While we all know the adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” no one takes that truth more seriously than Communities in Schools (CIS). At its annual Keeping Kids in School Luncheon on Monday, Communities in Schools San Antonio (CIS-SA) CEO Jessica Weaver celebrated that village for its commitment and accomplishments.
“Our mission to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life, can’t be done without a community that cares,” Weaver told the audience at the Omni San Antonio at the Colonnade.
State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-19) joined Weaver to recognize a particularly active partner for CIS nationally as well as in San Antonio: AT&T. They presented the company with the Shining Star Award in honor of the numerous financial and volunteer commitments made in 2016. For 2016, AT&T has pledged 1 million volunteer hours nationwide, with more than 1,000 in San Antonio this year already.
AT&T awarded $134,000 to CIS-SA earlier this year as part of the company’s nationwide Aspire Program. The grant made it possible to keep a site coordinator at Lanier High School, and expand the Roosevelt High School position. In addition to financial support, AT&T has opened its doors to CIS-SA students for job shadowing, resume writing workshops, and mock interviews.
Other government, school and business leaders were also in attendance. Many of the approximately 600 in attendance represented the business community. State Sen. José Menéndez (D-26), state representatives Justin Rodriguez (D-125) and Ina Minjarez (D-124), council members Alan Warrick (D2) Rey Saldaña (D4), Rey Lopez (D6), joined superintendents and board members from around the city. Saldaña, was a part of the CIS-SA program when he was a student at South San High School.
Weaver and others cited many statistics indicating the success of CIS-SA. Of the 7,504 students they serve across 78 schools in 11 districts, 99% stayed in school while they were part of the site coordinator’s case load. In addition to the statistics, three students shared personal testimonies of how CIS-SA helped them achieve their goals.
Ebony, an eighth-grader at Rhodes Middle School, has been part of CIS-SA for four years. She was withdrawn, frequently absent and performing poorly in school when she was referred to the program. Grade levels behind, Ebony fit the description of an at-risk student, but over the last four years she has improved her outlook and performance significantly. Her site coordinator has persistently and faithfully stayed by her side.
“It was just step by step,” Ebony said.
Hector, a senior at South San High School, said that he realized the resource he had in CIS-SA when he attended a summer program. There he got a full picture of how CIS-SA works, connecting students and opportunities, as well as help along the way.
“It meant a lot knowing that they were always going to be there,” Hector said.
Entering his junior year, he knew he would need to put that support to the test. In addition to the increased rigor, he would have to start working to contribute to his family income. He took a job at Whataburger, and his site coordinator kept him accountable to stay on top of his school work.
Hector will graduate eighth in his class, and begin next year as a freshman at University of Texas at Austin, where he plans to study chemistry.
His employers at Whataburger were so inspired by Hector, that they presented each of the three spotlighted students with a $1,000 scholarship at the luncheon.
Rachel, a senior at Harlandale High School credits CIS-SA for helping her find her passion. Her freshman year had her descending into depression, watching her grades fall, and feeling lost. In her sophomore year, she signed up for theater as a basic elective and soon fell in love. She was asked to join the production class, an advanced program, which affirmed she was talented as well.
“It was one of the first times I had gotten that kind of approval, that I was good at something other people weren’t necessarily good at,” Rachel said.
She talked to her site coordinator, who encouraged the spark she saw in Rachel.
This fall, Rachel will head to New York to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy’s New York campus to pursue what she jokingly calls “the delusional dream of being an actress.”
She knows that she is headed for a competitive field in a competitive city, but she credits CIS-SA for giving her the confidence to pursue her passion.
CIS will continue to support students like Hector and Rachel next year through their post-secondary programs. They remain committed to ensuring that students not only graduate from high school, but obtain the degrees and credentials they need to be successful in life.
CIS-SA remains committed to the success of students like these, and their classmates in high poverty schools.
“Poverty has many challenges, but it doesn’t take the potential away from any child,” Weaver said.
Dan Cardinali, president of Communities in Schools, Inc. called attention to the challenges poverty presents for a school system built around industrialization and the resources of the middle class.
“The very design of presuming young people show up to school with a set of resources is no longer true,” Cardinali said.
Teachers classrooms are flooded with hunger, stress, and insecurity at the same time that academic rigor is under the microscope. The out-of-school environments of many kids in high poverty neighborhoods creates what Cardinali called “toxic stress” that actually erodes their ability to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
“When your bootstraps are frayed to the point that you can’t put your finger through them, there’s nothing to pull up on,” he said.
CIS is able to create a safe and steady place where students can begin to “unfray.” Studies show that in middle school and early high school humans experience a highly dynamic brain development, with the potential to repair some of the damage done. While it would be better if that damage had not occurred, CIS specializes in taking advantage of that development window, and the years leading up to it, to strengthen the resilience of students as they continue to face challenges.
Lou Scantland, chairman of DOCUmation challenged everyone in attendance to support the work of CIS-SA as he offered a matching donation up to $50,000 for donations received at the luncheon. He did so in honor of Agnes Crow, the teacher who invested in him and took him from an aimless “zoot-suiter” in the 1950s to a full scholarship at what is now Lawrence Technical University. He said that Crow was to him what CIS is to many students today.
“I declare this the Agnes Crow Moment. Where would I be today if not for her?” said Scantland.
Top image: CIS student Rachel welcomes Lou Scantland to the stage. Photo by Scott Ball.