Outreach matters: Communities In Schools salutes Sarah Curl
By JOAN TORNOW, PH.D.
Federal Way Mirror contributor
July 2, 2012 · Updated 9:47 AM
With her open door policy at Sacajawea Middle School, Outreach Coordinator Sarah Curl has been a daily resource for students.
Those who seek out Curl, or who are referred to her, know that she is there to help them obtain the services necessary to do their best in school. From medical services, to eyeglasses, to mentoring, to legal services, Curl is there to connect students and their families with agencies and nonprofits who can help.
Sacajawea Principal David Brower says, “We have absolutely loved having Curl in our school and having our partnership with Communities In Schools of Federal Way. This has made a huge difference.”
Curl ushered me to her office, equipped with cheerful posters and open shelves of materials for the mentors and tutors to check out. “It’s been a busy morning,” she said with a smile. “But they’re always like that!”
Curl brings a breadth of experience to her role. After serving in the Peace Corps in Madagascar for two years, she served here with AmeriCorps: “I realized there were plenty of service opportunities right here.” She reports it has been rewarding to work for CISFW, an organization devoted to “promoting student success, easing the burden on schools, freeing teachers to teach.”
“Whether in Madagascar or Federal Way, it’s about building relationships,” says Curl.
She shares a favorite saying: “Kids don’t care what you know unless they know that you care.” It was only 10 a.m., but already she had handled several complex situations. In one case, a student reported having no food at home, so Curl put together a backpack of food for him to take home. On a routine basis, the Coordinator also makes sure that everyone entitled to free or reduced-fee breakfast and lunch are receiving this service so crucial to their health and ability to learn.
That morning, Curl also found a lawyer for a family facing a housing crisis. Additionally, she coordinates volunteer tutors and CIS mentors providing one-to-one help and encouragement to specific students. “During lunchtime,” she says, “I go to the cafeteria to check in with students for follow-up and to make sure they’re doing OK.”
As we talked, several students dropped by for needed school supplies. Due to budgetary and transportation obstacles, families in stress are not always able to purchase supplies. CISFW makes sure no child loses precious instructional time because of the lack of a pencil or notebook.
Principal Brower notes, “A school improvement goal is to increase student achievement through community and family partnerships. Curl arranges mentoring and connects kids and families with local services. This helps us do what we need to do to make sure that all kids are prepared for success in high school and beyond.”
The Coordinator often provides a special service to a partnering school, based on need. Brower cited a need for after-school academic help. So, Curl set up “VIP Access,” an after-school tutoring program that takes advantage of the Activities Bus already scheduled to provide transportation home after extended hours. “VIP Access” serves about 50 students who meet in the library for work in math and science. Tutors include AmeriCorps volunteers, high school volunteers, and others. Curl also oversees the after-school use of computers. “Not only does ‘VIP Access’ help students with their homework,” notes Curl, “but it gives them a safe place to be.”
“Every day brings its own challenges,” says Curl. “One day, for example, a teacher reported that a boy in her class had shoes held together with duct tape. I arranged a voucher for the family to obtain needed clothing at Deseret Industries, one of many local partners.” Referrals may come from teachers, the principal, the school counselor, or others.
CISFW was recently named one of the top three nonprofit organizations in “Best of Federal Way” (Federal Way Mirror). The nonprofit is working toward the goal of placing School Outreach Coordinators in all Federal Way Schools. So far, the budget has allowed only three coordinators, but with increased support, this vital service can be extended. Tracy Oster, the Executive Director, notes, “CIS is the only proven drop-out prevention program in the country, and research shows for every dollar invested, there is $11.60 of economic benefit to the community.”
Learn more about CIS at www.cisfederalway.org or get involved by becoming a mentor -- meeting with a student 45 minutes a week at a nearby school, simply providing encouragement and a listening ear.
“It’s like a wheel,” says Curl. “It rolls along with each spoke helping to keep a student ready and able to benefit from school.” Communities In Schools of Federal Way is committed to keeping the wheel rolling, as students progress confidently toward graduation, poised for success.
Joan Tornow, Ph.D., is the author of Every Child is a Writer (Heinemann). Her articles have appeared in many educational journals, including Our Children: The National PTA Magazine and Young Children (NAEYC). In Federal Way, she serves on the Board of Communities In Schools.
Contact Federal Way Mirror contributor Joan Tornow, Ph.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org.