Student Tenacity Pays Off Big

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Annually, Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago honors students with Tenacity Awards. This honor recognizes students who work hard to improve their grades or attendance, and to set specific personal goals and achieve them. The Tenacity Award includes a recognition certificate and a cash award fully fundraised by the CIS staff.

Tradition holds that at the end of every school year, graduations and other student ceremonies are times to recognize students for having perfect attendance, great grades and class leadership. While those accolades are worth celebrating, we also believe in recognizing students who show perseverance in the face of obstacles.

This June, CIS of Chicago brought together the winners from eight different schools across the city to celebrate their success at a reception with their families, CIS Student Supports Managers who supported these students’ journeys, and other CIS staff. The guest speaker for the recognition reception was CIS community partner Kareem “KWOE” Wells, whose personal story resonates with the winners; as a high-school student, he struggled with academics and behavior, and dropped out of school. He later built a successful career in music and event planning, and in 2016, returned to school to earn his GED.

Meet our 2017 Tenacity Awards winners:


8th Grade

Aaliya has shown resilience in the wake of several obstacles that have come her way this school year, from parental absence and relationship struggles, to strained relationship between herself and school staff.

She struggled with poor grades, particularly in math, and with keeping up with the class work. During the first and second quarters, her math grade remained low, but she persevered and began to work on her attitude with her teachers. Aaliya and her CIS Student Supports Manager set up teacher conferences, and had a parent conference with the assistant principal.  By the third quarter, Aaliya earned grades good enough to make honor roll.  Since February, she has been on track with A’s and B’s and has learned to manage her anger and to avoid “answering back” to teachers. She is on the school’s basketball team, loves science class and enjoys interior decorating.  Aaliya looks forward to 8th-grade graduation and to attending high school. She wants to become a pediatric nurse at a community clinic.


9th Grade

Michael has overcome tremendous odds. He lives with his grandmother, who works diligently to meet Michael’s needs such as clothing, school supplies, and resources for constructive activities for his ongoing development. Michael entered his freshman school year as a shy and quiet student who fell behind academically because of the new environment. Still, he developed strong relationships with school staff and classmates. He has blossomed academically – participating in discussions and completing assignments – and socially, through activities that include the CIS of Chicago boys’ council, and the basketball and football teams.  With strong character and integrity; Michael had works hard to improve his overall conduct, attendance, academics.


8th Grade

Brianna is an active student who loves writing, blogging, singing and making notes in the sketchbook she routinely carries around. She has faced challenges, but perseveres to move forward, no matter how small a step and no matter how far she falls back. She acknowledges the pain in her life while holding on hopes of a different future.  She knows how to tap into her inner resources, strengths and coping mechanisms in a self-sufficient, independent way, even when others repeatedly fail her or let her down, or judge her.

When Brianna becomes angry, she uses new skills in class to self-regulate and manage her reactions, reducing her classroom incidents.  Her self-awareness has grown leaps and bounds. She now takes responsibility for her behavior, while also acknowledging that she has not had an ideal or fair life.

Brianna took initiative to get back on track with grades and assignments this school year. She wants to learn how to the play the drums more than anything else in the world right now. That’s indicative of who she is: She is unwavering when it comes to just being herself, following the beat of her own drum and living with a fierce intensity of unshakable spirit and resolve.


8th grade

Standing at more than six feet tall, and over-age for his grade, Christian is the epitome of a ‘gentle giant’. He encourages those around him to be the best version of themselves and keeps other students in line both in and out of the classroom. Christian is part an 8th grade boys group that meets to learn skills for being less disruptive in the classroom. He brings a sense of order and calm to the sometimes-unruly group and makes facilitation easier for CIS’ guidance. He is a kind soul who has gone from dreading report-card distribution to openly discussing his grades and self-improvements. Once a student who couldn’t be bothered with working hard in school, Christian is now diligent and passionate about his academic success.


HS senior

Diamond set a goal in the fall to improve her grades and attendance, and she has exceeded her own expectations. There was a time when Diamond would manage difficult situations by shutting down and bottling her emotions. After working with CIS, she can enact coping skills and verbalize her feelings with ease.  Instead of allowing frustrations to stop her, she uses them to propel her forward.

Diamond is goal directed and understands how to tap outside resources and personal skills to accomplish her goals, even in the wake of setbacks. Once, after a meltdown in a class, Diamond stormed out, went to the CIS office, verbalized frustration, recited her group mantra, and assured herself that she could manage the class. She returned to the classroom and successfully finished the day, never having that issue again and raising her grade in that challenging class. Diamond enjoys spending time with family and friends, and wants to become a business owner.


5th grade

Gevaris has worked very hard to improve academically this year, despite troubling obstacles. He maintains a wonderful disposition and a belief in himself that is unwavering. He has focused on staying organized, improving classroom participation, developing better homework habits, and completing his homework with more regularity. To date, he has had the best academic year of his elementary career and has made much progress which have resulted in better grades.  Observing Gevaris move through life is incredibly inspiring; he rises above negatives and knows how to be himself unabashedly.

Gevaris loves playing Minecraft and Roblox, watching YouTube videos, sports, and games of all kinds. He was in a magic class last year that he loved very much. He also enjoys spending time with his family.


11th grade

This year has been tough for Aaliyah. In the face of some health issues, Aaliyah has not given up on herself or her education.  She does not ask for much, but that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t needed support.  She respects her teachers, and is a leader and role model in this way.  Aaliyah has things going on in her home life that have challenged her.  She could have made the choice to “be like everybody else” around her, but she has chosen a better path for herself.  She is resilient, strong and kind, and takes a laid-back approach to school that keeps her out of drama and makes her the voice of reason for many of her peers.

Aaliyah’s favorite classes are those that teach her about her history and allows her time to practice her writing skills.  Her recent report card has great grades given the impact her health had on school attendance and her prior troubles in math. She wants to study business and child development, and has goals of owning a daycare center. She works well with her peers on group projects and she is developing her leadership skills by helping with the Ladies Lounge girls’ group. She enjoys sleeping, babysitting, and watching her favorite shows on television.


6th grade

This year, Donte set a personal goal to become a better reader – not just for grade improvement, but for personal development.  He wanted to read better.  To increase fluency and comprehension, Donte joined school’s “Battle of the Books” to discuss the books he read. He diligently in attending after-school meetings, even when friends opted out. He improved his grade in reading by one letter grade!

Donte also increased his ability to self-advocate, an important social-emotional learning skill he used when meeting with administration to start a club for Bey Blade fans. Donte is a leader of the Bey Blade group, and even helped establish its grade and behavior expectations for group members. Donte also has worked on attendance, making tardiness less of a problem. He is a hard worker and a peace maker.