Elev8 Chicago seeks to transform the educational achievement and life outcomes of middle grade students in five public schools, all in underserved areas of the city. The program is led by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation's Chicago office (LISC/Chicago), which organizes capital and other resources to support initiatives that stimulate the comprehensive development of healthy, stable neighborhoods.
Elev8 Chicago is built on the platform of LISC/Chicago's New Communities Program. Each of the five participating Chicago public schools is partnered with a lead agency that works with scores of local organizations on quality-of-life issues including education, family supports, public safety, healthcare and opportunities for youth. Those agencies have been highly effective at engaging Elev8 parents and community members in all activities.
Among other accomplishments, Elev8 Chicago has seen increasing numbers of its students accepted into competitive high schools known for keeping youth "on track" to graduation. This is critically important, given the growing social and financial costs of students dropping out. Read a new report by the Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies that examines these costs in Illinois.
Elev8 Chicago programs offer:
- Adolescent-centered health services and education in school-based health centers that encompass physical, mental, sexual and dental health, with an emphasis on prevention.
- Capacity-building for students, parents and community members to increase their leadership skills and build sustainable, healthy neighborhoods.
- Community organizing on the local, state and federal levels in partnership with the Federation for Community Schools.
- Extension of the school day, with afternoon, weekend and summer programs, including the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
- Family supports, including public-benefits screening, tax-prep assistance, fitness and healthy-living classes, effective parenting strategies, book clubs, and more through a "Center for Working Families" in each school neighborhood.
- High-quality mentoring and leadership programs for youth through Big Brothers/Big Sisters and other organizations.
The conditions in which this work occurs are difficult. Students at the Elev8 schools, generally from low-income Latino or African American families, are burdened by an inadequate healthcare system, challenging social environments, and limited economic opportunities. Chicago has a devastating dropout rate: only 55 percent graduate in four years. It's also a very dangerous city for youth: local police and media reports show it has the highest rate of juvenile homicides in America.
Additionally, nurses, counselors and social workers are in limited supply, and art, music and physical education are poorly funded. A short school day means students spend the equivalent of 40 fewer days in the classroom than those in other large cities, and early dismissal puts them at risk during the most dangerous hours of the day.
Despite those obstacles, students, families, the school system and the communities are working together to build Elev8 programs that help young people succeed in school and in life.
The Local Initiative Support Corporation’s Chicago office (LISC/Chicago), organizes capital and other resources to support initiatives that will stimulate the comprehensive development of healthy, stable neighborhoods and foster their connection to the socioeconomic mainstream of the metropolitan region.
Elev8 Chicago Schools and Partners
An Elev8 Chicago Success Story
Students at Ames Middle School received important lessons in how to cool tensions and warm relationships as part of Elev8 Chicago’s summer learning programs. Each afternoon at 4 PM, a daily “peace circle hour” was formed with students and staff. The activity was meant to build trust and reduce conflict by giving the students a chance to express themselves. Having this forum to talk through problems helped students learn how to facilitate resolutions rather than resentment. “It helps everybody vent,” explained student Angel Cintron. “Whatever they say stays in the circle,” he explained, “so they feel safe.”
Staff members were also able to talk about their own frustrations with student behavior in a way that didn’t make students feel accused. As result, students tended to listen and respond. “Usually, they admit when they’re acting wrong and give the reason. And we try to resolve it,” explained Juliet Maldonado, one of the summer program leaders.Creating social supports for middle school students is one goal of Elev8 Chicago. Teaching conflict resolution has taken on a special urgency at Ames. In the past year, the school lost two of its students to gang violence. As the group evolved, ground rules were established: Listen to others with respect, don’t interrupt, and what goes on in the circle stays in the circle—a rule that students said they took seriously.
As students got to know each other, staff said they witnessed some startling transformations. Several students regarded as troublemakers in school emerged as leaders in the circle. One girl considered “weird” became accepted once the others understood her better. “She’s one of the cool girls now,” Maldonado observed.
Gradually, the staff handed over much of the circle’s leadership to students. Beyond conflict resolution students were able to explore a number of issues—from parents to politics—whatever was on their minds. The peace circle proved such a success during the summer that Ames added it to the Elev8 afterschool program this fall.
More Elev8 Success Stories