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Chicago Tries Big Embrace To Keep Kids Safe in the Summer

  • Chicago Public Schools sought to reach teenagers most likely to be impacted by gun violence in the summer with a program featuring four hours of daily one-on-one mentoring plus trauma-informed group therapy, field trips and more. And it appears to have had an impact.

    Chicago Schools CEO Janice Jackson called the six-week Summer for Change program “an incredible success,” in a press release while Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot described the $1.4 million initiative plus other youth-focused efforts as an “all-hands-on-deck effort to keep our children safe and engaged during a time when violence can be most prevalent.”

    Summer for Change ran for six weeks at 10 sites, drawing more than 400 youth, most of them from the city’s alternative schools. With just two percent of district enrollment, students in those schools are disproportionately affected by violence, including a significantly higher death rate, The Chicago Reporter found in a 2018 investigation.

    The Summer for Change program seemed to offer some respite, according to Chicago police, who collected data showing none of the participants were identified as victims of gun violence during the weeks the program ran.

    “As a school district and a city, we are prioritizing the needs of our most at-risk students, and the success of our inaugural summer safety program for students in options schools shows the value and necessity of these efforts,” said  Jackson.

    Each participant received a free lunch and a stipend of up to $200 per week—money one student likened to a paycheck.

    As the program launched, the mayor was optimistic. “We just want to give our young people opportunities to connect up with good, safe alternatives. We’re gonna put a little money in their pocket. We’re gonna show them parts of the city that they maybe haven’t seen … and really create a plan and nurture that seed of hope and optimism,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-TimesChicago Schools CEO Janice Jackson congratulates students for participating in the Summer for Change program

    Jackson noted that the UChicago Crime Lab, a research center at the University of Chicago dedicated to studying crime and developing and evaluating crime-reduction programs, planned to monitor and evaluate the results. “As we see what’s effective, we’ll make adaptations to the program, and of course over time we want to see the program grow,” she said.

    Benefits of the program for participants included meeting new people, gaining exposure to pathways to success and learning life skills.

    To culminate the inaugural year of the Summer for Change program an end-of-summer event was held at Chicago State University with students recalling what they liked best.

    “This program taught me how to communicate,” said Kayla, a Summer for Change student, according to the Weekly Citizen website. “I had to call them, I had to let them know that I was coming, I had to let them know when I was leaving and that I was okay. I had to communicate with other peers too and that was a lesson for me but now I can communicate with my sister and my daddy better.”

    Donte, also a participant, endorsed Summer for Change. “This program was good, it kept us safe, it kept us going, we had field trips, we did a lot of fun things to help us, and I met a lot of new people that I’m cool with now,” he said.

    Kayla reflected on changed habits. “There is a lot of stuff that was unhealthy for me that I don’t want to do anymore because I know there are other things I could be doing with my time that can bring me income,” she explained.

    Donte said he felt much the same: “Going to this program this summer kept me out of a lot of trouble because I was busy with myself during the daytime. I really appreciate them coming up with this program and it was really, truly a blessing.