It was early March, and schools across the Dallas region and the country were getting ready for a much-needed spring break. Projects were being assigned, plans were being made for lessons, activities and events and students were fully engaged in getting ready for the rest of the school year. At Communities In Schools of the Dallas Region (CISDR), the site staff were working in each of their schools, bringing in resources for all students and working directly with a caseload of nearly 100 students, who each have a success plan addressing their individual social, emotional, academic, basic and family needs. Suddenly, everything changed, as CISDR site staff found themselves facing closed buildings and students who must stay home to protect their health and safety. How could they do the essential work and provide services to make sure these children and their families don’t fall through the cracks?
On school campuses, CISDR services encompass everything from case management and counseling for individual students and small groups to school-wide programs and sending backpacks of food home with students for the weekend. When schools closed due to the coronavirus, those services and vital connections closed, too. It was a crisis. With the schools closed, each child’s “safe place” was removed from them. Our students needed a new place where they could come every day to get food, interact with a caring adult, and find support for their mental health and education. With that in mind, CISDR changed the “safe place” to a virtual platform, where each student can still interact with a caring adult, and be connected with the resources needed to develop some sense of normalcy in this time of extreme change.
After the COVID-19 closures, our site staff adjusted and changed, reinventing everything for a virtual platform. They reached out to school administration, counselors and teachers to make sure they continue to have access to their students. They made phone calls, exchanged text messages, and set up virtual classrooms to stay engaged with the students and their families. They continue to visit one-on-one with the students through these connections, helping them with basic needs and access to their school’s educational resources. Since they already have a relationship, the students and families know our staff are still available to help and support them in this crisis. Just being present in the lives of their students seems to be the most important thing for the CISDR staff, and they see the return in the smiles on their faces when connecting virtually or hear the joy in their voices when they talk to them on the phone.
CISDR has served the Dallas region for 35 years, changing to suit the needs of the students and the community. Despite the drastic changes in the past two months, our mission is the same: to surround students with a community of support. We are continuing to provide vital and essential services to 60+ schools in nine school districts in the Dallas region. Our students have day-to-day support from the CISDR site staff, as well as access to crisis intervention services from the CISDR Clinical Team. Today it doesn’t look the same as it did 2 months ago, but the CISDR program and services have always been able to adjust and change with the school climate, the needs of the community and those of the children being served. Thanks to our pivot to TeleSupport, more than 7,000 students and their families are well-served and grateful as the CISDR staff continue to work every day to connect them to the school and to the resources in the community.