- Gig Harbor Living Local
Communities in Schools Makes Lasting Impact
Nonprofit helps students live out their potential By Rachel Kelly | Photo Courtesy of Communities in Schools
We were all once children looking forward to what our lives would hold. We all have stood at that pinnacle of potential, with dreams and hopes. Maybe you wanted to be an artist or a dancer. Maybe you wanted to try out soccer or be a writer. Maybe you wanted to be a teacher or a firefighter, and now that’s exactly what you are. Wherever you were, whomever you are, wherever you’ve gone, and whatever you’ve done, you didn’t get there by yourself. You had parents, friends, extended families, communities, tools and resources. You had that one experience, you heard those words that pushed you forward, you read that book, you saw a picture of what you wanted, and you excelled toward it. Without resources, the desire to achieve can only take one so far. One may want to write, but without a pen their words will never make it to paper. When it comes to reaching one’s potential, it’s our community (great and small) that provides those resources. The better the resources, the greater the opportunity. And where there is more opportunity, a community thrives.
Communities in Schools is a nonprofit that seeks to provide those resources within the schools themselves, with the goal that “every child sees their greatest potential.”
Communities in Schools is a national operation that has functioned for over 46 years, with affiliates all over the country. Fifteen such affiliates function in Washington state. Each affiliate is its own independent nonprofit, with its own board of directors. One such affiliate operates in the Key Peninsula and was incorporated in 2000.
Because each affiliate of Communities in Schools operates independently, the Key Peninsula branch is able to connect with its community according to its specific needs. Independence allows for the flexibility and fluidity that is needed in each subsequent community being served, allowing for a tailored approach, conforming to the community which it serves. Communities in Schools in the Key Peninsula seeks to offer its services within a baseline of equity, accountability, relationships and trust, self-belief (which uplifts community voice), and assets (building upon one’s strengths).
To achieve their goal of seeing each child reach their potential, Communities in Schools in the Key Peninsula (CISP) offers three tiers of support.
The first tier is whole school support. Full-time individuals have offices in schools, allowing for face-to-face connection and collaboration on campus. If for whatever reason the school system cannot provide a service needed on campus, Communities in Schools fills that gap. Whole school support often includes things such as attendance, behavior issues, social and emotional learning, and academics. Common examples of whole school support include bully prevention assemblies, grandparents’ day, and the fostering of parent engagement. Those who work on campus have the benefit of not being completely tied to campus; they can provide services wherever they are needed.
The second tier of support is group intervention. Much like whole school support, group intervention attends to social and emotional learning and behavior issues, but from a peer-to-peer perspective. Group intervention might include such things as an art club or a kindness club during recess. Sometimes the groups are formed around common community characteristics, like a LGBTQ club.
The third tier of support focuses on the individual student. This has less to do with greater emotional needs, behavior as it manifests in a group, or even academics. This tier addresses specific needs that are hindering success on a more holistic level. If basic needs are not met, students have little to no chance of succeeding in school. Basic needs generally include food, mental health, housing and safety.
To provide for each tier of support, especially support focused on the individual, Communities in Schools in the Key Peninsula partners with 25 community organizations, such as Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), which offers physicals through their nursing program. CISP also relies heavily on their incredible volunteers.
Before the pandemic, CISP had 139 volunteers who served an hour per a week. Volunteers are essential to the nonprofit, because volunteers represent the greater community and its desire to see its youngest members thrive. Volunteers are “all in for kids” on campus and meet with students on an individual basis. They are the ones who are interacting on a regular basis, building lasting relationships that prove to make a life-changing impact. When, during the height of the pandemic, volunteers were not allowed in schools, that number dwindled exponentially. Now the volunteers are beginning to come back, but the nonprofit is still about 30 short and actively open to welcoming more. The nonprofit also benefits from donations such as gas and grocery gift cards, which go a long way to supporting the individual needs of students.
If you are interested in more information on how you can get involved in Communities in Schools of Peninsula, visit their website at Peninsula.CISWA.org.