A reflection from Devin Childs, professional development chair for UNITE (Urban Need In Teacher Education) at Illinois State University:

“It is very rewarding to plan a trip to Chicago and to have our current members immersed into classrooms in an urban community. This month, UNITE had the pleasure of coming to East Garfield Park to observe classes at Beidler Elementary and volunteer at Breakthrough Urban Ministries.

I was excited by the opportunity to visit East Garfield Park with fellow UNITE members. After volunteering with Breakthrough during a winter break trip and working with the organization again this summer through STEP-UP, I believe East Garfield Park will always have a soft spot in my heart.

On this clinical trip, participants included students who were experiencing a Chicago public school for the very first time. I always love the chance to introduce a different side of Chicago to other UNITE members. It’s not too often that people get the opportunity to have an exclusive, inside look into a neighborhood school. During our observations we met with various teachers and staff at Beidler Elementary, including the principal, Mrs. Hoskins.

After a morning in school, we went to Breakthrough FamilyPlex for lunch and an afternoon of volunteer work. Many of our members had not been to the FamilyPlex before, and I was happy to share some of the programs and resources the facility provides to local families. During the visit we learned that almost 20 years ago, students in the neighborhood came up with the idea for a community center. A number of the features they envisioned are incorporated today, such as a gymnasium, a cafeteria, and classrooms for after school tutoring. As a center for families, not just students, Breakthrough also has facilities like a fitness center and meditation room that are of great use to adults as well. In addition, the FamilyPlex is home to Bridge Café, an affordable coffee shop, and Breakthrough Beginners, an early childhood education center.

UNITE members connecting with students during after school activities.

UNITE members connecting with students during after-school activities.

When students were dismissed from nearby schools, they came to the FamilyPlex for after school activities. My peers and I were able to connect with them by working on puzzles with younger students in the second-floor classrooms and playing Horse with the older students on the basketball court. The students told us their favorite subjects in school and asked questions about college life. The experience reminded me that relationships adolescents create with the adults around them ultimately affect their future.

Through my coursework at Illinois State University, I have learned that many factors go into an adolescent student’s success, whether that is success in the classroom or success as an active member of society. Organizations like Breakthrough and facilities like the FamilyPlex are assets of a community that support student achievement. UNITE recognizes the value of the opportunity to observe at Beidler Elementary and volunteer at Breakthrough, and we hope that we have many more trips like this in the future.

We believe that these first-hand experiences are going to make our members better advocates and better teachers for students in urban communities.”