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Communities in Schools brings caring relationships to lonely students


To bring consistent, caring relationships into the lives of hungry, lonely and sometimes angry elementary, middle and high school students, Communities in Schools (CIS) is expanding its program of providing mentors to meet with them each week.

Ann Marie Flock, Spokane CIS
Ann Marie Floch pairs mentors with students in Spokane and Cheney schools.

Ann Marie Floch, family engagement and mentoring specialist with CIS for five years, is recruiting and training people 18 years or older to spend an hour a week at their convenience with the same student for a year.

Mentors in the PrimeTime Mentoring Program have lasting influence on the lives of children who are at risk academically and because of behavior, increasing their chances of success in school and beyond, she said.

“Nearly all of the children mentored graduate,” said Ann Marie.  “One hour is a precious investment.  Mentors receive as much as students.  It’s not counseling or tutoring, but taking high-risk children and letting them know they matter by just being with them.”

Teachers and principals report improvements in academics, attendance and classroom behavior.

Communities in Schools, a national program that started in 1977, began in Spokane five years ago.

CIS opened in a storefront in Atlanta in response to people seeing children without structure or support.  It is now in 27 states and the District of Columbia, helping 1.3 million students in 2,000 schools.  CIS in Spokane is the 11th of 12 Washington affiliates.  

Sherri Barrett has been executive director in Spokane for three years.

Mentors visit, play games or do other activities with students.

“One mentor in her late 20s met with a nine-year-old boy for the last two months of school.  He said nothing to her.  She came, sat with him and ate lunch with him, perhaps commenting on the weather,” Ann Marie said.  “On the last day, the student thanked her for being with him.”

She expressed her caring by her presence, and the boy’s behavior in class improved.

Another mentor worked with a kindergarten girl.  The girl did not look at her or talk.  The mentor, who was retirement age, brought a puzzle of a fish and began putting it together.  The girl made no comment, but when the puzzle was done, came to find Ann Marie and show it to her.

“Are you going to come every week?” the girl asked the mentor.  They bonded.  Now the girl, who is in and out of foster care, is in first grade.  She went from being silent to chatty.

Mentors in middle and high school make a difference, especially if they follow a student through school.

Mentors, who undergo background checks before being assigned a student, sign in at the school, meet with the child and take the child back to class. They have no contact outside of school, except at a summer barbecue.

CIS now has 149 mentors in Spokane and Cheney schools.

In Spokane, the program is at Cooper, Grant, Logan, Regal, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Stevens elementary schools; Chase, Garry, Sacajawea and Shaw middle schools, and Rogers High School. 

In Cheney, it is at Betz, Salnave, Snowdon, Sunset and Windsor elementary schools; Cheney and Westwood middle schools, and Cheney High School. 

Spokane Valley schools have their own mentoring program.

Ann Marie’s goal is to have 400 mentors.

“Teachers are helpful, allowing us time with the students, losing some time academically, but gaining in changes in their lives,” she said.  “Students wait for their mentor to come.  It’s hard if the mentor misses because of illness, so they can come another day.”

Students know what they say is confidential. The Primetime Mentoring is a way for children to gain support by talking with someone safe, someone who is on their side. 

Mentors are honest, telling mentees if their behavior is inappropriate, offensive, disrespectful or hurtful, then redirecting those behaviors and encouraging positive, more appropriate behaviors.

Mentors do things with students, talk about what they are doing, ask them questions and ask them to show what they are doing.  They learn to ask questions that do not have one right answer, but that lead to more questions and conversation.

They learn to pay attention, make eye contact, listen actively, paraphrase, set aside judgment, and communicate with empathy, understanding and affirmation.

“Washington has a high percentage of incarcerated parents,” said Ann Marie, who taught grade school in Iowa, Minnesota and Washington for many years as a School Sister of Notre Dame.

She joined the order out of college and later left while she was studying for a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling.

“I’ve always had a heart for children,” said Ann Marie.

She went on the CIS committee four years ago and began teaching parenting classes with them.

The program helps provide for basic needs, academic support, mentoring, after-school enrichment and community service, parent engagement, and college and career exploration.

“Our goal is to strengthen families, as well as students,” she said.

CIS helps meet basic needs through weekend food, hygiene kits, clothing closets, medical and dental referrals and food pantries.  It also helps with homework, summer school and tutoring, as well as parenting training and scholarships for college-bound students.

“I tell parents that every child is a gift, inviting them to ‘unwrap the gift.’ Every child starts as a whole human being, thinking, feeling, choosing behaviors when they lack vocabulary—just needing to develop with age and growth.”

Ann Marie offers parenting training at schools and in churches, if enough in a church request it.

Mentors include college students, professionals, retirees, businesses and members of faith communities.

“We are reaching out to congregations to invite them to adopt a school as a way to provide more mentors,” she said, noting that Life Center Church in Spokane has “adopted” Sheridan Elementary School. 

That would reduce her efforts in recruiting individual mentors by sending emails, phoning and writing letters.  She recently gave presentations to the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals, the Episcopal Diocese, the Lutheran Convention, the Latter-day Saints, Grace Fellowship and South Hill Bible Church.

She is reaching out to groups of retired people, Volunteers of America, Avista, Umqua Bank and U.S. Bank.

Sometimes, people volunteer as individuals and meet with individuals.  Other times, people come in groups and meet with individuals or groups of students.

“We may operate on a limited budget, but we have a high impact,” said Ann Marie, who attends Sacred Heart Parish.

In the 2013-14 school year, 68 percent of participants improved attendance, 83 percent improved in reading, 85 percent in math and 90 percent in behavior.

For information, call 413-1439 or email

Copyright © February 2015 - The Fig Tree