As the CEO of Communities In Schools of Memphis, I am witnessing firsthand the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our students and families. The economic impact our families are experiencing will result in an increased demand on existing staff to provide MORE supports, such as mental health, social and emotional, academic enrichment, basic needs, child-care, etc. We expect remediation to become a bigger issue for our students and we recognize the “summer slide” is now compounded. This isn’t just about learning loss, but the stress that comes with schools being closed for our students and families.
The Communities In Schools’ national Integrated Student Supports model was designed to support students facing significant obstacles to their success and it holds strong even now as students and families work to overcome significant adversities caused by this global health pandemic. CISM’s Specialists are paraprofessionals with social work and youth development backgrounds who have been specifically trained to assist students and families by developing individualized support plans and working to coordinate resources designed to mitigate the barriers students and families face due to the fragmented support services that are spread across government agencies, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations.
To assist with the current needs and remediation of students and families during and post this crisis, CIS of Memphis commits to continuing AND expanding upon its programming by working in tandem with city, county, and state agencies to ensure equitable access to resources and services upon school re-entry and in the years to come. We look forward to our continued service and support of students and families in Memphis.
All In For Kids,
Sonji Branch CEO,
Communities in Schools of Memphis
One Week Before School Closures…
In anticipation of how the coronavirus would impact our students and families, the leadership team at Communities In Schools of Memphis developed our Distance Support Model and launched our COVID-19 Family Resiliency Fund. Our rapid response positioned our organization to be able to provide purposeful and relevant tiered Integrated Student Support Services in 28 schools in Memphis and Shelby County.
Tier I – Whole School Supports
Integrated Student Supports alongside virtual instruction Working with school leaders to ensure whole school plans aren’t solely focused on learning, but supports are in place to address the stress that comes with schools being closed for our students and families. Integration of wellness activities into school’s existing virtual learning plan (i.e. Google Classroom). As teachers were providing academic support they were also providing support that helped students with self-management and other skills that contribute to their learning. Launched “caseloads” for staff (teachers, assistant principals, etc. not CIS staff) to assist families with academic and basic need issues outside of CIS case managed students.
Tier II – Case Management Small Group Students
Social Emotional Learning support through small groups and 1-on-1 wellness coaching with students and families to assist them in coping with transitioning from everyday school life to homeschooling. This assisted families in establishing healthy routines to calm fears, manage stress and “keep the peace”. COVID-19 Conversation tips – Specialists provided tips on how parents could have conversations with students about how the COVID-19 shutdown affects them in regards to being out of school and having limited socialization with peers. Staff used methods that have been proven to work as they helped, both parents and students, develop skills to manage stress and anxiety. As well as provided the tools that continued to assist in meeting their SEL goals. (i.e. self-management, self-awareness, self-esteem and coping tools). Staff provided parents with recommendations of how to interact as a family that is both engaging and meaningful. They helped them develop a “toolkit” of activities to use as guides and conversation starters. This included indoor and outdoor activities, mindfulness techniques, social and emotional support, learning from home, and healthy habits.
Tier III – Case Management Individual Supports
Conducting an emergency needs assessment for every case-managed student and family to assess overall well-being with weekly check-ins to assess any new needs. Identified insecurities and connected families to community organizations and resources such as food, mental health needs, housing, monetary assistance, etc. Staff completed referrals for families to receive various services or supports through agencies such as Community Services Agency (CSA), Youth Villages, Anaya Family Counseling Services and the United Way of the Mid-South’s Driving the Dream (DTD) program, which provides a wide network of coordinated support throughout Memphis to make sure families get assistance as needed by way of the CISM affiliate Care Coordination Hub.
ENGAGING FAMILIES THROUGH COVID-19
Assessment Results & Support Provided
CISM has worked diligently to engage and support families through COVID-19 by providing virtual support and monetary assistance. Our biggest support needs were managing stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 shutdown, securing resources for basic needs such as food and shelter, and tackling barriers associated with virtual learning. Please find more about support provided and our impact below.
CISM Family Resiliency Fund
The CISM Family Resiliency Fund was able to provide assistance to over 247 families serviced by our team. Some of our families have experienced homelessness, electricity and water shutoffs, lack of food, lack of electronics for homeschooling requirements, job layoffs/furloughs, and so much more. While it was only a one time stipend, many of the families were extremely grateful and expressed how the fund was the catalyst to get them back in motion with making preparations in the midst of the pandemic.
For some families, the $200 was the difference between a home versus the streets, water versus none, and so much more. Not only were we able to assist these families, but also gain a more in-depth look at some of the larger concerns that plague the communities we serve. This includes but is not limited to lack of infrastructure in our communities we serve. This includes but is not limited to lack of infrastructure in our communities, food desserts, minimized access to good paying occupations, affordability of healthcare, and many more policy and advocacy related hurdles.
To add on, we look beyond the child, thus the aforementioned points made are hitting the parents and extended the family members of our students extremely hard. With that said, CIS of Memphis is proud of the impact we make and the lasting relationships our staff develop with the students we serve. We value the commitment our team makes to establish partnerships across the Memphis Mid-South that can have aided us in our relief efforts during the pandemic. The following success stories are examples of the type of support CISM provides to Memphis students and families.
We survived the quarantine with CIS on our team!
Candice Fondren, a CIS of Memphis’ Student Support Specialist was able to leverage partnerships and relationships developed throughout the school year to her advantage during the pandemic. She referred 18 families to New Ballet for an Orange Mound Food Initiative/Giving Tuesday. In short, New Ballet was able to provide $50 SUPERLO CARDS to all of the families she referred. In turn, this helped to offset food costs and shortages in the Orange Mound community, where a number of our students reside. This coupled with CISM’s Family Resiliency Fund has made a tremendous impact in our student’s lives.
“Words can not begin to express how much Ms. Fondren means to me. She has been the shoulder to cry on, the light out of darkness, the inspirational speaker, and much more. I would have been lost without her, especially when COVID-19 hit. I already suffer from PTSD, so to go from being able to work and do things while my children were at school, to full time mom and homeschool teacher, triggered my PTSD. I admit, I have been emotionally drained, but when I thought all was lost, along came SuperHero Ms. Fondren! She is not only a kid’s superhero at school, but also my superhero when in need. I remember feeling so overwhelmed to the point of tears, and as if she knew what was happening at that very moment, she texted me. I told her what was going on. We talked about solutions, and she has been following up with me ever since on my progress. My daughter doesn’t want to graduate fifth grade because she will not have Ms. Fondren everyday anymore! A billboard is not big enough to show my appreciation for her and her services.”
– CISM Parent
“Thank you [CISM] so much for helping me and my family. I really needed an extra boost at this time. With no food and no personal items for all of my girls, your help has been tremendous. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Keep us in prayer; I’m a single mother, so it is very hard.”
– Ms. Pitmman, CISM Parent
“CIS of Memphis has helped me and my family through this hard time. We greatly appreciate everything you all have done: the monetary donations for my son’s educational needs, electronics for homeschooling, transportation assistance, all of it! Thanks again!”
– A. Bowling, CISM Parent