Communities in Schools

Communities in Schools

Every 26 seconds, a student in the United States drops out of high school. Within the confines of the Lehigh Valley, approximately 2.5 students drop out every single day. In 1970, the US held the highest graduation rate out of all developed countries. Today, it ranks 22nd out of 27.

While these numbers are staggering, there’s still hope.

“Every student is one caring adult away from becoming a success story.”
– Tim Mulligan, President and CEO of Communities in Schools Lehigh Valley.

Communities in Schools is the nation’s largest and most effective organization dedicated to preventing at-risk children from dropping out by equipping students and their families with the resources and support they need to stay in school and succeed in life. They work with school administrators to mobilize local services, ranging from family counseling to food banks to tutoring, so that these underprivileged students have a better chance of reaching their full potential.

“We take care of the non-academic barriers that keep kids from succeeding academically – basic needs, mental health needs, parents out of work, or housing issues,” Mulligan says, recalling a particularly unfortunate circumstance from the past.

“One family, a mother and two children, were an hour away from becoming homeless – they had plans to sleep in a park,” he says. “This was a family who just didn’t realize there were resources in the community for them. Our staff helped them make those connections so that this mother could provide for her children.”

The organization works to provide connections like those with the most at-risk students in the Lehigh Valley. Many of these students are prevented from engaging academically due to circumstances that extend far beyond the classroom – it’s hard to stay focused if you have untreated medical ailments, are hungry, or have an unstable or unsafe home environment.

Next year, Communities in Schools will be in 22 schools across the Lehigh Valley, which will allow the organization to positively influence the futures of 15,000 students, with intensive targeted interventions for approximately 2000 of those students.

One way they positively influence the futures of these children is simply by getting them to think about it. Through partnerships with local companies like Olympus, students gain exposure to a range of jobs and industries that may await them once they complete their high school educations. According to Mulligan, more than 100 at-risk middle and high-school students tuned into these job shadowing opportunities last year, learning about potential employment possibilities and the steps they would need to take to secure these positions. Another way is by providing them with before, during, and after-school programs where students receive mentorship, help with subjects like math and reading, and socialize without risky environments and activities.

How effective are these strategies? With the help of Communities in Schools, nine in 10 at-risk seniors in the Lehigh Valley graduate on time, 73% of students improve academically, and two-thirds improve their attendance and behavior.

Unfortunately, 1.2 million students still drop out of high school across the United States every year. These students will not only earn an estimated $200,000 less than a high school graduate over his or her lifetime, but also cost their communities an estimated $292,000 in lost tax revenue and needs for public assistance and incarceration.

“Dropout is really the community’s concern, not just the school district’s concern,” Mulligan says. “If we can prevent dropout, not only will that young person have infinitely more possibilities in their life and a more satisfying life, but it’s also good for the community – the community doesn’t have to support that person, who in turn is able to contribute to it. It’s really in everyone’s interest to do everything we can to eliminate the dropout problem. We have to do better.”

While Communities in Schools aims to intervene before a dropout occurs, sometimes it happens anyway – but even then, it’s still not too late. This summer, Communities in Schools will begin Graduate Allentown, a joint partnership with the Allentown School District and Workforce Investment.

“We’re going to go out and find kids who have dropped out and invite them to take a second chance at school,” Mulligan says.

Graduate Allentown will offer a tailored academic environment built upon the needs and restraints of students who have dropped out, and feature a strong career preparation component. “They may be pregnant, have young children, or have demanding work schedules,” Mulligan says. “There is a lot we’re going to have to work with to help them be successful.”

But their success and the success of our communities is within reach. Consider the case of one student who was expelled for bringing a weapon to school, involved in gangs, and “was right on track to drop out,” Mulligan says. With the help of Communities in Schools, she graduated from high school. Today, she owns her own car, has an apartment, and recently received a promotion at work. Another student, Mulligan recalls, left school for two years and with the right support, ended up graduating from Muhlenberg College after essentially being a high-school dropout.

As Mulligan says, “When a child knows that there’s someone who believes in them, anything is possible.”

Communities in Schools would be unable to perform their valuable services without the generosity of our community, and they are always looking for volunteers and donations. For more information about how you can help, visit or call 484.834.8830.

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