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More police in schools?

New federal funds for safe schools should go for more counselors, social workers and psychologists, and not more police in schools, several groups are arguing.

Students and parents from across the city will hold a press conference Monday, January 21, 2 p.m. at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark to make their case.

Participating are Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, POWER-PAC, and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.

President Obama has proposed spending $150 million on police “school resource officers,” counselors and psychologists.

“We have ten full-time school security guards and two full-time armed school police, but we don’t even have one school psychologist,” said VOYCE student leader Ahkeem Wright in a release.

A CTU study last year found CPS was staffed far below recommended levels for school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists.

CPS’s approach “has led to record-public spending, stark racial disparities and the overuse of school-based arrests for misdemeanor offenses – even as homicide and gun violence in the surrounding communities skyrocket,” the groups maintain.

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Parents push early learning

Rosazlia Grillier knows the value of early learning; the Englewood mother attended Head Start when she was a child, and so have her two daughters.

“There are so many obstacles for children in our communities, and early learning gives them a jump start on life,” she said. “High quality early learning programs are part of a pathway out of poverty.”

As an activist with the citywide parents organization POWER-PAC (and a trainer with the group’s sponsor, Community Organizing and Family Issues), Grillier has been part of a grassroots mobilization over the past year which increased participation in preschool by 25 percent in Englewood.

Even though Illinois has taken the lead among states in creating and providing acccess to early learning programs, POWER-PAC members in low-income communities could see that many children weren’t participating, Grillier said. The group’s efforts over the past few years have helped inspire a broader effort to connect “hard-to-reach” families with early learning opportunities.

POWER-PAC’s approach has been two-fold — surveying parents to learn more about obstacles to participation, and experimenting with solutions to address those obstacles.

Last week the group released a report on a series of surveys in which members interviewed over 5,000 families with young children in 19 low-income communities in Chicago. They found that nearly half of eligible children are not in preschool.

The survey explores a range of obstacles to enrollment. First is a system that is “a confusing and frustrating maze,” with a variety of programs with widely varying eligibility standards, often involving complex enrollment procedures requiring extensive documentation.

A family that is turned away from one program is often not informed that they might qualify at another program a few blocks away, said POWER-PAC organizer Kelly Magnuson.

The report advocates “a dramatic overhal of our nation’s early education programs to create one seamless system supporting quality, full-day, year-round universal preschool.”

In the meantime, it calls for a simplifying the registration process, reducing co-payments to make programs affordable, and building new facilities in communities where preschool options are currently insufficient.

The report calls for funding for van service for preschool and stipends for volunteer conductors of “walking schoolbuses” to address transportation barriers; expanded preschool schedules to accommodate family and work schedules; and an aggressive media campaign on the importance of early learning — backed by home-visiting programs to support young parents and caretaking grandparents, as well as funding for community-based outreach.

Parent-to-parent contact is crucial in low-income and especially immigrant communities where public officials do not always inspire trust, said Magnuson.

The summer POWER-PAC members are working with the city’s Department of Family and Support Services as Head Start Ambassadors, promoting the program door-to-door, at block parties and summer festivals, and at WIC offices and social service agencies. The group is also in discussion with CPS on piloting a “walking schoolbus” program.

Promoting early education in Englewood

Early education slots in Englewood are filling up, Catalyst reports.  It’s the result of a collaboration of groups brought together at a forum this spring, co-convened by Catalyst and building on the work of POWER-PAC parents who went door-to-door to learn about obstacles to enrollment and help parents overcome them (covered by Newstips last December).    

Going Door-to-Door for Early Learning

For over a year, a group of parents and grandparents in  low-income communities have been going door-to-door, doing surveys, outreach, and home visits, researching and promoting early learning.  They’ll discuss their work Monday as part of a symposium celebrating the accomplishments of the Chicago Early Learning and Literacy Project.

In the course of a year, members of the parents group POWER-PAC and allies surveyed 2500 families in Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park and Logan Square.  As interest in their work grew, they were asked to conduct outreach for Head Start, and began working with Illinois Action For Children on a home-visiting program for CHA families with small children.

They’re trying to identify barriers to early education in low-income communities and come up with ideas to overcome them, said POWER-PAC organizer Kelly Magnuson.

Issues range from mobility and transportation to security concerns to “a huge lack of awareness” of the importance of early learning as well as of early learning opportunities.  Some 40 percent of families they contacted did not know of any resources for pre-school children in their community, Magnuson said.

For those who might wish to enroll their system, a vastly complicated preschool system is difficult to navigate, she said.

Despite the state’s Preschool For All program, an estimated 15,000 low-income children in low-income Chicago communities aren’t enrolled in preschool, Catalyst reported in September.  Some preschool sites have long waiting lists; others have trouble fillling their slots.  Early education has been shown to have a major impact on children’s success in school and beyond.

Maryann Plummer is an Englewood grandmother and POWER-PAC member who has gone door-to-door doing surveys and home visits.  Many young mothers she’s encountered “have too many problems of their own,” she said.

“They’ve got problems finding a place to stay or putting food on the table, finding a job or staying off drugs,” she said.  “We heard a lot of [young parents say they’re] not worried about early learning — their kids will go to school when they’re five — they’re worried about how to pay rent.”

In home visits she brings learning games and books and explains the importance of early education.

“You have to get through to the parents first and let them see the importance,” she said.  She tells them: “You want to give your child the opportunity you didn’t have.  You want to see the best for your child.

“And they’re buying it.”

Magnuson, an organizer with Community Organizing and Family Issues, said having  community members doing surveys and outreach is crucial to getting through to new parents and caretaking grandparents.

Leaders from POWER-PAC will present results and recommendations from their work (one idea: add funding for transportation to the state’s Preschool For All program) at Monday’s symposium on the Chicago Early Learning and Literacy Program, an 18-month effort administered by Illinois Action For Children to bring early education opportunities to at-risk children.  Other workshops will discuss collaborations with city agencies and schools as well as parks, libraries and clinics which incorporated early literacy activities into their programs.

Also on display will be “Big City, Little Learners,” an exhibit documenting the project’s effort to bring state-of-the-art teaching methods to 11 schools and child care centers. Teachers and young students explored the city and used activities like mailing a letter, riding a bus, or going to a candy store to develop topics for investigation.

The symposium takes place Monday, December 17, 3 to 7 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph.  Info at 773-564-8801

Parents Mark National Recess Week

Parents and students from across Chicago are marking National Recess Week with a rally calling for reinstating recess in all CPS elementary schools.

Sponsored by the parent group POWER-PAC, the rally will take place Friday, September 22 at 11:30 a.m. at Von Humboldt Elementary School, 2620 W. Hirsch.

POWER-PAC has won reinstatement of recess in some schools where it has organized, and at Von Humboldt over 300 parents, teachers and students have signed petitions supporting recess, said organizer Kellie Magnuson. Currently 82 percent of Chicago elementary schools have no recess periods for their students, she said.

“Our kids need recess to be better students,” said POWER-PAC co-chair Nelly Torres, mother of three students at Von Humboldt. “They need time to exercise, socialize and blow off some steam, so when they return to class they are focused and ready to learn.”

September 18-21 was named National Recess Week as part of Cartoon Network’s Rescuing Recess program to restore playtime to the school day. The program has been endorsed by a dozen leading child advocacy groups including the National PTA, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Education Association.

Parents, Students Act on School Safety

While the City Council considers a proposal to fine families of children who get into fights at school, parents in Austin are improving classroom behavior and performance with an educational discipline program based on “restorative justice,” and students are discussing initiatives to reduce tensions at Clemente High School.

Earlier this year members of the citywide parent group POWER-PAC established the Austin Peace Center at Brunson Elementary School, with support from the State’s Attorney’s Project Reclaim.

POWER-PAC has called for education-oriented discipline programs as an alternative to excessive use of suspensions, which they say don’t improve behavior or address underlying issues.

At Brunson students facing suspension or detention were referred to the peace center, and one group of boys and one of girls each met for twice-weekly after-school sessions for several months. They learned conflict resolution strategies and got homework help and one-on-one time with adult mentors. A conflict resolution approach called “peace circles” was used to handle classroom infractions, bringing together everyone involved in a supportive conversation which holds offenders accountable.

Volunteer parents and community residents serve as Peacemakers, staffing the peace center during school days. “Kids can ask to talk to a Peacemaker if they’re getting upset,” said Lynn Morton of POWER-PAC. “They can sit and talk and calm down, and then go and have a great day.”

Discipline problems have gone down and grades have gone up for participating students, Morton said.

Several Austin school are interested in joining the program, she said, and next year they will expand to Howe Elementary, 720 N. Lorel.

Students participating in the Austin Peace Center will be recognized in an awards ceremony on Thursday, June 8, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Brunson, 932 N. Central.

Backed by Community Organizing and Family Issues, POWER-PAC is also pressing to reinstate recess in CPS elementary schools, in order to improve behavior and learning.

At Clemente High School, students are discussing starting a welcoming committee for students transferred from Austin High as it is phased out, said Freddie Calixto, executive director of BUILD Inc., which has worked with Clemente students on gang and violence issues for several years.

Fights went up dramatically at Clemente after Austin students were transferred there this year.

Of the welcoming committee Calixto said, “They could have done it this year,” but information about the student transfer “didn’t funnel down to the community level. People didn’t know what was going on, so they didn’t know how to respond.”

Clemente students are also planning to reach out to parents from the Austin area, and they have called for more security at the school and better training for security personnel, Calixto said.

They’ve also won administration support for scattered dismissal times, reviving a proposal that had been rejected in the past, he said.



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