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Communities In Schools provides update after one year

After a year of working in Elgin ISD schools, Communities In Schools (CIS) provided an update about their recent activities and accomplishments to the school board during their August 17 meeting.

Communities In Schools of Central Texas is the local branch of a national nonprofit organization that provides support for at-risk or struggling students and their families. This support can include counseling, tutoring and mentoring. Last year, CIS received a grant to expand their program into more schools across the country, and the program began serving Elgin’s three elementary schools and Elgin Middle School, as well as schools in Bastrop ISD. CIS of Central Texas was already working with the Austin, Del Valle, Hays, Lockhart and Manor ISDs.

CIS of Central Texas CEO Suki Steinhauser gave the presentation to the school board during last week’s meeting.

“We have some enormous challenges ahead of us, and we’re glad we’re partnered with Elgin ISD … to get through the issues in front of us,” Steinhauser said.

Over the past year, 3,000 students received preventative or short-term services, and 258 students received case management, which is on-going or deeper services. Four professional CIS staff members worked at Elgin ISD, and 12 community partners have been established in Elgin during the first year.

About half of all services provided were supportive guidance and counseling. Steinhauser said students need to feel safe, secure and confident in order to learn.

“Kids can’t learn unless they’re head-ready,” she said.

The rest of services provided include health and human services, family engagement, academic support and enrichment.

Of the students helped, 82% qualified for free or reduced lunch, 19% had limited English proficiency, eight percent were homeless, 37% didn’t meet testing standards last year, seven percent had an incarcerated guardian and six percent were enrolled in a special education program.

Among the students with a behavior need, 83% showed improvement, while 69% of students with an academic need showed improvement and 49% of students with an attendance need showed improvement. Steinhauser said this last figure is not unusual compared to what they see in other school districts because attendance problems can often be complicated and take more time to improve.

All guardians who gave feedback on the program said CIS helped their child do better in school; although this survey had a small return rate, Steinhauser said they will work on increasing that response rate. Additionally, all faculty said CIS has helped enhance social-emotional learning practices across the school.

“We do want feedback, especially in our early years of serving a district, because we need to know if what we’re doing is helpful, and if it’s not, we can adjust,” Steinhauser said.

From last August through March, CIS started collaborating with faculty, providing activities, engaging with families and creating safe places for students on campus. Then, in March, CIS pivoted to providing groups through Zoom, working with children online and checking in over the phone with families who do not have internet access. They found that families were concerned about basic needs due to the challenges caused by the pandemic.

“It’s not possible to learn or engage in clases if you’re hungry or if you’re worried about paying an electric bill,” Steinhauser said. 

In response to COVID-19, CIS distributed $35,553 in gift cards, housing and utilities assistance, transportation, technology and food, cleaning and hygiene items. They also helped refer families to other community resources. 

At the time of the presentation, Steinhauser said CIS is working on their plan for the fall. During this school year, they are adding Elgin Intermediate School and Elgin High School to their coverage. They also plan to continue supporting students and their parents impacted by COVID-19. 

“Somehow or another, it’s going to be a good year,” Steinhauser said.