“You just can’t tell. They don’t ‘look like it,’ they often don’t talk about it. Students can be embarrassed or quiet to talk about (being homeless) and it makes outreach difficult if students aren’t talking about it themselves.”
Kaleyah Wesley, herself a 14-year-old living in transitional housing, sums up the challenges faced by the CCH Education Committee during its outreach in select Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
The Education Committee met again this week to assess outreach efforts to date and plot the course forward. Homeless and recently homeless teens and parents, educators, and volunteers belong to the group, which works with organizers J.D. Klippenstein and Hannah Willage.
At Monday’s meeting, they shared the successes and challenges of recent outreach at six schools, three of which – Attucks, Overton and Emmet – are among 53 elementary school slated for closure by CPS.
It was sophomore Tamia Ready’s first committee meeting after helping with outreach at her high school, Al Raby, for several weeks
“I have a couple of (homeless) friends,” Tamia said, “and know the things they have to go through with the school to get what they need. I chose to join the program because there’s certain things people need help with. If I can help, I should contribute.”
Week in and week out, committee members have shown up before and after school, talking with students and parents about the options and services available to homeless students, including free bus cards, uniforms, and tutoring, as well as the right to remain in their original school or the school nearest their shelter or transitional home. Committee members say that parents and students are often unaware of their options.
The committee’s weekly presence at six schools has forged new relationships with students, parents, and teachers, allowing the committee’s involvement to grow at the schools. For example, outreach at Overton Elementary led to an invitation for the CCH committee to speak to the South Side school’s Local School Council.
The Education Committee decided to extend outreach to several more Chicago schools and to stand in solidarity with schools slated for closure. This included participating in a May 14 march to protest the proposed closure of Overton, 221 E. 49th St.
With a Chicago Board of Education vote over school closures looming on May 22, the school year winding down, and a full schedule of schools to conduct outreach, the Education Committee has a busy month ahead.
– Jim Lacy, Media Volunteer