Canaries in a Coal Mine

The last thing we need is another pundit with an opinion on how to curb the growing incidents of violence on school campuses. As parents, teachers, anyone interacting with school age children, we hold our breath with every breaking story, and hope that our Dallas community is the exception.

In reality, perhaps we need to increase direct conversation about the pressure cooker that our school ecosystems have become, where every day they are asked to do more with less. Ask an adult and a child the same question, about how safe they feel on campus, and you will get two very different answers. Unfortunately, unlike other disparities in education, we cannot place a racial, income or neighborhood label on this problem. It’s an issue that unites us across all demographics, which is why we need to tuck in our chins and address the youth sub-culture we shrug off, because we can’t relate to them.

You may not have heard of Communities In Schools (CIS) because our best work is done off the radar, away from the spotlight of whichever educational approach is trending.  CIS is a statewide intervention program working in partnership with school districts with one task – serving at-risk students who show behavioral signs of crisis, which in turn impact school attendance and eventually academic performance. Our job is to help build resilience in kids that are bullied, confused, angry or alone, but also address the bully, check in with parents at home, and coach alternative behaviors by building a relationship with as many students as possible. Our work is hands on, intentional and often heartbreaking as we talk to students every day about issues we, as adults, can barely fathom.

In the last two years, we have reinforced the fact that we don’t do it all alone and formalized a consortium of our service partners (C3), meeting regularly to compare notes on trends in student behavior, family needs and available resources. CIS is also a certified training site in Youth Mental Health First Aid, which provides non-clinicians with the 8-hour awareness course for the nominal cost of the take away manual. For over 30 years, we have been that little-known entity acting as an early warning indicator to identify, assess, mentor, connect and re-direct a child into a safe and productive state of mind. But like many programs this amazing city holds, they won’t work if we don’t implement them.

This year, you will find your local CIS quietly housed on 58 K – 12 campuses, in 9 school districts and 4 counties. In collaboration with brilliantly dedicated teachers and faculty, we’re an additional set of sharp eyes, tuned ears and open hearts to draw attention to situations that might be otherwise dismissed as “not a big deal”. We invite you to be an active participant in the lives of children you know, and maybe even some you don’t. Attend a CIS community training, follow our posts on social media for tips and insight, or visit the website to learn more. Our community may not have all the answers to preventing the threats plaguing our kids, but we CAN start asking the right questions and give it a run for its money.

Our C3 group will host a free candid community discussion around school climate, safety and students in crisis. Not about guns, but what brings a child to the point where this is an option and what can we do to prevent another tragedy. Join us at 9am on Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 1341 W Mockingbird Ln, concourse level conference room, Dallas, TX 75247. If you’d like to attend, please register here, or contact us at