It has been said that children are our future, and rightly so. Without them, we have no future. Ensuring they have every opportunity to succeed in life is paramount to our survival as a community. Communities In Schools of New Mexico (CISNM) understands that better than most. The non-profit organization dedicated to surrounding students with “communities of support,” and thus empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life, is a game changer in more ways than one.
According to Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy, the monthly child poverty rate in the United States stands at a staggering 17 percent, as of January 2022. That amounts to around 3.7 million children who are struggling with food insecurity, which goes a long way toward inhibiting learning skills. Taking statistics like this into account, Communities In Schools developed a strategy designed to support children and their families, by addressing these concerns and ensuring they are cared for, so that the children can return to the classroom ready to learn and achieve.
Part of a national network that is now in 28 states across the country, Communities In Schools of New Mexico was established in 2012. Serving Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties, the organization’s mission is to surround students with a community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Working with students from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade, and then on to post-secondary schooling, the program works primarily with Title 1 schools – those schools identified as having a majority population living at or below poverty level.
Julia Bergen, Executive Director of CISNM, explains how it works. “We place what we call Community School Site Coordinators inside each school,” she says. “They are full-time youth development or social worker trained individuals. They work closely with the school principal and other school staff, then perform an annual needs assessment and asset audit, to determine what are the gaps and barriers that might be impeding a child’s ability to get to school, engage, and learn.”
From this information, a school support plan is developed that identifies different activities and strategies that will help to mitigate whatever those gaps and challenges might be. “We have a three-tiered, differentiated support model that allows the coordinator to parse resources based both on need and demand,” Julia says. “A lot of the work is focused on improving school culture and climate, as well as meeting individual student needs.”
To do that, the organization partners with wider city social service agencies and other non-profits, functioning as a conduit between those community resources, the students in the schools, and the families connected to those students. The goal is to build a much deeper, stronger system of support for children and their families.
“We function as a bridge between resources and the schools,” Julia says. “What that means is, for example, if a family is struggling with housing and utilities and food insecurity, we can connect them to the resources on a regular basis, to ensure the family system isn’t destabilized. That then translates to the children in that family being in a better position to get to school nourished, rested and ready to step into a classroom engaged, and continue to move forward and progress in their development and education.
“Everything we do focuses on education attainment,” she continues. “What we look at are the things that are standing in the way of an individual child being able to get there. Poverty comes with a lot of barriers that make it difficult for many children to take full advantage of their educational experience.”
In many cases, the organization finds itself supporting the family system. Site Coordinators often do home visits to discern why a student is struggling. Many times, those home visits reveal issues that are inhibiting the child’s ability to learn. The Coordinators can then help address those barriers and use their community resources to alleviate the situation.
“We think it’s very well received by families,” Julia says. “Our partnerships with the schools are strong, and our partnerships with close to 50 non-profits across the community helps to bolster our capacity to do this work. It’s really very much about connection, networking, and acknowledging that it takes a village to address some of these really significant socio-economic and systemic issues.”
Ultimately, the numbers speak for themselves. According to CISNM, 99% of students in the program, remain in school through the end of the school year, while 93% go on to graduate or receive a GED. Ultimately Communities In Schools network of affiliates’ support and resources have reached 1.61 million students nationally.
How You Can Help
It takes more than grant funding to keep Communities In Schools afloat, and that’s where we, as a community, come in. “We have a very robust fundraising strategy that we implement annually that allows us to build and grow this work across the region,” Julia says. “We are always accepting donations. Our biggest expense really focuses on the work that our individual full-time school-based coordinators do every day inside, within the schools. We do coat drives, shoe drives and meal drives to address those immediate social and basic needs of students.”
If you would like to donate to CISNM, you can do so by going directly to the donation page on the website. If you don’t have access to a computer, or would rather not conduct transactions over the internet, you can mail a check to Communities In Schools of New Mexico, PO Box 367, Santa Fe, NM, 87504, or call the office at 505-954-1880.
“We welcome people calling or reaching out. In addition to supporting us financially, we have a very robust volunteer program,” Julia says. “We have many folks from the community who mostly are volunteering as tutors, and they are doing phenomenal work supporting children’s learning and supporting their growth and progress academically, especially in literacy.”
Julia, like everybody connected to Communities In Schools of New Mexico, believes it is important that people know about the work the organization does. “It’s important to understand that there is a sector of our community where there are kids and families who are struggling, not because they’re not committed to their kids and their families, but because they need support. It takes a community and the will of the people to create equitable systems and opportunities for all. By breaking down socio-economic barriers to learning and educational success, we create stronger heathier communities for all”
For more information on Communities in Schools in New Mexico, visit the website. There you will find everything you need to start making a difference in the future of our community. Our future may well depend on it.
This article was posted by David Salcido