This school year, Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago expanded its support to more students and school communities. Our team is now serving 200 of Chicago’s public schools – nearly a third of the entire district. With 25 new partners added to our network this year, CIS School Partnership Specialists have been working diligently to meet with each of these new partners, learn more about their students and families, and connect them with tailored supports through our community partners.
Connecting schools with community supports, however, is not as simple as sending an email and checking a box off the to-do list. For School Partnership Specialists, connecting supports is a tailored process, with strong relationships serving as the foundation. Specialists get to know their school contacts on a personal level. They are trained to listen – and understand – the unique challenges of the teachers and student populations, and they communicate these needs with community organizations who can respond quickly and intentionally.
One CIS School Partnership Specialist, Jill Hennessy, understands how busy a school staff person’s day can be. A former public-school teacher on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Jill has first-hand experience with the types of supports Chicago students benefit from and the level of care that teachers and staff bring to fill those needs.
When Jill met with one of CIS’ new school partners, Herzl School of Excellence, she could sense that passion from the principal and the school clerk. Herzl’s school clerk had even graduated from the school herself and was deeply tied to the community. Generations of families from the North Lawndale community had sent their kids to Herzl.
Jill listened to the needs that Herzl’s principal and school clerk shared, and this fall, she’s connected the school with several resources, across grade levels, that have equipped their students and teachers with new skills and learning opportunities. Here’s a glimpse into some of the connections that Jill has facilitated.
Herzl expressed interest in programs that helped students resolve conflicts peacefully. In response, Jill found available programs from CIS’ network of community partners that addressed students at multiple grade levels. Jill connected Herzl’s early grades with the Southpaw Strikes Out Bullying program through the Chicago White Sox. This interactive show empowers students to stand up to bullying. She connected Herzl middle-schoolers with the Peace Exchange, an organization which equips students with nonviolent communication practices. And she connected Herzl sixth graders with a field trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
Exposure to opportunities off-campus
When Herzl’s principal and clerk wanted to engage their students in field trip opportunities, Jill linked them to the Shedd Aquarium and coordinated an off-site field trip for fourth and fifth graders. She also connected Herzl’s diverse learners with the Shedd’s live-virtual program. The Shedd experience not only exposed Herzl students to the aquarium downtown and some interactive lesson plans on animals and animal habitats. It also exposed them to careers they could pursue in STEM.
Items that meet students’ fundamental needs
CIS staff have heard from schools across the city that they need support meeting students’ and families’ basic needs, and Herzl staff echoed this request. When CIS’ Partnership Team hosted a coat drive in November in partnership with Macy’s and Soles4Souls, Jill knew that Herzl’s community would benefit. Herzl is located a little over a mile from where the coat drive was held in North Lawndale. Jill promoted the event with her contacts at Herzl and was able to provide warm winter clothing to children and families. She also connected Herzl with hygiene items, including feminine products, that students needed.
Staff trainings and resources
Herzl staff also took advantage this fall of Youth Mental Health First Aid training. Youth Mental Health First Aid is a certification course that teaches adults how to identify, understand, and respond to a young person in crisis. The training, led by CIS’ Robin Koelsch and Karen Roddie, provided Herzl teachers and staff with the ability to recognize when youth are experiencing mental health challenges and taught participants a five-step action plan on how to intervene.
CIS looks forward to continuing to meet Herzl’s needs this spring by leveraging the power of community partner programs and resources.