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Columbia Business Monthly

Communities In Schools: Keeping Students on the Right Path

Jan 02, 2017 08:40PM ● By Makayla Gay

By Chris Nelson

Kassandra McFadden is a 5th grader at Sandel Elementary School. She is like any normal 11-year-old. She likes reading books, going to the library, and her favorite class is English Language Arts. Next year, Kassandra plans to progress in her studies by taking Advance Placement (AP) classes at her new school: St. Andrews Middle School. However, in order to advance in her studies as she graduates to middle school, Kassandra, like so many of her peers, requires a helping hand to make sure she’s staying on the right path.

Many students in the Columbia area, like Kassandra, depend on a program called Communities In Schools (CIS) of the Midlands to help them stay the course in their studies. The organization enlists AmeriCorps members to help case manage students in their program. LaToya Palmer is the AmeriCorps lead at Sandel Elementary School and she has been meeting with Kassandra for a year.

AmeriCorps members who work in the program establish unique goals for their students tailored to their specific needs. If a student is having trouble with math or reading comprehension, or if they are having trouble making up basic attendance requirements, they will primarily focus on these issues.

LaToya’s program for Kassandra has focused on improving her attendance, her organizational skills, and also her grades in her core classes. LaToya knows that if Kassandra is going to take AP classes next year that she needs to stay as organized as possible. These classes will require more work than Kassandra has ever had and they will present her with a rigorous academic challenge. In order to help her prepare, LaToya assists Kassandra with a weekly journal she puts together which is comprised of news stories that they find interesting. This is one of Kassandra’s favorite times of the week. “The journal helps me understand my own history, and it helps me to better understand myself,” she says.

The CIS of the Midlands program, serving five schools in Richland and Lexington counties, has been successful in improving graduation rates and bolstering academic performance by surrounding students with a community of support, both inside and outside the classroom. In these schools, school supplies, clothing, and health screenings are available to all students—resources that many take for granted. Additionally, long-term resources such as tutoring, mentoring, and case management are available. At Sandel Elementary School, a small school of approximately 620 students, CIS of the Midlands was brought in 3 years ago to address issues like improving attendance for its students and to offer basic resources to students that the school lacks.

Communities In Schools is a national program, located in 25 states and more than 2,000 schools in need, dedicated to keeping kids in school and helping them be successful in life while providing them with much needed services that go beyond academics. CIS targets schools with high dropout rates and limited resources needed to help students succeed. The goal of the program is to reduce dropout rates, improve daily attendance, and, finally, to increase graduation rates.

Here in the Midlands, nearly 700 students drop out of school every year in Richland and Lexington counties. These students often have needs in their academic, social, and at-home lives that are not met, causing them to struggle to achieve in school. For these children, dropping out of school may seem like the only realistic choice in their lives.

The CIS of the Midlands program is ideally suited for students like Kassandra who need a helping hand to ensure that they’re going to class and meeting their academic goals. The program also connects students to valuable community resources like tutors, family counseling, health services, and—for students older than Kassandra—college visits and job shadowing. CIS of the Midlands is able to do this through their many local partnerships.

Kizzie Mabry, Student Achievement Coordinator at Sandel explained, “CIS of the Midlands provides an endless means to success by providing students, like Kassandra, with a community of support and evidence-based interventions. Through case management, CIS of the Midlands provides basic needs and resources, and collaborates with various stakeholders to support the children and their families. Our holistic approach prepares them to be productive citizens.”

Indeed, CIS of the Midlands has proven to be an effective method for addressing the many needs of school-aged children in our community and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. More than 8 in 10 tracked students have met behavior goals and more than 9 in 10 tracked students have met academic goals. Nearly all of the students have graduated to their next grade level.

Kassandra hopes to become a Pediatrician one day. With the special support she is receiving from Latoya, she is on the path to success. We should all feel proud that many children in our community are getting the help they need to pursue their dreams with the support of CIS of the Midlands.

For more information about Communities In Schools of the Midlands, visit or call 803-254-9727.

Chris Nelson is a public relations consultant. He works with DNA Creative Communications; an inspirational public relations firm for nonprofits and producer of Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums   Chris enjoys sharing nonprofit stories as a contributor to several publications. He is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English. For more information about DNA and Shine the Light, visit and