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Elev8 Chicago Celebrates Successful 2009

January 2010 – In December, about 40 representatives of Chicago Elev8 initiatives packed a classroom at Perspectives Calumet Middle School to share their accomplishments and strategize for the year to come.

Chicago Elev8’s 2009 accomplishments were many. All five schools  — Ames, Marquette, Orozco, Reavis and Perspectives – successfully followed the Elev8 recipe to help students and families grow. They opened health centers, developed engaging summer and extended-day programs, and enticed parents into their schools with classes, workshops and social events.

Tenisha Jones, right, with White House urban czar Adolfo Carrion during his recent visit to Perspectives-Calumet Middle School.

Eric Young Smith


Across the five schools, Elev8 touched more than 1,800 middle-schoolers and their families. In the summer camps and extended day programs, kids gardened and cooked what they grew, performed in theater and musicals and fixed bicycles, to name just a few activities.

Thanks to the health centers, fewer young people missed school because they had not yet had a physical. Parents learned to manage their money and navigate complex bureaucracies to get help with filing taxes and paying for heat and other bills.

Each Elev8 Chicago school has taken the basic recipe and added its own unique seasonings.

Marquette Elementary, for example, took Elev8’s commitment to extended-day programming to the next level by providing an extra hour of classroom instruction to all 467 of its middle-school students, as well as implementing a school climate initiative that cut suspensions for misbehavior by 80 percent.

Reavis students whoop it up at an Olympics bid rally last year.

Eric Young Smith

So far, Marquette teachers have visited 59 families in their homes through a program designed to build stronger bridges between home and school.

New teachers are asking how to get involved, and veteran faculty are ready to help them learn, Elev8 Director Sandra del Toro told the group.

“It felt really good to be able [to tell a new teacher], ‘You can talk to these three people on staff who’ve already been trained and already know how to do it,’ ” she said.

Already, 100 percent of Perspectives Calumet Middle School’s student body has paid at least one visit to the health center. The dental van has brightened the smiles of 36 students, and plans are in the works to expand services to include orthodontia.

Health center staff stay abreast of extended-day programming and encourage their patients to take advantage of relevant programs such as fitness and exercise for youngsters struggling with weight issues or diabetes.

“I’m happy with how we’ve embraced the health center and how the health center has embraced us,” said Elev8 Director Tenisha Jones.

Ruth Argueta, a 7th grader at Ames Middle School, gets a check-up from Dr. Matthew Slendebroek at the school's health center.

Gordon Walek


Reavis Elementary has integrated a focus on team-building across programs and into the school culture, and recently the effort has shown unexpected success. Before Elev8, said director Syda Segovia Taylor, “Reavis students were not known for their team-building skills.”

During summer camp the last two summers, Reavis students bolstered their teamwork skills by taking an outdoor course and reflecting on their behavior as individuals and as part of a team.

At the end of each extended-day programming session, students who serve as good examples of kind, helpful, respectful peers receive Noble Behavior Awards. In December, the Reavis robotics team won first place in the Teamwork category in a local competition. “We are so proud,” said Segovia Taylor.

At Orozco, more than 100 parents come to school two or more times a week to develop their talents, meet other parents and learn more about opportunities at school for themselves and their children.

Elev8 directors Adriana Portillo-Bartow (above) and Sandra del Toro (below).

Gordon Walek

At Ames Middle School, Elev8 made it possible for the school to counsel all 641 of its students about choosing a high school, a crucial decision Chicago families generally make with little help from school staff.

At Ames, coordination among social service providers saved a family from homelessness. An Ames staff member contacted Bronwen White, the LISC/Chicago Centers for Working Families outreach person at Humboldt Park Social Services, about a mother facing financial crisis after a death in the family.

Though they were temporarily staying with relatives, the welcome mat there was wearing thin. “They were risking living in their car,” said White. “That would have meant the [Ames student] being taken out of school.”

Gordon Walek

White met with the mother and helped her think through her options. The family was able to take advantage of Humboldt Park Social Services’ interim housing program, which gives families a place to stay while they save up enough money for a security deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment.

In this family’s case, the mother was already employed, but not earning enough to manage rent and a security deposit all at once. “She needed a bridge,” White noted. The Ames mother is also working with the Centers for Working Families on financial management strategies.

Thanks to the coordination of services among Ames, the CWF and HPSS, the family is stable and the Ames student’s education was not disrupted.

With all the activity going on, it can be hard for even the most engaged Elev8 participants to see the entire landscape. “Until I started putting together this report, I didn’t realize how many programs we had going at Ames,” said Elev8 coordinator Adriana Portillo-Bartow.

“I am lucky enough to get to see the Elev8 programming across all the sites,” said Chris Brown, director of education programs for LISC/Chicago. “We are changing students and families lives.”

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