Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the students that Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago serves faced significant trauma in their lives. From incarcerated family members to community violence, far too many of our young people had to overcome significant stressors to succeed in school and stay on the path to graduation.
CIS of Chicago’s Program Team is laser-focused on helping young people develop the knowledge and skills to navigate these obstacles and unlock their full potential. Each year, we partner with more than 150 community organizations who provide our students and their families a wealth of educational programs and resources they need but which their schools often cannot fully provide. In addition, CIS of Chicago’s team of school-based staff provide direct support like counseling and supportive guidance to help young people every step of the way on their educational journeys.
One of CIS of Chicago’s school-based team members, Juanita Herrera, looked to expand her repertoire of supports she could offer her students at Saucedo Elementary. Recognizing that the Covid-19 pandemic was layering on more trauma onto many students at her Southwest Side school, she signed up to learn from our partner Rainbows how to run effective grief and loss groups.
The Rainbows training was a significant time commitment — consisting of eight hours of structured lessons last fall — but it has paid off for Ms. Herrera and her students. Upon completing the training, Ms. Herrera joined with two of her Chicago Public Schools colleagues at Saucedo to provide online grief and loss groups in winter 2021 to students in multiple grades from the K-8 school. Some students joined the group because they’d experienced a recent death in their family. Others had parents undergo divorce or had seen family members locked up.
By participating in the small groups, students built a stronger sense of trust and learned strategies for coping with the lingering stress and anxiety of the loss they experienced. Through the Rainbows curriculum that Ms. Herrera and her Saucedo colleagues teach, students built up their self-confidence and formed stronger connections to their peers and teachers. In addition, they took a step back to analyze the source of their fears and anxiety and trained their minds on how to stay calmer and more solutions-oriented the next time a problem felt overwhelming.
One memorable lesson the students participated in focused on them creating virtual grounding rocks. The finished rocks contained positive, reassuring images and messages, which the students are now able to turn to in times of stress and uncertainty. The point of the lesson, and all the lessons in the multi-week course, says Herrera, is to provide her students tools that they can turn to and use as a source of strength when the losses in their lives make them feel down.
“We can never take the sense of loss away from our students, but we can help them put those losses in perspective,” says Herrera. “It’s so important to help our students find their inner resiliency, and this Rainbows group empowered them to do that.”