Dowling pilots Communities in Schools

Communities in Schools is best known around the Permian Basin for its dropout prevention program at the secondary level. Now it’s trying a more interventional approach with younger children at Dowling Elementary School.
Executive Director Eliseo Elizondo said his nonprofit organization didn’t get started at the elementary level until the middle of this year, but once the program is more established and “fine tuned” they will look at expanding it in the ‘21-’22 school year.
Elizondo said they would also like to expand into Midland ISD and are in discussions with both districts about that.
Because many of the elementary campuses are failing in both districts a decision was made to offer CIS as a way to help turn things around. Elizondo said the organization was set up better to start at ECISD.
In choosing a school, Elizondo said Communities in Schools looked at multiple factors such as numbers of economically disadvantaged and at-risk children and attendance figures.
Another factor was the work Principal Julie Marshall is doing at Dowling that Elizondo and Assistant Superintendent of Student and Support Services Alicia Syverson thought would fit nicely.
Marshall said her campus is thrilled to be the first elementary campus in the Basin to partner with Communities in Schools.
"Our school CIS Site Coordinator is Courtney Selking. She is a former teacher and principal and brings a wealth of knowledge to this position. Courtney works inside the school coordinating and providing integrated student supports. She works with our school leadership team and staff to connect students and families with community resources that help to address both academic and nonacademic needs, allowing students to show up healthy, safe and prepared to learn," Marshall wrote in an email.
"It may seem odd to some people that an elementary school would need a program focused on drop-out prevention. However, we know that school success starts in kindergarten. CIS provides supports that set students up for success including clothing, supplies, food, tutoring, working on social-emotional skills, and parent involvement programs. Teachers can refer a student to CIS and parents can contact the campus if there is a need that CIS can help with. Dowling is excited to offer these services to our families and students. We look forward to partnering with CIS for many years," Marshall added.
At the secondary level, Elizondo said CIS’s model is based on providing a caring adult who can talk to students about careers, mentor them, take them to career fairs and visits to college campuses among other things to make them aware that this is a chance for them if they buckle down and do the work.
The primary level approach also includes those things, but there is probably a little more focus on small groups. Elizondo said he thinks they will be in a better position to help teachers managing an entire classroom of students who may be at risk and/or economically disadvantaged.
Another difference will be exposure to social-emotional learning and exposing students to the thought of higher education and alternate careers at an earlier age.
There will be a lot of attention paid to teaching students coping skills, for example, he said.
Selking said the school she was principal at in Tulsa, Okla., had Communities in Schools and she was surprised it wasn’t in elementary schools in the Permian Basin.
The goal is to intervene with children when they’re younger to try and close the gaps before they become larger.
"It’s a great way to kind of catch kids who are in crisis and in need when they’re really young and sometimes some of that work makes a huge impact in maybe stopping any future issues as they get older, or helps close those gaps as they progress through their school life," Selking said.
Given her background in education, Selking added that she will be able to help as many students as needed.
When COVID-19 abates, she hopes to have a chance to do more with more children.
Elizondo said people forget how much elementary students are dealing with, especially now. He added that they are absorbing the stress and crises that are going on around them.
“We think we’re buffering them and sheltering them, but we’re really not. They’re often smarter than we think they are. They pick up on stuff and are more aware than we realize. … The emphasis is going to be big on helping these kids with coping skills and recognizing feelings. We feel that we can help teachers and counselors at elementary level with that,” Elizondo said.