Many residents of Auburn Gresham, a neighborhood of 35,000 located on Chicago’s South Side, face great academic and financial challenges. Nearly half of children ages 0 to 5 live in poverty, and 80 percent of children in primary grades are not reading at their grade level.

Though these statistics are staggering, local stakeholders – including teachers, school administrators and parents – aren’t accepting the status quo. Instead, they’re fighting to ensure a better future for all who call Auburn Gresham home.

Community collaboration

Leading the effort is the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC). In partnership with the United Way of Metro Chicago, the GAGDC has gathered local stakeholders to create the Auburn Gresham Neighborhood Network.

Utilizing a structured form of collaboration known as collective impact, the Network has come together to share ideas and resources, as well as streamline efforts to improve students learning experiences. Members created a three-to-five-year strategy, including  goals to bring quality education to Auburn Gresham children and social supports to their parents.

“We wanted to use the power of collective impact to change systems,” said Tenisha Jones, the director of education and program coordinator of GAGDC.

"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.”

They started by creating a shared curriculum between the five participating schools — Cook Elementary, Clara-Barton Elementary, Oglesby Elementary, Westcott Elementary and Scott Joplin Elementary.

“This was a huge win for families in the district,” Tenisha said. Families in Auburn Gresham are highly mobile, so it’s common that a change in address can result in a child switching schools. This can create a gap a student’s education, impacting their 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 school initiative,” she added.  

A growing initiative

Taking a multi-generational approach, the GOLD schools also serve the students’ parents and guardians. The adults are provided with job placement opportunities, connections to health care and child care options.

This support is vital to ensuring improved academic achievement of students, as research  shows strong households increase a students’ chance for success in the classroom.

And while the work is just getting started, Tenisha has high hopes for the future of the Auburn Gresham GOLD initiative – both in and outside of the neighborhood.

“It’s my baby,” Tenisha said. “I hope to see the model expand to other communities throughout Chicago.”

Improving academics

Dubbed Auburn Gresham GOLD, the Neighborhood Network’s main initiative aims to unite the principals of five Auburn Gresham schools as they work toward the shared strategy in order to improve the academics of children in kindergarten through third-grade in the community.

“We are trying to build model schools by sharing resources in order to take all of our schools to the next level,” said Alene Mason, principal of Scott Joplin Elementary. “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.”

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