50-year-old program supports students beyond graduation

Alumni of the Communities in Schools program participate in service projects such as delivering care packages to incoming college students.

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Alumni of the Communities in Schools program participate in service projects such as delivering care packages to incoming college students.

Fifty years ago, the Communities in Schools initiative launched in Atlanta to support students with whatever it takes to keep them in school. Since then, the program has spread to 26 states and served about 1.6 million. In the metro area, CIS works in four districts with 62 schools, most of which have low academic performance records.

“We place site coordinators in those schools to deal with the barriers that keep students from being educated and participating in the American dream,” said CEO Frank Brown, who has been with the organization for eight years. “We have a three-tier service: We identify attendance, academic and behavioral problems that speak to dropping out or a student not earning a high school diploma.”

During the COVID lockdown in March 2020, CIS provided more than $600,000 in emergency aid for families without internet or a stable place for students to study. Workshops connected parents with social services to address problems from mental health to keeping the lights on.

This year, CIS solidified plans to go beyond elementary and high school levels to assist program alums who moved on to college.

“We say high school isn’t enough,” said Brown. “We started helping 11th and 12th graders get ready for the SATs, even helping with fees and filling out FAFSA forms to get over the barriers that might keep them from getting into college.”

The alum program has about 164 participants in college, tech schools or the military. They’re supported with funds to cover tuition and transportation costs, provided they maintain a 2.5 GPA and come back to do community service work. During the lockdown, alums visited schools to give out food.

“That helps us pull more kids out of the circle of poverty and builds philanthropists who look like the kids we’re serving,” said Brown.

Mya Schofield, a 2018 Langston Hughes High alum, graduated in May from South Carolina’s Benedict College with CSI’s support. The Fairburn native became part of CSI in 10th grade when her attendance began to falter.

“I was constantly tardy or absent, probably because I was a class president, into cheering and over-involved,” she said. “CIS played a big role for me, and not just making sure I was going to class. They exposed me to so much and encouraged me to mentor other students, too.”

Schofield’s CIS mentor encouraged her to apply to Benedict, where she received a full scholarship. “I’m glad he pushed me to my full potential,” she said. “It showed me there’s a world beyond 285. I think a lot of students say that about CIS. It’s been a great help financially and professionally.”

Schofield plans to spend a year as a Capitol Hill intern before attending law school, and her ultimate goal is to be Atlanta’s mayor. Along the way, she’ll be volunteering with CIS.

“I owe it to myself and to other students coming through CIS to be part of the alumni program,” she said.

Information about CIS is online at communitiesinschool.org.

SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.