The ISU National Center for Urban Education (NCUE) has always worked within a community-integrated model for teacher preparation. Our programs in Chicago, Decatur, and Peoria form partnerships with local community-based organizations as well as district schools, and an understanding of the community that surrounds and supports a school is paramount. Recently this model was put to the test during the Chicago Teacher Union eleven-day strike in October 2019.
During a teacher strike, school-age children need a safe and productive place to go. Community organizations have always fulfilled this need during days off from school, taking in children, and offering academic and enrichment activities as well as providing meals for Chicago Public School (CPS) students. Since ISU student teachers are not able to be at their placement schools during a strike, ISU Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline (CTEP) worked with our Chicago community partners to distribute students out to community sites that were taking in CPS children. This way, ISU students could continue to work with school-age children as well as see firsthand how communities come together to support families during a strike.
ISU Education students offered support at two community sites: Breakthrough and Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club (NGBC). Both sites worked on combining academics and enrichment, filling extensive days (8 a.m.–6 p.m.) as they served as both a school day and after school program during the strike. Though the days were long, many ISU students appreciated their frontline experience, seeing it as a learning opportunity.
“I was grateful to have had the opportunity to help support the NBGC during the strike as the positive impact their programming had on displaced students was incredible,” said ISU music education major Katy Reed. “Experiencing a strike was certainly not on my list of things to do while student teaching, but I am impressed with the strength of the union and the support seen from organizations like the NBGC and Breakthrough.”
Nadya Chiavola, ISU professional development schools (PDS) elementary education student, shared, ”Over the course of the two-week strike with Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, I had the amazing opportunity to work with kindergarten through 8th-grade students at Breakthrough Urban Ministries in East Garfield Park. During a time filled with public hostility towards educators in Chicago, I could not help but feel a strong sense of pride, solidarity, and love. The Breakthrough staff collaborated with Illinois State University student teachers to plan English Language Arts and Math activities along with a choice academy including gym, art, and technology to ensure students were not missing out on valuable learning opportunities. The immense amount of support from students, their families and organizations have restored my confidence in becoming a Chicago Public School teacher.”
ISU students were a critical component of the strike school day out in the community. Gynger Garcia of Breakthrough commented, “We could not have done 11 days of strike school without the support from ISU student teachers. Their ability to take initiative, engage, love our kiddos and be present was felt and appreciated!”
Brittany Nash, ISU special education student and CPS graduate, offered a unique perspective. “I remember when I was in school and lived through a strike as a CPS student. I stayed home and kept myself busy. I wondered what today’s youth would be doing during the strike and I’m happy I had the opportunity to be part of an organization that provides services for those students on strike during the duration of a school day!”
ISU NCUE CTEP is proud of both our partner community organizations and our ISU students that came together to support CPS students during a challenging few weeks. This centering of the community gave our students an opportunity to see that the NCUE model is not just a theory, but also a lived practice.