Back to school – three words that conjure memories of anxious moments about a new teacher, football games, crowded lunch rooms and hallways crowded with jostling students.
At Communities In Schools of Houston (CIS), back to school has a much deeper meaning. Placed on school campuses throughout Houston, dedicated CIS staff and volunteers work with children at the greatest risk of dropping out of school in order to remove obstacles to learning.
Some kids face daunting challenges such as having an incarcerated parent or teen pregnancies, while other kids might just need a little extra support in school or a positive adult role model.
There are more than half a million students in Texas schools who are at risk of dropping out. Sadly, many of these young people just become a statistic, negatively impacting the entire community. Fortunately, CIS sees potential and hope for the successful future of all the Texas children.
The issue is critical to Houston. Our city has the fifth-highest dropout rate among the nations’s 50 largest cities, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP). CPPP research also notes that we have the fifth-highest rate of children living in homes with a head of household who is a high school dropout.
The statewide statistics are just as starting:
Dropouts from the class of 2012 alone will cost the state of Texas up to $9.6 billion over the course of their lifetime (The ABCD’s of Texas Education: Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Reducing the Dropout Rate 2009).
Teens who drop out are more likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to be unemployed or working for poverty-level wages (CPPP, 2005).
Two-thirds of inmates in the Texas prison system are high school dropouts (Intercultural Development Research Association, 2004).
Thirty years ago, the first CIS of Houston program was launched in the Acres Homes community. In the years since, CIS has helped hundreds of thousands of students stay in school and prepare for life. Of the more than 37,000 CIS students enrolled in the 2007/2008 schoold year, 98 percent stayed in school, 82 percent graduated, and 79 percent showed improvement in academics, behavior and attendance.
The CIS program works by partnering not only with schools and school districts, but also community organizations to bring resources directly to school campuses. There is a full-time social services coordinator at each site to facilitate CIS’ core services, which include academic support, cultural enrichment, parental involvement, career awareness, supportive guidance and referrals to social service providers. Needs outside of these areas are met and addressed on a case-by-case basis.