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Palo Alto College, Communities in Schools expand dropout prevention efforts to the collegiate level

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Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
Palo Alto College student Chantz Boyd signs an agreement between PAC and Communities in Schools of San Antonio to symbolically represent the community's commitment to the partnership's efforts to keep students in college. PAC President Robert Garza, CIS-SA CEO Jessica Weaver and Alamo College board members Yvonne Katz and Lorraine Pulido look on.

A first-of-its-kind partnership between Communities in Schools of San Antonio and Palo Alto College is helping students finish their degree after taking a break or dropping out.

Communities in Schools traditionally works in K-12 schools, supporting students’ non-academic needs in order to help them stay enrolled. Now, the nonprofit is doing the same work at Palo Alto.

“We can no longer say that it's OK for our students to (drop out) and not be successful. That's not OK,” said Robert Garza, president of Palo Alto College. “If we can't get a hold of you and connect with you, we're going to your home. We’re going to your home to find out what's going on, not to be intrusive, but to say how can we help?”

Garza said Palo Alto has a lot of resources for students, from child care to help paying for utilities, but sometimes students aren’t comfortable asking for help.

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“We're South Side proud, we're Palo Alto College proud. Sometimes that's a hard conversation to have,” Garza said. “But when you're at somebody's home, there's a sense of vulnerability. It's like breaking bread for the first time. And now we can have a conversation.”

Communities in Schools of San Antonio CEO Jessica Weaver said the partnership with Palo Alto is a natural fit because the nonprofit is already in most of the high schools in the area.

“Several years ago, as an agency, we looked at ourselves and said, ‘Graduation from high school is not enough for our kids. And that can't be our North Star,’” said Weaver. “We know the obstacles that our students face through high school don't go away just because you're 18 or 19 and you've enrolled in college.”

A pilot version of the partnership started in the fall of 2021 placed two Communities in Schools employees on the Palo Alto campus as re-engagement specialists. Using a list provided by the college, the specialists made nearly 1,000 phone calls and visited around 200 homes.

As a result of their efforts, Weaver said 330 students have re-enrolled in classes.

Communities in Schools also has an employee stationed at Palo Alto to help students transition from high school to college and provide support once they’re enrolled. That position started before the pandemic using funding from Bank of America.

Garza said funding for the new partnership originally came from federal COVID relief dollars. He added institution dollars will pay for the program in the future, possibly including funding donated by Mackenzie Scott last year.

Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores and Communities in Schools National President Rey Saldaña said they plan to use the partnership at Palo Alto as a proof of concept, in hopes of implementing similar initiatives at the other Alamo Colleges and in other chapters of Communities in Schools.

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