June 23, 2008

Group Seeks to Link Schools With Business

By Gustafson, Jeanne

An affiliate of the national group Communities in Schools has launched efforts here with a goal of coordinating collaboration between businesses and schools to reduce Spokane County's high school dropout rate, which the affiliate says is about 30 percent.

Ben Stuckart, executive director of the affiliate, Communities in Schools of Spo-kane County, says the nonprofit organization seeks business donations of money and in-kind contributions so it can offer programs in elementary and middle schools here. Business participation can include offering volunteer mentors, participating in job fairs, establishing job-shadowing programs, making presentations about the skills students need to succeed in the industries the businesses are in, and offering workplace tours.

Stuckart says his impression so far is that businesses want to get involved in such programs.

"Everybody wants to be involved in the schools, but there hasn't been the coordinating piece of that in the past," he says.

The organization has a budget of $215,000 for its first year, but still is seeking donations, Stuckart says. He and Sherry Barrett, the nonprofit's program director, are the only paid staff members.

Later this summer, the organization will hire the equivalent of three full-time employees to be site coordinators at area schools.

Those coordinators will help students access services and volunteer help to keep children in school, Stuckart says. He says the organization expects to begin providing programs in September, and is drafting agreements with six elementary and middle schools in the Spokane, Riverside, Cheney, and Medical Lake school districts to do so.

Communities in Schools currently is working with individual schools to identify programs that would best serve students at risk of dropping out of school. So far, participating schools have identified a need for programs that encourage parental involvement and for after-school programs for students.

In addition to determining needs for at-risk children, the group is determining what school programs already are available here or that could be implemented in schools through other local youth- oriented agencies.

Communities in Schools doesn't want to duplicate other programs, but rather wants to fill in gaps so educators can focus on teaching, Stuckart says.

The national organization was founded in 1977 in New York as Cities in Schools. Today, there are about 200 affiliated programs around the country.

Copyright Northwest Business Press Inc. May 29, 2008

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