10 months in…

It has been almost ten months since I started my Davidson Impact Fellowship at Communities In Schools (CIS). This is the first time I have sat down at my keyboard to try and post about my experience.

Let me start with a brief overview of CIS as an organization before I dive in after almost a year of radio silence on this forum. CIS is a dropout prevention organization that surrounds students with a community of support in order to help students succeed in school and achieve in life. We do this by addressing the unmet basic needs of the students (clothing, food, shelter, etc.), connecting them to resources in the community that we have partnered with, monitoring and implementing programs that target academics, behavior, coursework, and parent engagement, and exposing students to future possibilities through career exploration and college education. In Charlotte, we are currently in about 43 CMS Schools and serve thousands of students each year. We have at least one, sometimes three, permanently located site staff (Site Coordinators) at each school we are in and we have a Central Office  that consists of close to 30 employees who lead and support our Site Coordinators. This is where I spend most of my time as a Program Assistant. I will try and convey what that looks like for me in a later post.

Before that, though, I want to return to the fact that I am ten months into my first job ever with an incredible organization whose mission aligns with my values and whose students I have come to deeply care about. Yet, I am just now attempting to write. I think this is for a few reasons:

1. The needs that we are addressing through our work at Communities In Schools Charlotte-Mecklenburg are so vast and deep, so real and raw, and so complex, that I have a very difficult time digesting and processing it all with the support of my coworkers, my friends, my family, my mentors on a daily basis. The students we serve face homelessness, abuse, poverty, mental health issues, violence, and a system that expects them to fail. As an educational non-profit in Charlotte, we feel that weight and the responsibility that comes with trying to serve these students. I feel it with every student I interact with. Sitting down to try and squeeze all of the challenges our students face into one succinct, well thought out blog post seemed nearly impossible.

2. I am learning every single day. Whether it’s how to make a bus reservation for a college tour or how to teach a 3rd grader to comprehend what they are reading when they are two grades below their level or how to best serve the large unaccompanied youth population in Charlotte and in our schools, I am constantly learning and reaching to know more so that I can help our Site Coordinators, the ones on the ground everyday, better serve our students. So here is a disclaimer for future posts: I am not an expert on the education system in Charlotte or on generational poverty. Because I am not an expert, I didn’t feel as if I had a platform to stand on to talk about these social justice issues.

3. Who is reading this? Shout out to my fellow fellows! If prospective fellows read this blog, I would be worried I seemed too negative about my work. If President Quillen reads this post, I would be concerned about my grammar and not my content. So I have decided to treat this blog as a personal journal where I can share my experiences and joys and challenges (that someone at some point might read).

4. Work work work work work work. The nature of non-profit work is that we are constantly triaging emergencies. A parent doesn’t show up to pick a student up from a program so we scramble to provide outside transportation. A student has just been picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and we have no idea where they have taken him. A student’s family has been evicted from their apartment and we must try and find them temporary shelter. I have three different supervisors which means I am trying to help support over 30 site staff. I am pulled in a lot of directions on a daily basis, so this blog has been on the back burner for a lot of my time.

Now that I have overcome this seemingly insurmountable hurdle of posting, I hope I can get to the meat of the work that I do, to the students, to the challenges they face and how we attempt to serve them, and to what my experience with CIS has been thus far. Stay tuned… but don’t hold your breath.

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1.            In 2004, Donald Berwick, physician and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), challenged hospital administrators to save 100,000 lives in 18 months. In what became known as the 100,000 Lives Campaign, the IHI convinced thousands of hospitals to alter their behavior and institutionalize new standards of care. His team created an individualized [...]

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The Arts & Science Council’s (ASC) mission is “ensuring access to an excellent, relevant, and sustainable cultural community for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Region.” In this role, ASC strives to ensure that the cultural community is truly open to everyone, and not just a select few. Recently, ASC has adopted the tagline “Culture For All,” a clear [...]

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On my desk, there are at least four scrapped, partially written blog posts. Sentences scratched out, pictures scribbled on, quotes highlighted, bullet points listed. None of these drafts have made it past my legal pad (sorry Jeff) because I felt that they either didn’t properly describe my experiences, focused too much on one aspect, or [...]

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When I walked through the doors of the Education building at MAHEC, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never done an employee orientation of any kind before. ‘It’ll just be an extended series of PowerPoint presentations… right?’ Well, little did I know that said presentations would have such a great impact on my [...]

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Justice is not so simply dealt out: walking with kids who cause sexual harm

My name is Grace Watt. As I transition into my new job, which I will describe later, I have had to ask some complicated and emotionally distressing questions.  The following essay is part of an ongoing, maturing conversation with myself as I process what I am learning and how I might more effectively respond to the issue [...]

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