One hour a week

LaGRANGE – What could you do with just one hour? Exercise? Catch up on your e-mail? Watch one episode of The Walking Dead on TV? Become a force of change within the community?

On Friday, the county commission received an update on Troup County’s Community in Schools program, where volunteers are needed to do just that.

“One of our biggest focuses and pushes is for mentors,” said CIS Executive Director Tabitha Coverson. “We have five basics that we operate on, and the first one is the one on one relationship with a caring adult. We have about one fifth of students who don’t have a quality relationship with a parent, so we do a lot of parent engagement training. We work with the parents, but we also find individuals within the community who are willing to mentor these students. Just an hour a week makes a huge difference in a student’s life.”

According to Coverson, while many of the volunteers are initially concerned that they will be able to find that one hour every week, once they begin to form relationships with their student, volunteers often decide to spend more time with the student that they are mentoring. This support lets the students know that someone cares and that the decisions they make matter.

“It just took someone saying I’m concerned, and I see your potential, and I’m watching you, and I’m encouraging you to operate at your full potential (to make a difference),” said Coverson.

Besides helping students with grades, the organization also works to address the increase in violence, bullying and gang activity through community involvement with students who could be at risk.

“What we do is we surround the students with a community of support, so a lot of our support comes from the community, hence the name Community in Schools,” said Coverson. “… We have individuals who work in schools with the students. We do a community assessment, a school wide assessment and a plan for each student to find out what their values are, what their needs are.”

The national program has been in place in Troup County for 27 years and served 2,300 students in the county last year, and despite common misconceptions, Coverson clarified that students in the program come in all shapes and sizes. A CIS group of advanced placement students at Long Cane recently formed a book club and plan to discuss the literary classic, A Brave New World.

“A lot of people think that students drop out of school because they just don’t like school, or they’re lazy, or they just don’t want to be there, but we find that there are so many different reasons,” said Coverson. “… We have students that come to school, and last night they didn’t have electricity. Maybe last night they didn’t eat dinner. We have parents that are incarcerated overnight and those students are displaced and have to go live with the grandmother, aunt or neighbor, and all those different things – students who don’t have glasses, who go to school with a toothache, no coats, no shoes, not the appropriate clothes, no school supplies – we have all those different issues facing our students, and they bring that to school with us, so of course academics is the furthest thing from their mind, so we work with the students.

“We work with the families to help overcome those barriers, so that their sole focus can be education. Our teachers and our administrators who work in our school systems do a phenomenal job, but if you have a school with 1,200 students, it is hard to focus and provide that individualized service to each student, and that is what we do.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national graduation rate for the 2013-2014 school year – which was published in 2015 – hit an all-time high of 82 percent of students who graduated within four years of beginning their freshman year of high school. Troup County’s latest graduation rate was 76 percent. Meanwhile, according to Coverson, 93 percent of students who participate in CIS graduate within four years.

“With the jobs that are coming to Troup County, we need to have people who are finishing school, and are ready and available – if not to go to college – to go to the work force and be successful, and that is what we are trying to do,” said Coverson. “You know 122 students (not graduating) may or may not sound like a lot, but right now with our current graduation rate, that number of students that is not graduating is really costing this county about $7 million (in prisons), so our program is actually worth $7 million, but it costs nowhere near that to operate, so I think it is a great investment.”

Coverson hopes to expand the program to serve all the middle and high schools in Troup County in the future because in her experience being able to continue relationships from middle school to high school appears to yield the best results, but at the cost to the program of about $700 per student per year, that growth is directly tied to funding.

“That may seem high – that may seem low – but if you look at the alternative – when you see that 75 percent of inmates in prisons are also high school drop outs – $700 versus the $28,000 a year it costs to maintain a prisoner or an inmate,” Coverson said. “I think it is worth it.”

CIS is a nationally accredited, non-profit organization who receives funding from the department of education, the school system, the city and independent donors. To learn more about the program or get involved call 706-298-7121 or visit them on their website at or on Facebook.