Children First/CIS Working Warriors after-school program provides middle-schoolers with life skills, future options

Photo courtesy of Children First/CIS

From Children First/Communities In Schools:

Children First/Communities In Schools helps students discover strengths and skills
After-school club for 5th & 6th graders introduces future possibilities for college and career

(Asheville NC- March 5, 2018) “It’s never too early to start thinking about college and career paths,” says Danielle (Dani) Wilber, the Student Support Specialist at Eblen Intermediate for local non-profit, Children First/Communities In Schools (CIS).

This philosophy was Dani’s inspiration for creating the Working Warriors club for 5th and 6th graders at Eblen Intermediate School. This Thursday after-school club provides a healthy snack, homework assistance and activities, games or guest speakers that teach about the importance of social skills, body language, how to fill out resumes and applications, and how to be responsible.

Photo courtesy of Children First/CIS
Photo courtesy of Children First/CIS

Research has shown that introducing life-skills, college possibilities and career readiness for young students can have long-lasting benefits,” says Dani.

For example, recently a guest speaker came and talked about what he looks for in potential employees and the importance of following directions for job interviews. He held a discussion on which academic studies are relevant for different career choices and led the students in an exercise that highlighted the importance of saving money.

At the end of the day, students who don’t get picked up by their parents board the Children First/CIS mini-bus, and Dani drives them home. For many low-income students, transportation barriers are the number one reason why they are unable to participate in after-school programs. Alleviating this barrier was instrumental in the development of the club.

Dani is one of five Children First/CIS Student Support Specialists placed in local schools. As the Student Support Specialist at Eblen Intermediate School, she works with school staff, parents, and community members to identify needs such as growth in math, science, and literacy. She then develops a site plan at the beginning of the year and implement solutions at the individual student level and the school-wide level.

Photo courtesy of Children First/CIS
Photo courtesy of Children First/CIS

Her role is to connect students and their families to community resources with the goal of empowering students to stay in school and achieve in life. This ensures that students are getting the academic and personal support they need to succeed. Children First/CIS Student Support Specialists advocate for the student, connect the student to much needed resources such as medical care, tutoring, or supplemental food, and work with the parents to involve them in their child’s education and success.

Providing these supports is especially important in schools where a high number of students are living in poverty.

When children arrive to school distracted by hunger, housing instability, a lack of medical care or a number of other issues affecting children living in poverty, they are unable to focus on their schoolwork, if they are even able to make it to school at all.

All of these risk factors can lead to increased chances of dropping out during high-school.

73.6 percent of students at Eblen Intermediate participate in the National School Lunch Program, which is a leading poverty indicator. To qualify for free lunch, children’s family income must be under $31,980 or $600 a week. 

But afterschool programming has been shown to provide a safe space for students to develop social, emotional and physical skill building that they need to achieve life success. This is especially relevant for children in low-income families. In his 2004 book Class and Schools, policy analyst Richard Rothstein states that afterschool programs are a way to balance the inequity that exists between poor and middle class students, not only in terms of academic achievement, but also in the enhancement of critical personal skills. When middle class students leave school in the afternoon, they have a host of places to go, such as Girl and Boy Scouts, sports groups, and classes in art, music and dance. Less-advantaged students are more likely to watch television or play informally. They may miss out on structured activities that help students learn social responsibility, improve academic proficiency, and develop organizational skills and discipline that make them more effective.

Photo courtesy of Children First/CIS
Photo courtesy of Children First/CIS

When Dani originated the idea for Working Warriors, she specifically wanted to address these risk factors and “guide them through their behaviors and choices so they can put their own values into their decision making,” she says. “And I definitely want to offer opportunities that get them to start thinking about college and their career path as soon as possible.”

Just recently, she took a group of her Working Warriors on a campus tour of Western Carolina University, which also happens to be her alma mater. They attended a basketball game, walked the campus, and even tossed around a Frisbee with some of the college students.

It was a great trip,” says Dani. “Between the smiles, laughs, hugs, and ‘Thank You! This is the best!’ we also had exciting conversations about higher education and future careers. My goal is for them to see their strengths and skills and use that knowledge to help direct them towards the school or career of their choice.”

And it is already showing results. “I had a parent come up to me a few days after our trip to tell me that her daughter was planning on attending WCU when she graduated.”

The students love the club as well. “Ms. Dani is fun, and we get to learn about stuff we never knew about before,” says Cheyenne, a 5th grader. “And the snacks are awesome,” she adds.

The mood in the after-school club moves organically from hushed concentration to excited chatter, as students express their opinions, laugh, ask questions and ponder possibilities. And Dani is there to guide them, support them, laugh with them and help them think about how they can be their best selves.

I like coming to the Working Warriors Club,” says a 6th grader. “I like it because Ms. Dani and my friends welcome me, and I get to make new friends. I learn new things and people are there to help me.”

The Working Warriors after-school club funding is provided by a grant from the Asheville Merchants Fund of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. For more information, visit

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