Specialized support for at-risk students is effective

“Ms. Lewis invested time in her students and leveraged community resources from businesses, churches and even people in her personal circle. With the opportunities she presented me, Ms. Lewis opened my eyes to see that there was so much more to life than the neighborhood I lived in. Ms. Lewis was not just another high school counselor or another person with a title or position. She was a friend, a mother and a community developer. Ms. Lewis could relate to my peers in a way that other school staff could not, and more importantly, she was willing to advocate for students. I found myself referring my peers to the program all of the time.”

These comments were recently shared by an alumna of Detroit Public Schools as she spoke to the state Board of Education about the support she received from her site coordinator at Communities In Schools, the nation’s leading nonprofit dropout prevention program, while a student in Detroit. She is currently enrolled at the University of Michigan.

In the past 30 years, discussions in Michigan and across the nation about education have focused on curriculum, teacher training, testing, teaching methods and academic interventions. We have seldom discussed, and rarely invested in, practices which have been shown to improve students’ achievement by addressing the myriad issues which are presented by the effects of poverty.

On February 25th, Child Trends released a new report on the evidence for providing integrated student supports (ISS). This school-based, “whole child” approach focuses on both academic and non-academic factors which affect academic success.

The report identifies four characteristics that are common to most successful models:

  • Supports are customized for individual students by trained personnel.
  • Supports target both academic and non-academic barriers to success.
  • Support programs are integrated within the school or school district for maximum effectiveness.
  • Student outcomes are tracked over time to evaluate effectiveness and adjust support dosage as necessary.

“Taken as a whole, Child Trends concludes that there is an emerging evidence base to support the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of integrated student supports in improving educational outcomes.”

For many, addressing social and economic issues and the many problems which stem from them is considered to be an overwhelming and impossible task. It is clear from this most recent research that significant results can be achieved and that an evidence-based model such as that employed by Communities In Schools is a critical ingredient of school reform. More than nice to have or a great enrichment, integrated student supports can be the linchpin which impacts the school culture so that other improvement efforts can have the maximum impact.

In Michigan, the five local Communities In Schools affiliates (serving 20,000+ students) have seen great results from individual interventions, including increased achievement, attendance, positive behavior, grade promotion and on-time graduation. It is time to add ISS to the discussion and invest in this proven practice.

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Thu, 05/01/2014 - 2:32pm
This is an excellent example of what I call, "The Commerce of The Heart". I believe programs like this are the only hope for children, especially in our urban areas. Great work and I join you in making no apologies for believing or saying the major, yes major funding thrust for education should be aimed at institutionalizing programs like this one. Ask the young woman from Detroit (now at U of M) if the success of this program can be "measured"!!!!! How are our schools spending the money they have? Is it working? Then why not allocate major portions of our funding to programs that work? Imagine what programs like this could do to prison populations. Thank you, Communities In Schools, for leading the way and showing us how it can and should be done.