Chicago Lights Academic Success in Schools (CLASS) supports learning and creative self-expression through fine arts programs for students in under-resourced schools. Throughout the school year professional artists teach drama and dance classes which uncover talents, build self-esteem and confidence, and increase students' desire to apply themselves in school. Courses are offered during the school day and are integral to students’ learning process. The curriculum is closely linked to state standards and includes detailed assessments.
Chicago Lights Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy at Nancy B. Jefferson School (Free Write) provides the only one-to-one literacy tutoring available to more than 400 youth incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Free Write seeks to reduce recidivism and help students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and further education through daily writing and arts workshops.
Although in the end I decided not to work in this field, I fervently believe in the healing power of art. So I was excited when I first came across Chicago Lights and heard about the work of these two programs. Typically, in Chicago an "under-resourced school" also means that it stands in a poor neighborhood - and violence and generational poverty are epidemic in these areas. The youth in the Juvenile Detention Center are also overwhelmingly from these neighborhoods. Living in these places is inherently a traumatic experience, because even if your family is intact, even if you have somehow managed to avoid direct personal contact with any kind of violence, there is no way to avoid witnessing it, to avoid knowing people who have experienced it. And the effects even just of witnessing trauma on the young are well documented. (If you want to learn more about it, I recommend this manual created for people working with children - it's easy to read and thorough.) Art can be a force in addressing this trauma, both directly --- as in the brave writing of the Free Write students --- and indirectly.
And, of course, I think the arts should be a vital part of every students' education. Never mind all the benefits they supposedly confer on kids' abilities to learn other things --- I'm sure that's all true, but I think they are of value to us, just because. (We're sending our kids to a school with an arts focus, so you know I feel seriously about this.) Oh, but these schools, being "under-resourced", are of course lacking in arts programming, as that's usually the first thing to go when resources start getting tight.
So, for all this and more, I am grateful to Chicago Lights for placing the arts front and center in their programming. Their students' lives are richer and more hopeful for doing so.
You can donate to Chicago Lights through my campaign. Right now I'm $375 from my final goal of $1500.00 and amazed and honored by the support people have shown. I have a whole lot of cookies to start baking! (Because of my pledge to bake for anyone donating $45 or more.) And of course most of those will be going to the Sunday Night Supper hosted by Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center (I'll be writing about them next week) --- most people have wanted their cookies to go to that supper rather than their personal pantries.