When Gricelda De La Cruz met Alex*, a young immigrant from a small town in Guatemala, he was struggling to adjust to a new life. Due to violence in his home country, Alex had been forced to leave his family and friends behind, becoming one of nearly 200,000 unaccompanied refugee children resettled in the United States.
He was bright and resilient, but he was on his own. He was eager to learn, but as a student he faced barriers that he hid from his teachers and peers due to embarrassment.
Fortunately, Gricelda was there to help. As Alex’s CIS immigrant services site coordinator, she recognized that learning to speak English and using a computer were his biggest challenges, which she helped him to overcome. She was also able to connect him with other resources available in the community, like healthcare and dental services.
Now, more confident than ever, Alex dreams of going to college and making a difference in his community.
Gricelda was there for Alex thanks to support from a federal grant and an innovative partnership between Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (CMS) and CIS of Charlotte/Mecklenburg. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), federal funds are provided to schools that enroll high numbers of children who may need extra support to be successful in school. Funding from Title I of the law is designated to support low-income children and Title III for English learners and immigrant students.
It’s not often that federal funding streams, like Title I and Title III, are considered tools for innovation. But for CMS, using these federal resources to collaborate in creative ways with CIS-Charlotte is critical to supporting their diverse student population.
In the summer of 2014, tens of thousands of children from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) made the journey from their homes to the United States to escape extreme violence perpetrated by gangs in the region. Many of these children sought refuge in Charlotte, causing an influx in the number of immigrant students enrolling in CMS through the International Center.
Understanding that these young people experienced significant trauma, CMS immediately identified their social-emotional well-being as a priority. And with the help of federal Title III resources, CMS turned to CIS for support.
CIS-Charlotte created the Immigrant Services Program, which uses an Integrated Student Supports (ISS) model to connect students with knowledgeable, supportive site coordinators (like Gricelda) that coordinate and align the additional resources these children desperately need.
CMS “felt they needed specialists that could help mitigate some of the risk factors these students faced,” explains Federico Rios, Director of the CIS Immigrant Services Program. "Our smaller caseloads [in comparison to school social workers and counselors], expertise serving the larger Latino and English learner populations, and our case-management model allow our staff to address student needs in a more comprehensive way. We are able to assess said needs and help align culturally appropriate services to a population that has a limited amount of resources afforded to them."
Like Alex and his peers, many children in the U.S. face challenges both inside and outside the classroom. In the U.S. today, about 15 million children live in poverty – that’s roughly 21 percent of our nation’s young people.
Yet too often, communities are unaware that federal resources can be used for ISS partnerships that empower students, enabling them to learn.
"Although there are [other] districts that have cultivated partnerships with outside agencies, many smaller or less metropolitan districts are at a loss for where to turn," Federico explains.
With that in mind, we are excited to launch two fact sheets that align ISS with Title I and Title III for district leaders. Armed with this information, more school districts can consider innovative approaches that use ISS to support disadvantaged students.
We hope you’ll share them in your communities. To borrow a phrase from Gricelda, "A good quality education without discrimination or exclusion should be a human right for any child.”