Encouraged by its recent success in the Lebanon School District, a nonprofit focused on dropout prevention is looking to expand its program beyond the city.

Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania (CISPA) which has on-site staff in Northwest Elementary and Lebanon Middle schools, plans to move into a second county district next academic year.

The organization provides support at a schoolwide, group and individual level. It’s a holistic approach, targeting both the academic and nonacademic needs of students.

CISPA has programs in 20 schools in seven districts, serving thousands.

Its self-described mission is to surround these young people “with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.”

In addition to Lebanon, Communities in Schools of PA is active in Harrisburg School District, York City School District, Susquehanna Township School District, Greater Johnstown School District, and Somerset Area School District, executive director Jessica Knapp told LebTown.

“A couple more are in the pipeline,” she said, including the second district in Lebanon County.

Locally, CISPA is collaborating on the expansion with the United Way of Lebanon County, which is providing half the funding, Knapp said. The school district that hosts the program will pay the other half.

It costs about $80,000 for each on-site staffer, she said.

“The United Way has been incredibly supportive,” Knapp said, and a “very, very valuable” partner.

This commitment will bring the United Way of Lebanon County’s investment in the dropout prevention initiative to $115,000, spokeswoman Flame Vo wrote in an email to LebTown.

Knapp said a request for proposal has been released, and interested school districts have until Dec. 1 to respond.

“A lot of work needs to be done on our end,” she said. CISPA wants to have a program on the ground at a school in the new district for the 2022-23 academic year.

A track record of success

The programs at Northwest Elementary and Lebanon Middle schools, with a staff person assigned to each, were launched in 2019.

Nationally, Communities in Schools – found in 27 states and the District of Columbia – serves well over a million students from kindergarten through high school.

Knapp said the organization helps remove nonacademic barriers, too, as a way to keep kids in school.

That covers a wide range of issues, she said, including homelessness, food insecurity, mental health and family problems.

At an intensive case management level, “we create an individualized plan for success,” Knapp said.

“Our services free up teachers so they have time to teach,” she explained.

There are also schoolwide campaigns, Knapp said, whether it’s an emphasis on anti-bullying, or a coat drive so students have proper outerwear in the winter.

In the two Lebanon schools, staffers are fluent in Spanish as well, she said.

Here are some highlights from CISPA’s annual report for Lebanon County:

  • 66% of students with an academic goal met or made progress toward that goal.
  • 79% of students with an attendance goal met or made progress toward that goal.
  • 56 students received case management services.
  • 4,364 students were given food, hygiene products, school supplies and clothing to meet basic needs (in cases where children required help in more than one area, they were counted at least twice).
  • 2,332 parents were served during the school year (some were counted multiple times if they sought different types of assistance).

Additionally, Communities in Schools of PA supervises distribution and logistics for the expanding Power Packs Project in Lebanon School District. Power Packs provides children and their parents with the recipes and ingredients for healthful meals on the weekends, when school breakfasts and lunches aren’t available.

CISPA is part of the Communities in Schools national network and was established in 1994 as a statewide advocate and fundraiser to support CIS affiliates in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Lehigh Valley.

In 2014, Communities in Schools of PA debuted its first school-based programs in York.

Knapp said growth has been “pretty fast” during much of the past two years because of the upheaval wrought by COVID-19. “School districts need additional resources.”

There are 38 staff currently, at least 30 of whom are school-based, she said.

CISPA is funded through a combination of support from these districts, the state Legislature, grants and fundraising.

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.