honestly do and would not trade my experience with CIS for anything.

I will truly miss my Azle Elementary and my CIS family when I leave Texas this summer to go back home to North Carolina. I will cherish the fond memories I have made.

-Staci Ward


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New Addition to Our CIS Family

I recently joined Communities In Schools as Vice President and Chief Development Officer. I joined CIS because they make a difference. Cliché, right?

Not when you have the results to prove it.

Since the earliest days of organized altruism, people support charitable organizations because they want to “make a difference,” to “strengthen the community,” to “change lives,” etc. These sentiments, while noble, lead to a key question that many organizations struggle to answer with concrete evidence. And it is a pertinent question that funders are now demanding an answer to: You say you are making a difference. Can you prove it?

I joined Communities In Schools because they CAN prove it.

Last year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) funded an independent, national research project led by Texas A&M University (WHOOP!) that included every drop-out program in the nation.  This study concluded that Communities In Schools is the only program in America that can prove both reduced dropout rates and improved graduation rates. 97% of the at-risk children served by CIS remain in school.

Our dedicated staff work intensely with children facing a wide range of challenges which, if left unaddressed, will have a devastating effect. Every day our staff see children who face hunger, gangs, lack of shelter, pregnancy, and the list goes on.

You know the story of the man who takes a walk on the beach and sees hundreds of starfish washed up on the shore? In the story, the man sees a stranger picking up one starfish at a time and tossing it back in the ocean. When the man asks the stranger why he bothers (because he can’t possibly save them all), the stranger replies, “no, but I saved that one.” This story, while heartwarming, is little comfort to a social worker who goes to bed on Friday night wondering if one of the children at their school will have enough food to sustain them over the weekend, for it is not the hundreds of success stories that stick with this social worker. It’s the face of the child who desperately needs someone to reach out to them, someone to help them navigate and obtain the resources available in the community, someone to empower them. And there are many in need.

The CIS program works, and it is my goal to support this amazing organization by raising needed resources to ensure the program is available to children who need it, and to the school principals who demand it. Yes, you heard that right. Principals in nearly every district in Tarrant County have heard of the success of the CIS program and have expressed desire to bring it to their school because, at the end of the day, they know the CIS social workers will provide their at-risk students with resources and services the school can’t. Even while school budgets are being slashed, our program, since 1992, has grown from serving 2 schools to serving 38. And the demand is growing.

As Communities In Schools celebrates 20 years of helping children succeed in school and in life, we are thankful to our supporters in the community who have made our services possible, and we look ahead to the next decade of demonstrating that CIS is the proven dropout prevention program.

Lindsey Garner


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The key is to work together

It always amazes me to hear the arguments when it comes to school reform. Most pundits propose simple answers: better teachers, better accountability, no more testing, more fine arts, more early education, more charter schools, better post high school options … many are viable and yet, all of these work on only a part of the problem.

Communities in Schools works to keep kids in school because research shows that in the end, it is best for all parties involved. The model consists of placing a social worker in schools that want one. These social workers serve as a resource aggregator for teachers and administrators to get what the student needs to be successful. Sometimes it is as simple as a new pair of eye glasses. Oftentimes it is much more complicated. But ours is one part of the solution. Instead of battling it out over the “best” solution, why don’t we look at the problem like it is … a really tough, complex and important problem to fix. We have been talking about reform for more than 50 years … don’t you think it is time to work together to make it happen? I found this from a local media outlet from the fall outlining a program to prevent drop outs. Working together, we can make a difference.

http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2011/09/09/city-leaders-knocking-on-doors-to-find-school-dropouts/

Stacy Landreth Grau
Community in Schools Tarrant County Board Member


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New Things, New Comforts

There were a few ideas that came to mind when I was asked to write this blog but I think the most significant has been my recent experience as a new Program Director.  This change has taken a bit of getting used to, but I am finding more and more every week that I am truly enjoying it.  I respect and appreciate the increased responsibilities of being a PD.  While traveling around to 6 different offices puts a lot of mileage on my car, it is great to change the scenery and see new faces almost daily! A few things that I love about this position is helping the PM’s with field trips, events and doing groups all while encouraging and watching them grow to produce their best work.  I have a wonderful area of ladies and could not be more blessed with hard workers!

Another great part of this new job, and probably my favorite part, is the camaraderie among all of the Program Directors.  As every social worker knows, paperwork is no picnic.  This is especially true here at CIS when, at the end of the month, each of the 88-92 students has about 20 days’ worth of documentation that is turned in. The load can seem overwhelming at times. Reviewing five or six of these loads can be an even bigger trick! However, it becomes a lot easier with the knowing smile or jokes from a fellow PD who is in the same boat. When we are all together, the various personalities of the PD’s come out and create true laughter and support.  Sometimes I’ll hear giggling from the office at the end of the hall and we all run down to hear the joke.  (Some PD’s have ALL the jokes J). Laughing together really breaks up the hum-drum of staring at Campus Plans or Monthly Measures.  We all work very hard with our different schools, schedules and staff, so coming together to share ideas and lean on one another is often times the kick we need to keep up that hard work.  These girls have gotten me through some tough days with a smile on my face!  This school year has been chaotic to say the least, but the importance of office humor and support from the Central Office staff has been wonderful and makes all the difference in the world.  Going to a job every day to find people that make you smile is the best work of all!

Sara Isley, LMSW

Program Director

Communities In Schools, GTC


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The Holidays

The holiday season is a time of reflection and thanks. Family is always my first thought, but I am lucky enough to have a great family at work too. That family includes our Board members…..all of whom came to us because of their passion to help kids and specifically to help them secure an education……the kind of help that lasts a lifetime and into future generations. But at this time of year, my heart really goes out to our staff. None of these wonderful people are here because of great salaries. CIS people, social workers, financial, marketing and other office staff find their way to CIS and stay with CIS because they know CIS is making a difference in the lives of thousands of kids and their families. It is not everybody who is lucky enough to get paid for doing something that they really love. I am thankful for the opportunity to be associated with so many wonderful and dedicated people. Those of you who know me know that I love my job……you hear me say it all the time. I also hear it from CIS people all the time. So I want to wish a very happy holiday season to everybody in the CIS family…..a very special family.

– Mike Steele, CEO


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Proud, Proud, Proud

As the CEO at Communities In Schools I have the great good fortune of knowing some of the most dedicated young professionals in our community. They are the social workers of CIS. I hear them talk about the students and families they are serving and I even get to meet some of our students. Bottom line, on occasion I have the honor of being up-close-and-personal with the work of CIS. I can see the day-to-day work and have a feel for the difference it is making, not just statistically or in hard outcomes, but in the lives of students and family members. This is here & now stuff…..it is real and inspiring work.

Occasionally though, I see first hand the longer-term transformation of a CIS student over a period of several years. One such student was a student at a Fort Worth high school a few years ago. I met her because of her extraordinary story and success. She lived for most of her time in high school in a homeless shelter here in Fort Worth with her mother, father and a younger sibling. She was picked up in the morning in front of the shelter by a school bus and dropped off at the end of the school day. I’m sure you can imagine as well as I can, the grief she must have taken from her fellow students. All of her worldly belongings fit inside a steel locker that was about a foot wide. She said that when visitors toured the shelter she felt like an animal at a zoo.

To say that she had low self-esteem would be a pretty giant understatement. As she walked, her head was always down and her arms hung lifelessly at her side, she didn’t look anybody in the eye and she would only respond to people when absolutely necessary. When she graduated from high school, I was really proud of her. When she went on the Tarrant County College, I was really proud of her. When she earned her Associates Degree, I was REALLY proud of her. Now she is a junior at UTA majoring in social work and she is doing her first internship here at CIS and doing a great job……proud, proud, proud of her. But do you know what is the most obvious and striking difference between now and when I first met her? Confidence! Genuine confidence in who she is and where she is going. I see her walk down the hall and her posture is straight, her head is up, she greets people when she sees them and she stretches out her hand to meet new people. She is growing into a mature, successful professional.

For me, she epitomizes the most significant and lasting accomplishment of CIS. She has changed her family tree forever. When she has her own family, it will be on a different pathway than the one she grew up on. Expectations for her own kids will be completely different and that difference means that her kids will be very unlikely to need the help of a program like CIS. Proud, proud, proud of her!

– Mike Steele, CEO


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What Motivates Me

What motivates me, you might ask?  As the chief fundraiser for CIS, there are many reasons why I look forward to coming to work every day.  I love our mission and what we do to support the community we serve.  I also feel a great sense of loyalty toward the kids we work with.  The service we provide is a necessity.  I feel confident that in the years to come, CIS will have a presence in every school in Tarrant County, working on behalf of at-risk students.

I’m also incredibly impressed with our staff, especially the hard-working program managers located inside the 37 schools we are serving this year.  When I get the opportunity, I like to remind our staff that we are able to raise money because of the wonderful work they do every day.  Day in and day out they come to work to help our students find the motivation to stay in school.  When you hear some of the heart-wrenching stories from our students and truly understand the obstacles they face, you seriously want to go home and cry.  You wonder how our staff continues this good fight and never gives up on a single student.  I know it’s because of the relationships they have built with their students.  Our program managers recognize that they are the glue that keeps students connected to school.  Without the presence of our program managers inside the schools each day, the students we serve would likely become overwhelmed and unmotivated to come to school.  What a major responsibility our program managers have and all I can say is THANK YOU!

Finally, without a doubt, we have the best board of directors in our community.  They are the most dedicated, smartest and energetic board I have ever worked with.  I feel honored to work along side them to do the good work of CIS.  A non-profit is only as strong as its board of directors.  I can enthusiastically tell you that CIS is a strong and efficient organization and that is, in large part, due to the wonderful and dedicated board members and volunteers who offer their time and support to CIS.

This is what motivates me.  I can go home every night and know I work for an organization that makes the world a better place.

— Yvette Hanshaw, VP & Chief Development Officer, Communities In Schools


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It’s Economics, Stupid!

Obviously the jobs issue (or lack of jobs really) is the number one issue concerning Americans right now. Unemployment rates hover around 9 percent. But the real story is behind the numbers. That nine percent number is being driven primarily by people without a high school education. Here are the numbers for August 2011 from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Less than high school education 14.3%

High school graduates (no college) 9.6%

Some college or associates degree 8.2%

Bachelors degree or higher 4.3%

Yes, read those numbers again. Our economic problems are based mostly on the unemployment rate for people 25 and over without a high school degree. Now, think about the consequences of that – people in generational poverty; people who are using the emergency medical services because that is all they have; people who are having to use governmental assistance programs to get by.

So education is an important issue at both ends. On one hand, we hear about how our students are not stacking up well globally and that this is only getting worse. And something must be done. But at the other end, having people without the basic high school education will be a drain on our resources for years to come.

So you choose where we (taxpayers) should spend our money? Keep students in school and educate them so that they can be competitive and I bet a lot of these other social problems are diminished.

Stacy Landreth Grau, Ph.D.

Neely School of Business – Texas Christian University

Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Marketing

CIS Tarrant County Board Member