Our Chicago: After School Programs

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, February 11, 2024
Our Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Last month, at least four Chicago high school students were killed in shootings that happened as they left school.

As the city works to expand violence prevention efforts, programs and organizations are working to engage young people across the city.

After School Matters got started in downtown Chicago as a summer arts program for teens.

Our Chicago: After School Programs Part 1

"What we really want to do is engage teenagers to find something that they love," After School Matters CEO Mary Ellen Caron said. "Or maybe something that they don't love, so they don't pursue it."

Over the years, the after school program has expanded to nearly every neighborhood across the city. The programs have grown to include the arts, communication, leadership, sports and STEM.

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"We started out as sports and arts, and that was because at the time they were cutting sports and arts in the schools and so that's what we really started as," Caron said. "But now we've added leadership and communication because that's what the teens tell us they want. And they've also told us they want STEM."

After School Matters Chief of Strategy Melissa Mister told ABC7 Chicago the program depends on demand from teens.

"Teens want and need, and deserve programs, to support them to pursue their interests," Mister said.

The students also learn intangible skills.

"Across all of the programs, young people are learning how to collaborate with one another, they're learning a personal mindset that says we're going to keep pushing through when we hit a bump, that kind of thing," Mister said. "They're learning to communicate effectively with many different audiences. So all of these are intangible skills that are critically important no matter what it is they decide to do in their future."

Youth Guidance celebrates 100 years in Chicago this year. It began in 1924 as the Church Mission of Help, providing assistance to girls in need of shelter, financial help as well as educational and vocational opportunities.

These days, Youth Guidance provides programs for children helping them overcome obstacles so they can focus on their education and succeed in the classroom and in life.

Our Chicago: After School Programs Part 2

"We think it's really important that families, students, teachers, communities are involved because they play such an important role in the well-being of the student. So we want to make sure they all have an input in what is happening in the school, they're able to share their concerns. And then we're able to cater those programs that we offer after school, to those needs," said After School Programs at Youth Guidance community director Jeethu Samuel said.

Stipends are available for students that are eligible.

"Community In Schools program is a partnership with Chicago Public Schools and 21st Century Funding," said Youth Guidance Program Manager Dr. Lolita Cleveland. "And we provide a community base. So we bring in all the community resources in order for the total child to have the things that they need. So when we partner we have not just the parents, the students, the kids, we have contracted vendors that bring in enrichment programs, cultural programs. Dance, arts, creativity to be able to provide that information and then we partner with the community when they can bring health support from local clinics. They're also able to come in and bring mental health support for social emotional learning."

Parents are also included in the after school experience Youth Guidance offers.

"We want to make sure the parents are also gaining from this experience, it's not just for the students," said Samuel, "So we offer workshops, we offer family events. They go out into the community, they go out into the city and they see different things. And we want them to also gain so they can be leaders within the student's education and involved in their schools."

With violence in the city, involving teens the work of Youth Guidance is even more important.

"It is a need," said Cleveland, "There's definitely a need for that. Students need to be heard. Staff have to be trauma informed. We have to understand social-emotional learning. And everybody's situation is not yours, so we definitely have to be unbiased to realize our kids are faced with a lot and we have to have a listening ear and an open heart to hear."

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