Communities In Schools of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. – Integrated Student Supports
Imagine you are a 12-year-old girl in middle school and are tired from helping your mother take care of your younger siblings in the morning. You didn’t eat breakfast and when you sit down to take a math test, the tiredness and hunger cloud your focus. Or maybe you are a 16-year-old father missing an important day of school because you can’t afford child care. When you are back in the classroom, you face failing grades and start to wonder if high school is worth finishing. Finally, consider being a seven-year-old girl who just lost her mother. You feel alone now that your mother’s supportive presence is gone. You can’t explain your angry outbursts and just don’t care about school anymore.
These are real situations that Communities In Schools of the Lehigh Valley addresses every day, demonstrating the invisible baggage young people carry with them to school. Factors including housing moves, poverty, changing family status, hunger, and trauma create nonacademic barriers that lead to under-performance even for kids who are fully capable of succeeding in school.
Timothy Mulligan, Communities In Schools President and CEO, explains, “These nonacademic barriers coupled with the demands of typical academic challenges often trap our community’s youth in a cycle of poor performance that can lead to increased drop-out rates.”
A gap exists between the disadvantages students face and the resources school staff can provide, which is where Communities In Schools steps in with Integrated Student Supports (ISS). The successful implementation of the ISS model begins with the placement of a school-based, single point of contact in the Site Coordinator. Site Coordinators are skilled professionals who leverage relationships with the school, businesses, and community partners to address any unique needs of a student and work to eliminate the barriers to the student’s success. Site Coordinators often eliminate unnecessary duplication of services, create efficiency in existing service delivery, and initiate new services where resources may be lacking.
In the 2017-2018 school year, Communities In Schools of the Lehigh Valley served 22,000 students and their families in 26 schools in the Lehigh Valley and Berks County. Through The Rider-Pool Foundation’s educational focus and priority to serve disadvantaged youth, grants have been awarded to Communities In Schools for more than two decades and have assisted the continual impact of this program in the Lehigh Valley.
Mulligan says the program follows seven specific metrics for success. On a school-level, ISS aims to improve graduation rate, promotion rate, and stay-in-school rate. On a student-level, ISS success can be measured through improvement in attendance, behavior, academics and social-emotional learning.
As Communities in Schools continues to monitor trends and offer flexible educational paths for students, the organization faces the reality that every 26 seconds, a student in America drops out of school. That means every year, 1.2 million young people face uncertainty and insecurity without a high school diploma, which affects an entire community population. In response to that statistic, they worked with the Allentown School District and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board to develop the Allentown Re-engagement Center in 2015.
The Re-engagement Center reaches out to young people aged 17 to 24 who have dropped out of school with a simple invitation – come back. Students can then complete their high school degree either through an in-school diploma, through an online high school diploma program or secure a GED. Again, while returning to education, students are provided any related case management services needed for their success. After two and half years of concentrated outreach, in 2018, the program reached its 100th high school graduate. The work will continue to provide this second chance for young people in the community.