Corpus Christi Communities in Schools helps drop dropout rate
Dropout rates are going down across the state of Texas. In 13 South Texas counties, including Nueces County, that drop in dropouts can be attributed in part to the work of a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization that helps students overcome obstacles to learning. According to statistics, students involved in the Communities in Schools programs show the following performance measurements:
- 97 percent improvement in academics, attendance, and/or behavior;
- 94 percent graduated;
- 89 percent promoted;
- 98 percent stay in school.
The program began in Corpus Christi three decades ago when a group of concerned educators, community leaders, and business people were searching for a way to reduce the rate of school dropouts in local schools. After hearing about the effectiveness of Communities in Schools in Houston, the founders decided to bring the 501(c)(3) nonprofit to Corpus Christi.
What began in 1986 with three schools participating, has expanded to 42 schools for prekindergarten through 12th grade in 13 districts in six counties: Nueces, San Patricio, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Aransas, and Brooks.
Gloria Taylor has personally witnessed the growth and success of the program. She first started working with Communities in Schools 19 years ago and currently serves as executive director.
“We have 43 site coordinators who can help address problems students may face — whether it’s a lack of food, clothing, or supplies or even problems at home — that are keeping them from being successful in the classroom,” she said. “For example, Little Johnny might need clothing or Little Sally may have her electricity turned off at home. Whether the problem is with attendance, academics, behavior, or basic needs, CIS will help the youth and their family get access to help so the student can focus on school.”
Each school features different programs to address the specific needs of the student population on that particular campus. Some schools provide support groups such as an incarcerated parent support group or seminars on self-esteem, communication, or anger management.
Communities in Schools works to provide these basics needsa one-on-one relationship with a caring adult;
- a safe place to learn to grow;
- a healthy start and a healthy future;
- a marketable skill to use upon graduation;
- and a chance to give back to peers and community.
Hannah Walker, site coordinator for both Kaffie and Haas middle schools, strives to provide a safe place for students to come if they need help, whether it’s basic needs such as clothes or food or dealing with a crisis.
“I work with sixth- to eighth-graders; it’s an awkward limbo time between being a kid and becoming a young adult, so we try to teach them about responsibilities,” Walker said. “My favorite part of the job is connecting with these students and seeing in their eyes the difference we make in their lives and changing the way they see things, and see how excited they feel about school. It’s so much fun to work with them.”
Parent Sonya Perez said site coordinators such as Hannah Walker have had a positive impact on her 12-year-old daughter, Amelia, whose father is currently in prison.
“Having someone like Miss Walker made my daughter more confident in school knowing she has someone to talk to,” Perez said. “Hannah Walker was able to make her feel comfortable by talking with her and even coming by, taking time to see her on the weekends, and hanging out with her during visitations to her father if I couldn’t be there. Hannah was there going above and beyond.”
As for Amelia, going to middle school for the first time was made easier by having the support of ‘Miss Hannah.’
“She went with me to do the shopping spree,” Amelia said. “It was fun and helped me get ready for school. I’m both excited and a bit nervous going into seventh grade but mostly excited now. If you can’t talk to anybody, or a parent is not around, Miss Hannah is there, and we can talk to her about anything and she will listen. She helped me become more involved in my technology class and art projects for Earth Day.”
Another 19-year-veteran of the program, Christa Creek, said although the pay is low, working for Communities in Schools has other benefits. In all that time, she has never come to work hating her job. She is the Texas Education Agency project coordinator for the program.
“I love every moment of it,” she said. “All the time, we get emails from staff saying things like they ran into a CIS student who already graduated or are successful running their business or working a great job. One of our staff at Moody found a belated graduation invite slipped under his door with a note saying, ‘I know it's too late, but I just wanted to show you I did it, and I wouldn't have done it without you.’”
HOW TO HELP
Communities in Schools consists of a 20-member board that helps raise funds and oversees policy as well as 43 staff members and site coordinators for the school districts. The group receives support from and coordinates with corporations, community organizations, and local businesses for funds and volunteers.
Recently, Cheniere Energy donated $2,500 for a back-to-school shopping spree for 125 local children. CPL donated $7,500, and JC Penney provided a $5,000 grant to the effort.
“We've been doing this for 13 years, and our business community volunteers took time from their busy day to go shopping with the kids,” Taylor said. “The youth really appreciated this and were touched that people cared enough to go shopping with them. The volunteers loved it as well, so it was a great event.”
The next big fundraiser for the organization is Sept. 20, this time in collaboration with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. The Forever Amigos Concert begins at 6 p.m. in the Richard Borchard Regional Fairgrounds and features country music’s Restless Heart.
“Guests will enjoy not only an up-close, personal concert with the band but also a brisket dinner and adult beverages,” Taylor said. “We will also have live and silent auctions. One of the auction sale items is a South African safari hunt.”
Individual tickets are $175. A table for 10 starts at $1,500. Higher sponsorship levels are available and include a VIP entrance to meet the band one on one and receive signed memorabilia. Ticket information is available at (361) 696-4030. All proceeds go directly to Communities in Schools services.
Other ways the community can help include donating gently used clothes and new, unopened hygiene products to the group’s clothing closets.
Mentoring a student is another way to help. Mentors are assigned through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and must go through appropriate background checks.
Volunteers are also needed to help with events, preparing the venue, organizing, and assisting during auctions.
Sometimes, program participants come back to become volunteers.
“One of our current volunteers was a former CIS student who actually came back to work for us and later became a high-ranking regional manager for a consulting firm,” Creek said. “She said if it wasn't for Communities in Schools, she wouldn't have graduated, and CIS was the first place she worked after graduating college.”
Students who have overcome hardships to achieve success and the commitment of the organization’s staff are what inspire Taylor the most.
“What I love is how our staff are so dedicated,” she said. “That’s where the magic truly happens. Christa and I both worked on campus before we came into leadership, so we know what staff goes through and their sacrifices. The best part of our job is discovering our CIS students are brighter and happier and prospering. In this job, we cry all the time, but they are tears of joy.”
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