Project Spotlight: CISLA
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Our project was to help CISLA create a system for interacting with and support program alumni.
Communities in Schools of Los Angeles is a 501(c)(3) organization that is dedicated to positively impacting kids lives through dropout prevention organization. In order to satisfy their mission, CISLA surrounds students with a community support system that will encourage and assist the students to not only stay in school, but also, to thrive beyond school and succeed in life and the workplace.
CISLA currently serves 13 schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District. They operate through site coordinators that work within each school to craft plants that are curated to the needs of each school. The site coordinators work with school leadership, community partners, and businesses, to organize and collect community resources that can then be distributed to students in need. The community resources are intended to address both academic and nonacademic needs, such as clothing closets or medical assistance.
CISLA and their site coordinators assess which students are at risk of dropping out, and they produce individualized plans to support the student and keep them on track for graduation. The CISLA model is data driven, and each of these plans include measurable goals that are then tracked and followed up on. CISLA meets with students, families, and teachers, to ensure the student is not falling behind.
Additionally, CISLA reviews and adjusts their model as well, collecting data and measuring their approaches efficacy. The CIS National Office engages in 3rd party evaluations of the network to ensure fidelity to the CIS model and positive impacts for schools and students. These evaluations, some of the most rigorous conducted in the field of Integrated Student Supports, show that Communities In Schools is proven to increase graduation rates, decrease dropout rates and improve student attendance, leading to brighter futures for students in America.
While CISLA has an effective and organized support system for K-12, they have yet to implement a structure for connecting with and supporting program alumni. Typically, CISLA engages and supports alumni with a more informal and case-by-case approach.
Our goal is to provide CISLA with a comprehensive plan tailored to their organization that thoroughly addresses each aspect of a successful alumni program. Key elements that we focused on were defining proper rules of engagement, outlining realistic expectations for the program, and identifying potential sources of funding.
To ensure we satisfied each element of a successful alumni program, we established an agenda that would provide us direction and structure to work within for the duration of the project.
CIS of South Texas Interviews
To deliver qualified recommendations, we found it important to identify a successful alumni program from another CIS branch and conduct interviews. Our goal in these interviews was to understand what aspects of their program they believed integral to success, possible mistakes to avoid, and any other advice that may be applicable to CISLA.
We selected CIS of South Central Texas, and we interviewed their Head of Alumni Initiatives and their Alumni Board of Directors. Here were some of our key takeaways from our interview with the Alumni Board of Directors:
The Alumni Board of Directors offered key advice from the perspective of our target audience. They emphasized the importance of maintaining the qualities that make CISLA so effective, which is individualized and community based approaches, and not being systematic.
The Head of Alumni Initiatives, Liberty Nicholas, offered more detailed advice on how to effectively run an alumni program and creative ways to secure support. She emphasized the importance of understanding answering the following questions before beginning anything:
1) What will actually benefit alumni?
2) What does CISLA have the bandwidth for?
3) What Will Alumni actually want to engage with?
She then gave some advice for what can help the program thrive once CISLA has a better understanding of what they have the capacity to provide through their alumni program.
1) Find and involve former CIS alumni in the LA area that have had success in their careers and life.
2) A successful Alumni program requires establishing the connection before graduation.
3) Identify companies and organizations in LA that are also passionate about dropout prevention for funding, support, and community connections.
In summary, the interviews proved incredibly impactful and they provided valuable information that guided the remainder of our project and ultimately shaped our recommendations.
Student and Alumni Surveys
Following our interviews, we wanted to gain a better understanding of CISLA’s current state of alumni affairs. We designed surveys that gauged current student interaction with alumni and interest in future interaction. Additionally, the survey gathered details about what the students would want from an alumni program and how it could best support them.
We then conducted similar surveys with alumni, gaining an understanding about both their willingness to support students as well as if they themselves were in need of support from other alumni.
Following our interviews, survey results, and research, we were then able to create a comprehensive plan for CISLA’s alumni program. While we believe the alumni program should and can grow beyond our recommendations, we highlighted our “Three Pillars” of the alumni program:
Weebly Site - For the Weebly Site, we believe it should be powered by the wants and needs identified in our survey results, so it can serve streamline the search for alumni resources. Additionally, it should include a calendar with all upcoming alumni workshops and seminars.
Some of the functions the weebly site includes, as requested by students and alumni, we recommended include scholarship and application resources, career and college preparation mentoring, goal setting, and resume workshops among others.
Microsoft Teams - With Microsoft teams, there will be a platform for alumni to connect and discuss pertinent elements of the alumni program, with channels for Career, Finance, Volunteering, Adulting, Social Events, and Workshops.
Monthly Workshops - We identified monthly workshops as an efficient way to service large numbers of alumni and students who expressed the same needs from the alumni program.
To best serve the alumni, the workshops need to align with CISLA’s Alumni Value Proposals: Career, Adulting, and Finance.
Additionally, Alumni should leave each workshop having learned or been exposed to a new skillset. Aside from the four pictured below, some workshop ideas are “How to Budget, Save, and Invest,” “How to Properly Prepare and Cook a Chicken,” and “How to Negotiate a Pay Raise with Your Boss.”
Case Management - One thing consistently requested by Alumni was 1-on-1 monthly meetings for general mentorship with the alumni coordinator. The purpose of case management is to provide the alumni assistance in creating and fulfilling a goal-driven plan in any facet of their lives. Case management would follow these steps:
Lastly, we researched and found over 20 different grant applications that CISLA’s new alumni program qualifies for. Considering the cost of the Alumni Program, we found it important to provide CISLA with sustainable funding sources to create a stable program built to last.
Looking Back at This Project
Our team is proud to have provided a comprehensive alumni program that serves Community in Schools of Los Angeles’s mission of dropout prevention.
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