Written by Amy Andrews
Communities In Schools surrounds students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Working in partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Communities In Schools (CIS) engages with students and their families within their home school via full-time, trained Site Coordinators.
CIS is Charlotte’s largest non-profit that serves students who are overwhelmingly children of color. Last year alone, CIS served over 4,000 K-12 students through 53 schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system.
Students assisted by CIS face a variety of obstacles to their academic success, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including job loss, food and housing insecurity, and the digital divide. Services provided to CIS students range from basic needs to individual case management, counseling, and attendance monitoring as well as broader offerings such as social capital exposure and networking and Social-Emotional learning.
Communities in Schools staff member working with students
As we approach the new school year, CIS is focused on addressing two main priorities: the concern over high absenteeism rates last year and the impact that remote learning has had on so many students.
According to May Johnston, PR and Marketing Director for CIS, “Re-engagement of students is going to be key this year. Attendance is always a focus for our students, but it is a particular concern this year.” She added, “we are also taking a strong look at how CIS can address inequities and systemic inequality across our education system and advocate for change starting within our organization.”
A silver lining for CIS in the past year has been the latitude to share best practices with the national CIS organization and look deeper at areas of concern that have bubbled up on a national scale such as Social-Emotional Learning. CIS also named Men Tchaas Ari as their new President and CEO in 2020, making him the first African American to serve in that capacity in the agency’s 36-year history.
Men Tchaas Ari, CEO of Communities in Schools
This year, CIS is hiring several new “Re-Engagement Specialists,” who will focus primarily on students who were chronically absent (10+ days) last year or who stopped attending school altogether. They are in addition to the front-line team of CIS Site Coordinators embedded in the schools who foster relationships with students and families and connect them to needed resources.
CIS is most in need of financial support to maintain the staff and reach more students in the 53 CMS schools they currently serve. Donations in any amount are greatly appreciated. A donation of $50 can provide nutritious snacks/food security for three students. A donation of $125 will supply clothing and hygiene items for four students. $250 will enable college access, career readiness, and social capital activities for six students. A $500 donation would underwrite academic support and enrichment for 10 students and $1,500 will cover individualized case management for one student during the entire academic year.
CIS is following Charlotte-Mecklenburg school’s guidance on having volunteers back in schools and looks forward to the return of that much-needed additional layer of support and mentoring. In the meantime, CIS is actively looking for volunteers for their Social Capital team.
“There are multiple ways that individuals or companies can exchange ‘social capital’ with our middle and high school students,” said Johnston, “from companies providing job shadows and internships, to individuals mentoring through mock interviews, college essay workshops, resume reviews, and more.”
“CIS knows the value of relationships and how ‘social capital’ can benefit both parties,” Johnston added. “Sharing power with students and allowing them to be key participants in planning job shadows and hands-on work experiences motivates them even more, and sets them up to take charge of their future and achieve their vision of success. Our volunteers find they are positively impacted by these experiences, too… it’s a reciprocal relationship.”