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ISU alum models community-minded teaching

Students working at a garden

North River Elementary students visit Albany Park's Global Gardens Refugee Training Farm for a two-day service project, in which students learned about refugee resettlement and the refugee populations living in their community.

The Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline prepares culturally-responsive, community-minded urban educators to teach and nurture Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students to reach their potential.

Christine Cuartero ’11, a 7th and 8th grade teacher at North River Elementary School, is a prime example of the type of educator the Pipeline hopes to develop for neighborhood schools. Christine has been teaching at North River for the past five years. It is a small neighborhood school in Albany Park with 336 students, predominately Hispanic and low-income.

Christine Cuartero has been teaching at North River Elementary School for the past five years.

Christine was a special education major at Illinois State and considers the program a great foundation for her career. In fact, she’s still in contact with Krystal Lewis, an ISU field base coordinator who was Christine’s cooperating teacher during student teaching at Bloomington Junior High. Christine also turns to Clinical Assistant Professor Ree Hartman for mentorship. Lewis and Hartman both continue to support and contribute to the alumnus’ career.

Additionally, CTEP’s STEP-UP program was an integral part of Christine’s roots in urban education.

“I was very certain that I wanted to teach in Chicago, but it was through STEP-UP that I learned to do so with confidence,” she says.

STEP-UP taught her the value of community in education, and the educator’s role in facilitating positive connections among students, teachers, families, schools, and community based organizations. This network is vital to student success and community growth. While this system of mutual supports and multi-directional learning is difficult to maintain, Christine believes it’s worth the effort.

According to Christine, a community teacher is “one that connects and collaborates outside of the classroom.” Christine lives in Albany Park, the community where she teaches, and is personally invested in the neighborhood where she teaches. Her collaborations with local organizations and her relationships with students and families are deeper and more meaningful because they are a part of the same community.

Christine Cuartero and and her students assist in readying the farm for planting season.

Christine collaborates with CTEP’s lead community partner in Albany Park, North River Commission (NRC), a community development corporation serving neighborhoods on the Northwest side of Chicago. In addition to being part of NRC’s Education Committee, which focuses on creating a coalition of neighborhood schools, fundraising workshops for school groups, student voice initiatives, and out of school enrichment opportunities, Christine started a service club at North River Elementary. The North River Service Club offers students the ability to learn more about the rich culture of their neighborhood while creating a positive impact.

Furthermore, Christine is piloting Mikva Challenge’s Project Soapbox with her students. The program coaches students to choose issues most important to them and create persuasive speeches on said issues to present to an audience of judges, which will include parents, teachers, residents, community organizations, and the local alderman. The goal is to garner interest from a network of Northwest side schools and work together towards civically engaging youth.

Christine recognizes the barriers that exist in being an effective community educator. The systems in which we operate are in silos and structurally do not lend to collaboration. Therefore, a community-minded teacher must work to deconstruct these institutions, while simultaneously struggling to best use the limited time and resources public educators are dealt both inside and outside of the classroom.

Christine understands teachers are just one of the variables short-changed in the equation.

“Overall, our communities are not supported as they deserve, and it impacts everyone,” she said.

Author Brienne Ahearn is education coordinator at the North River Commission.

Comments

So so proud of our Christine! A strong teacher from the start, she has already done, and is still doing, amazing things!

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