Thursday, July 29, 2010

Site Visit to Chicago Lights: Summer Day!

Dodging honking traffic, brushing past businesspeople laden with briefcases, watching tourists snap photos, tossing change into the saxophone case of a street performer…these are among the first images that pop into my mind when I think of Michigan Avenue on a busy summer day. That is, until today when I caught a glimpse of a whole different scene in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Situated across the street from the John Hancock Center, Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church is home to Chicago Lights, an organization that seeks to offer “hope and opportunity to individuals and families who face the challenges of aging, poverty, and access to education and healthcare.” One of Chicago Lights’ eight community outreach programs includes Summer Day, a six-week summer enrichment program for ninety 1st-8th graders.

As any teacher will attest, summer is often a time when students forget much of their academic knowledge acquired throughout the school year, so Summer Day provides a means for kids to continue their studies while also enjoying recreational activities. Students rotate to different classrooms led by certified teachers, a crew of volunteers, and staff. Yet while participating students commit to learning during the summer months, they are not sacrificing summer fun. Teachers find creative means to bring subjects to life and keep students engaged. For instance, in science class, students have been disassembling old appliances and turning them into robots (I am so jealous!).

After morning academic sessions, students attend art classes of their choosing ranging from hip-hop to acting to singing. At the end of the program, students have the opportunity to showcase their hard work with a culminating performance for the community.

When my co-worker Bradley Troast and I met Alex Cornwell, Director of Chicago Lights Tutoring and Summer Day, she was carrying several dozen shovels and buckets in her arms. As she informed me and Bradley, each Friday the students go on a field-trip and tomorrow they will be spending the day at the beach!

As catching glimpses into bustling classrooms made apparent, Summer Day is an excellent example of a program that keeps students safe, engaged, and (painlessly) learning throughout the summer months. Many of the students are also plugged into Chicago Lights programs during the school year: more than half of the students that attend Summer Day are part of the one-to-one Chicago Lights Tutoring program which occurs from October through May each year and services more than 400 students.

For me, talking with Alex and seeing one of Chicago Lights’ programs in action reinforced an important lesson. It emphasized the value in seeking ways to collaborate between programs. There is so much that Chicago Lights does extremely well, and it can serve as a model to other programs. As Bradley and I chatted with Alex, we informally compared certain approaches to funding, volunteer recruitment, and volunteer training between Chicago Lights Tutoring and Cabrini Connections. Learning from one another is an ongoing process that begins with conversations like these—but it doesn’t end there. These discussions need to occur not only amongst program leaders but also between other leaders in the community. If programs can learn so much from one another, how much more could we learn from conversations with business people, media firms, and professionals in all sectors who have the potential to contribute their expertise to youth programs? As we begin planning for the November 2010 Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, we are eagerly exploring ways to involve many sectors and encourage community-wide collaboration.

Visiting Summer Day was a great experience—thank you Alex for showing me around! I know that next time I hit Michigan Avenue, I will look toward Fourth Presbyterian Church and smile knowing about all the activity and individuals inside—students, volunteers, staff, robots, and all!

No comments:

Post a Comment