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Empowering Success: How CIS Helps Students Define Their Own Paths

By Aaron Mize, LMSW, Communities In Schools | June 4, 2024 Alumni College & Career Prep Integrated Student Supports (ISS)

Aaron Mize, LMSW, is the Chief Executive Officer of Communities In Schools of the Heart of Texas.

Like most students, Melissa* set goals for herself when she was in high school. She wanted to go to college and land a good job. She was an avid learner and willing to work hard. And like most of us, she just needed the opportunity to demonstrate her skills, to learn and to grow.

Melissa enrolled in our workforce development program and was connected to a Communities In Schools® (CIS®) career coach with whom she worked during a paid internship with CIS Heart of Texas (CIS HOT). I am proud to share that Melissa successfully completed her internship. The organizational skills, tenacity, and passion for serving others that she demonstrated in that internship earned her a part-time position as an administrative assistant at the CIS Heart of Texas affiliate office.

In her role, Melissa continued to make the most of her opportunities. She worked with the human resources department to organize and implement an office fire safety training and certificate, streamlined internal and external communication, and was a consistent contributor wherever and whenever needed.  

Melissa didn’t stop there; she invested her time in professional development opportunities, including completing an Excel training course. Today, she’s enrolled at McLennan County Community College and is working towards her bachelor's degree. CIS is proud to have played a role in connecting Melissa to opportunities that enabled her to achieve the goals she set for herself — her own version of success.  

She worked hard. She made the most of her opportunities. She earned it. Melissa actively embodies the last three words of our mission, “achieve in life.” 

There are many more success stories from our work at CIS HOT. In 2023, we helped 50 students get paid internships and earn more than $63,000 in wages. This school year, we served more than 4,000 students – and each one of them has their own dream for their future. And like Melissa, each one just needs access to the opportunities that will help them achieve it. 

I remember a CIS student I worked with years ago who came to us while pregnant in high school. She was able to graduate on time, achieve a nursing assistant certificate at our local hospital, and earn a thriving wage to support her family. One of the career coaches who supports our students through the workforce program is a CIS HOT alum. Other alumni are serving as site coordinators and case managers on our campus. We even have a CIS alumnus on our board of directors. CIS HOT not only wants to support young people towards their individually defined success but also to be an organization that provides employment and service opportunities to our students as well.   

You might notice something in these stories that I think about a lot: “success” is a word with many definitions. For some graduates, success means getting a quality job to support themselves and their families. For some, it means going on to a community college or university. And for others, it means learning new skills through a certificate or trade program. There is no one definition of success for our students.  

That’s why what matters to us – what everyone at CIS is focused on – is that we ensure all our students have big dreams and high expectations for themselves, that we connect our students to the opportunities that can help them achieve their particular version of success, and that we support them every step of the way. 

That’s the power of the CIS model of integrated student supports; that’s why it works for our schools, for our students, and for our communities. By listening to our students, we learn what they’re interested in and connect them to employers and organizations that can help students advance in that field. Then, we surround them with even more caring adults and resources. CIS site coordinators, career coaches, and scholarships help bridge the gaps that too often become barriers for our students. All of the caring adults who work with our students help them set high goals for themselves and work with them to overcome challenges and setbacks.   

In our workforce development programs, we build strategic partnerships to create connections between employers’ training programs and our students. Today, more than 80 employers and community organizations partner with CIS HOT. They bring a deep commitment to youth success, advancing education, and creating employment opportunities for our students. These partners are critical resources that help CIS meet the needs of our students. And they remind us that for students, the schoolhouse is an important connection to opportunity and to the community. 

Our work in CIS HOT is one example of what CIS is doing for students nationwide. For close to 50 years, CIS has connected millions of students to the supports and opportunities they need to achieve  success in school and in life. In 27 states and the District of Columbia, CIS teams are working with their local systems to make this same kind of difference for the students they serve.  

This graduation season, I am celebrating the hard work our students did to graduate, complete a postsecondary degree or certificate program, or to achieve employment. I am celebrating the hard work our staff and the community did to support our students and provide them with high-quality services and resources. And I am celebrating the work CIS will continue to do across the country to listen to students, redefine student success, and make sure that all students – regardless of their background – have the resources, supports and opportunities they need to achieve success in school and in life. 

*The alumni’s name was changed to protect their privacy. 


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