A Better Chicago to grant $7M targeting mental health for CPS students recovering from pandemic learning loss

A month after the third school year rocked by COVID-19, a local charitable project fund will on Tuesday announce more than $7 million in grants targeting the COVID-19 learning deficits affecting Chicago Public School students — by focusing on their mental health.

The unique grants arise from the Chicago Design Challenge at A Better Chicago, which seeks innovations with the potential to accelerate learning recovery and promote mental health among CPS students, as Chicago and the nation struggle for education amid COVID.

In a survey of 1,500 parents from all 77 Chicago communities, 44% reported that their children had increased symptoms of mental health or behavioral disorders during the pandemic, and 18% reported inability to access mental health services, according to a recent report from Lurie. Children’s Hospital.

At the same time, studies indicate a significant learning deficit caused by distance learning.

Nationally, a McKinsey and Company report found that students in grades one through six were four months behind in reading by the end of the last school year. The US Department of Education reports that elementary school students and early adopters are about six to 10 weeks behind in reading readiness expectations.

The pandemic has exacerbated the systemic inequities that already exist in our city and country. This manifests in the education space in the form of disparities in school funding for quality distance learning and safe return, as well as home access to high-speed internet and devices,” said Marshana Roberts Pace, investment director at A Better Chicago.

“The COVID pandemic has also had adverse social and emotional impacts on young Chicagoans that can threaten their accomplishments later in life.”

The challenge, a collaboration with the University of Chicago Teaching Laboratory and the Chicago Public Education Fund, is framed against findings from last year’s Mapping COVID-19 Recovery Project.

Marshana Roberts Pace, Director of Investments, A Better Chicago.

Marshana Roberts Pace, Director of Investments, A Better Chicago.
Introduction / Best Chicago

This Field Foundation-led collaboration of 25 notable philanthropic and civic entities in Chicago for the first time has revealed where public, private, and philanthropic investment has been going — or not going — in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Colored) communities devastated by the coronavirus. in Chicago and Cook County.

“Our efforts through the Mapping Project have yielded important data that has helped us ensure that resources are directed to the populations and communities most in need,” Pace said of the seven multi-year grant winners, which were scaled back from more than 110 proposals.

Grant recipients include Alternatives, Inc.; Chicago Hobbs for Children; Juvenile Protection Association; eminent teachers; Pride Lion Guidance; VOCEL (Vision of Our Children as Emerging Leaders); and Roosevelt University. The groups target students from early learners to high school, and the population from ESL learners to homeless students.

“This is very exciting. We want to build capacity so schools can do without us,” Executive Director Bessie Alcantara said of the $450,000 Alternatives grant to bring the Systematic Evaluation, Enhancement and Institutional Training (SEEIT) program to 10 schools.

Currently at four schools, SEEIT includes whole school assessment and resource design.

Jasmine Gilstrap, Co-Founder and CEO, Lion's Pride.

Jasmine Gilstrap, Co-Founder and CEO, Lion’s Pride.
Introduction / Taylor LaRue

“We look at everything from the behavioral health resources you have or don’t have in the building, to the process in place for children with behavioral issues. We evaluate teachers and then young people. A lot of young people are referred to services as soon as they act. It comes down to how they capture These things before they happen?” said Alcantara.

The $475,000 grant will help Lion’s Pride Foundation expand its unique mentoring program, which now includes three schools, to five. The program supports freshmen in high school, pairing them with juniors and seniors who receive leadership training.

“The transition from grammar school to high school is always a difficult adjustment, even in a ‘normal’ year,” said co-founder and CEO Jasmine Gilstrap.

Providing ninth graders with additional support as they return to school and adjust to this new normal is more important than ever. The combination of peer support and socio-emotional learning will help support this class of 9th graders to thrive, despite the challenges they have faced over the past year and a half.”

The ultimate goal is to help each organization improve their programs to expand in the future to reach hundreds of thousands of students, through CPS and City of Chicago funding.

Karen Foley, executive director of the Juvenile Protection Association.

Karen Foley, executive director of the Juvenile Protection Association.
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At the Juvenile Protection Association (JPA), a $950,000 grant will expand the 8-year-old Connect to Kids (C2K) program. Currently in 10 schools, C2K provides teachers with weekly social and emotional educational counseling throughout the school year.

“We don’t just need child development. We need adult development. Our therapists help adults build their social emotional capacities, along with a suite of tools and techniques,” said Executive Director Karen Foley.

“If we can help the teacher understand what lies behind this child’s behavior, in almost all cases, they can be more effective in supporting the needs of their students.”

Of the teachers in the program, 92% reported having a positive impact on their classroom environment, and 7 out of 10 reported lower stress levels.

“Children are not the only ones suffering from the past 18 months – so many teachers are also feeling overwhelmed, losing close family members and friends to this terrible virus. First, adults must wear their own oxygen masks if we want them to help the kids.”

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