Communities in Schools of Delaware aim at helping students achieve in school and develop skills. A recent grant from AT&T will help the organization's presence grow at DHS

Dover High School junior Myiesha Coverdale dreams of becoming a social worker and helping children.

But the 16-year-old isn’t afraid to admit she occasionally needs help of her own.

So when her teachers asked her to join a program designed to help struggling students, she immediately agreed.

“You’re going to succeed at everything that you do,” Coverdale said her teacher told her. “You may not want to do this but you really have to do this if you want to succeed in life.”

The program at Dover High School is run by Communities in Schools of Delaware (CISDE), a national non profit organization based in Arlington, Va., with local offices in Dover. Nationally, the 30-year-old organization serves 2,220 schools in 375 districts. It’s been in Delaware for 20 years

Its goal is to provide assistance to students who may need extra help to succeed. Students are referred to the organization by teachers, administrators, councilors and sometimes they refer themselves.

“We were given the option if we wanted to do it,” said Coverdale. “We weren’t forced.”

CISDE also serves Kent County Schools Milford High School, Milford Central Academy and Campus Community School. In the five years it’s been at Dover High School. students have shown improvement in graduation, academics, and behavioral issues, according to CISDE officials.

Brittany Platzke, CISDE’s data, evaluation and research manager, said all 11 seniors in the program during the 2012-2013 school year graduated. For the 2013-14 year, 35 of the 36 seniors receiving assistance from CISDE graduated.

“These were the most at-risk students in the whole school for dropping out,” she said.

CISDE President Jim Purcell said the organization uses a variety of programs to target each student’s individual needs.

“We have a mentoring program that takes students to the workplace and shows them what it’s like to work,” he said.

Other programs provide basic needs for low-income students, such as clothing and food. Counselors and community members also volunteer to talk with students.

Coverdale is now a part of “On Track”, a partnership with Delaware Technical Community College, which gives students a chance to gain college credits while still in high school.

But CISDE’s ability to help students like Coverdale had become limited due to a lack of manpower.  So when the organization received a $694,000 grant from AT&T Aspire, the telecommunication company’s education initiative, in October, it decided to allocate $120,000 to Dover High School over the next two years.

A portion of that grant funding will go towards CISDE-backed programs, but the bulk of the money will be used to pay for an additional CISDE staff member, he said.

“Because of the size of the school, we cannot touch enough students with one staff member,” he said.

With the additional funding, Dover High School was able to hire Andrea Spence as a program coordinator. Terisha Collins, the site director for CISDE said adding another person to take on some of the workload helps get more accomplished.

“This is the benefit of having a second person,” Collins said. “She may also be good at something that I might not be good at.”

Before Spence came on board, Collins was the only person managing CISDE programs, such as its mentoring program, or college readiness programs, which helps students develop skills needed to continue their education beyond high school. Under the college readiness program, they’ll invite college students to share tales of college life, teach students about financial aid and encourage academic achievement.

CISDE also provides basic needs for certain students that may come from a low-income household.

“If we find out there is a family in need here at the school we use our ‘basic needs’ resources to bring that need to the school for the student,” Collins said. “Maybe a student needs eyeglasses, or a student who could use dental care.”

Those additional services are paid for with donations, grants, and partnerships that CISDE has with businesses in the community.

Collins also conducts home visits with CIDSE students to get acquainted with students and their families.

“Sometimes, I have to sit down and watch Jeopardy with a family for 20 or 30 minutes to build that relationship to get them to trust me,” Collins said. “If I have to do that so they can open up and I can really talk to them about their child, then that’s what I’ll do.”

This isn’t the first time CISDE received a grant from AT&T.  In 2010, it applied for and received $104,000 and in 2012 it won $300,000. This is the first time, however, the grant was used to improve student success at Dover High School, Purcell said.

Purcell said CISDE is usually funded by corporate donations, state grant aid and money from local school districts. Starting this year, the Capital School District is paying $50,000 a year to maintain a CISDE presence at Dover High School. Before the grant, it was paying $30,000, he said.