05/07/14 — Communities in Schools hopes to expand

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Communities in Schools hopes to expand

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 7, 2014 1:46 PM

Positive outcomes from the success coach programs at the high school and middle school levels have Communities in Schools looking toward expanding down to the elementary grades in the future.

CIS Executive Director Selena Bennett credited the addition of the program in the middle grades as an "additional layer of support" in preparing students for the future.

"We have got two years under our belt of the middle school program," she said. "This is the fifth year of the program at Goldsboro High School and the fourth year at Southern Wayne High."

Communities in Schools introduced the concept of a graduation coach at GHS, hiring retired principal Barbara Wilkins in 2009. Mrs. Bennett said the intent was to provide a supportive role for students at risk of not graduating.

"When Barbara started, the graduation rate was 47 percent and this past year I think it was 77 percent," she said, adding, "We cannot take credit. We're part of that team."

Mrs. Bennett sees CIS as an additional arm for the school system, with partnerships forged with educators, businesses and the community volunteers being crucial to its success.

"If we had to summarize this program, we're doing everything that we can to provide that additional layer of support as we work with students, teachers and staff," she said. "We can't save the world. Teachers alone can't save the world. But by working together, we can provide resources that are invaluable to students."

In January, the district followed the state in discontinuing the graduation project as a requirement. The move means CIS is able to concentrate in other areas, like job skills and soft skills.

"We have been trying to involve a lot of businesses and employers more and more at the high school level to go in and meet with these kids in small groups, to talk with them about what they need to be doing to prepare them for the world of work," Mrs. Bennett said.

It also means the high school program can incorporate younger students.

"We have shifted our focus from the seniors down to ninth-graders," she said. "It makes it even more critical that we keep these people at the middle school level because those coaches, a lot of high school counselors know who they have been working with, so they're waiting for them.

"We don't have to wait for the kids to start falling through the cracks to identify them. We have already identified them and formed relationships."

Two years ago, CIS hired four additional staff, placed them at middle schools and changed the title from graduation coach to "success coach."

"When you talk to parents, no parent wants to hear, 'Your child is at risk,'" she said. "We're trying to impress on them that maybe your child is not being as successful as they could be so we want to help them reach their greatest potential.

"Just because we're involved with a child, it does not mean that that child is a failure. What it means is we see something in that child that we might be able to provide additional resources for or additional support so that that child can be tremendously successful. Even beyond the importance of the graduation rate is the importance of the individual child and how they can be successful."

The title of success coach also lends itself to being applicable at any grade level, which will be advantageous when CIS is in a position to expand the program.

"Moving forward, we still are very interested in expanding to the elementary schools, especially with the emphasis on third-grade reading and everything that's going on with that program," Mrs. Bennett said. "We don't know how that's all going to fit in but within the next two or three years, our goal is to have staff at the elementary level."

She said the concept would not be a new one for Communities in Schools.

"Some agencies, all their focus is on the elementary and they don't have anybody on the high school level," she said. "Our focus began at the high school level and really it was because of the emphasis on the graduation project, so we started at the top and have worked our way down, based on what the school system feels is going to be the greatest assistance to (students)."