Our students in rural Southwest Virginia face a larger number of challenges than youth in other areas of Virginia. Our children and families deal with issues such as high rates of child abuse and neglect, being raised in a single parent household, exposure to alcohol or drug use, living below the poverty level, and being raised by grandparents. These challenges contribute to a number of youth failing to transition successfully into adulthood.
Many of these students lack the skills to find and hold a job or handle the day-to-day responsibilities of independent living. In addition, these same challenges cause many youth to choose to leave the area for higher education and employment. This trend is leading to a shrinking workforce and a growing percentage of retirement-aged persons in rural counties of Virginia.
The work of rural K12 is supplemented both internally and externally by a wide variety of community organizations and individuals. Such school-community partnerships are vital to the success of small rural schools and students from low-income backgrounds.
In a recent report commissioned by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia titled Doing More with Less, researchers recommended supporting a position where a local education insider can serve as an advocate for the schools by coordinating partnerships that meet district objectives. Likewise, the Communities in Schools (CIS) Model seeks to bring a highly trained school-based site coordinator who works with school staff to identify students at risk and aggressively seeks partnerships and obtains community resources to minimize the impact of poverty on students. These students receiving intensive services are tracked and measured for their academics, behavior, and attendance on a national data management system.
The More with Less Report also recommends that leaders consider ways to increase engagement by low-income and minority families in school life and decision-making. ExCELL’s Mission is to bring together families, early childhood educators, community resources, and early literacy specialists to ensure that children receive the necessary learning opportunities for the development of critical early language and literacy skills.
Under the Communities in Schools umbrella, the Early Childhood Education Partnership Project will target students and families in grades PK-3, and focus on targeting Pulaski County Public Schools and PK programs within Pulaski County’s Smart Beginnings of New
River Valley network. Site coordinators will be trained in the Communities in Schools (CIS) Model and may be initially employed by communtity parners such as New River Valley Community Services and/or Pulaski County Department of Social Services.
In year two, the Literacy Institute of Virginia Commonwealth University will be providing professional development and classroom-based coaching, instructional materials, and family connection and home-literacy materials.
Communities In Schools is an evidence-based organization that partners with other groups and organizations to deliver the human, financial, and community resources to help children succeed in school and in life. Each year, goals will be set and data collected and
analyzed in the areas of promotion and retention, attendance, classroom grades, standardized test scores, homework completion, and eventually graduation data.
By leveraging our internal and external partnerships, we hope to provide intensive early childhood program services that promote healthy child development, school readiness, and parental skill development. These services would include an engaging and enriching high quality preschool experience that focuses on home visitation, health, and family engagement and services.
Alleman, N. F. and Holly, L. N. (2012). Doing more with less: The role of school-community partnerships in the academic success and postsecondary aspirations of low-income students in small rural schools in Virginia. Richmond, VA: The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.