Kids’ education affects us all

Nonprofit group works to improve state’s economy by cutting dropout rate

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

Even if you don’t have a child enrolled in the Clark County School District, its success rate should concern you.

The state of education locally long ago became an issue that transcends parental concerns.

Any adult can read the projections that show our community’s economic future hinging on increases in the graduation rate. Jobs created in the modern marketplace require a more college-educated workforce than Nevada typically produces. It is tough to get through college when you never finished high school.

They get this concept at Communities in Schools, a nonprofit organization committed to reducing dropout rates. They do so by surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and encouraging them to achieve in life.

“A lot of people in town don’t understand the depth of our education problem,” said Susie Lee, the local chairwoman of Communities in Schools. Elaine Wynn, whose local influence on education and Communities in Schools is profound, is the chairwoman of the national program.

One of the things people sometimes fail to understand is that success in school often is affected by factors out of a child’s control, Lee said. Those include parental involvement and educational backgrounds, language issues, health challenges, violence and, of course, poverty.

Lee pointed out that half of the School District’s students qualify for the federal lunch program.

“These kids come to school every day with incredible challenges,” she said.

The program has site coordinators in 14 Southern Nevada schools. They provide students with food, clothes and even soap, trying to knock down barriers to their success. More importantly, they listen to the children.

The program’s slogan is “Whatever it takes.”

Lee will tell you that every dollar invested in Communities in Schools results in an economic benefit of $11.66 by reducing public assistance and incarceration rates. Dropouts tend to get into trouble and need public assistance more often than their schooled counterparts.

The program’s effort doesn’t wait for secondary school; it begins on the elementary level. An evaluation report showed that attendance improved dramatically for 70 percent of students in the program. Suspensions and detentions declined for 90 percent.

As Nevada whacks school budgets and increases the number of desks in classrooms, it gets tougher to give students individual attention — attention that may keep some of them in school.

The Communities in Schools team could teach a class on the solutions.

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