A nonprofit that helps students at risk of dropping out of school will be able to expand to new school districts and communities after receiving a $2.1 million donation from the Ballmer Group.

The nonprofit, Communities in Schools of Washington, is serving 80,000 students in public schools this year. The money will allow the program to expand to 25,000 additional students over a three-year period.

Only about 81 percent of Washington high-school students graduated on time in 2018, and while it’s an improvement from a decade ago, it still means one of every five doesn’t finish high school in four years.

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Communities in Schools places site coordinators — people with expertise in connecting students to community resources — to work full-time within selected schools. That wraparound approach is meant to tackle all the different things that can cause a student to stumble, from poverty and homelessness to struggles with specific academic subjects, said Jeannie Nist, associate director of Communities in Schools of Washington.

For example, the site coordinator might locate a tutor, assist with housing, pair a student with a mentor or help find medical or dental care, she said

The program operates in a number of Western Washington school districts already, including Seattle, Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton and Tacoma.


In a 2017 report, the research group Child Trends wrote that it was optimistic about the results of programs like these, saying that wraparound approaches had either a positive or neutral effect on student success. Vancouver Public Schools uses a similar approach to providing services, but does it in-house, rather than partnering with a group such as Communities in Schools.

Ballmer Group is a philanthropic organization formed by Connie Ballmer and her husband Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO.