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Unloading the Backpack: CIS Provides Student Support through Classroom Visits

Young people today are navigating uncertain times. The pandemic remains a major stressor for many students and families. Added to this are other layers of concern: economic insecurity, upticks in violence, health fears, and more. Just last month, the U.S. Surgeon General sounded the alarm on children’s mental health with a 53-page advisory. One solution for mitigating the crisis, the report said: enlisting the help of community organizations.

Our team at CIS of Chicago is dedicated to supporting students throughout these uncertain times. CIS Student Supports Managers are embedded at 30 Chicago Public Schools across the city, and they provide tailored supports that address student need.

One CIS Student Supports Manager, Megan McCormick, described the support she provides as “unloading the backpack.” By that, Megan means that students bring to school their own experiences, some traumatic, and she works directly with them to understand those experiences better. Together, they work on strategies for coping and release anything that’s weighing them down. When students are able to manage their stress and trauma, they can focus more fully on their learning and development.

Megan provides support at the individual level, but with many students experiencing similar stressors across the board, she has been pushing into classrooms and facilitating discussions that all students can benefit from. For younger students, this includes discussions on how to be a good friend, how to respect each other, and how to breathe deeply when anxious feelings arise. For older students, this includes presentations on stress management.

One eighth-grade teacher at Megan’s school noticed that as students began the process of high school applications, their mood was affected. They were nervous, stressed, and dealing with “grown up problems,” (as one student described it). The teacher asked Megan to come into the classroom and talk to the students about stress management.

Stress Management 1

Megan shared with the students that stress can be good in short bursts, like when it motivates you to meet a deadline or warns your body of impeding danger, but it’s not good when it occurs for a long period of time. Megan helped the eighth graders create a stress management toolkit – a list of actions they could take to destress. She used examples like taking calming breaths, logging off social media, listening to music, and asking for help as ways that the students could relax.

Stress Management 2

Megan isn’t the only Student Supports Manager who has provided whole-class support this school year. Some Student Supports Managers are helping students with conflict resolution by visiting their classrooms and role-playing. Student Supports Manager Chavara Turner uses real-life scenarios in her role-playing. This helps students at her South Side school visualize ways they can react to situations peacefully and productively.

Meanwhile, in an elementary school on the West Side, Student Supports Manager Kenneth Stratton visited the classrooms of primary-grade students and supported them as they adjusted back to the school setting. He practiced deep-breathing techniques with students and demonstrated how they could use quiet time when feeling their emotions build.

Through classroom visits, CIS Student Supports Managers are building deeper connections with students across grade levels. This strategy enables our team to address challenges shared by many students and reassure them that support is available. At the same time, classroom visits support teachers. Rather than serving as the sole providers of social and emotional support, teachers who welcome Student Supports Managers into the classroom as collaborative partners are freed up to focus on teaching.

Today’s young people face many challenges, but CIS of Chicago’s school-based team stands ready to address their needs. In 2022, the team will continue providing support, whether it be through individual student services, partner connection, or classroom visits and resource-sharing that all students can benefit from.