By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Throughout the U.S., 73 percent of students who enter high school graduate in four years.
In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, only 63 percent of students graduate in four years, with 1,883 students dropping out in the most recent school year alone – at an estimated total cost to society of over $393.5 million over their lifetimes.
To help students stay in school and to prepare them for life, Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg works with students and their parents to build the relationships and find the resources they need.
That effort has grown from working with 80 students at J.T. Williams Junior High School in 1985 to working with over 4,500 students at 33 schools in the current school year.
Key to that strategy have been partnerships with corporations that provide financial support, employee volunteers who serve as mentors and tutors, and job fairs, internships and job “shadowing” to encourage students to consider business careers.
Now, to help meet rising demand for services, Communities in Schools is expanding its effort to build corporate partnerships.
“Partnerships are absolutely critical for us to continue to expand our business because without them, we would not have the financial resources needed for us to hire more site coordinators and touch the lives of more students,” says Bill Anderson, executive director of Communities in Schools.
The agency currently fields 41 site coordinators, including 16 added this year under a new contract with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Site coordinators play the critical role of developing relationships with volunteers “to find the best fit,” a role that officials at local schools “don’t have the luxury or time to develop,” says Anderson, who joined Communities in Schools just over a year ago after serving over 30 years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as a special-education teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent.
And with a new partnership with Duke Energy, Communities in Schools is adding a site coordinator at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology who will recruit and coordinate company volunteers.
Duke Energy employees will volunteer as tutors in the after-school tutorial program at the school, located three miles from the company’s uptown headquarters, and also will sponsor a “Duke Energy Day” at the school to encourage students to consider careers in engineering, computer science and other technology fields.
Duke Energy employees also will host job-shadowing events and student internships at the company and support the needs of students and the school identified by the site coordinator and school principal.
Communities in Schools modeled the Duke Energy partnership on a nine-year-old partnership with Goodrich Corp. at Westerly Hills Elementary School.
In addition to its tutoring and mentoring programs, Communities in Schools offers a program that introduces college to sixth graders who would be the first in their families to attend, and two programs to help 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders apply for college, including those who would be the first in their families to attend.
While students may drop out during high school, the process begins much earlier, Anderson says, so Communities in Schools plans to focus more of its energies on elementary schools.
“It’s students who are not academically competitive by the time they make it to the ninth grade,” he says. “We can’t expect the high schools to fix the problems in one year.”