On March 22, Professors Rena Shifflet and Alan Bates along with 19 Illinois State University preservice teachers from the class Teach 204 visited Willa Cather Elementary School in the East Garfield Park community of Chicago as part of their course work.
East Garfield Park is one of the five partner neighborhoods that the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline (CTEP) works with in creating, fostering, and sustaining community oriented and resilient teachers. Within East Garfield Park, Breakthrough Urban Ministries is the community-based organization that CTEP works with to partner with schools and community members at large.
Breakthrough Urban Ministries’ mission is restoring the broken networks of youth and families and empowering adults in the community to achieve self-sufficiency and break the cycle of poverty.
Valentina Gamboa-Turner, program coordinator at CTEP, worked closely with Gynger Garcia, community liaison at Breakthrough, Shifflet, and with Barbara Relerford, assistant principal at Cather Elementary, to make the trip possible.
“Valentina and I sat with Cather’s assistant principal months before the visit asking her what events were already in place, where this visit can come alongside and support,” Garcia said. “We decided that ‘Family Math Night’ would be a great opportunity to collaborate.”
Cather Elementary was celebrating its third annual Family Math Night, wherein students and family members engaged in after-school activities centered in developing and building foundational math concepts through games. With the guidance of Shifflet, Illinois State University preservice teachers were able to develop and bring with them different math-based games and raffle prizes to share with the students and families.
Family Math Night was originally envisioned and brought to life by the teachers and administrative team at Cather Elementary. Cather Elementary serves a mostly African-American population on the West Side of Chicago.
In addition to participating in the Family Math Night, the preservice teachers were able to meet with community members prior to the day’s event to talk with them about issues surrounding urban education and the West Side Community of Chicago. “We thought it was important to get the parent and community perspective to help the students begin their practice as community-minded teachers,” Gamboa-Turner said. “We wanted to model how one goes about engaging parent leaders within the community to show them that it is feasible and possible.”
Furthermore, Shifflet, Bates, and students enjoyed a homemade soul food dinner catered by a local grandparent before heading back to campus that evening. “Charlene Porter is a critical partner to the Breakthrough organization and has provided dinners and gatherings for educators and community folk. We wanted to include her cooking in this session to highlight the assets and expose the students to community culture through food,” Gamboa-Turner said.
Garcia reflects on the visit: “The event was well attended and an overall community success! Overall, the visit showcased a true sense of reciprocity and solidarity.”