A typical bus ride home from school changed Meredith Nelson’s perspective of her peers at Myers Park High.
“I was riding the bus last semester going home when a girl asked me if I could read her report card to her,” Meredith said.
The request caught her off guard, but Meredith read out the report card. The student said she couldn’t afford glasses, so she couldn’t see the text. Meredith noted she was failing all but one of her standard courses.
“Myers Park is not normally recognized with students who need help,” Meredith said. “But we really believe education leads to success, and I want all (students) to be able to succeed.”
As soon as she stepped off the bus that day, Meredith said, she brainstormed with her mom about ways to help that student, and others – and thought of Communities In Schools (CIS). A national dropout prevention program, CIS aims to surround students with community support and help them achieve success in school. CIS of Charlotte-Mecklenburg serves more than 6,500 students each year, in 44 high-poverty Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
The program had a home at Myers Park about eight years ago, but during the recession and budget cuts, CIS, along with school social workers, were pulled from the school, said Kristen Lanier, assistant principal.
Meredith wants to bring CIS back to Myers Park and needs to raise $70,000 to do so. That would help hire a site coordinator and provide necessary supplies and services to participating students for one year, said May Johnston, spokeswoman for CIS. There’s no guarantee it would continue, though.
“We think it’s very admirable of (Meredith) to take this on,” Johnston said. “We want to have continuities and we try to find sponsors, but (it’s not) definite that it would exist after a year,” Johnston said.
Meredith is determined to try. So, as part of the Myers Park student leadership team, Meredith pitched the idea to that group of bringing a CIS site coordinator to campus. It was a hit. She met with CIS in January to learn about the steps required.
“These students are the future leaders in the community,” Meredith said.
As Meredith and a group of friends began to delve into specific demographics of students at Myers Park High, she found out that about a third of the students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
For the 2011-12 school year, there were 858 students who received reduced lunches and 72 that received free lunches out of the student body of 2,755 at Myers Park, said Stacy Sneed, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spokeswoman.
“We hope this will extend over the long term,” said Chase Bengel, a rising senior who pitched in to help fuel Meredith’s idea.
So far, the students at Myers Park High have raised $18,500, said Marinn Bengel, parent supporter at Myers Park. To help raise awareness, Meredith sought the help of friends to create an informational video about CIS to distribute within the community.
The teens pitched the concept to people by asking individuals to donate $700 to sponsor one child for a year through CIS.
Their goal is to have the necessary funds pledged in July so the program can be implemented in the fall.