LaToya Montague was one of the first students to receive a scholarship from Communities in Schools of Wake County. She went on to college but was compelled to volunteer for the organization, which partners with Wake schools to help students in need. The group eventually hired her, and now as executive director Montague helps thousands of at-risk youth stay in school and excel in life.
Q: Communities in Schools of Wake County launched in 1990. When did you find out about it, and how did it help you?
A: It was 1994, and I was in the later stages of high school. Really connecting with leaders in the area helped me understand what to do next. Through mentoring I was able to shape my outlook with a little more definition, and I was able to see different opportunities in terms of career attainment. I had a mentor who was a marketer with Nortel at the time. To meet this professional woman and to connect on a regular basis really shaped my interest in the business genre.
Q: The organization served more than 2,700 students in public schools and community learning centers in 2016. How does it work?
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A: The approach is really two-pronged. We focus on academic case management and academic enrichment to stimulate engagement inside the classroom and out. We identify where students’ trouble areas are, but we also provide certified teachers to support them academically to improve outcomes.
The learning centers are in partnership with the Raleigh Housing Authority, open to all residents. We provide an after-school environment for a nutritious snack, academic assistance with certified educators and also hands-on activities that have a STEM focus.
Q: How do you deal with students who have behavioral issues?
A: What we want to do is have students be better equipped with the skills to say, "I’m angry, and I can choose how I respond to the situation," which typically keeps them grounded within the school instead of being suspended. We focus on those students who’ve had high behavioral incidents so we can mitigate that.
Q: What’s it like to lead the organization that helped you go to college?
A: It’s an amazing experience to know that I can serve as a guide for the students we’re working with because someone provided guidance and support for me. I love to wake up and go to work every day because I know I have the opportunity to change the trajectory of a life, a family and, ultimately, society.
Q: How did you end up working for CIS, which is a national network with local affiliates?
A: The scholarship that I received was originally $2,500 for the year, and the requirement was four hours of community service, and I said, "I think I can give a little more time than that." I started volunteering a lot and eventually became a part-time employee. My entire career has been spent with Communities in Schools of Wake County. I really understand how it all works together.
Q: What inspired you to make this your career path?
A: The connectivity with the students and the family is where my heart lies. One thing that’s been very eye opening: We are who we are based on our experiences. And we can use those experiences to leverage great things for ourselves as well as others.
Q: You recently found out you will receive a national alumni service award called “All in for Students” later this year. What did it mean to be nominated by the CIS management team and board?
A: It was such a tremendous honor to know my peers and my board felt so confident about the work that I do — and have done over the past 18 years to make sure that students of all backgrounds have access to opportunity.
Q: What’s your goal with the organization moving forward?
A: I’m definitely interested in expanding our profile in our community and letting people know about the great work we do. It’s so important to the school system, our society, students and families to make sure everyone has access. My ultimate goal — big-dream-pie-in-the-sky? I would love to be in every Wake County school that needs us.
LaToya Montague — Tar Heel of the Week
Born: March 28, 1977, in Raleigh
Organization: Communities in Schools of Wake County
Education: Degree in business management from N.C. State
Family: Married; two kids
Awards: National CIS Alumni Service Award, “All in for Students”