Every school in the San Antonio Independent School District would have a designated student and family support specialist if the federal government approves funding proposed by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to expand Communities In Schools’ reach in San Antonio.

The local branch of the national nonprofit that works to provide support to students and their families to keep kids in school would receive $500,000 to help local children overcome the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding is part of an appropriations bill that awaits approval by the U.S. House and Senate. A vote in the House is expected this week. If it passes Congress, President Joe Biden would have to sign the legislation into law before the education nonprofit could receive the funds, which could take months, Castro (D-San Antonio) said.

The money would allow Communities In Schools to assign a social worker or site coordinator to serve the roughly 1,050 students and their families in the 14 high-needs SAISD schools in Castro’s congressional district. These workers would help students and their families receive consistent support in their neighborhoods as they recover from the pandemic, Castro said.

While Castro received dozens of funding requests, he said he chose Communities In Schools of San Antonio because he has seen the organization deliver results in San Antonio schools and knows that students need the academic and mental health support the organization provides.

“I wanted to be sure that we’re working on the issue of education in San Antonio because we’ve always had a lot of catching up to do, but also because our students have been hit especially hard [by the pandemic],” he said. “Funding for education right now is especially important because of the hardships that students have gone through during the pandemic, and we need to do everything possible to help them bounce back.”

Castro said he watched his children, who do not attend SAISD, struggle with virtual learning last school year and their engagement with their education suffer. He knows that’s the case for many students in San Antonio.

The SAISD board voted last week to expand Communities In Schools services into 39 additional campuses in the 2021-22 school year, for a total of 77 SAISD campuses. The $4.3 million commitment is part of the district’s COVID-19 recovery plan, which emphasizes leveraging social and emotional support for students and families.

“SAISD strongly supports this opportunity to expand the delivery of high-quality behavioral and mental wellness programs and case management services targeting at-risk youth in our district,” Superintendent Pedro Martinez said in a statement, referring to the additional $500,000.

Jessica Weaver, CEO of Communities In Schools of San Antonio, said the federal dollars would be the “last piece” of the organization’s funding puzzle to have a presence in every SAISD school, a request made by families.

“One of the things that we saw when we were working with families, especially during COVID, was just the need to connect resources to our families,” she said. “The city offered rental assistance and things like that, but that was a lot of work to get our families connected.”

Having available resources in the community doesn’t make them easily accessible to some families, Weaver said, so Communities In Schools trained staff on how to complete the rental assistance application. The federal money would allow families to have staff readily available to connect families with other community resources or provide the services in house.

Communities In Schools of San Antonio is working to add more licensed clinicians and social workers with master’s degrees in counseling or social work because they bring additional skills to each campus, Weaver said. Students could be referred to them instead of somewhere off campus that might be less accessible, and having staff members at every school helps them build relationships with students and understand each student’s background.

“I think COVID has taught us school is the center of not just our families and our kids, but our society,” Weaver said. “You can’t go to work unless your kids are in school, and knowing that they’re being taken care of and that there are support systems available to help their kids just brings relief across the board.”

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.