Bring up dropout prevention or graduation rates at any social gathering of educators or parents in Northern Nevada, and you will have people's full attention. It is no secret that Nevada is No. 48 in the nation when it comes to high school graduation rates, with a statewide average of just 70 percent. Here in Washoe County, the local graduation rate increased to 75 percent in 2015, but there is still great room for improvement. Communities In Schools (CIS) of Western Nevada, the local affiliate of the statewide 501(c)(3) nonprofit dropout prevention organization, works with local students, from kindergartners to high school seniors, to provide them with the tools and the support they need to stay in school and achieve in life.
So where do we do it?
CIS, the nation's most effective dropout prevention and intervention program, started nearly 40 years ago in New York City. In Nevada, the program has seen huge successes in both Las Vegas since the mid-1990s and Elko since 2007, now serving nearly 60,000 students statewide annually. CIS is still fairly new to Reno, entering into its first contract with Washoe County School District in 2014. The local affiliate currently has partnerships with five of Washoe County's most notoriously at-risk schools: Libby Booth Elementary School, Natchez Elementary School, Vaughn Middle School, Hug High School and Innovations High School. Already, the local CIS affiliate has helped bring the graduation rate among case-managed students up to 82 percent.
How do we do it?
CIS brings community resources and wraparound support services directly into the most at-risk schools, starting with the youngest, most vulnerable students. While many people assume that dropout prevention starts in high school, the CIS model focuses on early intervention. By giving elementary school students the tools necessary to succeed in school, CIS is eliminating barriers to educational success at an early age — things like hunger, poverty, health care needs and the absence of a loving, caring adult in their lives. CIS employs site coordinators to be embedded in the schools full-time, helping to connect students to community resources that will help them succeed. For many students, site coordinators are the only stable adult figures in their lives. Studies have shown that the presence of CIS in a school not only keeps students in school and increases graduation rates, but it also results in a higher percentage of case-managed students reaching proficiency in math and reading standards. Simply put, CIS works.
Where does the funding come from?
CIS can't do it alone. Our partnerships with dozens of local nonprofit organizations, businesses, community volunteers and corporate supporters are crucial to our success with local students. Without the support of Washoe County School District, local foundations, corporate sponsors and individual donors, CIS would not have the resources to serve our students. Those who support CIS understand that dropout prevention is a community problem and that everyone should be invested. The difference between a student with a high school diploma and a student who drops out is vast. CIS helps change the course of life for nearly 3,000 Northern Nevada students each year. As our agency leaders say, "It's relationships, not programs, that change children." CIS is dedicated to surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.
For more information on how to get involved with the Western Nevada affiliate of CIS, go to https://www.cisnevada.org/affiliates/western-nevada/ or contact our local office at 775-846-0250.
Auburn Harrison is the executive director of Communities In Schools of Western Nevada.