Raven's Olympic Journey
At 15, Raven was overwhelmed by school, issues at home, and athletics. She was in a slump, simply going through the motions, and had trouble staying focused. After some tough talks with her track and field coach, Raven found herself sitting in front of Communities In Schools site coordinators, Katrina Bell and Robert Ellington.
Katrina and Robert helped Raven not only with home issues, but they also provided a safe place where she could just be herself. They also acted as guidance counselors, offering her some much needed assistance while giving her the time and space to make her own decisions about her future college and sports plans. By the time Raven entered her senior year of high school, she had turned her academic career around, and raised her GPA from a 2.1 to a 3.0. She was no longer just going through the motions.
With the help of coaches, teachers, CIS staff, friends, and family, Raven not only made improvements in school, but also huge leaps in track and field. In April 2014, she set a national prep record at the Taco Bell Classic, launching the shot put 17.28 meters to break a mark set in 2003, and she was recognized as the Gatorade Female Track & Field Athlete of the Year for 2013-14. Since then, her throws have gone further and further. She has captured three NCAA championships, the first two at Southern Illinois where she matriculated after graduating from Burke and the most recent one at the University of Mississippi where she transferred when her coach left Southern Illinois for Ole Miss. In the latter, she set an NCAA record of 19.33 meters.
In 2016, Raven joined the US Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro. After qualifying for the final eight, she finished fifth with a personal best of 19.35 meters in what is likely to be only the first of several Olympic appearances.
We are so very proud of Raven who has proven that when you set your mind to succeed, and with a team around you to help you along the way, there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome.
Music for Life
In 2015, Lee Jones, founder of “Music for Life”, partnered with Communities In Schools’ Student Support Specialist, Ms. McLeod, at Haut Gap Middle School on Johns Island, SC.
Music for Life is a non-profit program that utilizes music to regulate social and emotional behaviors in middle school students.
With the support of Ms. McLeod, Lee took on instructing eight (8) “amature musicians” from Haut Gap and shared with them his infectious love of music. Once enrolled in the program, students received their very own guitar to practice with so they could fine-tune their talent.
One student in particular that was greatly impacted by this program, was Aimee. A sixth grade student at Haut Gap, Aimee seemed like a natural fit to Ms. McLeod. Her physical disability kept her from participating in a lot of other activities in school. Ms. McLeod was excited to finally have an activity that she would not only enjoy, but that would accommodate her special needs. Aimee quickly started learning the guitar and it was obvious she was a natural!
By February, the halls of Haut Gap were filled with the sounds of new musicians. Daily, the students were mastering their craft learning everything from rock to blues – even practicing before and after school in Ms. McLeod’s office. The students started writing songs about the life experiences of a middle school student on topics including: standardized testing, drama amongst teenagers and Aimee’s particular complaint…a lack of mayonnaise.
Finally, came the big day…the end of the year performance. The students of Music for Life gathered together in front of their teachers, families and fellow classmates. They rocked out with performances of “Stand by Me”, “Radioactive” and of course…”Mayonnaise Blues.” Parents were stunned by how much their children had learned and each kids' excitement and confidence seemed to exude with every chord they played. There may not be anything we can do about Aimee’s “Mayonnaise Blues,” but she sure was smiling to have finally found a program where she belonged.
This is one of many examples of how strategic partnerships with Communities In Schools are able to bring in creative methods of learning to inspire, educate and motivate our youth. CIS is thrilled to have the partnership with Music for Life and can’t wait to see what this year brings. Rock on CIS friends, supporters, volunteers, and students!
Congratulations to St. John’s High School Graduate and CIS Alumnae Alexus Dandridge!
Since her freshman year at St. John’s High School in 2013, Alexus Dandridge has been a part of Communities In Schools (CIS) program. At an early age, Alexus was presented with multiple hardships that many adults will never have to experience in their lifetime. Despite the challenges, and through the support of her CIS Student Support Specialist, Ms. Nicole Cook, Alexus has persevered and given life her all.
“Alexus has matured into a confident, dedicated and accomplished young lady. She is an exceptional student with excellent grades and consistent work habits,” stated Ms. Cook. She went on to praise the athlete, Alexus also played volleyball and softball during high school career, “Alexus has given us just as much as we have given her. She volunteers with CIS, encouraging other students every chance she gets and continued to displays a great amount of grace and dignity with each challenge she faces. She also prides herself of character and respect for her peers and teachers.”
The CIS team is excited to share that this past spring Alexus graduated from St. Johns High School as the valedictorian!!! She was courted by some of the top schools in the country including: Columbia College, Mary Baldwin College, The University of Alabama, College of Charleston, and Coastal Carolina and she received more than $250,000 in academic scholarships.
With all these options, we think she made a pretty good decision! This bright and talented young woman has decided she will be attending Clemson University in the fall. While at Clemson, Alexus plans to begin her pursuit of a medical degree so she can’t become an anesthesiologist.
Ms.Cook said it best, “If Alexus’s performance over the past three (3) years is any indicator of her future performance, then she will make a great doctor and provide excellent healthcare to all of her patients! Be on the lookout for Dr. Alexus Dandridge in years to come!”
Congratulations Alexus. We are very proud of you and you will always have a place to call home with your CIS family!