Teachers work with students during Sedway’s summer school session.
Barrick’s new partnership with Communities In Schools means students at two Nevada schools are more likely to graduate
Zachary Robbins, who is the Principal of Sedway Middle School in North Las Vegas, was shopping at a local Walmart recently when he ran into the mother of three of his students. Robbins greeted the woman, who was standing by her car, and quickly realized the family was in dire straits.
“They were living out of their car,” he says. “They had been evicted from their home because they could not pay the rent, and the mother was working. That is not uncommon. We have parents who are working two or three jobs because this is a 24-hour town. But they’re still struggling.”
If Nevada was ground zero during the recession in the United States, then North Las Vegas may have been ground zero in Nevada. One in every 195 homes in the city is in foreclosure, the highest rate in the state, according to a recent Associated Press article. And city revenue plummeted from $817 million in 2009 to a projected $298 million this year, triggering steep budget cuts.
The upshot for schools like Sedway is that they must do more with less, even as enrolment increases. Sedway expects final enrolment of about 1,400 students this year, up from 1,357 a year earlier. Eighty-five percent qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch, which means their families live below the poverty line. “We have students who don’t eat,” Robbins says. “We are their source of nutrition.”
Not surprisingly, given the challenges its students face, Sedway’s academic performance is below average. The school has not met adequate yearly progress standards for the past seven years and rates one star out of five on the Clark County School District’s ratings scale. “By the time these students get to high school, many of them will have spent years feeling disenfranchised and be a high risk to drop out,” says Terri Clark, CEO of Communities In Schools of Nevada.
Communities In Schools (CIS) is a non-profit organization that supports students inside and outside the classroom, connecting them to critical local resources that help them stay in school. “I believe that our best source of renewable energy is our own kids,” says Elaine Wynn, Chairman of CIS. “But when kids drop out of school, this precious resource is unlikely to ever be fully developed, to the detriment of us all.”
Barrick, a longtime supporter of education at all levels in Nevada, has agreed to sponsor CIS programming at two middle schools, Sedway in North Las Vegas and the Adobe Middle School in the town of Elko in northeast Nevada. The company will provide $1.2 million to CIS over four years for the initiative.
“Our strategic partnership with CIS is a new program that will encompass rural and urban Nevada,” says Michael Brown, Vice President of Corporate and External Affairs, Barrick North America. “We are moving toward addressing the core challenges facing Nevada, which has the highest dropout rate in the U.S. Elaine Wynn has pioneered a proven and practical program to address the challenge. We hope other companies will join with us and make a similar investment.”
Zachary Robbins, principal of Sedway Middle School (suited in center), with some of the staff of the North Las Vegas-based school.
Program taps into local communities
Communities In Schools works with nearly 1.3 million students in 3,400 schools across 25 states. According to an independent audit by ICF International, CIS is unique in its ability to lower dropout rates and increase on-time graduation. “It is the CIS model… as well as the focus on prevention and intervention from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade that may explain this success,” the ICF report says.
CIS employs a full-time site coordinator in every school that it partners with. In large schools, it maintains two to four coordinators. Sedway, for instance, has two coordinators who will facilitate programs and services that will be available to the entire school. This might include a food pantry to supplement nutritional needs, or a resource room with school supplies, or tutoring to help with academics.
At the elementary school level, site coordinators often arrange monthly birthday parties for students complete with cupcakes, balloons and party games. It is the only chance for many of the children to celebrate their birthdays, Clark says. “Sometimes, the younger students don’t know when their birthdays are.”
To help deliver programs, CIS partners with area support services, including food banks, health clinics, and local businesses. CIS’ business partners in Nevada include Walmart, which provides school supplies, and The Gap, which provides school uniforms.
In areas where support services are stretched thin, CIS has filled the void. The organization’s northeastern Nevada affiliate operates a hunger prevention program that serves more than 34,000 breakfasts to hungry children each year.
A resource room with school supplies at Sedway.
CIS coordinators also case manage small groups of at risk students. They develop one-on-one relationships and arrange individualized services and support that might include transportation, health, dental and vision care, tutoring, food and clothing. “We help meet basic needs,” says Erika Araiza, one of the coordinators at Sedway. “Things that most people never have to think about.”
Seeing students begin to blossom is the reason Araiza entered the field. She recalls working hard to connect with a struggling grade 10 student at her previous assignment, and the day a positive test score changed everything. “I found her — ditching science class — and told her she should go to class because there was good news waiting about her science proficiency test,” Araiza says. “And she looked at me all wide-eyed and said, ‘Wow miss, nah miss, don’t kid me like that.’ And I told her I would not kid you, and she was so happy. We started working together more after that and she raised her grade point average more than a full point in one semester.”
CIS develops action plans and objectives tailored to each school and evaluates its performance regularly. “We’re not like most non-profits in the sense that we focus on outcomes,” Wynn says. “We combine compassion with being impactful.”
At Adobe Middle School, which has just under 700 students, the site coordinator is expected to case manage a minimum of 10 percent of the student body, with 75 percent of them showing improvement in one or more of: grades, attendance or behavior. “Having Communities In Schools at Adobe is going to allow us to target kids that have struggled in school both socially and academically,” says Colby Corbitt, Principal of Adobe Middle School. “With CIS, we hope to create a partnership that focuses on these high-needs kids and gives them the opportunity for greater success in school and life.”
For Sedway’s Robbins, the collaboration with CIS provides much-needed support to his students that will be there for years. “I actually turn folks away from the building if I don’t think they’re going to be here long term,” he says. “I know CIS and Barrick aren’t going anywhere. I also know that they share a deep-seated belief that drives my administration, which is that schools are community institutions. That means we can’t disenfranchise community organizations and businesses that have the means, the will and the passion to do right by our kids.”