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Michigan CIS-Schools Partner to Fight Dropout Epidemic

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MIRS, May 23, 2008

Michigan's six Communities in Schools (CIS) programs, which use adult role models to prevent children from dropping out, could help relieve the budget strain on K-12 education because of the program's attractiveness to private donors, advocates say.

Louise Reaves, Chief Operating Office for CIS National, told MIRS in an interview on Wednesday that for every $1 of state money received in 2002, a Georgia CIS program in 2002 was able to attract $11 of private investment. This statistic increased to $24 in 2007.

Also present at the MIRS interview was Deanna DEPREE, President of CIS-Michigan, Arleen PETERSON, Organizational Development Specialist for CIS National, and Barb VANDERVEEN, a former state representative who currently works with LSS Parent Center and CIS.

CIS officials testified before the House K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday and before the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. In the House subcommittee meeting, CIS asked for $300,000 to help fund its program. According to Reaves, 70 percent of CIS nationally funding is public.

CIS, founded 30 years ago by Bill MILLIKEN, author of The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic!, is active in 27 states and serves nearly 1.2 million students, based on 2005 - 2006 data. Of these 1.2 million students, 78 percent were eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches and 85 percent were members of minority groups.

According to Milliken's book, approximately one-third of U.S. high school students drop out each year.

CIS places engaged, full-time, adult staff into school districts with high dropout rates in hopes of keeping students in school through graduation. These adults function as go-to people for students, parents and school administrations, allowing teachers to focus their energies on teaching, rather than on counseling or mentoring. Reaves said she thought that teachers having less time to focus on teaching was a contributing factor to high U.S. dropout rates.

"[A] combination of . . . things have caused perhaps a greater distraction from academic success to trying to deal with a lot of other problems. And schools are no longer equipped, or can be expected, to do it alone," Reaves said.

When asked what they thought the leading cause for high school dropouts was, opinions were mixed. Peterson blamed changes in education policies, while DePree focused more on the parents as the root cause.

"A big reason is you have two parents working. Therefore it's always [about] trying to accommodate that schedule before the kids," DePree said.

All four agreed that getting parents involved was a crucial step in working to decrease dropout rates for at-risk districts. Peterson said that it was really about getting parents to realize the partner they have with CIS.

"[We try to] ensure that they understand that. . . we are here as a partner to make things wonderful and great for [their] child to be successful. That's what it's about," Peterson said.

One way CIS of Michigan gets parents involved is through reading nights held at the elementary schools served by the program.

"We know that when a parent reads to a child, and if a parent is involved with a child's education, there is a lot more opportunity for success," DePree said.

Reaves also said that education initiatives, like President George W. BUSH's "No Child Left Behind," were beneficial in determining the at-risk children in schools and helping school districts focus on those students that needed the most assistance.

"No Child Left Behind. . . has been very helpful in this work in that it has brought the students that need these services out of the shadows and into the spotlight," Reaves said. "It has positioned those kids to receive services so they can progress academically, and . . . [it] has really helped with integration of student support services in schools."

Also discussed in the interview were the viability of programs in other states that pay students for their attendance and participation in high school. Peterson, the first in her family to graduate from college, attributed a lot of her success in high school to her participation in the "Upward Bound" program, which paid her a stipend to attend additional classes on Saturdays.

"If it wasn't for Upward Bound I don't think I would have gone to college. I think my mindset at the time was, '[I'm] just going to try to get through high school, maybe I can get a secretarial job, and that's about as good as its going to get,'" Peterson said.

Reaves concurred with the success of the 'Upward Bound' program, citing a similar program she participated in while working in Washington D.C. The program focused on math and reading lessons for underprivileged students in the morning, and four hours of work in the afternoon. Reaves lauded the success of the program at enabling the students to associate the gratification of earning a paycheck with success in the classroom.

Overall, the four said they believed that a combined effort between the community, the schools, the parents and the community was the secret for success.

"I happen to believe that parents are a key to a kid's learning - a strong key. If you can get the parents and the community and the schools [together], you have a win-win," DePree said.


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