IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION
In 2007 Communities United youth leaders took leadership in forming a citywide collaborative called Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), an organizing collaborative for education justice led by students from seven community-based organizations across the city. Through VOYCE, Communities United student leaders are organizing to end the school-to-prison pipeline through a major re-write of the Student Code of Conduct to end the use of harsh discipline, push for greater transparency in the public reporting of data on school disciplinary actions and increase investment in student supports such as social workers and mental health counselors.
In July Communities United student leaders joined other youth from across the city to release an original cost analysis study on the use of harsh discipline in CPS and its cost to taxpayers. The report, "Failed Policies, Broken Futures,” co-authored by VOYCE and the Advancement Project, showed how overuse of harsh discipline has kept students out of valuable learning time and decreased their chances of graduating. In 2009 for example, there were 4,597 school-based arrests of CPS students age 16 and younger, 78% of which were for minor infractions. The study also shows how CPS spends a huge amount on enforcing harsh discipline at the expense of student supports. For example, last year CPS budgeted only $3.5 million for school-based college and career coaches while allocating $51.4 million toward school-based security guards.
Communities United youth leaders continue to organize to bring an end to harsh discipline, a critical issue for CPS students and families.
COMMUNITIES UNITED FOR QUALITY EDUCATION (CUQE)
Over the past year Communities United's parent organizing committee has been focused on addressing issues raised by the longer school day that will be put into place in the 2012-13 school year, organizing to ensure that the longer day will result in an actual better school day for children. Communities United parent leaders hosted a community forum with over 150 parents and students representing nine schools from across Communities United's four community areas. At the forum parents and students shared their perspectives on the longer school day, made recommendations for how the extra time should be best utilized and made demands for the resources needed to effectively implement the longer day in the face of budget cuts. Despite the fact that this was one of the only large-scale parent forums on the issue of the longer school day anywhere in the city, CPS officials declined the invitation to attend. Parent leaders continue to organize to ensure a better school day for their children.
Increasing Access to Higher Education for Undocumented Students
In 2003 Communities United youth leaders were at the forefront of efforts to create a statewide policy change granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. While this policy change has opened up access to higher education for the undocumented, persistent financial barriers remain for these students who are unable to gain access to federal financial aid programs. In conjunction with ongoing efforts to push for the DREAM Act at the federal level, Communities United youth leaders have been pushing for additional local and state level policy changes to address this issue. Communities United recently worked with other groups in collaboration with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to successfully create a new statewide policy, the Illinois DREAM Act, which will establish a State Commission to make private scholarships available to undocumented students and require the re-training of high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers to ensure they are providing all students, regardless of immigration status, accurate and up-to-date information on the admissions process and resources available to students and families.
EARLY COLLEGE AWARENESS PROGRAM (ECAP)
Communities United has launched the Early College Awareness Program for middle school parents. Through a series of workshops and college visits, parents will receive important information on how to start planning for college and tools to help motivate their children toward higher education. If you are interested in learning more about this program, please contact Luis Sinchi at (773) 583-1387.
Communities United also engages parents and students in many other efforts to improve the quality of education. We have worked to secure the construction of two new schools to relieve overcrowding, build a coalition of local schools working to align curricula across 8th and 9th grade, work towards a common vision of college readiness and more.
Contact Communities United at 773-583-1387 for more information!