Dropout prevention, bringing local resources into schools for students, and helping young people stay healthy are among Communities in Schools’ goals. The national nonprofit was drawn to Spokane because of its dropout rate – one in three students. The local branch was established here in December 2007. Since then, executive director Ben Stuckart has helped bring dental services into several schools, provide food to more hungry children on weekends, and joined the steering committee for an effort to establish a fund that could improve the graduation rate.
Q: How does Communities in Schools connect local resources with schools?
A: We do that by putting a site coordinator in specific schools. So, in Spokane, we have coordinators at Cheney, Glover and Chase middle schools. There’s a volunteer coordinator at Sheridan Elementary School. Their job is to bring outside resources into the schools. For example, the dental-sealant service, Tooth Savers, is one we brought in.
Q: What are a few of the activities Communities in Schools is involved in?
A: We have a pretty robust afterschool program … where we have more than 50 students participating each night at each of the three locations. They bring in outside resources like Red Cross, which teaches baby-sitting courses. And Girl Scouts teaches “uniquely Me” – a program that addresses the critical nationwide problem of low self-esteem among adolescent and pre-adolescent girls.
It’s all community partners offering those programs. And we’re brokering them in and connecting them with children.
Another need that we came up with was nutrition. Schools offer free and reduced lunch programs, but then kids at night and over the weekend are hungry. We have a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank to do food backpacks that we send home over the weekend. I think we’re up to over 60 children.
There’s a growing low-income area in Airway Heights, so we talked to Second Harvest Food Bank and the organization opened a Kids Café at Cheney Middle School. It serves free and abundant food every day that’s nutritious: granola bars, sunbutter (a spread made from sunflower seeds) and jelly sandwiches, fruit and vegetables. We probably feed 75 to 100 kids at Cheney Middle School.
Q: Why did the nonprofit get involved in the Children’s Investment Fund initiative?
A: I’ve seen the need directly. Our job is to connect community resources to schools, and I’ve seen the number of services available to our kids in schools through nonprofits has shrunk.
I understand the dropout rate, and I think it’s a huge social and economic issue that we need to address. Our organization can’t address it alone. I think there’s a need for something larger here in our community.