All is quiet for the moment in Michelle Ayala’s Communities In Schools (CIS) resource room at Briscoe Elementary. We are surrounded by stacks of school supplies, new backpacks, and reading material, evidence of another successful “Stuff the Bus” campaign to stock schools with almost $550,000 worth of donated supplies and supply-designated cash gifts for children in need.
Efforts like Stuff the Bus are indicative of what CIS does best: connect businesses and community resources to the students who need them. It’s a win-win.
“Our model recognizes that as an individual social service agency, we simply could not meet the needs of the more than 7,000 kids a year that we serve in a case managed model. We consider ourselves to be the connector between students, their families, and the resources provided by the almost 60 other local agencies we partner with,” said Rufus Samkin, chief executive officer of CIS in San Antonio.
As a partnership-driven organization, CIS benefits from becoming an institutionalized beneficiary of regular giving. Donors see the effects of their generosity maximized as it flows into not a trickling stream, but a tidal wave of change in the lives of local students. While CIS is not the only beneficiary of the supply drive, the busload of backpacks, notebooks, and other materials is an icon for the partnerships it has forged over the last 30 years.
On Sept. 26, CIS and friends of the organization will gather from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Koehler House on the San Antonio College campus to celebrate those 30 years and the founders who began it all.
Communities in Schools of San Antonio Founders include:
Gov. & Mrs. Mark White
James (Jim) R. Adams (Judy)
Maj. Gen. Herbert L. Emanuel
Dr. Robert O’Connor
Maria Stillman Farrington
Cyndi Taylor Krier
Harriet Marmon Helmle
Mary Alice P. Cisneros
Former Senator Gonzalo Barrientos
The first CIS program began in New York City in the 1970s when Robert Milliken predicted that bringing community resources into the school day was far more effective and accountable than giving kids a list of far-flung addresses and hours of operation. He was right. CIS is not only the country’s largest facilitator of community-school partnerships, but it is a model for the growing movement of what are called “community schools.”
In community schools, such as the one at Wheatley Middle School being organized by the Eastside Promise Neighborhood and Choice Neighborhood, local healthcare, social service, and financial service providers are brought onto the school campus to provide a one-stop shop for families. Recognizing that success begins with stability, CIS focuses on bringing services that meet the core issues for children deemed “at risk.”
A group of motivated citizens caught the vision and brought CIS to Bexar County. The community partnership model has been particularly effective in local schools.
The list of CIS partners is evidence of its proven track record. The organization includes 51 campus and community-based partners. Some, like AVANCE and Project MEND, refer students to CIS for school day support. Others, including Artpace, SA2020, and Girls, Inc., fortify the support that CIS staff are able to provide. Broad partnerships also allow the CIS site coordinators to meet very specific needs on their campuses.
“We provide specialized groups on some campuses, such as our XY-Zone program – a young men’s group that focuses on teaching respect, responsibility, and reaching out, using some of the same ‘skills’ they might use in negative ways, such as gangs,” Samkin said. “The boys are taught brotherhood and unity and are expected to mentor other younger boys as a part of this program.”
Back in Ayala’s resource room, the new supplies will disappear throughout the year as students use the help available in the portable building. In the beginning of the year, CIS’ main service is to acclimate students to the school schedule, ease homesickness, and begin the triage process of identifying at-risk students. Some will be familiar faces, but many will be new. Summer is long and a lot can change in the three months since Ayala last saw them.
While it’s most concentrated in August and early September, acclimation services for new students will continue throughout the school year. Schools like Briscoe ES also bear the burden of high mobility rates, which is another reason Ayala keeps the school supplies on hand. When students arrive, they often visit the CIS room to pick up supplies so that they at least have the equipment they need to find their footing in the new classes.
All in all, traffic will continue to pick up in the CIS room until Ayala is seeing an average of about 95 students per week. Some come in groups for academic and social support, while others receive one-on-one attention.
“It’s busy all day,” said Ayala.
As busy as it is, CIS San Antonio has structured its site coordinators with consistency in mind. The community is based in 77 schools in San Antonio, and it could be in many more if its staff members split time between campuses.
The goal of CIS, however, is to create a safe place, which is hard to do on a part-time basis. Kids’ crises don’t happen on a schedule, which is why for the last 10 years, Ayala has been manning her portable at Briscoe ES if school is in session.
She’s not alone with her 95 students per week. CIS has three licensed professional counselors functioning at large in the city, offering support as needed though a program called Project Access. Ayala also has a partnership with the University of Texas at San Antonio’s education department to provide tutoring, which this year plans to launch a partnership with Texas A&M at San Antonio, as well.
One of the great tragedies of inadequate school funding is the elimination of enrichment programs. Students who do not fit the traditional classroom style of learning often find themselves frustrated, discouraged, and in trouble. Thanks to the diversity of their partnerships, CIS is able to assess behavioral issues with a broader scope. Rather than standard punitive measures, CIS staff are often able to channel students into extra-curricular outlets such as martial arts, music, and visual arts. They have seen time and time again how with the confidence and stimulation from these programs, students’ classroom performance improves.
Such outcomes make is possible to continue to apply for the grants that keep CIS growing. However, the need is great, and the organizers are committed to expanding their reach.
“There are about 200,000 students in and around Bexar County that meet the criteria to be considered “at-risk” and would benefit from our on-campus service and connection to community services,” Samkin said. “Currently, our operating budget significantly limits our ability to grow. As I mentioned, we currently case-manage around 7,000 students a year and also provide school-wide services to about 40,000 students a year – just a small percentage of those that need help to stay on track and be as successful as they can be.”