I like to call my full-time job, the “not-so-9-to-5-9-to-5.” I know it’s a bit clunky, but it’s true since I work in the out-of-school time/youth organizing realm. As the Community Resource Manager for Gary Comer Youth Center on the Southside of Chicago, I have been able to plan, organize and facilitate some dynamic events focused on the safety and wellness of our community’s youth. Yet, also serving as a parent in this field, I have a unique vantage point of gaps and growth areas.
I realized a few months ago that our city leaders, Dr. Janice Jackson CEO of Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, had not designed adequate parent engagement before making decisions about when to send our children and teens back into neighborhood schools. So, I decided to ask my colleagues from other community organizations to to help me plan another event. “In-Person or Remote?: A Solution-Focused Conversation” was an event held this past Tuesday with parents and caregivers in mind as our target audience.
In April of 2020, the Gary Comer Youth Center hosted the first COVID & the Community discussion with several community partners, our neighbors, and a few young adults. It was a powerful conversation and generated many ideas for new and enhanced mutual aid projects, resources, and youth opportunities to help sustain often forgotten communities like Grand Crossing, South Shore and Woodlawn. In hindsight, none of us could have predicted that almost a year later we would need to have a follow-up event.
As organizers, our ultimate goal is to help our community’s youth and families stay safe, healthy, and thrive. One way we do this is by making sure parents have adequate information and support from other trusted adults. So this year, our focus was assisting parents with finding solutions to their in-person and remote learning struggles.
We know that the Chicago Board of Education held a week of community forums earlier this school year that were widely attended by concerned parents. In late fall 2020, CPS distributed a district-wide survey to gauge how many parents would send their students back to schools for in-person learning. Despite serving 330, 000 children and teens, CPS reported that only 77, 000 kindergarten through eighth grade parents selected in-person learning. Chicago Teachers’ Union leadership argues that Chicago Public Schools created an inequitable process for parents to participate in the survey and obtain information throughout this process. Months later, we can see that neither in-person or remote learning has equitably served our community’s youth. We also realized that the majority of our parents’ voices (those who do not represent CPS or CTU) have simply been absent from the conversation. So, we decided to create a safe space for parents to not only voice their concerns with both options, but to generate solutions as well.
As service providers and community organizers, we plan to use what’s shared in Tuesday’s solution-focused conversations to inform our out-of-school time programs so that we can better support the families that rely on us. Next week, I’ll be reporting back with the notes and data that the parents in attendance shared with us.
Do you have solutions for making either in-person or remote learning better at your children’s school? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments and share them with my colleagues, community partners, and other parents! Overall, my greatest hope is that we are able to bridge the gap and create an atmosphere of unity for our community’s youth.