Student Support Specialist

SHOES looking at cameraEvery year in America, 1.2 million students, or one every nine seconds, drop out of school and lose the path to a better future. On a local level, high school dropout rates for Asheville City Schools (4.8%) and Buncombe County Schools (4.65%) are slightly higher than North Carolina overall (4.27%).

The Children First/Communities in Schools (CIS) Student Support Specialist program at Johnston, Estes, Claxton, Emma Elementary Schools and Eblen Intermediate School aims to change those statistics by empowering students to stay in school and achieve in life. A school-based Student Support Specialist connects students and their families to critical community resources that are tailored to their needs. This Specialist also provides students with a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to learn and grow and a healthy start.  They accomplish this by working with a site team (principal, counselor, social workers, and teachers) to develop a comprehensive site plan.  The plan includes services that address identified school-wide needs, or build and reinforce student assets. It also identifies services for specific students with high needs.  Using an evidence-based model of improving  school Attendance, Behaviors, Coursework and offering opportunities for Parent engagement (ABC+P) ensures at-risk students stay in school and achieve in life.

This combination of services ensures that students are getting the academic and personal support they need to stay in school and achieve in life. The Student Support Specialist provides holistic services within the school day and in the community to both the child and his or her family.

Here is just one example of what this means:

A student at Johnston Elementary School lost his mother to an illness two weeks after school began.  He was absent for several weeks.  Our Student Support Specialist at Johnston Elementary and the school social worker made multiple home visits to the grandmother’s home, where the child was living. They brought the child’s school work and got services with Hospice set up for the first day he returned to school.

Our Student Support Specialist continued the home visits throughout the year, and provided his grandmother with resources for the family, since they were struggling to make ends meet on the grandmother’s Social Security income.    Children First/Communities In Schools provided Food Boxes, Holiday Assistance, and school supplies.  At one point the child’s glasses broke. Although he is a Medicaid recipient, he was ineligible to receive a second pair of glasses – even though he has a unique prescription and is almost blind in one eye.  Through Children First/CIS, we were able to obtain the eye prescription and purchase the glasses for him before his final exams.

On a recent visit with the family the child’s grandmother told her that she was having a challenge with his teacher and school work. The Student Support Specialist role-played scenarios with the grandmother and coordinated her on how to communicate in a positive way that would best support the child and his education.  The grandmother and the child’s teacher had a successful meeting, and grandma saw positive results.


As you can see from this simple story, too many children in our community arrive in the classroom with the weight of the world keeping them from being able to concentrate on learning and thriving.  By empowering students to achieve in school and life, we are building a better Buncombe County, where every person is capable of reaching his or her greatest potential.

According to the American Psychological Association, “School programs that focus on social, emotional, and academic learning from kindergarten through high school have been found to improve school attitudes, behavior, and academic performance.

An independent study conducted by ICF International established that “Communities In Schools is the only dropout prevention program in the nation proven to increase graduation rates, graduating students on time with a high school diploma.” The Student Support Specialist engages community partners and volunteers to address both the academic and social service needs of students. The result is improved attendance, behavior, academic performance, retention rates and graduation rates.

The target population is economically disadvantaged children (grades K- 5th grade) and their families living in two public housing complexes and a Section 8 apartment complex in West Asheville. Action for Children of North Carolina and Buncombe County records report: 1 in 4 children in Buncombe County are living in poverty; and schools in our service area have above 80 percent eligibility for free and reduced cost lunches because their families live on income at no more than 130 percent of the poverty line.

Amanda Fox, Student Support Specialist at  Emma Elementary
828.620.8648/Emma Elementary: 828-232-4272

Dani Wilbur, Student Support Specialist at  Eblen Intermediate
828.216-8241/Emma Elementary: 828-232-4272

Thomas Priester, Student Support Specialist at Johnston Elementary
828-407-7515/Johnston Elementary: 828-232-4291

Student Support Specialist at Claxton Elementary

Megan Trasport, Student Support Specialist at Estes Elementary



Children First/Communities In Schools Buncombe County
50 S. French Broad Ave. Ste. #246
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 259-9717


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