JACKSONVILLE, Fla -

While many graduating seniors are ready to shift their tassels and start new chapters in their lives, 27.9 percent of Duval County students will not graduate on time or at all. For many struggling students, Communities In Schools of Jacksonville is the resource that helps them regain confidence and motivation.

MaryAnn Foster, a site coordinator at Communities In Schools, discusses how she and many other site coordinators help students overcome personal and academic obstacles.

Neishma Rivera, a soon-to-be graduating senior from Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, shares her personal journey and insights about how the organization kept her on track to graduate.

Foster says that Communities In Schools of Jacksonville is one of America’s most effective dropout prevention organizations, providing wraparound programs for students within the schools – including student enrichment, mentoring, literacy and after-school initiatives.

“Communities In Schools has been embedded in Duval County schools for 25 years,” Foster says. “We currently serve more than 6,400 students from within 38 local schools. In fact, looking at all of our programs collectively for this schools year, 92 percent of our student participants graduated or were promoted to the next grade.”

Foster says Communities In Schools focuses on building relationships between students and adults to give students the support they need to succeed.

“As a site coordinator, I make sure I take the time to listen to my students,” she says. “Sometimes all they need is someone who believes in them.”

Rivera joined the Communities In Schools student enrichment program at Frank H. Peterson Academics of Technology, where she was connected with Foster and other resources to help her stay on course for graduation.

Before joining Communities In Schools, Rivera used to struggle with family issues, which inhibited her academically and socially. She was distracted from school and even considering moving out of her home. Foster reached out to Rivera and connected her with essential student enrichment support, encouraged her to strengthen her relationships and helped her focus on the future. Now Rivera is preparing to attend Florida State College at Jacksonville, with plans to complete a culinary internship in Italy.

Foster says she is beyond proud to be on a team that’s different from any other dropout prevention program, adding that its unique model of operating from within schools allows staff to have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on and how they can affect change.

“The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life,” Foster says. “Knowing I’m part of that and seeing my students transform into successful young adults is the best reward.”

If you’re interested in getting your child involved next year, would like to volunteer or have any other questions, visit CISJax.org.