All names and identifying information in these case studies have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the students. However, the stories are an accurate description of the services that Communities In Schools – Bay Area provides students and families.
Hope, one of her class’ top students, was managing the excitement of completing a professional certification program and preparing to enroll in college to pursue a career in information technology. Proud of all she had achieved, including a GPA in the top 5% of her class, her classmates routinely sought opportunities to “take her down a peg.” More than once Hope had met with Communities In Schools staff, sharing her sadness at being teased about her success by peers, and feeling hurt that her parents didn’t seem to care that she’d received awards, accolades, and those “A” average report cards. CIS staff had been supportive of Hope, helping her with college preparation, support with clothes, supplies, and fees needed for school.
Having been brought to this country at age eight by her parents, Hope felt lonely when her parents worked long hours. At age 12 Hope was befriended by a fifteen year old boy. Their relationship grew close, and after four years they married. Living with Hope’s parents, the young couple began their life together and soon found out they were expecting a child. That news rattled Hope’s husband, and soon he was staying out late, partying with friends who Hope feared were gang members. Hope learned that her husband was using and selling drugs. In the midst of these problems, Hope delivered a son. As a young mother, Hope tried to make decisions about what would be best for her and her son. Her husband had been a good person, and he’d often promised to be a good father. His behavior did not always match his promises. In fact, he had threatened to kill Hope several times, wielding a knife to back up that promise. When he sent her a message that he had overdosed and was dying, Hope realized she had had enough. She told him that she was done, and that he was not welcome to live in the house with their child and her family. It was Thanksgiving, but he would have to leave.
Though it was during the holiday break, Hope contacted Communities In Schools staff. She was very scared and needed help. Hope’s husband had contacted a government agency to turn her in and have her deported. She was afraid that he would find a way to take their son from her, and have her whole family deported. CIS staff began calling on resources with Bay Area Turning Point and the Houston Area Women’s Center who provided referrals for help. Though resources were closing for the holiday, an offer of a pro bono consultation from an attorney experienced in immigration issues was gratefully welcomed. CIS staff picked up Hope and took her across town to meet with this attorney. In this meeting she recounted the times her husband had told her that he would kill her, that he had been involved in a murder, and his repeated reassurances that if he couldn’t have her, then no one could. Since she did not have means to pay for extensive legal support, he recommended that she apply for a protective order through the District Attorney’s office as soon as possible, providing the contact information for that. CIS staff agreed to take her. The next day CIS staff and Hope spent in completing the application for the order, and the follow up meeting with an attorney at the YMCA’s Immigrant Legal Assistance Program. Exhausted, but not as afraid, she left knowing what information she needed to gather, with reassurance that she was taking the best steps to protect her son and herself, with legal advice on how best to proceed, and resources in case of emergency.
Hope asked whether CIS staff normally worked over the holiday break and was told, “We do when it is really important.” Hope’s father remarked, “This ‘teacher’ from the school must really love children to help Hope and her son so much.” The truth is that many in the community want to protect and help children. Communities In Schools staff, in their work with students, enlist and direct the myriad of resources to ensure the children receive the help that is needed, when it is needed.
CIS staff referred Jason for supportive guidance and health and human services at the beginning of the year. Jason is a 14 year old, Hispanic male repeating the 7th grade due to failing grades, low TAKS scores and lack of attendance from the previous school year. He has already missed 9 days of school, has 9 tardies and 3 failing grades in core classes this year. Jason lives with his father, step-mother, older brother, two little step-sisters and an uncle. The family moves frequently because they often cannot afford rent or pay utility bills. Jason disclosed that he has had to go to court with his step-mother before to address eviction notices. Jason’s father is also currently unemployed and cannot afford transportation, which makes it even more difficult to find work.
Jason told CIS that he and his siblings have been in and out of CPS for several years. Jason disclosed that his biological mother was a prostitute and would often see clients while the kids were at home. Jason’s father was also physically abusive to Jason and his siblings and spent time in jail for burglary and assault during the spring semester of the 2009-2010 school year. Jason’s father still has custody of Jason and his siblings, but their biological mother is no longer in the picture.
Jason also disclosed to CIS that his father, uncle and male cousins are a part of a gang called the Chicano Legends. Each member has CL tattooed on their hands to show their membership. Jason has stated he has no interest in joining the gang, but it is difficult to motivate himself to come to school because he receives little support at home.
CIS plans to meet with Jason once a week for one-on-one support. CIS will help Jason create and achieve goals throughout the year, such as coming to school every day, getting to class on time and raising his grades. CIS also referred him to the Greater Gators Mentor Program, so he would be paired with another positive adult role model who can help motivate and encourage him. CIS has provided Jason with an alarm clock to prevent missing the bus in the morning. When he misses the bus, he has no alternative transportation to school and is absent the entire day. Parental contact on this issue has been particularly difficult, since the family’s phone is out of service and no one is home during the day for CIS staff to make a home visit.
CIS has also helped Jason get new school clothes, hygiene products, school supplies and food for the weekends. If these items were not provided, Jason would be coming to school in dirty and torn clothing, would not have the materials needed for class, and would be going home hungry. There is still a long way to go with improving Jason’s attitude about school, not to mention his attendance and academic records, but CIS is hopeful that, between multiple adult role models and meeting social service needs, positive results will be seen by the end of the year.
Lucy is 18 years old and practically living on her own. When Lucy turned 17, she made a decision to leave her parent’s home and never look back. Lucy’s home life was not an easy one. It would be better described as unstable and rocky. While living at home, her attendance was very poor and her behavior at school would often reflect that. She was often truant and missed many days of school. Because of this, Lucy was sent to court to speak with the DA. Lucky for her, they saw through the tough exterior and decided to give Lucy a chance.
This year, Lucy has been staying with a good friend. In the beginning of the year, Lucy was doing very well. She was attending all her classes, making good grades and looking forward to her future. Lucy has always wanted to join the Army, and as soon as she turned eighteen, she signed with them. Her goal was to graduate with her class and then go see the world.
One day, something happened with Lucy’s ride to school. The friend Lucy had been staying with lived across town and would always drop her off on her way to work. For some reason her friend was no longer able to do this and so Lucy began missing school. Lucy’s absences began to accumulate, again putting her in danger of losing her credits and having to go back to court. She did not want to transfer to another school because she was doing so well at ours and knew how close she was to graduating. Also, she knew she needed the most stable and structured environment in order to do well, and that was here at our school. Lucy understood she was losing precious time.
So, one day Lucy came to school and met with CIS and the support counselor. We discussed her options and services available. There was no one else for Lucy to stay with in our District and she did not want to stay in the local shelter. However, thanks to the assistance of District Transportation, there was a solution, although not the easiest one.
It was decided that Lucy would catch a metro near her friend’s house early in the morning, get on a connecting bus that would take her into Clear Lake, get off at the Park and Ride, catch a special CCISD bus that would bring her close to the school where she would then have to walk the rest of the way.
Even though this was a solution, she still would miss several classes due to timing. Because of this, her morning classes would now be considered “independent study” where she would work with her teachers and counselors to make sure all work was made up or turned in. The school simply wanted to give Lucy a chance to succeed. As stated before, Lucy did not have the traditional teenage life as many of her peers had, but her perseverance to do well and finish school in the face of so many obstacles was simply remarkable. There are still several months of school left, and maybe a few more future “bumps in the road” for Lucy, but I believe her determination to graduate will carry her through.