Trust keeps kids in school

By Ann Kendall

Her reading scores weren’t good and while her refugee family was connected to some resources, at school she just wasn’t doing well. All she really needed was glasses so she could see her books and her teachers – and after glasses, tutoring so she could catch up to the rest of the class. Daily, Communities in Schools Washington (CISWA) site coordinators facilitate solutions – find the reason for the low test scores, steer families to health care and set-up tutoring. An optometrist appointment and tutoring may not sound like classic school dropout prevention programs, but for students (and parents) that struggle with a myriad of complex challenges, simple guidance from a trusted adult provides a sense of well-being that leads to future success.

As the largest dropout prevention program in the United States, CISWA brings resources to schools, often helping to co-locate services within a school that are most critical for student success. Currently CISWA works in Denny International Middle School, Pathfinder K-8 (middle school students) and Roxhill Elementary; each site coordinator serves a case load equaling 10 percent of the student population at each school.

Students receiving services are considered Tier Three students who face the most challenges to successful learning; but CISWA site coordinators maintain an open door for any student that would like to come into their office or on-site family center to simply chat or pick up a needed snack. For those students within the caseload of the site coordinator, the focus is first on meeting basic needs: housing, hunger, transportation. If a student is transitional in their living situation and has no transportation, regular attendance is tenuous and without regular attendance it is impossible for any student to keep up regular studies.

On any given day, a teacher may notice a student in distress, a parent may reach out or a student may stop in to see their site coordinator – sometimes the visits are easy, perhaps a snack stop at the closet each coordinator maintains. Sometimes the visits are more difficult – a student may need emergency clothes or shoes, deodorant, a bus ticket to get home. All meetings with site coordinators are confidential allowing particularly students the freedom to discuss matters they may not be able to talk about at home whether they are facing academic troubles or negative influences that threaten their well-being. For many students, academic challenges are the outcome of instability outside their control.

For students to stay in school strong families are necessary – once basic needs are met, CISWA works within the school to bring families into the school and be a part of the education process. At Roxhill, a PTA supported coffee hour initiated in 2013 brings families into the building on a regular basis to meet staff to discuss education and how to help each other navigate healthcare, financial health or language barriers. Neighborcare Clinic operates within Roxhill several days a week to make getting to the doctor easier for families while Sound Mental Health and Navos also provide school based mental health services. Students at each school, whether caseload or not, benefit from CISWA’s mission to provide wrap-around services that are, “accessible, coordinated and accountable.” It is often the simplest intervention, a granola bar or notebook that can send a student confidently to class. Drop prevention begins with a smile, not a crisis.

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