How To Reduce Dropouts? It's All About Building Relationships, Education Expert Says | KERA News

How To Reduce Dropouts? It's All About Building Relationships, Education Expert Says

Apr 10, 2014

The Texas Education Agency says there’s only one program with meaningful effects on reducing dropouts, and it’s Community In Schools. That was reason enough for the Tarrant County branch to bring its founder Bill Milliken to town. He talked to a Fort Worth lunch crowd organized for CIS volunteers and donors.

Milliken, who's 74, says he was one of those growing up in Harlem in the 1950s who wouldn’t have made it through school without help from others. He created Communities In Schools more than 35 years ago to reach out to others like him. He tells individuals and crowds nearly the exact same thing.

“It’s the relationships that change kids,” Milliken says. “Kids need someone that’s willing to walk through the shadow of adolescence and love them into change. Cause if a kid’s not turned on to living they’re not going to be turned on to learning.”  

Communities In Schools works to bring community resources inside public schools to help assess students' needs and give them the help they need to improve their lives. 

12 year-old Theron Bowman is one of those kids that Communities In Schools reached out to. He’s got a rare disease and wasn’t expected to live past age 2. He was in and out of hospitals and on a wide diet of drugs through the years, and school suffered. He fought teachers, classmates, and was on a downslide. Now the sixth grader says things have turned around.

“I’m doing really good,” Theron says. “I got A B, mutual A-B honor roll and then I got all As on my last report card.”

Theron’s mom thanks Communities In Schools for some of that turnaround. Not only did her son act out because of his disease, but a bug and mold-infested apartment interfered with his health and school work. She says CIS helped find a new apartment.

His mother, Cansas Surrett, said: “If we didn’t have CIS, he would probably be struggling and failing and we would probably have no other choice but put him in home school because he wouldn’t let anyone help him.”

CIS social worker Kaitlin Tollison, at Azle’s Hoover Elementary, is the one who helped.

“I’m so proud of him,” Tollison says. “I really am because a lot of kids, especially with the things he’s had to overcome, they would have given up. And he doesn’t, he doesn’t have to push through like he’s done. He’s been a success. And he inspires me and encourages me to work with the other students. He’s amazing.”

Milliken says he learned a long time ago that kids’ school problems are not tied to insurmountable academic challenges.

“Very few dropped out because of education,” Milliken says. “They dropped out because their old man went to prison, their mom was raped or sister was shot.” 

Or, in Theron’s case, he needed a cleaner environment and other help from someone like Tollison. The boy’s now happily giving back. He’s involved in Communities In Schools to help build community, including a program called Food for Kids.