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Communities In Schools offers support for Elgin students

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After receiving a substantial grant this past spring, student support organization Communities In Schools will begin working in Elgin ISD starting this fall.

Communities In Schools is a national nonprofit organization with a local central Texas affiliate. The organization provides on-campus support for students and families by connecting personally with at-risk and struggling students and creating a service plan based on their individual needs. These services could include counseling, tutoring, mentoring or more, all with the goal of helping students succeed in school.

In March, Communities In Schools received a $13 million grant funded by biopharmaceutical company AbbVie to expand their program into 23 more communities in 11 states. In central Texas, Communities In Schools received $554,607, meaning it can now serve 15 new school campuses, including schools at Elgin ISD and Bastrop ISD. Starting this year, four campuses at Elgin ISD—all three elementary schools and Elgin Middle School—will be a part of the program, with plans to expand to all Elgin campuses the following year. Last year, Communities In Schools served 65 schools in five school districts in central Texas: Austin, Del Valle, Hays, Lockhart and Manor.

Learn more about Bastrop ISD’s partnership with Communities In Schools on page 5B.

Part of Communities In Schools’ model is to leverage existing community resources into the schools, such as volunteer tutors and mentors, community groups and local nonprofits, Steinhauser said. Additionally, Communities In Schools hires social workers as program managers to work on-campus full-time, year-round to be present with the faculty and help the students all the time. Central Texas Communities In Schools CEO Suki Steinhauser said they will focus on improving school culture and climate in Elgin.

“The model itself adapts to whatever is needed on the school campus,” Steinhauser said.

Steinhauser said Elgin ISD Superintendent Jodi Duron first reached out to Communities In Schools when she began working in Elgin, but at the time, the central Texas branch did not have the money or resources available. Once the funds were available, they chose Elgin as one of the schools to begin serving.

According to Teresa Hill, director of program support and guidance at Elgin ISD, Elgin has plenty of resources that the school can connect with, as well as many resources the schools already use, such as Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, Advocacy Outreach and more.

“Sometimes you might hear outsiders to Elgin say that we’re resource poor or that we don’t have resources,” Hill said. “And that’s just, quite frankly, not true. We’re really looking forward to Communities In Schools bringing in their talents and expertise.”

Hill said the help offered by Communities In Schools will complement existing programs at Elgin ISD, such as initiatives to support social and emotional wellbeing. The school district is starting to offer classes at the sixth and ninth grades to teach students how to identify their emotions, solve problems, work through conflicts and find resolutions.

“We don’t just serve them academically, but we want to serve their physical needs, and also now their social-emotional needs and wellbeing,” Hill said. “Communities In Schools is just another piece to help serve our students.”

When a student is facing a challenge at home or at school, it can take a toll on their academic achievement, Hill said, and it’s important for the school to help address these challenges in order to help them better engage in the classroom.

“Our students and staff bring their whole self with them to school,” Hill said. “We don’t just leave our social, emotional or mental health at home. It’s not just about addressing the academic welfare of the child, but approaching and supporting the whole child.”

Communities In Schools measures students’ success with grades, attendance, behavior, grade promotion and graduation.

“Even though we’re mostly working with kids on the non-academic barriers that they face, what we ultimately measure are those academics and the behaviors that will either promote their success in class or get in the way of that,” Steinhauser said.

Steinhauser said Communities In Schools works to support students in ways that the schools otherwise could not do.

“We do what we do so teachers can teach,” Steinhauser said. “There are some students that have a whole lot of needs that the teacher can’t resolve—and they shouldn’t have to, they should be able to teach. Even though teachers are fantastic supporters for kids, some kids just come with greater challenges.”