Celebrating Chicago’s Seniors

CIS Student Supports Manager Launches Formal Wear Closet as a Resource for Students

By Katie Rankin, Communications Specialist, Communities In Schools of Chicago

For seniors at a high school on Chicago’s Southeast Side, festivities are in full swing. Senior photos, a senior outing to Six Flags Great America, senior prom — not to mention graduation at House of Hope — fill the hallways with excitement. This year’s senior class is looking forward to experiencing what students a year or two ago could not. They can participate in some traditional high school moments — in person.

That participation, though, can add up financially, and many students and families are still feeling an economic strain from COVID-19. Prom tickets, for example, are $80. Cap and gown rentals cost $65.

CIS of Chicago Student Supports Manager Ms. Watson provides direct support to students at the Southeast Side school, and she hates the idea of seniors not having a full high school experience.

When Ms. Watson noticed that Adam, one of the 50 students she supports individually, missed his senior photos, she asked him if he was planning on retaking them. Adam told Ms. Watson that his family was having issues with their washing machine, and he didn’t have anything to wear for the photos.

Ms. Watson knew that Adam had experienced a challenging few years, and she was concerned that financial constraints would prevent Adam from participating in other senior activities.

She connected Adam with resources through the Students in Temporary Living Situations program, which is available to all Chicago Public Schools students who need extra assistance. This qualified Adam to have his senior fees waived and access to daily bus cards.

Ms. Watson also identified Adam as a recipient for a Chicago Beyond grant. Through CIS of Chicago’s partnership with Chicago Beyond, students and families who need direct assistance can get financial support through Chicago Beyond’s Rapid Response Fund.

Ms. Watson’s support of Adam got her thinking about other students, too. If access to formal wear was affecting their participation, she wanted to do something about it. Ms. Watson put a call out on Facebook to see if any friends or family had items to donate, and a handful of people replied.

One reply was from a college friend, who told her that he had a large supply of formal wear through his involvement with the Rotary Club. His chapter was looking at getting rid of some of the inventory. He told Ms. Watson that if she was willing to drive to Racine, Wisconsin, he had formal wear for her.

Ms. Watson made the hour and a half drive to Racine and returned to school with 40 dresses and two suits. She worked with the school counselor on finding a space at school to house all the items, and they started advertising the formal wear closet to Adam and other students in need.

Formal Wear Closet at high school on Chicago’s Southeast Side

Ms. Watson is excited that this resource is available to help alleviate the financial burden that many students feel, and she is also dedicated to providing them other holistic supports so that they can finish the year strong. This support includes meeting weekly with students on her caseload, like Adam.

She and Adam work on strategies so that he can better manage his emotions, practice positive self-talk, and invest in his own self-care. Adam cares deeply about his family, and Ms. Watson reminds him that he can’t take care of others if he doesn’t take care of himself. With Ms. Watson’s help, Adam is working on a self-care routine and communicating his needs, without any shame or guilt.

Ms. Watson and Adam also talk about the future, and she supports him as he creates a plan to reach his goals. Adam wants to go to Olive-Harvey College after he graduates and then to the police academy, so he can help others, too.

Before Adam graduates, though, Ms. Watson is planning to do her own photo shoot for Adam, using a nice shirt from the formal wear closet. Ms. Watson wants Adam to feel celebrated and recognized for his perseverance. She wants him to graduate knowing what a bright future he has ahead of him.

*Names have been changed to protect student’s privacy.

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Communities In Schools of Chicago

Communities In Schools of Chicago

Our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.