Community in Schools director talks about program's successes
By Melinda Harrell
Published in News on May 26, 2014 1:51 PM
Success coaches in the Community in Schools program understand what it really takes to inspire and to motivate students to graduate.
And they shared those challenges -- and success stories -- with the state president of their organization, Eric Hall, during his visit Thursday.
Coaches from Spring Creek, Brogden and Mount Olive middle schools, Grantham School and Goldsboro and Southern Wayne high schools say they battle with obstacles ranging from parent participation and earning the trust of students to scheduling cooperation with school faculty and funding.
But that does not deter them from their mission -- to get as many students as possible across that stage with a diploma in their hand.
Celia James, success coach at Grantham, advises 34 students.
"This year, I have worked harder to get the parents more engaged. I sent letters home, and there were many positive comments from the parents about this," she said about building relationships among the parents.
The most challenging issue she faced was faculty involvement.
"Last year, the biggest challenge was the teacher buy-in, but this year, they have been on top of the scheduling. It has been a tremendous transformation in how the staff interacts now," Ms. James said.
Coaches are working to build trust with the students as well. Sharon Patterson and Gene Jackson, coaches at Southern Wayne High School, said it is essential.
They visited one student who expressed absolutely no interest in participating in the program.
"When he realized that we were on his team, he saw that we could help," Jackson said.
Mary Kay James, success coach at Mount Olive Middle, has worked to help students trust in their futures.
"We did a walking tour through the University of Mount Olive. I wanted them to see that college is in their back yard and not an impossible or a goal too far to reach. Some students see college as unattainable," Mrs. James said.
Programs at Goldsboro High have built a solid foundation for community involvement, the coaches say.
Inside the school, in cooperation with CIS, there is a program utilizing the community's public safety organizations, which include a close partnership between the fire department and law enforcement.
These programs, known as "Firefighter Academy" and "Police Academy" to the students, have been a great success.
"Opportunities that have been created for students here would not have been possible if it hadn't been for (CIS). What our students really need is exposure to things that they don't know," GHS principal Brian Weeks said.
Faculty in the police and firefighter programs invite the students on ride-alongs and allow them to earn free CPR certification.
For some students, this program has made a difference.
"The Firefighter Academy, when I joined, I was so scared, but it turned out that it was fun. I learned so much this year. It was such a good experience," said junior Neysa Wellington, adding that she wants to pursue a career in criminal justice, more specifically, to become a crime scene investigator.
Though the coaches have worked to build the necessary relationships to make counseling successful, funding is always an issue.
Showing the community what CIS is -- and what it accomplishes -- are critical parts of keeping that money in local budgets, said Selena Bennett, CIS executive director.
"We are grant-funded. And an ongoing business to build up revenue is an idea, but also the more we educate the community about what CIS does here, the more improvements we can make building revenue."
The program is not run as a part of Wayne County Public Schools. That independence allows the coaches more flexibility in counseling students toward graduation and success, but also calls for the community assist in the fiscal support system of the program.
Hall said, on a statewide level, CIS programs have increasingly had to find more innovative ways to gain revenue to keep programs alive, such as individual donations.
But even as the continued challenge of finding and keeping funding continues, Communities in Schools has succeeded in its mission to keep students on the right path.
Last year, 100 percent of seniors participating in the program graduated.