Community Impact Series: Communities in Schools

May 8, 2012

By harnessing the wealth of resources, skills and compassion in the community, one nonprofit is helping New Orleans students stay on track for success.

Monique Aziz works at the Success Prep Academy on Bienville Street as the school’s own site coordinator for the nonprofit Communities in Schools. Her job is to make sure students get all they need to stay on track and advance in school, and this can mean a lot more than homework help. In one recent example, she saw a second-grader who was visibly nervous as he arrived at school.

“He had witnessed the night before a shooting in his neighborhood, where the bullets had actually come through his window,” she says. “And everyone had to find cover, and he’s worrying about whether or not anyone else in the house had been hurt. And you can only imagine what a child has to deal with when he has to come into school in the morning and sit down once he’s experienced that the night before and begin working.”

Aziz tapped a network of social services available across the community and brought them to the school to help this youngster cope, get on with his education and keep working toward his future. That’s the goal of Communities in Schools, whether students need mental health services, straightforward tutoring or a mentor to help them make the right decisions.

“Our work is done day in and day out inside public schools, helping to identify the challenges that children have, figuring out what those challenges are and the solutions are that are out there in the community that we can help motivate to that youngster so that we can help that youngster overcome those barriers to success,” says Sara Massey, president for the New Orleans affiliate of Communities in Schools.

The group is a national nonprofit that locally serves some 2,500 students in 10 schools. Part of its mission is to reduce the dropout rate, and it does this by harnessing the wealth of resources, skills and compassion in the community and putting that to work directly for students in need. 

“We’re trying to bring that paradigm together for educators, to look at the fact that what’s happening in the life of a child outside of the classroom impacts their ability to be successful inside the classroom. And we as a community need to work together to make sure we’re not putting all of that responsibility on the teacher,” says Massey. “It’s working together to say, what’s going on, why is this child falling asleep in class? Well, he’s not sleeping. Well why is he not sleeping? Well, is he homeless? Is he moving from one house to the next house the next night? Is he not sleeping because he doesn’t have any food? Those factors all go into the success of a child. It’s not just the teacher.”

Just as these services go beyond the classroom, the impact of a caring mentor or tutor can extend beyond the schoolhouse too, as Monique Aziz has seen.

“One of the issues I think sometimes with the students that I see is trust,” she says. “By being able to develop a relationship with a trusting adult they learn how to trust, and even how to form relationships and how to build those relationships, which I think is important when you’re older and out in the community.”

Learn more about Communities in Schools at