Making Sure Kids Finish Strong

This article was featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, CIS Connections. Read the full issue here

The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).
The Loy Norrix CIS team of Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (left) and O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (right).

CIS Senior Site Coordinator Montrell Baker and CIS Success Coach O’Neal Ollie sat down with us to reflect on the work they do at Loy Norrix High School to help students stay in school and achieve in life.

What obstacles most threaten a student’s path to graduating on-time or at all?

Montrell: A lack of support systems. If they don’t have support at home, haven’t identified an adult that can guide them, it’s hard to be successful. They need support, an outlet. That’s what we are for those kids, and not just for school work. They also come to us about their home and life situations. We guide them in their decision-making process. We are there for them.

O’Neal: I’d agree. Students need a support system that allows them to be a student. This makes me think of a student we wanted to connect to after school supports but every time we pursued it, she refused. “I just can’t,” she said. Eventually, she told us, “I have to get home after school and open the door for my little brother and sister. I have to make sure they do their homework and cook them dinner.” Coming from a single-parent household, the student has significant responsibilities as her mom works long hours and doesn’t get home until evening.

So you’ve identified resources to support this young lady and yet, she’s busy being a support system for her younger siblings. How do you go about helping a student in this type of situation?

O’Neal: We come up with another game plan. We work around the student’s reality and put other supports in place. I’d also say that another barrier to graduation is normal stuff, like peer pressure. Students from both Norrix and Central spoke quite eloquently about this to our CIS board back in June.

Montrell: Yes, and sometimes it’s the lack of basic needs, like pencils and backpacks. Students will come down to CIS and say, “My teacher sent me here because I don’t have a notebook.”

O’Neal: Or clothing. Some kids will tell you, “I need a shirt.” But other students—you know they have a need—but we can’t always come right out and say, “Hey, I know you need clean clothes.”

So how do you handle those situations?

Montrell: I usually start with conversation. [O’Neal nods.] Let them know all we have to offer. Towards the end of our conversation, I’ll say something like, “So then, you got everything you need?” It opens the door for them and often the student will say, “You got clothes, right? Can I get a sweatshirt, because I’m cold coming to school in the morning?” After that, they feel more open to coming for assistance.

O’Neal: It’s all about developing those relationships.

O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach (left), and Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator (right).

In your experience, how do CIS and the school work together to help students get and stay on track to graduation?

O’Neal: CIS connects the services, and in some cases the actual materials, that allow students to focus on being a student and learn from their teachers. My job description is to remove the barriers to graduation.

Montrell: That is a lot of it. Touching on what we just discussed—about the basics—teachers should not be expected to, nor do they have the budgets to, provide everything students need. They don’t have an abundance of notebooks and other class supplies lying around. With CIS in the school, when they see a student with a need, whatever it is, they can say, “Go to CIS.” Teachers are great at referring. Who better to know that a student is struggling in reading or doing poorly in class because they can’t see? Teachers know when students need glasses and that we have a vision fund. They reach out to us all the time for a wide range of needs. I tell them to send the student to me. Then, I explain the process to the student and get them glasses, a tutor, or help meet whatever needs he or she has.

O’Neal: Administration also plays an important role. Our Principal, Mr. Rodney Prewitt, is well aware of CIS and that we can connect students to what they need, whether it’s dental support, glasses, clothes, tutors, you name it. Assistant Principal Kelly Hinga provides great support as well. She is knowledgeable about CIS, a terrific advocate, and supports us so we can be successful for kids.

Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.
Read more in our in our newsletter, CIS Connections: Graduation, Beginning with the End in Mind.