When Nasje first enrolled at her elementary school on the South Side, she was bullied for the way she dressed and how she carried herself. “My self-esteem was horrible,” she said. “I just really felt that I wasn’t pretty enough for anyone to be my friend, for anyone to like me.” Nasje’s lack of self-worth made it hard to focus in school. Her grades suffered. Sometimes she got into fights with her peers.
Things changed for the better when she started sixth grade. That’s when Nasje connected with a Student Supports Manager from Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago who told her that she was beautiful exactly the way she was. Nasje joined a CIS of Chicago group called “My Black is Beautiful,” and her self-confidence grew. She worried less and less about how she looked and began to focus more on graduating from eighth grade and attending a high school where she could continue to grow.
Our friends at CIS National recognized Nasje’s budding leadership skills and selected her in 2019 as one of seven students from across the nation to be part of the What We Are Made Of public awareness campaign. Through the campaign, people across the country have learned about the talent, tenacity, and dreams of America’s public-school students.
The campaign has given back to Nasje, too, enabling her to embark on an amazing leadership journey. In the last year, she traveled to Washington D.C., participated in a youth conference at Facebook’s headquarters in California, and stood on stage and welcomed 500 leaders from across the national CIS network to our annual Leadership Town Hall conference in Nasje’s home town: Chicago.
Nasje’s struggles earlier in life are similar to many Chicago public-school students. Faced with enormous barriers, including poverty, segregation, and community violence, too many young people in our city run the risk of dropping out of school, unless they connect with caring adults who can guide them to success. That’s why we continue to expand and deepen our work in Chicago’s public schools.
To that end, in December 2019, our Board of Directors approved a new, three-year Strategic Plan that guides our work to empower as many as 96,000 K-12 students annually to stay on the path to graduation. All organizational strategies in this Plan are grounded in our vision of ensuring that every public-school student in Chicago graduates from high school prepared for success. Graduation remains the True North of our organization.
No non-profit in Chicago matches the breadth and depth of our work promoting graduation. During the 2019-2020 academic year alone, CIS of Chicago will link 75,000 students to support programs in behavioral and mental health, the arts, college and career readiness, and health and wellness.
Equally important, CIS of Chicago is placing master’s level staff in 31 schools to provide intensive supports to students significantly off-track in their attendance, behavior, or grades. This year, our school-based team will work closely with 1,400 students at risk of dropping out, with the expectation that at least 95 percent of them will either graduate or be promoted on time to the next grade.
Our work is made possible by the generosity of our donors and through our collaboration with our school partners and community partners. With deepest appreciation for your support, we invite you to read more about our impact and learn what we mean when we say that CIS of Chicago is #AllinforKids.