Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $133.5 million to the national nonprofit Communities in Schools Feb. 3. It was the largest unsolicited and unrestricted gift in the organization’s history.
CIS of Washington received $5.85 million and selected three CIS affiliates to share the wealth. The three affiliates, CIS of Peninsula, CIS of Benton-Franklin and CIS of Renton-Tukwila, serve a total of 85 schools.
The Key Peninsula-based CISP, which serves 17 schools in the Peninsula School District, received $800,000.
CISP Executive Director Colleen Speer said, “We did not plan for this. Because MacKenzie Scott did not impose any restrictions on the gift, a task force composed of CISP board members and staff will be organized to determine best use of this unsolicited gift and decide how and when to allocate these funds.”
The grant will allow for program expansion, Speer said, and will help sustain the existing program. Currently there are five part-time site coordinators and eight full-time site coordinators at Evergreen, Vaughn and Minter Creek elementary schools; Harbor Heights, Key Peninsula and Goodman middle schools; and Peninsula and Henderson Bay high schools.
Working with staff at each school, services are provided based on staff assessment of behavior, attendance, course work, as well as social and emotional development. The case load ran between 300 to 350 students annually before the pandemic but dropped to around 135 in the last year. Referrals are now increasing because more students are experiencing anxiety and stress.
“Trauma among students is higher than it has ever been,” said Program Director Laurel Shultz. “Because of intensification of needs, we are addressing needs in a much deeper way.”
CISP was incorporated in 2000 with a part-time coordinator who developed the after-school reading program at Vaughn Elementary. Speer was hired in 2003 and Shultz in 2007. The reading program was extended to Evergreen and Minter Creek along with an after-school math program at KPMS. Within the KP community, CISP is best known for its academic after-school programs.
In 2007, the national CIS office undertook a five-year longitudinal study as a basis for expanding student support beyond academics to serving the whole child through an “integrated student support system” to “surround students with a community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life,” according to CIS.
The premise of providing services for the whole child requires whole-family services, so programs and partnerships were developed to include the entire family and increase parent engagement. CIS staff are not counselors but can make referrals for mental health and professional counseling.
Speer said CISP does not hand out resources but tries to empower families to access resources on their own, while establishing CISP staff as a “safe harbor.’
Beyond the direct services to individual families, CISP initiated a school-wide support plan and offered learning opportunities for parents on topics like financial literacy and parenting. CISP has also paid for school assemblies focusing on bullying prevention. Special parent events are presented in coordination with the PTA. During school closures CISP staff provided parents and grandparents with assistance to help them meet the demands presented by remote learning.
Working from staff-developed student assessments, students choose a personal goal each year. Recording their baseline goals facilitates service delivery, allows tracking of student goals and provides feedback on progress. In the latest tracking of personal goals, 98% of the students had improved attendance, 75% exhibited improved behavior and 88% had improved academics.
“What is so cool (is) when you think about all the change over time from the earliest days to now,” Shultz said. “It’s because of our people and the social capital. It really is a lot of people teaming together with similar values to make it happen. It’s just the biggest win.”
Pre-pandemic, as many as 130 volunteers provided individual academic support; now there are around 50. This is a result of the demands for space to comply with COVID-19 protocol requirements for social distancing. With schools open and indications that some restrictions may be lifted, volunteers will again be in demand, Speer said.
Although the grant is a huge benefit, CISP will continue fundraising to meet its five-year financial goals. “I just want to say, we could not have achieved this level of recognition nor the donation without the support of all the volunteers, donors and partners,” Speer said. “It is definitely a game changer for us.”
Speer echoed a statement by CIS-National President Rey Saldaña, who said on receipt of the gift, “We passed a test we didn’t know we were taking.”
Shultz said, “We didn’t just pass, we got an 'A.' ”
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