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A Youth Revolution in Auburn Gresham

Auburn Gresham is surely one of Chicago’s greatest “Best-Kept Secrets.” A community filled with beautiful bungalows, astounding parks, historical attractions and quality schools. One of our schools, nationally known for its stellar sports team and graduates such as Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and State Representative Mary E. Flowers of the 31st district are proud Simeon alumni. These alumni and a host of others have set the standards of quality education and programming, in Auburn Gresham exhibiting the true essence of GOLD standards.

What is the GOLD?

The Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation and the Auburn Gresham community has a strategy to improve the quality of education for people of all ages and help students and parents maximize the school experience. An initiative created with our local community partners and schools outlines a program to build a more powerful and coordinated network of community-driven education programs, called Auburn Gresham Gold. This initiative targets five neighborhood schools. We are implementing high quality programming, with a strong focus on family workforce, engagement and literacy, with an anticipated key outcome to improve students’ educational performance. By implementing these standards, Simeon Career Academy and John W. Cook Elementary birthed a collaboration that reinforces our community school GOLD model and ignited our students to start a revolution of their own.

Simeon ’s poetry team, Writers Never Die and 2014/15 Louder Than a Bomb Champions worked with John W. Cook Elementary School and created The Revolution of Young Artist as Leaders (ROYAL) poetry team. For the past two years, ROYAL has been a model of what happens when youth engage in activities that allow them to use their voice instead of negative actions. This school-community collaboration is a mentorship model, offering a 4-6 week workshop between student mentors from Simeon Career Academy’s “Writers Never Die” championship poetry slam team and mentees at Cook Elementary. By providing a safe space for creative expression and youth empowerment, this intergenerational program fosters our youth opportunities to explore social justice, social responsibility, in particular writing and public speaking skills.

After completing the 6-week workshop, Cook Elementary mentees hosted a final presentation to showcase their talents, to Illinois State University aspiring educators, Cook and Simeon staff and peers. They were afforded the opportunity to share some of the concerns they see happening in their community.

Fall 2015 R.O.Y.A.L Cook Team & Simeon Staff

Our poets, with nervous energy came prepared and empowered to speak about topics that they are concerned about and are eager to see changes. “We can use our voice to solve our problems,” says Daysha Straight, a seventh grader at Cook Elementary schools.

Lisa Roule, faculty advisor and teacher at Simeon has been embedded in supporting this program and the students from the onset of this collaboration. Her role is one of the major factors in the success of ROYAL.

Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation and the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline Program (CTEP) at Illinois State University have nurtured a 10 year relationship that mirrors the goals of our community by creating healthy, safe and sustainable neighborhoods for our families; and it supports the CTEP’s mission to increase urban teacher recruitment and retention through immersive and intentional programming.

April Mustian, an assistant professor in the Special Education Department at Illinois State is passionate about urban education. Dr. Mustian points out, “with collaborative efforts, this wouldn’t been possible” April Mustian or affectionately known as Dr. M, is committed to creating educational experiences for her students as well as Auburn Gresham. In keeping programming such as this sustainable, Illinois State University (ISU) students began fundraising for ROYAL, to cover the cost for programming, transportation, stipends and guest panelist. The fall 2015 ISU class raised almost $3,000. We raised funds by creating an online site, used to solicit donations from businesses and community members. We also sold t-shirts and collected individual donations from ISU student and families. The commitment of ISU students and staff urged others to join in support the fundraising efforts, to make it a success. With Chicago Public Schools budgeting crisis, it becomes critical to support and sustain fundraising efforts such as this. It is one sustainable way to ensure to the success of high quality programs, such as the Revolution of Young Artist as Leaders (ROYAL) poetry slam.

Auburn Gresham is filled with passionate people, schools and neighborhood institution partnerships, which have been working collaboratively for over a half a century, to improve the quality of life, for its residents. Through our community relationships, school partnerships and residents, you too get to participate, in this amazing Auburn Gresham revolution, one of our best-kept secrets.