Back in early February, when we were able to gather, the North River Commission Education Committee hosted a community wide education event addressing the question: How are you an ally to public education? North River Commission (NRC) is a longtime active community partner of the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline and the National Center for Urban Education. On that blustery Tuesday evening more than 70 committed residents, parents, students, and community members came out to Volta Elementary school, located in the Albany Park neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago.
The event was three-fold; an information sharing session with local organizations, followed by presentations from educational leaders, and concluded with an additional engagement session to brainstorm collaborations to support public education and schools moving forward. It was a productive and inspiring example of community collaboration and resource sharing.
NRC invited a wide range of dynamic organizations to share resources and to engage attendees including; Hampstead Stage Company, Heartland Health Centers, North Park Village Nature Center, Albany Park Theater Project, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, IPaintMyMind, Erie Family Health Center, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater, 2nd Story, Friends of Roosevelt High School, Friends of Volta, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago.
Parents, students and community members were enthusiastically greeted by NRC Education Committee members as they entered school. Volta administrators and school staff set up tables along the hallways for community organization representatives to display handouts and reading materials. The opportunity to mingle and informally share information generated excitement among all as they discovered the wide range of support being offered to the community; business cards were offered and contact information was exchanged. Attendees were also invited to engage in dynamic activities to brainstorm the ways they were already allies to public education.
Guests then filed into the school auditorium to hear from 39th Ward Alderman Samantha Nugent, Fawn Pochel of the American Indian Center – Chicago, Jonathan Vanderbrug of Arts Alliance Illinois, Angela Sedeño of The Kedzie Center and Kristin Hovious of SEL Chicago. The NRC Education Committee was strategic in our selection of presenters. We wanted to:
- demonstrate what education allyship looks like across the public, private, and philanthropic sectors,
- highlight local, city, and statewide efforts,
- and offer view points from distinct educational fields.
Informative and inspiring, each presentation offered unique perspectives and different entry points on how to support public education in the Albany Park community.
39th Ward Alderman Samantha Nugent concentrated on the ways in which elected officials can advocate for public education dollars, team up with one another to support schools, and use certain public funds, such as TIFS (tax increment financing), for school capital improvements. She also stressed the importance of celebrating and promoting our neighborhood schools, and pointed to the NRC Education Committee’s branding and marketing campaigns as great examples.
Fawn Pochel, education coordinator at the American Indian Center, provided an overview of the AIC educational programs for school-aged children and the larger native community. Additionally, she shared different partnerships AIC has with cultural institutions, such as the Field Museum, and local schools, to infuse curriculum with accurate indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Pochel highlighted Indigenous People’s Day, and ways to advocate for renaming the holiday on Chicago Public School’s and the City of Chicago’s calendars.
Jonathan VanderBrug, Arts Alliance Illinois, spoke of the civic engagement he does to champion the value of arts education. He shared that students receiving arts education outperform non-arts peers in reading, writing and math. Performing arts students show greater flexibility and adaptability in their thinking. Integrating arts into curriculum has numerous positive impacts on students such as healthy brain development and increased motor dexterity in early learners, opportunities to engage in language and express culture for English Language Learners, and improvements in self-reflection, self-discipline, and self-confidence for all students. VanderBrug promised his support to parents and community members as they advocate for additional arts programming to principals and Local School Councils.
Dr. Angela Sedeño, executive director of The Kedzie Center (a community mental health clinic), provided an overview of the plethora of services the clinic provides to both schools and the larger community. These services include: support for school counselors in the areas of referrals and consultations, coordination of student care during a crisis or post-hospitalization, student process groups, trainings for teachers and parents, and collaborating to develop community interventions. The Kedzie Center therapists address topics such as depression and anxiety, peer relationships, identity and self-esteem, and grief and loss. They also run DACA support groups and after school art therapy and yoga classes. Sedeño offered concrete opportunities to be an ally for public education such as volunteering to be a science fair judge, participating in a career day, being active with your BAC, PAC, or LSC, supporting fundraisers, and engaging with other school stakeholders around initiatives.
Kristin Hovious, founder/director of SEL Chicago began her work in Social Emotional Learning in collaboration with teachers, staff and families, as an active response to the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. “SEL Chicago brings seminars, workshops and certification programming to adults to help build mutually respectful environments with children and grow communities who are resourceful, resilient, responsible and collaborative.” As an education ally, Hovious uses restorative practices and trauma-informed tools to train teachers to “create classroom environments where students are encouraged and engaged in learning, empowered to problem solve, connected, valued and challenged.” SEL Chicago is an approved vendor for CPS, providing workshops throughout the city.
The event ended with a short Q&A, and community members lingered excitedly talking to presenters and one another. Juliet Ludwig, resident of Albany Park, executive assistant of Commercial Services at Albank, and NRC Education Committee Member summed up her experience at the event, “I had a wonderful time being a part of this event. It was eye opening to see how being an ally to public education affects those at all levels in the Chicago Public School system and it confirmed to me that our involvement with students, teachers, administrators, parents, community organizations, residents, and all other stakeholders is extremely important in working towards the betterment of Chicago neighborhood schools.”
If you are interested in:
- reviewing the speakers’ presentations,
- reading through the Indigenous Peoples’ Day toolkit from the American Indian Center,
- accessing a Positive Discipline overview and neuroscience tool from SEL Chicago or
- utilizing the NRC Education “I Choose” images and postcards for your local school