South Chicago Teachers Put Community First

On a sun-drenched May morning, murmurs from behind closed doors echoed down the muraled hallways of Thomas Hoyne Fine Arts Elementary School in South Chicago. Sitting in a quiet neighborhood below the Chicago Skyway, the school educates around 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

Within its brick walls, a robust sense of community thrives thanks to exceptional teaching staff and administration, including two devoted teachers, Ms. Katie Jenner and Ms. Stephanie Armstead.

Together with their student body and community, they view Hoyne not merely as a place of learning, but as a “home away from home” for those connected to it.

“The kids, they’re like your kids. I know a lot of teachers say, ‘Oh my kids,’ but here, it’s really like that. You’re a part of their family and you have those close relationships with their parents and grandparents,” said Ms. Jenner, a sixth, seventh and eighth-grade science and math teacher. “That’s what makes our school so great.”

“Some of these kids, you are everything to them. You’re their mother, an aunt, counselor, sister, that relief that they get,” added Ms. Armstead, a second-grade teacher.

Hoyne teachers stay in close touch with the students’ parents and guardians and deeply understand their home lives. These relationships allow them to better understand the behaviors they display at school and how to mitigate troubles that affect their learning.

“Sometimes, the exterior things kids have to deal with when they leave the school can sometimes hinder their ability to always be successful,” said Ms. Jenner, a South Chicago native.

This is why South Chicago Neighborhood Network has focused on addressing trauma that kids experience in their neighborhood. As a part of the United Way of Metro Chicago’s Neighborhood Network Initiative, a group of community-based organizations developed a bold goal aimed at addressing a critical need in the community – reducing trauma-related crimes involving youth by 5 percent over the next decade.

Achieving that goal is a community affair. That’s why the bonds the teachers and families have built in South Chicago aren’t exclusively reserved for the students who attend Hoyne.

Last winter, United Way, in partnership with Target, Meijer and the Chicago Federation of Labor, hosted a holiday coat and toy drive at Hoyne to supply community members with much-needed items and gifts. Resource tables were also present to direct families to accessible healthcare and employment services.

“It made a huge impact. It gave the parents another idea of what the school could possibly be,” said Hoyne Elementary School Principal Mr. Hinton. “Our primary focus is of course to educate students, but in order to do that they have to feel safe and they have to know that we care about them.”

Community Schools that offer wrap-around services for the entire family see students with higher health and educational outcomes, as well as more stable and thriving homes. These results wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of Hoyne’s staff and the solid bonds in the neighborhood. Through the Neighborhood Network approach, United Way is able to come alongside these community leaders as they strive to foster stronger ties throughout South Chicago.

The teachers at Hoyne feel the difference too.

“You feel supported. You feel like when you need something, parents, or even the school and community, will step up and help you. They make us feel appreciated,” Ms. Jenner said.

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, May 7- 11, United Way of Metro Chicago would like to thank Ms. Jenner, Ms. Armstead and all the teachers at Hoyne Elementary for their dedication to creating a stronger South Chicago!

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