As you read in our last blog post, we ran a reading program this past summer that was a great success. Maybe one of the best things to come out of it was the relationships we developed with families, program aids, and teachers as a result of the program, and the opportunity to see people shine in new ways. We received help from local leader Elizabeth Jimenez in facilitating our relationship with families. I first saw Elizabeth Jimenez in action at a ABC Meeting when she ran for the BSD100 School Board. There she spoke with passion about her commitment to our schools and gave her perspective on the issues we face. In the reading program this summer, I got to see Elizabeth in conversation with parents and was impressed with her in a new way. She had this way of listening to people and asking questions that just made parents willing to open up and talk about what mattered to them, what they wanted for their children. I think this was in part because she speaks their language (linguistically and culturally), but it was also because she so clearly cared about what they had to say and had immense respect for them as individuals.
What we learned from the conversations that Elizabeth facilitated is that there are many families in Berwyn who want better after school programming for their kids. They asked us if we could run an after school program like our summer reading program, but add in other subjects.
As a parent of two elementary age kids, this idea is also appealing to me. I regularly need to work past 3pm when school gets out, but I still want my children to be able to participate in extracurricular activities like music, arts, languages, and enrichment classes for academic subjects. This is a challenge to arrange, especially when time, money, and transportation are limited.
Our dream for this program is to offer an after school program that runs from 3 to 6pm. We would like to start with two days a week and build to five days a week. From 3:15-4:30, kids would eat a nutritious snack and we would provide support so that participants can complete their homework successfully. We plan to hire students from Morton West as program aids to help with homework, thus providing leadership opportunities to teens in the community. From 4:30 to 5:45pm, students would participate in a range of revolving enrichment programs like STEM, arts, theatre, music, and languages. We plan to hire local teachers and people with a passion/expertise to run these classes, These teachers, along with the program aides and program coordinator, would make up our education team, which would meet regularly for professional development and support. Our aim is that participants experience both high quality instruction and a caring relationship in these programs. And that parents have some of the stress lifted from them of working while also trying to provide meaningful care and activities for their children.
Raul and his family are a part of the group that are excited about this program. They have shown up to all of our meetings about the after school program. I have loved getting to know him, his kids and his wife, and the way that the think about and make decisions for their family life. Raul works the 3rd shift at his job so that he can be with his kids after school and participate in different activities with them. I see this family everywhere now – at the park, riding bikes, walking around the neighborhood. This family is one of those that shines for me now, in their communication with each other and in their engagement with school and community.
This program that Raul and parents like him want for their kids is not cheap, primarily because we are committed to paying program aids and teachers a fair wage. We might be able to run a program like this with volunteers, but this community needs more jobs available within it, and we want to know that we can provide a consistent experience for participants. We are in the process of identifying and applying for grants to help offset the cost of running the program. We would like to offer this program on a sliding scale where folks pay what they are able based on their family’s budget. We want this program to be an act of justice in this way, making high quality programming accessible to those who don’t have the financial resources to pay full cost.
I am excited to build this program, and not just because it will be a great benefit to my kids, Raul’s kids, and families like ours. I am excited because of all the people I will get to see shine in new ways as they work to create something that matters to them. Jesus tells us, “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) And let us have the eyes to see this light shining in those around us.
If you have gifts to bring to this effort, please contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.