Community Schools Part 3: Emma Elementary and Johnston Elementary

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At my request, we have a guest blog from Allison Jordan, Executive Director of Children First/ Communities in Schools.  “Communities in Schools” is a specific model within a Community School approach. Learn about the amazing work taking place in two local elementary schools:


Background on Communities In Schools (CIS)

Begun in 1977, Communities In Schools (CIS) is a national organization with about 200 affiliates serving nearly 1.3 million students in 3,400 schools. Locally, Communities In Schools was acquired by Children First. At the heart of the organization is a mission to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Children First/Communities In Schools

Children First/Communities In Schools currently has two Success Coordinators at Emma and Johnston Elementary that connect students and their families to critical community resources that are tailored to their needs. They accomplish this by working with a site team (principal, counselor, social workers, and teachers) to develop a comprehensive data-based site plan. The plans includes services that address identified school-wide needs, or build student assets and identifies services for specific students at high risk of eventually dropping out of school. This combination of services ensures that students are getting the academic and personal support they need to stay in school and achieve in life. The CIS Success Coordinator provides holistic services within the school day and in the community to both the child and his or her family.

Here is just one example of what this means:

A student at Johnston Elementary School lost his mother to an illness two weeks after school began.  He was absent for several weeks.  Lisa, the CIS Success Coordinator at Johnston, and the school social worker made multiple home visits to the grandmother’s home, where the child was living. They brought the child’s school work and got services with Hospice set up for the first day he returned to school.  

Lisa continued the home visits throughout the year, and provided his grandmother with resources for the family, since they were struggling to make ends meet on the grandmother’s Social Security income. Children First/ Communities In Schools provided Food Boxes, Holiday Assistance, and school supplies.  At one point the child’s glasses broke. Although he is a Medicaid recipient, he was ineligible to receive a second pair of glasses – even though he has a unique prescription and is almost blind in one eye.  Through Children First/CIS, Lisa was able to obtain the eye prescription and purchase the glasses for him before his final exams.

Lisa reports that on a recent visit with the family the child’s grandmother told her that she was having a challenge with his teacher and school work. Lisa role-played scenarios with the grandmother and worked with her on how to communicate in a positive way that would best support the child and his education.  The grandmother and the child’s teacher had a successful meeting, and grandma saw positive results.

Emma Elementary is unique in that the Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE) is located on the campus. The FRCE offers emergency assistance through a food pantry, clothing closet and financial and holiday assistance, case management, parenting classes and a community garden. Services at the FRCE are open to anyone in the Emma community with children or any families with children participating in one of other programs.

Our holistic approach helps children succeed in three key aspects of their lives: their schools, their neighborhoods, and their homes For example, a student at Emma Elementary may benefit in the morning from a tutor recruited by the CIS Success Coordinator, then attend a Learning Center in the afternoon, and then in the evening enjoy a warm and healthy meal made possible by an emergency food box provided through the Family Resource Center at Emma.

An independent study conducted by ICF International established that Communities In Schools has proven to increase graduation rates, graduating students on time with a high school diploma. After five years of data collection and across all of the studies undertaken as part of the National Evaluation, there is solid evidence that Communities In Schools works and it works best when it is implemented with fidelity to the CIS model and with intentionality. In short, Communities In Schools can work regardless of grade level, geography and student demographics.

So here you see how partnerships between schools and nonprofits can bring the community into a school and bring about great results for students, teachers and parents.  Finding ways to expand this work throughout our City and County schools is a challenge.  But one thing you can do is find a way to support the school closest to you!



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