Communities in Schools hosts kickoff breakfast

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — And they’re off! Supporters of Communities in Schools met Tuesday morning for the organization’s first-ever kickoff breakfast, held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on West Council Street.

The event celebrated the dropout prevention organization’s accomplishments from the previous school year and looked towards its future.

Communities in Schools is a United Way agency and a largely volunteer-based organization that provides tutoring and mentorship to at-risk children. It currently operates in seven Rowan County schools: Handford-Dole, Isenberg, Koontz, North Rowan and Overton elementaries and Knox and North Rowan middle schools.

In the 2015-16 school year, 84 percent of Rowan-Salisbury students working with Communities in Schools showed academic improvement, and 63 percent showed improved social and emotional learning, according to numbers provided by the organization.

“We see our work as removing barriers for children,” Eric Hall, president and CEO of Communities in Schools of North Carolina said.

Hall said that the Rowan County branch of the organization, which serves roughly 2,900 students, has a history of being a state network leader.

Ron Turbyfill, chairman of the Rowan County Communities in Schools board of directors, and Scott Bannister, executive director of Communities in Schools of Rowan County, used the breakfast as an opportunity to give thanks to community and business partners, and to pay tribute to the organization’s volunteers.

Bannister also spoke about a new initiative Communities in Schools will launch in the coming school year: portable Wi-Fi hotspots. Thanks to a generous donation, the organization will be able to provide portable Wi-Fi devices for its students who are most at risk.

“We are not going to be able to provide this for every student,” Turbyfill said.

The opportunity is available to the 354 “tier two and three” students who receive case management services from Communities in Schools who also do not have home internet access. The devices will be free to qualifying students.

“This is a pretty bold initiative,” Bannister said.

Students who qualify for individual casework have been identified as those who are most at risk, most likely to be failing classes and most in need of one-on-one services Turbyfill said.

Bannister also said that increasing volunteer numbers was a goal for the upcoming year. Currently, the organization has 471 volunteers, who in 2015-16 put in 3,678 hours of work Turbyfill said.

Tarik Woods, a recent graduate of Salisbury High School and a student served by Communities in Schools in middle school, spoke briefly about his experiences with the organization, and the one-on-one mentorship he received while he attended Knox Middle School.

“What they build is more than students prepared with pencils,” Woods said. “What they build is relationships that last a lifetime.”

Woods was one of several recipients of the Vicky Slusser Scholarship, given by Communities in Schools.

Turbyfill said the organization would continue to practice the “art of relationships” as it moves forward into the 2016-17 school year.

“We’ve got acres to plow yet,” Turbyfill said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.