Written by: Correne Lynch-Fierro
Created: 11 June 2013

Correne Lynch-Fierro, CIS North Texas Program Manager at Little Elm High School in Little Elm, TX, tells how with the help of CIS, a determined student overcame her obstacles and graduated from high school.

grad1Di first began participating in CISNT in February of this year. When she first came into the CISNT office she indicated that her friends had told her for the past couple of years that she should come see me, but she felt that she could handle things on her own. She has a very complicated story of her life, having experienced a multitude of obstacles in her short nineteen years.

Di moved to Texas from California a few years back with her foster parents after her foster parent's mother had passed away. This person had made Di's foster parents promise her while on her death bed that they would look after Di and her sisters and see that they finished school. Based on Di's description of her, this person was very influential in her life and who Di credited for helping her and her sisters out of a bad situation with her biological parents and strived to keep Di and a couple of her sisters together.

However, upon moving to Texas, one sister left the home almost right away moving in with some friends in Lewisville. Di and one of her sisters remained with her foster parents until this year when Di left the home after a heated argument. She ended up moving in with a coworker. At this point, Di finally decided to come in and see me to see how I could help.

Di was working a full time job while attending school and was pursuing another part-time job. While I began working with Di on her academics, I looked at her class credits and advocated for her to get into Little Elm School District's credit recovery program since she only needed a credit to graduate, and she seemed very determined to do so. Through this program we were able to get her school schedule reduced to a half day to assist in alleviating some of her stress and free up her day to pick up daytime hours at work. In addition, I provided transportation on days when she did not have a ride to get to school.

This spring, Di attended the CISNT College Awareness event at the University of North Texas, which included a tour of the campus followed by a UNT Basketball Game. We began discussing college options as well as the steps to get into and fund college. Over the last few months, Di and I would continue to talk to discuss how things were going not only with her school but also with her jobs and her home situation.

Last week Di completed her credits and has now graduated from school. She has a determination unlike any other to overcome her numerous obstacles in life and succeed despite her situation. I expect her only to continue to excel! Congratulations, Di!

Written by: Rickey Hayes
Created: 10 June 2013

Rickey Hayes, CIS North Texas Site Coordinator at Strickland Middle School in Denton, TX, tells two stories of student breakthroughs at his campus.

Strickland 21st Century Softball

In the month of May, we held our first Strickland Middle School vs. Calhoun Middle School Softball event. About a month before the showdown our Academic Enrichment Specialist coach went from working every day to being on the sub list. As a result of this, the students did not have the opportunity to prepare as they needed to, which resulted in a large drop in participating team members. The day before the game I pulled together the 5 remaining students that wanted to play and asked them what they thought we should do about the game. Should we reschedule? Should we take a rain check and wait until next year?

The students decided to do some self-recruiting and rounded up the remaining members of the team that we needed to play. They went to Calhoun Middle School the very next day and played very well. They showed a great display of teamwork. Strickland Middle School ended up being victorious against Calhoun Middle School, and we brought home the first ever 21st Century Softball Championship Title. Afterwards I heard kids, who had never played the game before, ask their parents if they could join a league and continue playing. It was really cool because it allowed me to see that something as simple as a softball game can plant a seed in our young students. Perhaps a simple softball game can one day produce the next Nolan Ryan or Ken Griffey Jr. It was a great experience that my staff and the staff at Calhoun Middle School gave to our kids, and it was a day none of us will soon forget. 

We have been working really hard to go above and beyond with serving our qualified students this year in the CIS North Texas 21st Century after-school program at Strickland Middle School. There is a group of kids that are in 7th grade currently at Strickland, and at 12 and 13 years old, they have already been exposed to drugs, violence and lots of situations that kids their age should not have to deal with. They required more attention than most students and do not respond well to all adults.

I stepped in and doubled as an Academic Enrichment Specialist for the month of May and worked with this small group of students. I had the great opportunity to mentor, tutor and learn so much from this group of students. One student went from failing 7 out of his 8 classes to passing all but one. Another student opened up to me about the peer pressure he deals with on a daily basis, and he asked me to what to do when his peers wanted him to participate in things that were wrong.

These are kids that have been to juvenile detention centers and have had a lot of adults pass them on to somebody else instead of taking the time to listen to their story. I feel blessed and honored to have been able to work with them, and this is yet another example of how much of a difference we can make in a child's life just by being accessible and willing to hear them out.

Written by: Mirna Cervantes
Created: 11 April 2013

cis-schoolhouse-smallMirna Cervantes, CIS North Texas Program Manager at Harmon High School in Lewisville, TX, writes about how helping a student achieve a single goal has made tremendous changes in that student.

When I first started working with DW this school year, he appeared hesitant and untrustworthy. He was having difficulties in school because of his negative behavior. He would not complete class assignments and had zero motivation. DW is the oldest of three children and comes from a household with a single mother who struggles daily to make ends meet.

After talking with DW, I found out that he was interested in the Lewisville High School Cheer Program, which was split into two groups: Junior Varsity (composed of sophomores and juniors) and Varsity (made up of juniors and seniors). All students trying out for the LHS Cheer Program receive specific tryout guidelines, an application to complete and must fulfill the requirements at the time of cheerleader tryouts. Once selected, the student must follow all rules and guidelines of the Lewisville ISD Cheerleader Constitution and participate in all cheerleader events (including a competition in Orlando, Florida). In addition, each student must pass all their classes, follow the general school district code of conduct, and sign a contract that states they will follow the discipline system that contains sections regarding good attendance and good behavior.

DW saw this as his only chance at attending college, but he was unable to pay for the cost of the program.

I began asking the community to request assistance. Through the assistance of First United Methodist Church in Lewisville and the generosity of Linda Whitman, we were able to pay for DW's Cheer tuition.

Once DW got in the LHS Cheer Program, I began to see a dramatic difference in his attitude and his school work. DW's math teacher has said the following about him: "DW always completes his geometry work with detail and accuracy. He is respectful and helpful. He is usually on task and willing to help and work with others. He is a natural leader in my 3rd period classroom. This is my 2nd year as DW's math teacher and he has improved by leaps and bounds over last year. I truly enjoy having him in my classroom." Another teacher said the following: "He works hard and, when focused, does well."

I have noticed that DW's behavior, motivation, and overall school performance have greatly improved. When I asked him how joining the Cheer Program has affected him, DW responded, "It helps me stay out of trouble and pass my classes." DW now looks forward to becoming a member of the Varsity Cheer and to become a nurse one day. I am thankful for organizations like First United Methodist Church and individuals like Linda Whitman for helping DW get on the right path towards graduation and higher education.

Written by: Tasha Moore
Created: 05 April 2013

Tasha Moore, CIS North Texas Program Manager at Hedrick Middle School in Lewisville, TX, writes about an "Aha!" moment that occurred during a group discussion.

Group Sessions at CIS North TexasGroup sessions are a great way to work with students struggling with similar issues. The group facilitator prepares before each group meeting by researching the topic, anticipating students' questions and identifying potential rabbit trails. He or she makes a plan to review the topic discussed at the last group session and checks with each student individually on how their week went. In an ideal world, all of the preparation produces a textbook example of group work and demonstrates each individual's path to self-change. As the facilitator, your role is not to lecture or dominate the conversation, but to draw the students together and create a safe place for students to discuss the issues they are facing and develop solutions to address their struggles.

The moment in a group setting that a facilitator works towards and searches for is when the students take ownership of the group. This is the climax. This is the moment a facilitator knows change is happening, no matter how great or small. This moment is exciting to watch unfold.

I had the opportunity to watch this moment unfold while observing an anger and behavior modification group facilitated by my intern, Josh Nunley. Mr. Nunley had been working with this group of five boys for about eight weeks. During the previous session the boys would not stay on task, were disruptive and disrespectful, and displayed inappropriate behavior during the group meetings. Any facilitator would be discouraged after a group session like that, and this was no different for Josh. After talking with Mr. Nunley about options for the next group session, he went to work planning and preparing for their next session.

As I sat in the back observing the group meeting, Josh checked in with each student, addressed the inappropriate behaviors from the previous week , reviewed the expectations, and then started the new topic. As the boys shared their individual thoughts, the wonderful moment happened. One of the boys, Tom, started talking about how much he liked Beth, but he was frustrated because Beth would hardly talk to him. Tom asked Mr. Nunley if he would talk to another student, Beth, and tell her how great he was so that she would like him. While both Mr. Nunley and I were doing our best not to laugh at the request to help participate in the middle school dating games, another student, Aaron, spoke up. He looked right at Tom and said, "You know why she doesn't like you? She doesn't like you because you act crazy in class. She is a good girl and doesn't want to get in trouble." Tom looked right back at Aaron, and all he could say was "Oh." Aaron continued, "If you would pay more attention in class and not get into trouble, Beth might like you." Tom thought for a moment and then said, "You're right."

The group continued on, but the moment happened. The students had grown to a place where they were able to address each other's mistakes and receive feedback without defensiveness or anger towards one another. They were starting to help each other make positive changes. The jury is still out as to whether or not Tom changed his behavior in class this week and if that impacted his chances with Beth, but the group has formed a support system and is holding each member accountable to make positive choices in the classroom.

Written by: Nicole Scott
Created: 28 March 2013

Nicole Scott, CIS North Texas Site Coordinator at Lewisville Elementary in Lewisville, TX, writes about the informative presentations that Denton County Friends of the Family did for her students.

Bumbles the Magic BeeLast month, Denton County Friends of the Family came to Lewisville Elementary during the Communities In Schools of North Texas 21st Century after-school program and conducted presentations for CISNT students.  The students learned behaviors and strategies for staying safe at home, at school and in the community through programs offered by the Mental Health Association entitled Bumbles the Magic Bee, WHO®, and 5S. 

Bumbles the Magic Bee is a program that uses an interactive song and magic tricks to teach Kindergarten and 1st grade students. WHO® is a program designed to help fight the victimization of children.  WHO stands for "We Help Ourselves" and is designed for 2nd and 3rd grade students.  It teaches them basic rules for personal safety, allows them to learn what to do when faced with a problematic or potentially dangerous situation, and gives information on where and who to go to for help.  5S is a program that teaches 4th and 5th grade children about decision making, choices and consequences, peer pressure, self-esteem, communication, boundaries and respect.  5S stands for "Strong Social Skills for a Safer Society" and was presented to the 4th and 5th grade students.

Each presentation was age appropriate, and all of the students really enjoyed the presentations. We really appreciate the information and resources that Denton County Friends of the Family provided for our students!

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