Being a Communities In Schools site coordinator doesn’t just mean providing students with the support they need to graduate from high school; it also means preparing students for what comes next, whether that’s pursuing a post-secondary education or a career.
In Ashburn, Ga. – a small, rural community – Turner County Connection-Communities In Schools of Turner County Site Coordinator Connie Brown is providing the students she serves with as many opportunities as possible to prepare for life after graduation.
“It’s a collaboration. All of us – the chamber of commerce, local colleges – work together to make sure everything that’s done through Communities In Schools is really a group effort,” said Brown.
Brown said there aren’t many post-secondary prospects within the community, so she works with local organizations and corporations to help her students explore what’s possible, whether or not they decide to stay in Turner County.
For Brown, that means if she has a student who is interested in becoming a probation officer, she knows she simply can call the probation office and ask someone there to take the student on a tour and sit down and discuss the profession.
In addition to increasing students’ opportunities, she’s also growing their skills. Since she became a site coordinator last year, Brown has managed Communities In Schools’ student-run leadership program at Turner County High School, bringing together a group of 24 ninth through twelfth grade students to shape the high school experiences for each year’s incoming freshmen.
The year-long program starts with orientation. Leadership program members develop talking points, give the incoming freshman class a tour, and facilitate activities to help get them comfortable with their new school and classmates. Their next major project is teaching a life-skill lesson to ninth grade students during English class over a period of nine weeks. Program members are trained during the summer on best practices for teaching lessons and controlling classroom behavior. Throughout the rest of the year, they mentor freshmen and participate in community service projects.
One of the upperclassmen in Brown’s leadership program struggled with anger management issues. With Brown’s assistance, the student gradually learned coping mechanisms, such as journaling, to help him keep his cool. This turnaround became even more evident when he spoke to ninth grade students during the leadership program.
“We went into our first English class, and one of the ninth grade students asked for advice from an upperclassman, and he said, ‘What you do in your ninth grade year affects your entire school year. The reputation you get now, you are going to keep it. Even though you may change, it will be hard for people to see the change,’” said Brown.
Through this leadership opportunity, the students begin to see themselves as role models and witness how they can positively impact their community. They have created a thorough interview process for the leadership program to ensure that prospective participants will be fully engaged.
Ultimately, it’s Brown’s encouragement and constant support of her students that has permeated the group and given her students the confidence to believe in themselves and each other.
“It’s been an honor for me to work with them and see them take such ownership – they are very protective of this team, and they really push involvement and encouragement,” said Brown.