Auburn Gresham Gold Schools: A Community Driven Education Initiative

In Auburn Gresham, a neighborhood located on Chicago’s South Side, residents in the community face challenges in education and social services. 80% of children in primary grades are not at reading level and nearly half of them ages 0 to 5 live in poverty. These statistics are staggering however the community is fighting to ensure a better future. The Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) in partnership with the United Way of Metro Chicago is leading the effort to address these systemic issues by convening a group of local residents and stakeholders together to create a Neighborhood Network, using a collective impact approach. This detailed 3 to 5 year strategy brings quality education to children and social support to parents.

The initiative, dubbed Auburn Gresham GOLD is an improvement plan which targets Kindergarten through 3rd grade academics while also providing social support for the parents and families of students. While the focus for kids is on academics, the Auburn Gresham GOLD initiative offers parents assistance through programs that provide job placement opportunities, health care, and child care options. This multi-generation approach is based on research that has proven that a strong household increases a student’s chance for success in the classroom.

The strategy behind Auburn Gresham GOLD is based on the collective impact model, which is also the inspiration behind United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative. This approach brings the principals of all five Auburn Greshman GOLD schools together for meetings to collaborate and create an aligned strategy. There is no other initiative like this in the City of Chicago. Alene Mason, Principal of Scott Joplin Elementary, said all the principals involved in the program view the success of one school as a victory for them all. “We are trying to build model schools by sharing resources in order to take all of our schools to the next level,” said Mason. “What keeps me excited about this work is regardless of what school a child goes to, as long as it’s an Auburn Gresham GOLD school; I know they will have a quality education.”

Tenisha Jones, the Director of Education and Program Coordinator of the Neighborhood Network for GAGDC, is the architect of Auburn Gresham GOLD. She said the GAGDC Neighborhood Network was in a unique place to implement the collective impact strategy, and make it stronger. “We wanted to use the power of collective impact to change systems.” Jones explained being able to bring not only principles, but other local officials to the table to share ideas and resources resulted in better communication and streamlined efforts to improve the students overall learning experience.

One of the major shifts in policy was a shared curriculum between the five schools. “This was a huge win for families in the district,” said Jones. The families in Auburn Gresham are highly mobile, so it is common that a change in address results in a change in their child’s school; this can result in gaps in overall academic success. “Now when children move to a new school, they can pick up from where they left off as long as their family moves to an area that is a part of the Auburn Gresham GOLD schools initiative,” said Jones.

The Auburn Gresham Community is part of United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative. Iona Calhoun-Battiste, United Way’s Community Engagement Manager in Auburn Gresham said she has watched Auburn Greshman GOLD grow from a vision to reality. “With support from United Way, Ms. Jones, and the principals, students and families can now be a part of a growing and thriving school community through the Auburn Gresham Gold Initiative.” So far, the initiative includes Cook Elementary, Clara-Barton Elementary, Oglesby Elementary, Westcott Elementary and Scott Joplin Elementary. Jones has high hopes for Auburn Gresham GOLD and looks forward to seeing it continue to grow. “It’s my baby,” said Jones. “I hope to see the model expand to other communities throughout Chicago.”

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