Collaborating to Deepen Student Experiences and Impact

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

Relationships are at the heart of Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago. They are integral to CIS’ work with students, with families, with teachers and administrators, and with community organizations in our partner network.

The relationships CIS’ team forms are built on a foundation of trust, mutual respect, and a common goal: helping our young people unlock their potential and succeed in school and life. We build relationships between our organization and our many stakeholders, and we also dedicate space to helping our partners become relationship experts too.

CIS’ Community Partnership Team collaborates with more than 200 organizations in the city, connecting them to schools that need their programs and services. This school year, the team took those connections to the next level. They found ways to increase the support provided to students by finding unique ways for organizations to collaborate with each other.

When community organizations come together, students are better served. Not only are student experiences deepened, but more young people are impacted. Collaboration means that community organization programs have even greater capacity.

Here are three ways that CIS helped community organizations form unique collaborations in the 2022–23 school year to meet the needs of students.

Prosper Chicago + Chicago Run

In the fall, CIS’ Health Partnership Specialist Mary met with two community organizations who wanted to expand their impact in schools. Chicago Run, an organization that provides physical activity programs to students, was interested in offering more wraparound health services, so Mary introduced them to Prosper Chicago, an organization that provides access to meals.

With Mary’s help, Chicago Run and Prosper Chicago connected for the first time. Together, along with Pilot Light, they planned a field day at Smyth Elementary School, a CIS partner school on the Near West Side. Chicago Run organized the physical activities for the day, and Prosper Chicago provided the nutrition program and healthy snacks. Smyth students had access to a range of health services as a result and a fun, interactive field day centered around gardening, food, and mindful movement.

Museum of Contemporary Art + Haitian American Museum of Chicago

In November, CIS community partner, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), unveiled a new exhibit called Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s-Today. The exhibit used the concept of weather to analyze artistic practices connected to the Caribbean. CIS Arts Partnership Specialist Katia learned about the exhibit and explored opportunities for students to increase their learning through experiences with other CIS partners. She connected MCA’s team with her contacts at the Haitian American Museum of Chicago. The two organizations worked collaboratively to design a bundle field trip opportunity, which came to life this April.

Students from Courtenay Language Arts Center visited the MCA’s exhibit and created artwork inspired by Firelei Báez’s art installation “the soft afternoon air as you hold us all in a single death (To breathe full and Free: a declaration, a re-visioning, a correction).” Then, they took their artwork to the Haitian American Museum of Chicago, where they learned more about Haitian history and culture. With guidance from museum staff, students created interactive labels for their artwork and shared their creations.

Both museums found the collaboration beneficial. Carlos Bossard of the Haitian American Museum of Chicago said, “I want to give a huge thank you to CIS of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art for such an amazing collaborative experience. I hope we can continue to partner to bring more dual experiences like this one to create positive, immersive experiences for students.”

And the students were able to learn about history, art, culture, and black, Indigenous people of color. “The trip was engaging, informative, and something they will remember in years to come,” said Olivia Haas, the counselor at Courtenay Language Arts Center.

Illinois Holocaust Museum + Pulitzer Center

This spring, the Illinois Holocaust Museum featured an exhibit on the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for Black Americans in the 20th century. The Green Book offered critical, life-saving information on places that provided safety and sanctuary during the Jim Crow era of segregation. CIS’ Associate Director of Community Partnerships Karen realized that a visit to the museum’s exhibit could be more impactful if students also participated in the Pulitzer Center’s Visit the Classroom program.

For schools that scheduled the Illinois Holocaust Museum field trip, Karen encouraged them to connect with a journalist through the Pulitzer Center who wrote about Sundown Towns, or places that discriminated against people of color through the threat or use of violence. These experiences allowed students to understand racial injustice through film, photographs, and oral histories — and connect those artifacts to the racial discrimination still happening today.

With so many successful collaborations happening with CIS’ support, the Community Partnership Team decided to share the learnings from these experiences with the entire community partner network. They hosted a training this spring on how community organizations can collaborate to achieve common goals related to their school-based programming.

During the training, CIS’ Katia presented three ways that community organizations can work together — through sharing resources to expand their reach, through joining together to strengthen their programs, or through collaborating to provide a new program entirely.

“This event was so uplifting and generated great ideas to follow through on. The best part was meeting so many inspiring professionals,” said Liz Falstreau of Rainbows for All Children, one of the training attendees. “I learned how cross-collaborating is an effective way to expand your institutional reach.”

This summer, the Community Partnership Team is continuing to explore ways that CIS’ network can collaborate so that when the next school year begins, Chicago students will be able to expand their horizons, explore their interests, and ultimately, deepen their learning.

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Communities In Schools of Chicago

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