Thursday, August 07, 2008

"They are being robbed of their childhood"

Today the Chicago SunTimes concluded a three-day series titled "Schooled in Fear" with an article titled "They are being robbed of their childhood"

In today's article children were quotes as asking parents "to volunteer to lead after-school programs in drawing, painting, handcrafts, dancing, sports, cheerleading and chess."

For such activities to take place in non-school hours, there need to be safe places where kids and volunteers can gather. Such places require structure, staffing, leadership, and someone to pay the bills.

Let's use the Tutor/Mentor Connection's Program Locator and zip code map to see what's available to kids in these areas.

Little Village Academy, is at 2620 S. Lawndale Ave, in the 60623 zip code. Looking at the zip code map you can see that the North part of this zip code has higher levels of poverty than the South part. Click on the 60623 zip code of the map, and you can see that there are 3 Boys and Girls Clubs in the area, plus the Better Boys Foundation. According to the 2000 Census there are 29,011 youth under 18 in the South Lawndale area. That's a lot of kids and too few programs.

Talcott Elementary is at 1840 W. Ohio Street, 60622. Looking at the zip code map, and searching for tutor/mentor programs serving elementary or middle school students, we don't find any within walking distance for kids attending this school. Yet, if you look at the Google Map for this area, the neighborhood is surrounded by Chicago Ave, Grand Ave and Ashland Ave., meaning thousands of potential volunteers are driving past this neighborhood as the leave work every day.

Sexton Elementary is located at 6020 S. Langley Ave, 60637. Looking at the zip code map and searching for tutor/mentor programs serving elementary or middle school students, we don't find any within walking distance for kids attending this school either. Yet we do see the University of Chicago just a few blocks away. I wrote an article recently quoting President Jimmy Carter, wondering why poor neighborhoods surround so many institutions of higher education.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection has been adding new maps to its library for the past few weeks, including this map showing hospitals in Chicago.

We've been writing about these maps here, here and here. If you search Google for the location of the three schools in the SunTimes article, you'll see exactly where these school are located in the city. If you compare this to the Tutor/Mentor Maps, you can see the degree of poverty and poorly performing schools in the area. You can also see locations of hospitals, businesses, churches and universities nearby, who might be a source of volunteers, leaders and donors to organize arts and technology enriched tutor/mentor programs.

We also created maps showing locations of universities.

On both of these maps you can see levels of poverty surrounding the University of Chicago, and University of Chicago Hospital. This has been there for a long time, so when I see TV ads saying the University of Chicago Hospitals rate number 1, I guess this does not mean they rate number one in helping reduce the impacts of poverty and violence, which are public health issues, in the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital. I'd say the same thing about the leaders of the University of Chicago.

The editorial writers are demanding more accountability from educators. I'd like to see them ask leaders of universities and hospitals to be more involved in solving these problems.

Programs where people can volunteer to do arts, crafts or be mentors and tutors don't just "start up". Good programs take a dedicated group of leaders, a consistent source of funding, and many years to grow from an idea to an impact. This means the institutions in the areas around where programs are needed need to make it part of their own strategic missions to build a network of good programs to serve as pipelines to careers for kids in these areas.

It also means that we need to support the programs that are already operating in the city. Right now any business, church, hospital or media station can create an editorial or advertisement that says "Be a volunteer. Be a donor." You can point to the zip code map and Program Locator, to shop for what zip code you want to support, and what program(s) you want to give time, talent and dollars to.

Do it now and you can help a few more kids have a non school support system this fall. Do this all year long and you can help new programs form where there are now voids.

Don't do anything and we can look forward to reading another series by the SunTimes or Tribune every few weeks for the next decade.

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