By Lisa Lusk
Director of School Success

Sandra is a single mother raising three children. She is employed, but the income is not enough to support her family. Her estranged husband offered no financial support and her income was too high to qualify for government assistance. At the beginning of the school year, staff at her children’s school referred Sandra to 360 Communities Partners For Success Family Support Worker Elizabeth.

Partners For Success employs family support workers in 32 Dakota County schools in 7 school districts to implement effective home-based strategies that stabilize families with connection to community resources, relationships that increase parental involvement, and support that improves academic performance for students.

Elizabeth worked closely with Sandra to provide additional resources for her family such as school supplies, educational enrichment opportunities, and food support through a 360 Communities food shelf. The first grade teacher shared with Elizabeth that he had concerns about Sandra’s son Anthony’s progress. He said Anthony needed to work on his high frequency sight words (the, it, and, etc.) and reading.

Working with the teacher and Sandra, Elizabeth developed a family learning plan that helped Sandra to engage Anthony at home to support his academic goals. In the beginning, Sandra and Anthony would review the alphabet each night. Next, they worked on reviewing five sight words every day. Once the first five cards were mastered, then they moved on to five more. Elizabeth kept in regular contact with the teacher and Sandra, keeping an open line of communication regarding Anthony’s progress in the classroom.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, students who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. The same study says that one in six children who are not reading proficiently by third grade do not graduate on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

At the end of the school year, the teacher reported that Anthony had made huge gains. When they began the family learning plan, he knew ten letters of the alphabet and 20 sight words. By the end of the school year, he could recite the entire alphabet with letter sounds and he increased the number of sight words he knew to 150. Anthony has also shown a marked increase in confidence. In the past, an unknown word would shut him down, but today, based on his recent success, he understands that if he puts the work in, he will be successful.

Sandra says that her other children have also improved their study habits and have had the best academic year she can remember.

This is good news for Sandra and her children, and it underscores the significance of family support workers’ involvement in schools. When students lose confidence and drop out of school, the costs to students and society are steep. According to Princeton University, high school dropouts earn $260,000 less over a lifetime than high school graduates and pay $60,000 less in taxes. In addition, a Wilder Foundation study found that the K-12 Minnesota school system loses about $42 million each year in per-pupil aid because of students dropping out before high school graduation.

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