How Schools Can Meet Kids' Potential
In 2005, 8-year-old Chantal, like all children starting a new school year, entered her Texas classroom full of promise. A bright, compassionate kid, she had been diagnosed the year before with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. In confined spaces and with certain people, she felt more uncomfortable than a typical kid, and it could lead to trouble. An adminstrator restrained her once for trying to walk out of a room. She later got suspended from elementary school. At the age of 10, a school resource officer arrested her. At the age of 11, she was arrested again.
That's when Chantal's mother, Angela, put her in a different school, one opposed to criminalizing children. Instead, the school practiced something called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). That long name represents a whole framework for making schools places that emphasize the good children are capable of. Where traditional discipline has led Texas to expel or suspend almost 60 percent of all middle and high school students at least once—including 3 out of 4 children with disabilities—PBIS prevents disciplinary incidents in the first place. Its impressive track record includes cutting problem behavior on campuses by more than half, improving children's grades and classwork, and making kids and teachers feel safer, all at little or no cost to schools.
At Chantal's new school, all the kids know how to behave because teachers and staff have integrated the school's highest values into every part of the day. Chantal is now a model student, excelling far beyond her grade level. Her teachers see her as an asset. "Every child," says Angela, "deserves the same chance my daughter has."
Communities in Schools of San Antonio
In our continuing effort to share insights and experiences of our Texans Care for Children member organizations, this month we spotlight Communities In Schools of San Antonio (CIS-SA), which keeps kids in school by surrounding 7,000 students with a community of support and empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.
Tell us about your work in schools for children.
We believe that every child needs and deserves the Basic Life Tools to be successful: a personal, one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to learn and grow; a marketable skill to use upon graduation; a chance to give back to peers and community; and a healthy start and a healthy future. These “basics” are the heart of our programs.
From individualized case management services to facilitated services or programs for a targeted group of students or the entire campus, CIS helps ease the burden on schools, strengthen relationships between home and school, and increase opportunities for positive life choices and academic achievement.
Can you discuss the link between a child's success in school and factors outside the classroom?
Our goal is to remove the barriers that prevent students from reaching their potential. The students we serve live in some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods, and often their personal circumstances derail their chances at success before they even enter the school building.
Students with unaddressed needs have a hard time learning. They may be hungry; their teeth may hurt or they may need glasses to do their schoolwork. They may not have decent shoes or proper clothing to wear to school. They may have no academic or moral support at home. They may live in neighborhoods where violence, drugs, gangs, unemployment and multigenerational poverty are commonplace.
It’s hard to imagine a brighter future when the odds are stacked against you. That’s why CIS-SA has a food backpack program, clothes closets, after-school homework clubs and enrichment activities, facilitates doctors’ visits, and conducts a huge annual school supply donation drive. Students with more serious behavioral issues receive counseling and mental health services. We recruit community mentors to match with youth to give them that vital one-on-one relationship with a caring adult that everyone needs. When students’ basic needs are met, they can finally concentrate on learning, and teachers can focus on teaching.
The new state budget just went into effect September 1. Has it affected your organization and the children you serve? If so, how?
Funding for CIS programs across Texas was cut by about one-third. The small staff at the Texas Education Agency that was charged with overseeing the 26 CIS programs in Texas was eliminated; we’re waiting to see what the fallout from that will be. We have had to quadruple our fun-raising efforts, because, conversely, the needs of our young people have increased. Other state-funded agencies suffered deeper cuts, so our schools may depend on us more for resources for their students. Many school districts have cut counseling staff, and so our case managers will be bearing a greater burden. Larger numbers of students in classrooms may affect attendance and behavior.
For CIS, however, success is the only option. Our founder Bill Milliken has said, “As the gap between the haves and the have-nots seems to widen, we have no choice but to continue to expand our transformative work. Our children are far too precious for us to fail them.” And, I would like to add, the economic prosperity of the state of Texas absolutely depends on keeping our youth in school to graduation – we cannot have meaningful, sustainable, long-term economic prosperity with a 50% dropout rate.
Special thanks to Susan Athené of CIS-San Antonio, and to our member Neighborhood Centers, Inc. of Houston, for the use of the photo that appears in this month's Voice.
If you represent an organization that helps Texas families and children and wish to be aded to on our list of members, click here.