Another Homestead Partner - Communities in Schools

As the last weeks of summer vacation are upon us, back-to-school thoughts tend to be mixed. Wanting to cling to days off for fun and adventure is common. The opposite side of the coin is looking forward to the excitement of a new school year and seeing old friends. For other students though, there can be intense problems that ultimately lead to failing grades and dropping out of school. A number of wonderful non-profit organizations exist within our communities as outreach for at-risk students and individuals who work toward that purpose have seen their efforts can make a difference.

One of the Miami-based organizations, Communities in Schools (CIS), has extended their “Bridges to Graduation and Beyond” program into Homestead Middle School this year. This is in addition to their presence at Homestead Senior High. Elyssa Linares, President and CEO has met with several members of the community. "Delivering our services directly inside the schools is what makes Communities in Schools of Miami unique. We realize the need to increase our impact in our South Dade community and are excited to add Homestead Middle School this year. Our Site Coordinators are there in the morning when that first bell rings ready to greet and emotionally support students. Throughout the day and the entire school year, we are physically there and all-in to make sure that obstacles to learning are addressed and removed. We look forward to working with the community to make sure our students are surrounded with the supports they need to succeed."

CIS is actually a nation-wide program founded in 1977 and was locally incorporated in 1989. Linares’s comments are further explained on their website. “What makes CIS of Miami innovative and effective is our evidence-based Integrated Support Services Model that employs both whole school and targeted strategies to impact school and individual student outcomes.”

Although there are other excellent programs within CIS, “Bridges” embeds a full time on-site coordinator into the school to work directly with certain students and in general with a wider audience through activities such as career fairs. One of the reasons for success with CIS programs is they realize the conditions that can lead to a student dropping out are rarely singular. Their model includes home visits and connecting with community resources that can provide different services.

An example was when the Homestead Senior High School CIS Coordinator was notified about a student who lived in a small, cramped trailer with his parent and two other siblings. His only pair of glasses was broken and his vision was such he couldn’t see properly to do his school work. They could not afford to have a new eye exam for him or replace his glasses. The usual optometry resource that supported CIS was not available for two weeks, but the coordinator understood how important time was in these circumstances. She didn’t stop until she found another optometrist who provided the screening, temporary glasses, and then permanent glasses at no charge. In speaking with the student, he told her he very much wanted a part time job in order to help his struggling family. In turning to a restaurant she often frequented, the initial response from the owner was that he didn’t have a position open. By the end of the conversation, there was an offer for the student to start as a dishwasher. It was more than meeting the needs of the student; it was being willing to listen as to what specific problems existed for this individual and finding a way to help.

Measuring impact is fundamental for CIS and analysis of their 2015-2016 programs showed an objective of having 90% of students remaining in school and/or graduating with achievement at 91% based on preliminary data. The objective of 70% of students showing academic improvement came in at 74% and four other objectives were all positively met or exceeded.

As with most non-profits focused on helping students, donations of funds and volunteers are welcomed. For more information, their website is http://www.cismiami.org