Communities In Schools of Peninsula—Making a Difference


Sara Thompson, KP News

Once a dropout, Peninsula High School senior Tacoda Anker graduated in June after working with CISP site coordinator Wendy Wojtanowicz, right, upon returning to school. Courtesy CISP

Communities In Schools of Peninsula has a mission—to help every child achieve his or her greatest potential. CISP serves children and families in nine of the 15 schools in the Peninsula District. Incorporated in 2000 as an independent nonprofit, it is affiliated with the national dropout prevention program, Communities In Schools. The national program celebrated its 40th year of service earlier this year.

“I’m so encouraged to see the positive outcomes in the lives of the kids we serve,” said Colleen Speer, CISP executive director for the last 14 years.

During the 2016-17 school year, over 3,600 local children received one-time services and 306 children received ongoing services. Ninety-two percent of the students CISP assisted advanced to the next grade or graduated; 88 percent improved academic performance; and 92 percent improved attendance.

One hundred and forty-five CISP volunteers worked more than 4,500 hours.

“As CIS Founder Bill Milliken once said, ‘programs don’t change lives, relationships do,’ and that is the key to our success at CISP,” Speer said.

CISP identifies schools that will benefit most from their programs using a variety of data: the number of students living in poverty, academic achievement, attendance and behavior incidents. All four schools on the Key Peninsula, as well as Harbor Heights Elementary, Purdy Elementary, Harbor Ridge Middle School and Peninsula and Henderson Bay High Schools have CISP programs. Minter Creek Elementary will have a CISP site coordinator for the first time this fall.

Teachers and counselors first identify students who need help overcoming obstacles to academic success. Those students may receive a one-time service or they may need ongoing help. The school-based site coordinators are a critical link. They are paid by CISP but work directly in the schools coordinating extra reading and math programs. They also provide student and family services that alleviate obstacles to learning, such as access to vision and dental care, school supplies, clothing, food, parenting classes, holiday gifts and assistance for homeless students. In addition, they connect students with mentors, tutors and other resources to help them succeed in school and in life. “We broker resources and bring them to the school if we can, as parents may not have the capacity to do so,” Speer said.

CISP coordinators also manage afterschool programs. The elementary and middle school programs focus on reading and math skills, usually with one-on-one volunteer mentors. All mentors are screened and receive orientation training and a notebook through Cathy Rich, the CISP volunteer coordinator. With a commitment to a year of service, they spend one afternoon a week with the same student and get additional coaching as needed with the program coordinator.

Mentors also help students with homework at the high school level.

“We provide a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult,” Speer said. “Children need positive role models to create expectations for success, offer encouragement and provide academic support.”

CISP partners with a wide array of community organizations to make that support possible, including the Peninsula School District, Food Backpacks 4 Kids, Children’s Home Society of Washington, Lindquist Dental Clinic, The Red Barn Youth Center, World Vision and the YMCA.

CISP also provides whole-school programs three or four times a year at each school where they employ a site coordinator. It has hosted assemblies on bully prevention, cyberbullying and stopping drug and alcohol abuse. Other whole-school offerings include parent engagement activities like “Dads and Donuts” and bingo nights. CISP always has school supplies on hand that are free to any student. It also provides scholarship assistance to high school students whose families cannot afford the “pay to play” fees for some school sports.

Eighty percent of CISP’s $490,000 annual budget is devoted to student services. About half of that funding comes from foundations and grants, a quarter from government sources and another quarter from individual donations.

CISP has received two large grants so far in 2017: $68,000 from the Pierce County Youth Violence Prevention Fund for CISP’s afterschool programs and, most recently, $42,000 from the Discuren Charitable Foundation to expand site coordinator hours at Evergreen, Key Peninsula Middle School and Peninsula High School.

“We are able to get grants like this because of our evidence-based approach,” Speer said. “Third-party evaluators study what we do as a nonprofit.”

CISP welcomes volunteers. For those interested in becoming a mentor, call Cathy Rich at 884-5733 or send an email to