What is Communities In Schools?

A quick and easy overview, CIS in a nutshell:

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Naughty or Nice?

Students at Social Circle Elementary are definitely on Santa's Nice List. All semester, they have worked to earn an invitation to the Communities In Schools "It Pays to Be Good Celebration." Three quarters of the student body earned the privilege of attending the celebration, which featured pizza and a visit with the jolly old elf, Santa himself!

"This has been the best December I can recall," said principal Jodi Weber. "The children get so excited, and sometimes their energy comes out in their behavior. But this year, they knew this event was on the line, so they tried extra hard. We have all kinds of discipline policies and consequences, but the kids have to want to behave."

Watch the video below and find out what students, teachers and volunteers had to say about the event.



Communities In Schools Recognized as a High-Impact Nonprofit by Philanthropedia


Philanthropedia, a nonprofit aimed at helping donors give more strategically, has recommended Communities In Schools as a high-impact nonprofit working with at-risk youth in the U.S. Read about it here: Communities In Schools Recognized as a High-Impact Nonprofit by Philanthropedia : Communities In Schools

CIS Recognized as "Something to be Thankful For"

A national publication named Communities In Schools one of fifty organizations America can be thankful for.  Find out more here:
Social Media Guide Grateful for Communities In Schools : Communities In Schools

Can I Borrow a Pencil?

Imagine your first day of middle school.  You've just left the comfort and safety of elementary school, where you've been at home for as long as you can remember.  Many questions roll through your 11-year-old mind.  Will I fit in with all the kids coming from other schools?  Will the teachers be nice?  Will the work be too hard?  Will I be able to open the combination on my locker?

Back to school is stressful, whether it's a new start at a new school, or the final first day as a senior in high school.

Now, what if you had to do it without a notebook, paper or pencil?

Hundreds of students across Walton County head off to school empty handed each year, and more and more families are finding it hard to fulfill the recommended supply list due to unemployment and increasing situational poverty.

But kids won't be borrowing pencils.  Or paper.  Or other basic supplies that they need.

Thanks to supply drives conducted by FISH and Walmart, CIS Site Coordinators at Carver Middle School, Monroe Area High School, Walnut Grove High School and Social Circle Elementary School were able to distribute supplies to students in need.

"Binders are a big deal in middle school," said Amy Hunnewell, CIS Site Coordinator at Carver Middle School.  "Students need one for each class, and if they don't have them, it can be hard to stay organized and keep assignments on track.  Our students are really thankful for these resources."

Walmart donated 100 binders and 5-tab divider sets.  FISH received a variety of items, including crates of crayons, piles of paper, and a glut of glue.  Book bags, notebooks, index cards, highlighters were also part of the cache of supplies that were distributed through Communities In Schools.

"We weren't able to do our normal school supply distribution with our summer lunch program due to lack of funding," said Cindy Little, Executive Director of FISH.  "We are so glad to be able to distribute the items we received from local donors through the CIS sites, because we know that the CIS coordinators inside the schools know where the greatest needs are. With fewer resources and greater needs, it's important to be sure we make the best use of what we have."

"We are so thankful to Walmart, FISH and all the individuals and organizations who contributed supplies to help make sure students got off to a great start for the new school year," said CIS Executive Director Angela Yarman.

Meet Chairman Jimmy Hogg

The last thing Jimmy Hogg needed was something else to do.

The long-time educator and retired HR manager had just taken the helm of the Walton County Campus of Athens Technical College, when CIS came knocking, asking him to take a seat on the board.  Just a few months later, he was asked to step up to the chair.

"I didn't know everything I know now about CIS," he said, "but I knew it helps students do better in school, and that's very important."

Hogg was selected for the chairmanship because of his unique qualification to lead the organization through a critical period of organization development.

"Jimmy can see our work from both the business side and the school side," said CIS Executive Director Angela Yarman.  "It is very helpful to have a person with the broad range of experience he has while we work to step up our services in five schools."

Hogg began his career as an agriculture teacher, then served as a high school principal before taking a post at the Georgia Department of Education as director of career and technical education.  After retiring from the education system, he took a job as director of human resources for Standridge Color Corporation in Social Circle.  He retired from Standridge and later was hired to help with the transition of the Bryant Road campus from Walton County Schools to Athens Technical College, then became the campus director.

CIS Chairman Jimmy Hogg, campus director for Athens Tech's Walton County Campus.
Photo: The Walton Tribune

"I think CIS is important because it helps students overcome some of the issues that get in the way of their success in school," Hogg said. "We want to help students be successful and graduate, and then we hope to see some of them continue their studies at Athens Tech."

As CIS pursues accreditation from the CIS national office, a new focus on higher standards and richer programming has been needed.  Five sites have been established across two school districts, and the depth and breadth of services is unprecedented in the history of CIS in Walton County.

"It's great to have Jimmy's perspective," said Yarman.  "He helps us understand when our proposals pose a difficulty for the schools we serve, and he helps school leaders see the need for our programs to help prepare students for the current employment environment.  He is well respected by everyone involved."

His first order of business as the new chair has been to develop a three-year strategic plan and to help develop the leadership, resources and relationships to enable that plan to be carried out.  That has included organizing new committees, developing an annual plan and a fund raising program to support the work.

"A lot goes into being able to support students with the resources and services they need to be successful," he said.  "I think CIS can make a real difference for individual students and their families, for our schools and for the whole community.  We all have a role to play, and I am happy to have the chance to help."


Community Leaders Chart a Course for Success

"He who fails to plan, plans to fail."
The old proverb reminds us that planning is a must, and CIS leaders took that reminder to heart at the CIS Strategic Planning Retreat on June 30.

Board members, site coordinators and school administrators took the day to chart the course for the success of Communities In Schools for the next three years.
Carver's new CIS Services Coordinator, Amy Hunnewell, leads a group working on
resource development (foreground) while board member Emily Russell
takes on the public relations team.  Other groups looked at organization
development, partnerships, site operations and youth programming.
The resulting 3-year strategic plan will guide the work of CIS through 2014, and calls for us to strengthen our brand and build community awareness, diversify our resources and meet organizational standards for national accreditation.  These efforts will form a stronger foundation to allow the organization to provide meaningful programming to help more students stay in school and achieve in life.

As part of the process, site coordinators gave updates on the activities in their schools during the last academic year.  Site coordinators and school officials agreed that CIS contributed positively to their schools and students, and recognized the need for growth to allow for expanded programming.  "It has really made a positive impact on our school," said Jodi Weber, principal at Social Circle Elementary School.  "Teachers now have a resource they can reach out to when students need extra help, especially with non-academic issues that we had been less equipped to address.  It has been wonderful."

Jimmy Hogg, incoming chairman of the board, said that he hoped the time spent together would strengthen our team and open better lines of communication between the board and the schools.  "It is great to have all of the players in the same room, focused on how we can make CIS a better resource for students,"  he said.

The Presence of Pizza Encourages the Presence of Students at Carver Middle School

Leaders at Carver Middle School know that good attendance helps lead to good grades, so improving attendance was one of the goals of the school this year.   

CIS Site Coordinator Barbie Peeples-Golden, along with school administrators and the CIS Site Team, came up with a plan to motivate students to attend daily, especially during the CRCT.  

"Our attendance last year for CRCT over the five days, we had an average of 10 students per day absent.  Our average over the five days this year was 5 students.   Several days we had as few as 2 out,"
 said Kay Pruitt, principal's secretary and a member of the CIS Site Team.  

What accounts for this 50% reduction in absences?  PIZZA! ...and a few other prizes.

Students line up to claim their reward for excellent attendance during the CRCT
The attendance promotion offered students a pizza party for every homeroom with perfect attendance for the week of testing.   Thirty one classes made it and received pizza from Papa John's, who provided it at a discounted price.

In addition, students were entered into drawings for iPods, Wal-Mart gift cards and other prizes based on their attendance.  In all, more than 87 prizes were donated to the school and given away to students. 

Encouraging good attendance is important, not only to meet standards, but also as a basis for learning.  It should go without saying that students who have good attendance do better in school.  Good attendance is also a workplace skill that, when developed early, will serve students well for the rest of their lives. 


A Chance to Give Back

The chance to give back is one of the basic things that Communities In Schools believes every child needs and deserves.  Serving others helps build self-esteem and empowers kids to see themselves as having something of value to offer to the world.  That's why students at the Performance Learning Center were given the opportunity to create their own service project through a Learn and Serve Grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The project, which was planned as parts of classroom assignments in math, science, writing and social studies, was designed to focus on healthy habits.  PLC students partnered with members of the Monroe Area High School Future Farmers of America to plant vegetables in the campus greenhouse and garden plot.

"The students really enjoyed being outside and working with the plants," said Kelly Howell, FFA advisor. "They had fun learning about gardening, which will be a great skill they can use their entire lives."

Once the plants were ready, students took them to the Boys & Girls Club in Monroe, where they worked with the younger students in a Healthy Choices Fair.

PLC students taught the kids how to read a nutrition label, how to count the calories burned by different exercises and how to brush their teeth properly.  Each child had their height and weight measured.  Other PLC students showed them how to make snacks with the vegetables grown in the garden and other healthy foods.

"I didn't know I liked yogurt," said Mikey, a third grader at the Boys & Girls Club.  Debbie Jackson, a local caterer with A Better Bite in Monroe, volunteered to help with the snacks.  "My goal was to let them try some things they might not have tasted before." she said.  "We offered them dried fruit, yogurt, hummus, tomatoes, whole wheat pita bread, fresh-cut pineapple, blueberry juice and more."

At the end of the event, each child from the Boys & Girls Club was given a tomato plant to grow at home, a toothbrush and Dr. Seuss's "The Things You Can Do That Are Good For You," purchased for them through FirstBook.

"I liked working with the little kids," said Jasmine, a PLC student.  "They looked up to us and we taught them something that was important for them to know."

It Pays to Be Good at Social Circle Elementary

Nearly three quarters of the students at Social Circle Elementary School quietly went about their business this year, doing their homework, raising their hands, walking in orderly lines.  For the most part, teachers had very little cause to correct them.  Little did they know that the end of the school year would bring a big pay-off for their good behavior.

Students check out an item up for bid
During one of the last weeks of school, more than 300 students were treated to the "It Pays to Be Good" Celebration, organized by the school's CIS Site Team.  Site Coordinator Debra Rakestraw and her committee gathered up door prizes that the students bought with behavior bucks, play money that was awarded according to the number of cuts (low-level discipline reprimands) that a student received over the whole school year.

Friends pitched in their play money
to help this lucky young lady bid
2000 bucks for a talking Justin Bieber doll.
During a live auction, students craftily pooled their money and divided the spoils.  One girl, known as the school's biggest Justin Bieber fan, received donations from her classmates hand-over-fist until she could make the winning bid of $2000 on a talking action figure of the pop star.  A group of students chipped in on a summer fun bag, then split its contents of flip-flops, pool goggles, sand toys and other goodies, while others walked away with basketballs, a slip'n'slide, and other fun items.

With their remaining funds, students could shop from a stand set up with dollar-store items including posters, toys, stickers, figurines and other items, plus snacks, drinks and admission to the inflatable water slide that was set up for the end of the afternoon.  Students enjoyed water fun on the slide plus a good shower from the top of the fire truck, which also came out to reward the kids.

Admission to the water slide...two bucks.
Being sprinkled by the
fire truck...priceless

"No one has ever done anything like this for us," said one 4th grade student.  "Thank you so much!"  

Debra Rakestraw, CIS Site Coordinator and organizer of the event, said that her first idea was to do something special for a handful of kids who had made good progress in turning around unacceptable behavior. But on second thought, she decided to reward all of the students who had done the right things all year.  "So many students do what they are supposed to do all the time, and they get nothing for it," she said.  We spend a lot of time correcting problems, and sometimes we just need to give credit for being good."


Juniors from Six High Schools Explore Colleges and Careers at CIS Expo

Communities In Schools of Walton County recently teamed up with the Walton County Chamber of Commerce and the Walton County Board of Commissioners to bring the College and Career Expo to more than 1400 juniors from six high schools.
The event held April 28 brought exhibitors from more than 85 colleges and local businesses to talk with students about their future plans to further their education or start their careers.  The double gym at Meridian Park in Loganville was selected to accommodate students from Loganville High School, Loganville Christian Academy, Monroe Area High School, Social Circle High School, Walnut Grove High School and George Walton Academy. 
"I hope we can make this an annual event," said Gary Hobbs, superintendent of Walton County Public Schools. "I think it will grow each year."
Nearly 60 business people representing everything from accounting to veterinary science volunteered their time and preparation to give students a glimpse into the variety of career fields available and to chat with students about the training and requirements for the jobs. "Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to be a part of the Expo today. Our booth was busy and we had a great time," said Mylinda Knittle, owner of Spring Street Studios in Monroe. "My profession has changed so much in the last few years with digital and Photoshop - everyone thinks they can do it. It is important for students to understand how much education is necessary to do the work professionally."
 Sixteen colleges from all over Georgia were on hand as well as military recruiters.  "This is a great opportunity for the juniors to meet them as they are just beginning to think about their plans," said Nathan Franklin, principal of Loganville High School.  "This gives them a first look at what is ahead as they plan to graduate next year."
In addition to getting out of class for a fun field trip, students thought the opportunity to take a peek at so many options in one place was great.  "I really liked being able to meet so many businesses.  It really opened my eyes to what's out there," said one student from Walnut Grove High School. 
"I was very impressed with the students," said Randy Camp, owner of Burman Printing/Walton Media Services.  "They were very engaged and well prepared."
You can read more student comments in the article that appeared in The Walton Tribune by clicking here.

Scenes from the Social Circle Elementary CIS Health Fair

A Healthy Start and A Healthy Future - it's one of the CIS 5 Basics, and it was the focus of the CIS Health Fair planned by Site Coordinator Debra Rakestraw and her site team at Social Circle Elementary School.  All 400+ students worked their way through stations screening for vision, hearing, blood pressure, height and weight before hitting the exhibits for fruit smoothies, free toothbrushes, healthy snacks and information on nutrition, hygiene, bus safety, alcohol and drug awareness, and personal safety. 

Students gather in the gym to work their way through exhibits with
the community members who came out to share information and resources

"This is more fun than field day," said one fourth-grader, which is saying a lot. CIS Site Coordinator Debra Rakestraw sees the importance of engaging students and their parents in making healthy choices.  "They can't do well in school if they have health problems," she said.  "When they aren't well, they miss school, can't focus, and sometimes have discipline problems.  This health fair lets us talk to parents about problems we might find and lets the kids get the help they need."

Kids line up for fruit smoothies from Walton Athletic 24 - delicious and nutritious!
Volunteers help out moving 400 students
through the blood pressure check. 
Students had their stats recorded on a
passport to take home and share with parents

Students were given free toothbrushes and
toothpaste samples

The school nurse provided vision screenings

CIS of Walton Seeks National Accreditation

Communities In Schools of Walton County has been selected to pursue national accreditation from the CIS National Office.  Walton is among eight local affiliates in Georgia selected to participate in this third round of the process, and when complete, will join fewer than 50 local CIS organizations who have achieved the status.  By 2014, all local CIS organizations will be required to have achieved the accreditation standards.

The accreditation process ensures that local affiliates like CIS of Walton County are employing best practices around the 6 CIS Core Functions:

  • General Organization and Business Management
  • Resource Development/Fund Raising
  • Marketing & Public Relations
  • Community Partnerships
  • Managing, Expanding & Developing CIS Sites
  • Providing and/or Brokering Quality Youth Programming and Services

The Communities In Schools National Office has provided a grant of $20,000 to CIS of Walton to pursue the accreditation goals.


Walnut Grove High School Gets Books Through FirstBook Grant

Walnut Grove High School recently received more than 200 books for its media center, thanks to a grant from FirstBook and Communities In Schools.

FirstBook is a non-profit book distribution organization that works through other non-profits like Communities In Schools to make books accessible to all students.  CIS of Walton County applied for a grant through First Books to make the donation possible.

"We need thousands of books to enhance our media center, and with the current funding, that's going to be tough," said Thomas Boutwell, principal of WGHS.  "We appreciate this donation."

More books are needed.  If you know of resources to provide library-quality books to WGHS please contact CIS Site Coordinator Michele Brignone at

Social Circle Elementary Gears Up for CIS Health Fair

Students at Social Circle Elementary School soon will know exactly how they are doing, not just on academic assessments, but on health assessments, too!

The Communities In Schools Site Team at SCES, led by Site Coordinator Debra Rakestraw, is planning a Health Fair on April 27.  All students will progress through stations where they will have height, weight, blood pressure, dental, hearing and vision checks.  They will also receive instruction on proper hand-washing techniques, good nutrition and the importance of exercise.  The results will be marked on personalized folders that students can take home to parents along with information on normal ranges for each assessment and what to do if a child needs attention.

It's all part of the CIS 3rd Basic, A Healthy Start and A Healthy Future.  These assessments will help students, parents and school officials identify health needs that may be keeping students from doing their best in school, and connecting the students with community resources if needed.  In the long term, this can help students achieve their potential in elementary school, stay on track and graduate on time!

Many community partners have come to the table to help, including the Walmart Vision Center, Walton Regional Medical Center, the Walton County Extension Service and others.

Good health and good grades go hand in hand, and community support helps give students the healthy start they need and deserve!

Thank You Walton Electric Trust!

Communities in Schools of Walton County recently received a $3000 grant from the Walton Electric Trust, also known as Walton EMC Operation Round-Up.  Walton EMC customers contribute to the fund by having their electric bills rounded up to the next dollar, and the Walton Electric Trust invests the dollars in worthwhile community activities.

CIS is pleased to have received an award of $3000, which will support career exploration and college access in the Performance Learning Center.  Students who need help with college applications, entrance exam preparation and fees, and other pathways to college will be able to apply for support through this grant.

In addition, seniors who complete credits in the Performance Learning Center and graduate this year will be able to apply for job shadowing and internship opportunities through this grant.  Students will choose a career they would like to explore and CIS will match them with an employer in the community for a 20-hour workplace experience.

Our sincere thanks go to Walton EMC and the Walton Electric Trust for making these programs possible, helping students stay in school and achieve in life!