Communities in Schools marking 30 years of supporting South Central Texas students
August 7, 2023
Communities In Schools of South Central Texas is marking 30 years of supporting and changing the lives of area students.
Communities In Schools South Central Texas began its mission by the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce to assist students in grades K-12 to achieve in schools, graduate and experience success throughout their lives.
“It started small,” Chief Executive Officer Chris Douglas said. “It came about because of a group of Chamber of Commerce members and educators. There’s a group called the Business Education Partnership, which aims to help support education in the community. The educators came to them and said, ‘We need help. We have kids who have problems at home, and we don’t have anyone at home in our school who can go help them.'”
The group found information about the Communities in Schools program, which was already operating in other areas of the state. State funding was available to commence a new program here.
What started as a program serving five schools with a $393,000 budget in 1993 has grown to 55 schools in three counties with a $5.6 million budget.
“At the beginning, it was hard for people to know who we were and what we did because our offices were inside of a school district, and all of our staff served at schools,” Douglas said. “If you didn’t know who we were, you didn’t know we existed.”
In 1998, thanks to the Braunfels Foundation Trust, CIS established its home in the Hinman House in downtown New Braunfels, allowing the agency to receive some visibility and name recognition. The historic home, which dates to around 1868, remains the CIS headquarters today.
CIS places highly trained professional site coordinators inside the schools who have relationships with students and work hand-in-hand with the school to help identify students’ needs. Schools, businesses and community agencies work with site coordinators to support students and families.
Site coordinators provide specific resources: one-on-one mentoring with a caring adult, counseling and supportive guidance, food assistance, clothing and shoes, rent and utility assistance, behavioral and academic support, and linkages to community resources.
“You don’t think about it, but do you have any idea how many kids are in middle school and have never had their own pair of shoes? They’re using a hand-me-down pair,” Douglas said. “What does that do to their self-esteem? They believe that they are a second-rate person because they don’t have their own pair of shoes.”
Through individualized interventions and a family of support, students traverse a personal journey of hope, goal achievement and meaning in their lives.
During the program’s infancy here in South Central Texas, according to Chief Program Officer Susan Wetz, some of the main issues the organization combating were a lot of basic needs and helping to make kids feel comfortable at school.”
“It’s interesting to see the trajectory of how far we have come,” Wetz said. “But back then, we were reaching out to the community to help educate them but also to establish those partnerships, getting out to the churches and specific organizations to develop partnerships so they could support our students and the needs they had.”
Many of the youth CIS serves are from families experiencing poverty, substance abuse, and poor mental health – a home environment that is not conducive to healthy living and a good moral compass. All CIS services and programs support the goal of providing safe and healthy environments for students both at school and at home for the good of our community.
During the 2021-2022 school year, CIS staff members and its army of mentors and volunteers served more than 39,000 students in 55 schools in the New Braunfels, Marion, Comal, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City and Seguin school districts.
In 2012, an evaluation underwritten by The Atlantic Philanthropies comparing the results to over 1,600 studies screened by the U.S. Dept. of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse concluded that the CIS model resulted in the strongest reduction in dropout rates of any existing fully scaled dropout prevention program that has been evaluated.
That success continued during the 2021-2022 school year. Among CIS case-managed students, 98% of seniors graduated or received a GED and 99% remained in school until the end of the school year.
In addition, 79% met or made progress toward their attendance improvement goal, 99% of students in K-11 earned promoted to the next grade, 92% met or made progress towards their academic improvement goals, and 81% met or made progress towards their behavior improvement goals.
As part of its school-based programs, CIS provided 4,448 students with intensive ongoing services during the 2021-2022 academic year; 239 students received mentor services, and 186 students received clinical counseling.
CIS began addressing student mental health as a critical priority in 2014. The agency provides mental health services, including contracted mental health counselors and the implementation of our Signs of Suicide (SOS) program to focus on students’ mental health and suicide prevention. SOS provides tools for adults and students to identify signs and symptoms of depression, suicidality and self-injury in themselves and their peers.
The program teaches students the importance of involving a caring adult to get help for suicidal peers. CIS has designed this school-based mental health program to help youth navigate the often tricky path of adolescence. Using a simple and easy-to-remember acronym ACT (acknowledge, care and tell), students learn steps to take if they encounter a situation that requires help from a trusted adult.
The organization provided 47,590 hours of mental health services during the 2021-2022 school year. The Texas Education Agency and Health and Human Services Commission has recognized CIS with a best practice designation for its early mental health and intervention practices.
The unique CIS model works because it’s based on national research, driven by community relationships and supported by local resources. Most importantly, it works because CIS staff members, volunteers and mentors see it in their faces and hear it in the stories of thousands of students and alums assisted in the last 30 years.
CIS programs also go beyond the moment students cross the stage to receive their high school diplomas.
Providing tutoring, literacy programs, career planning, employment training and job shadowing, leadership skills training, and CIS’ unique Project Success college readiness program gives students the skill set necessary to be successful in today’s workforce.
Project Success, which began in 2006, is designed to remove barriers to college and career access and increase a CIS student’s ability to succeed in life after high school. The program provides individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, field trips to area colleges/universities and local corporations, assistance with SAT/ACT testing, college applications, financial aid and scholarship assistance.
CIS developed Bootcamp, an intensive eight-week summer program led by CIS staff and alums to enhance Project Success and impact more young lives. It’s an adventure wilderness program providing the necessary skills to help our young people become accomplished and productive community citizens.
Bootcampers learn leadership skills, participate in team-building activities, and receive GRIT training (persistence, determination and resilience). Participants go on field trips to local businesses and colleges to discover insider tips on career opportunities, industry expectations, college resources, resume building and interviewing skills. In 2013, CIS created an alumni association.
University professors and community business leaders teach study and time management skills, professor expectations, dressing for business success, banking skills, interviewing skills, and business expectations. Bootcamp participants also help with community projects, such as food distribution, volunteering at local churches and working on service projects at state parks.
CIS, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a board of directors, is not a branch of the school districts but is funded partly by contracts with school districts, with 20% of its budget coming from the Texas Education Agency. Fundraising efforts, generous individual, foundation and corporation donors, events such as An Evening Under the Stars, Dining with the Stars, NBU Kinderschuhe, Pack the Bus and the CIS Wurstfest booth account for the bulk of remaining needed funds.
In 2010, CIS opened a thrift store at 1058 Business IH 35 North. Proceeds support the thousands of students and families the organization serves. The store accepts gently used clothing, housewares, home décor, furniture and other items.
For more about the organization or to learn about giving opportunities or becoming a mentor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit online at www.cis-sct.org. Visit the CIS national website at www.communitiesinschools.org.