Summer is over and students across the country are heading back to school. I am in the unique position of looking at education from behind the desk as a former teacher and in the trenches as a school social worker. Research has proven that the one intervention that minimizes all “at risk behavior” is getting and keeping students on grade level. Yet, attempts to improve academic performance usually focus only on things that happen in the school house like rigorous curriculums, qualified and motivated teachers, principals with vision and leadership capabilities, safe climate and time on task.
I agree that all of those variables are critical to academic success. However, there are other factors that can’t easily be controlled by the schools that can and do affect school performance. We are finally able to accept the fact that poverty and all its maladies makes teaching and learning difficult for children who are hungry, lack proper clothing, live in unsafe environments, and who hurt physically or mentally. Schools cannot do it alone. Schools cannot be expected to remedy the problems caused by poverty without assistance from the public outside the school house. Out-of-school factors must be addressed in schools with large numbers of children who reside in poverty.
Every successful academic program or reform effort that serves poor children includes a comprehensive student support strategy. My comments will focus on the work of CIS as an effective, sustainable and scalable example of a successful integrated support model.
Ninety-three percent of our students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. Each year Communities In Schools lowers dropout rates and increases graduation rates. About ninety-two percent of the students we target for academic support demonstrate academic improvement.
We must position students to achieve success. We are grateful to all of our advocates, stakeholders and supporters who make our work possible. We look forward to a productive year ahead – together we can bring hope to Houston’s children in need.