One student at a time

Senior Raven Saunders shared a laugh with Communities in Schools student support specialist Kartina Bell in the CIS office at Burke High School in 2014.

Raised by her maternal grandparents, Jasmine is the oldest of three children. Her mother cycled in and out of jail, on and off drugs, and drifted in and out of her life. Jasmine’s irregular home life reflected poorly on her grades and attendance in high school. She is just one example of the nearly 12,000 students that Charleston’s Communities in Schools helps each year.

Communities in Schools is a nationwide network of passionate professionals working in public schools to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

With one student in the United States dropping out of school every 26 seconds, the organization’s mission is critical to the future vitality of the state and local community.

The Charleston-area affiliate has been serving the Lowcountry for 27 years and is based on East Montague Avenue. Today, the local chapter of the nonprofit provides services to 25 schools total, 11 of them in North Charleston.

According to the organization’s 2014-15 annual impact report, CIS of Charleston provided case-management services to more than 1,340 students. Of those students, 96 percent were promoted to the next grade level, with the exception of seniors. Seniors saw a 98 percent graduation rate with roughly 91 percent continuing on to higher education or the armed forces.

“By having one of our site coordinators physically located in each of the schools we serve, we’re able to connect to students on a more personalized level,” said Jane Riley-Gambrell, the organization’s executive director.

By getting to know each student and their families, site coordinators are able to offer services specifically tailored to their needs, including a Student Support Program, mentoring and tutoring.

With nearly one-third of all female dropouts attributed to pregnancy or parenting, CIS partnered with the New Morning Foundation to create an initiative tailored specifically to female students. The program helped reduce teen pregnancies at North Charleston High School from an average of 40 per year to six during the 2014-15 school year. In the same year, Stall High School saw a decline from about 30-35 per year to 10.

Communities in Schools of Charleston also offers a programs for male students. Wise Guys focuses on male responsibility and character building. The program helps male students navigate this otherwise difficult and sometimes volatile time of adolescence.

“Our students face a host of various challenges including generational poverty, lack of sufficient health care, limited access to transportation and low parent involvement just to name a few,” Riley-Gambrell said. “It’s both inspiring and gratifying to watch them overcome these adversities.”

With an elementary education teaching background, Riley-Gambrell has been the executive director of CIS for nearly 23 years. Proving the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” she attributes the organization’s success to the community. During the 2014-15 school year, more than 1,700 volunteers and community partners contributed over 73,000 hours of their time.

Communities in Schools receives no state funding. Instead, the organization relies on the school districts along with various grants, partnership with Trident United Way, individual and corporate donations and fundraising events.

The nonprofit is always in need of mentors, tutors and job shadow hosts, in addition to financial contributions.

Visit to find out how to get involved.