Support for Students
Communities in Schools Brunswick County celebrates 25 years of helping local students succeed.
Expansion and change are key words to describe Communities In Schools (CIS) in Brunswick County as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. Its mission, though, has not changed: To surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.
Cynthia Tart, the first CIS executive director, accepted the leadership role in 1995 because she believed it would benefit students in greatest need. Back then office space was in Brunswick County Academy in Southport and aimed to serve all Brunswick County schools.
The organization proceeded to incorporate as a nonprofit with funding from various sources and formed partnerships with Brunswick County Schools, Dosher Hospital, Brunswick Community College, county agencies, faith communities and volunteers.
Mike Reaves, the first acting-chairman of the CIS board and former president of Brunswick Community College, says he enjoyed being a joint partner.
“Anything we could do to help the kids would certainly help us,” he says. “It seemed like a perfect fit.”
CIS has introduced a series of programs over the years. In 1995 it opened the first Family Resource Center in Leland, where it offered volunteer tutoring and school-to-work programs. That center expanded in 2000 to include the Leland Family Literacy Program. CIS opened the Waccamaw Family Resource Center in 1996. By 2000 both centers served more than 600 people every month. Lack of funding closed the Leland center in 2005 and the Waccamaw center in 2011.
After-school programs were added at two sites in 1997. By the 2007-08 school year, after-school and summer programs served more than 700 children at 11 sites.
The need to contain juvenile misdemeanor offenses prompted CIS to introduce Teen Court in 1999. This program allows offenders, primarily high school students, to be heard by a jury of their peers. They take responsibility for their actions and complete a required sentence. In this way, they can avoid a juvenile record.
Parents have always been a part of CIS. In 2006 the Parenting Education program provided classes and support groups to families in crisis and those seeking information on family management.
Peer Court was added in 2007 at Shallotte Middle School in order to reduce truancy and suspensions. Again, their peers hear the case and declare remediation with offenders accepting responsibility for their actions.
The Dropout Prevention program started in 2009 at Shallotte Middle School. In 2013 a 21st Century Community Learning Center Afterschool STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) program came at no cost to participants. It was held at different schools since then and currently is at Supply Elementary School.
Tart says fundraising presented her biggest challenge as executive director. “I always operated with a mindset to build toward sustaining the organization and not letting the students down,” she says.
The CIS black-tie Benefit Gala for Children began in 2001. It eventually attracted 600 people, and at its peak raised $120,000. Restaurants offered Taste of Brunswick County and wineries provided reds and whites. Silent and live auctions, raffles, entertainment and Jon Evans, news anchor at WECT-TV, as master of ceremonies, added to the pageantry. The annual event ended in 2017 as participation faded.
Another project was the launch of the CIS Thrift Shops. These sell slightly used, good-quality clothing, books, household and other items at affordable prices. “That was the hardest business venture, but one of the most rewarding,” Tart says. The Southport Thrift Shop opened in 2009 followed later that year by the Sunset Beach Shop. Boiling Spring Lakes (2010) and Leland (2016) also have shops.
Tart left Brunswick County CIS to be regional coach for CIS in North Carolina, and Nancy Lamb took the reins from 2014 to 2017. Bonnie Jordan, program operations officer since 2013, succeeded Lamb and is current executive director.
Six Success Coaches from the core of the organization. These CIS employees tutor, support and work with students to help them achieve their goals.
Ruth Thompson began as a Success Coach 10 years ago at Leland Middle School. “It is very fulfilling to work with parents and help them with whatever issues they have, and this helps me to better understand their children,” she says. She considers her greatest success working with Peer Court. “This program works very well to help students get back on the right track,” she says. “It also helps parents get to know their child better.”
Michelle Rau has been a Success Coach at Shallotte Middle School for almost nine years. “Students need as much support as they can get to steer them in the right direction,” she says. “They need to feel cared for and listened to so they can make successful choices. CIS helps provide that additional support.”
After retiring from Brunswick County Schools with nearly 35 years on staff from teacher assistant and bus driver to executive director of student support services, Helen Davis is now vice-chair of the CIS board. She has seen how students succeed in CIS programs through the cooperation of partnerships, volunteers and parents. “I remain focused on the continued support and supplemental education services CIS provides for the overall success and well-being of student and their families,” she says.
Lance Ipatzi, 15, now a sophomore at West Brunswick High School, was in the CIS Action for Success program from sixth to eighth grade at Shallotte Middle School. “It gave me extra hope,” Ipatzi says. He improved his grades and was offered opportunities to participate in activities, including Peer Court, where he received an award as a jury member.
Ipatzi’s mother, Jennifer Ipatzi, says her son has high-functioning autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and has difficulty processing information. “The best thing they did was to help him and work with him,” she says.
In the future CIS plans to expand the Action for Success program, add a part-time Success Coach and “continue working to reach at-risk students,” Jordan says. Like Tart, she wants to sustain CIS programs.
“Providing consistency to at-risk students is paramount to their success and the success of CIS,” she says. “I believe all children deserve an equal opportunity to be successful and live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives.”
Want to know more?
Communities in Schools Brunswick County
3148 George II Highway, Unit 2, Boiling Spring Lakes
Bonnie Jordan, Executive Director: firstname.lastname@example.org