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Chicago Elev8 Stories: Lessons Don't Stop at Graduation

In June 2010, Reavis Elementary in Bronzeville bid farewell to its 8th-grade graduates. More than a year later, most are still there—mentoring younger students, painting murals or just dropping by to help out.     

Students from previous graduating classes had come back to volunteer, but never in such numbers. Last April, 20 alumni from the class of 2010 surprised staff by turning up unexpectedly for the spring showcase, a twice-annual event where students display the mosaics, science projects, hip hop routines, digital music productions and other projects created in the Elev8 after-school program. The high school freshmen offered to help set-up and register guests.

Reavis students in action.

Juan Francisco Hernandez

Kids say the sense of accomplishment they got from the Elev8 activities, as well as their friendships with each other, with teachers and with Elev8 staff, is what draws them back.

“It's an attachment to this place,” said Rolanda Washington, a sophomore at King High, one of the city’s selective enrollment high schools. “There are a lot of memories . . . the after-school program, the showcases.”
The Reavis class of 2010 was the first to participate in the Elev8 program for all three of its middle school years. By the end, every one of the 38 students had attended the optional after-school tutoring and enrichment program or the six-week summer camp.

“I felt like a leader in the Elev8 program—you accomplished a lot of stuff,” said Shareal Johnson, a sophomore at Ace Tech Charter High.

“In cheer-leading and hip-hop, we took the routines we did so seriously,” said Brianna Reed, a sophomore at Whitney Young, another of the city’s selective enrollment schools, recalling her own Elev8 days. “When the showcases came, it was our time to shine and show everybody what we accomplished. It made us feel so good.”

Early last fall, Syda Segovia Taylor, Reavis’s Elev8 director, was surprised to see so many recent graduates returning to visit. Many said they wanted to earn their high school community service hours there and so Taylor and her program manager, Jenny Delessio-Parson, helped them identify projects—assisting sports coaches, tutoring younger students, even organizing storage closets.

Reavis grad Brianna Reed, after giving a speech to celebrate the opening of the school's health center.

Gordon Walek

That fall, After School Matters, a non-profit that coordinates programs for Chicago teens, suggested that Loyola School of Social Work house one of its teen programs at Reavis. Taylor said she was thrilled as it would provide a structured program to help accommodate the sudden influx of volunteers. “It was a perfect fit.”

But she insisted that half of the high school students Loyola would train to mentor younger children be Reavis alumni. Loyola agreed, and now 20 high school students, 10 of them Reavis graduates, are learning from social workers about child development and strategies for mentoring primary children, including ways to manage problem behavior. Teens then assist in Reavis's after-school and summer programs, earning $8.25 an hour.

They also complete a research project that benefits the community—this past summer they conducted surveys and compiled data for a teen dating guide. And during the school year, they receive free counseling from Loyola social work interns.

Ariel Duncan, a sophomore at Kenwood, said the Loyola social workers “helped me open up and express myself and do something I love to do—help people.”

Rachel Kibblesmith, a Loyola social worker, said she was surprised to find Reavis alumni from her Stand Up, Help Out program at the school even on days when her program wasn't in session. She recalls Ariel explaining one afternoon that she'd heard some of the regular after-school instructors were absent, and so she’d come to help the substitutes.

“They're very dedicated to helping out,” said Kibblesmith of the Reavis graduates, “as the school is in keeping up with their (former) students. That's something pretty unusual and special. There's a real sense of community.”

Syda Segovia Taylor, Reavis's Elev8 director.

Gordon Walek

For the past three summers, Taylor has also placed Reavis graduates in summer jobs through After School Matters where they worked with artists to paint murals at Reavis and at King High School. This summer, she also arranged for an Urban Gateways artist to work for several weeks with teen alumni to create outdoor murals around the Reavis campus. (Kids painted the side of a shed to resemble a waterfall and, on the tops of the picnic tables beside it, the river and islands below.)

In all, 20 of Reavis' teen alumni worked at the school this summer. Many say Elev8 has made a difference in their high school success.

Jonathan Hampton, a junior at Kenwood Academy, works as a Loyola mentor in the Reavis summer camp. He said that math was his weak subject before he signed up for Elev8 after-school tutoring beginning in 7th grade. “They showed us how to do multi-step problems—it helped me in high school.”

In fact, he said, after getting A's in algebra and geometry, he decided to go beyond district graduation requirements: Senior year, he plans on taking pre-calculus.

Rolanda, who painted murals at Reavis this summer, said Elev8 taught her how to work on a team, a skill that helped her complete group projects at King High School.

Brianna, who also painted murals, believes the extra attention she got during the after-school program motivated her to work harder in school, a habit she said she carried with her to Whitney Young.

“In my regular classes, I was always smart so I settled for 'good [enough],'” she said of her elementary school days. “During the Elev8 program there was more on one-one-time with the instructor, I got pushed to do more. Elev8 taught me to always do more.”

Every student's story is, of course, unique, but the experiences of Rolanda, Shareal, Brianna, Ariel and Jonathan reflect the general tenor and purpose of Elev8. Read more detailed profiles of middle school grads Brianna Reed, Vanessa Perez, and Richlyn Whittaker - all high schoolers now who have been true to their Elev8 schools.


Posted in Education, Auburn Gresham, Logan Square, Quad Communities


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