Ennis ISD welcomes student advocate team

Goal is keeping students on track and in school.

Believing for the best in students are Tarrah Smith (left), Bryce George and Patrice Jackson (right) (Staff Photo/Mark Warde)

By Mark Warde
The Ennis Daily News
Oct 11, 2020

Ennis ISD has begun a strategic initiative to provide support for students who might otherwise struggle with coping, who may need motivation or might be tempted to drop out of school. Communities In Schools (CIS) helps reach out to at risk students to intercept them prior to issues becoming barriers in their education.

“They are an extra set of eyes,” said Assistant Superintendent of Accountability, James Moore. “Economically disadvantaged kids, who may have an incarcerated parent, and a handful of other components that can be assessed (by faculty and CIS) are critical signs that intervention can deter.”

He mentioned that “mental health awareness has come to the forefront in recent years, and CIS represents a step in the process.”

Parents are key to engaging that they need help, which is where CIS staff can learn how they can assist. Behavior problems are another indication the student could use support. Of course, reviewing students academic progress or their class attendance can indicate CIS attention might really help.

“The mental health of a student is important to educating them,” added Moore. “So teaming with their parents is essential.”

Moore introduced CIS to Ennis schools this year after learning about them through the TEA, the Texas Education Agency. This inaugural year has brought a staff of three to EISD, one at each branch level. “Each campus has a needs assessment process,” stated Moore. The staff each began with a different group of 300 students they are responsible for.

EISD begins with CIS trio

The trio come from a wide array of backgrounds. Patrice Jackson grew up in the South Bronx and has a Sociology degree and a Master’s in Early Childhood Development. “Kids just grab my heart,” she said. “I had no idea this would be my career,” though her work in foster care helped. She has started at Ennis Junior High.

Tarrah Smith, from Chicago, also studied sociology. She has set her sights at Dorie Miller Intermediate. A product of public schools, she is both a teacher and social worker, which Moore describes as a win-win.

“At risk children come home to a dark house,” she said, “and those are the ones I’m pulled towards. I have a passion for children, a passion to help them succeed and I want to empower them to get there.”

Bryce George earned his BA as a church minister at SAGU (Waxahachie) and a MA as a social worker from UT-Arlington. He spoke of his desire to come alongside young people, “those who battle loneliness or are in pain. They have it all but aren’t quite together. I aim to be open and to listen.” He embarks at Lummus Intermediate School.

Funding for this specific service is divided into the federal government’s allotted funds, TEA’s CIS grants and contributions.

About Communities In Schools

The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support to empower them to stay in school and achieve in life. Going into this fall, they are serving 85 elementary, middle and high school campuses in 10 school districts in five counties in the Dallas area.

Their success rate is very high, showing 7,530 students benefiting from individualized support. Of these students: 85 percent improved in academics, behavior and/or attendance, 98 percent were promoted to the next grade, 98 percent of eligible seniors graduated, and 99 percent stayed in school.

They provide Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certification to teachers, counselors, community partners, and individuals, to help them recognize the signs of individuals in mental health distress. Addressing what the school cannot – many basic needs, they are advocates for mental health.

To learn more about CISDR, please visit them online at cisdallas.org, or contact Jeannette Papadopoulos, M.Ed., Chief Operating Officer at (214)534-7132 or jeannettep@cisdallas.org.