Every SEAL volunteer knows the Communities In Schools (CIS) coordinators as the ringleaders and backbones of Reading Buddies and SmartKids. But, the impact of CIS coordinators goes far beyond the after school programs, and sometimes it is difficult for volunteers to grasp the importance and the scale of the work the coordinators do to help make our buddies feel loved and confident. I recently got to chat with Meredith Evett, a CIS Coordinator at Becker Elementary and site leader for SmartKids at Meadowbrook, a public housing complex in South Austin, to learn more about the CIS coordinators and their roles at school.
A graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, Meredith first learned about Communities In Schools when she completed her field assignment with the organization in the Austin area as part of her undergraduate social work education. She fell in love with CIS for the same reasons she fell in love with social work in general: the inclusivity of the work and the ability to look at the whole person. Upon graduating from UT, she went up to north to get her Masters from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before returning to CIS in Austin where she currently serves at Becker Elementary.
CIS- Central Texas
While SEAL works with the Central Texas chapter of Communities In Schools, CIS is a national organization whose main goal is dropout prevention. Programming looks different at every level, but the goal of CIS Coordinators remains the same: being a supportive, caring, positive adult on campus. Many of the students served by CIS are experiencing poverty, but not all students who qualify for CIS programming are low-income. Sometimes a student has had a family crisis or is struggling with classes and needs additional support.
The CIS team at Becker serves about 95 students total, but each CIS coordinator has a different case load. Meredith serves 30 students that all attend Becker Elementary and live at Meadowbrook. Meredith’s daily schedule varies since she leads SmartKids every Tuesday and Thursday. A normal Tuesday for Meredith starts with administrative tasks such as reviewing data and emails in the morning. Around lunch time, she heads to the cafeteria to visit with students and pick up her Tuesday kids. Each session is 30 minutes and can be an individual or group session (3-4 kids) all depending on a student’s needs. Sessions often look very different and can focus on therapeutic needs, social skills, classroom behavior, family issues, or a combination of all. Activities can range from games to crafts, anything to allow the student to feel comfortable and get them talking. Meredith tries to limit the amount of class time a student misses, so her post-lunch time is spent checking in with teachers or the occasional parent meeting.
At 2:00, Meredith leaves for Meadowbrook, sets up the room for SmartKids, and chats with the SEAL volunteers. The elementary students eagerly arrive around 3:15 for an hour filled with snacks, reading, and a fun activity. Then, the students head home as Meredith and her co-leader Deaven prepare for the middle school students coming in at 4:30. The entire SmartKids programming usually finishes around 6 PM for the day.
Although Meredith admits that balancing all her different roles with her own life can sometimes be tricky, she loves SmartKids because she gets to see students in their home territory, on “their grounds”. Not only does being at Meadowbrook allow Meredith to get to know students and their families better, it also adds an extra layer of trust and familiarity for the students. Ultimately, all Meredith and the other CIS Coordinators are trying to do is support and help their students to the best of their ability, and SEAL is grateful to have such inspiring, patient, and hardworking individuals to look up to and work alongside. Thank you, Meredith and all CIS Coordinators, for the work you do!