September 11, 2015
First Week of School at Sullivan High School
This past week kicked off the new school year for Chicago Public Schools and one of Umoja’s partner schools, Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, started the week off Umoja-style with a full week of social-emotional learning and community building activities!
The first day of school started off with an assembly for all freshmen where the core values of Family, Integrity, Service and Tenacity were introduced and acted out in skits by the staff. The upperclassmen also spent their day getting reconnected in activities like community building circles! Teachers were trained by Umoja’s Restorative Justice Specialist on the restorative practice of “circles” and how they can be used to build community in a classroom. During these circles, students shared their feelings about this year and how they planned to make this year better than the last.
The rest of the week all classes were taught with lessons from Umoja’s curriculum focused on social-emotional learning! For example, in one class, juniors wrote a letter of gratitude (check out this science of happiness experiment video to see why being grateful is just plain good for you!). One of the juniors gave her letter to a teacher she had sophomore year who didn’t give up on her. When we talked to Ms. Rivera Soto, she said that letter was getting framed and going up on her wall at home for inspiration on those tough days.
The week started out as a way for the incoming freshman class to make sure they transitioned to high school as a unified group with a jumpstart on learning critical self-advocacy, and academic readiness skills. But the freshman team at Sullivan was so excited planning for the week, it became a school-wide effort. And it’s been a huge success, as Assistant Principal Emuwa explained, “When you walk into the classrooms, things looks good. Students are engaged and having fun. Teachers and students are developing relationships much faster. It’s even brought the staff together and given them something to talk about as the school year starts.”
Walking through the classes seeing young people dreaming about their future and planning what they need to do to get there is nothing short of inspirational! One freshman class spent a period designing their own legacy pennants – starting the postsecondary planning early. Another freshman class worked on their class chant that will be chosen at the end of the week and use throughout the school year to keep the group identity and cohesion going strong.
The week ended with the sophomore class being celebrated at a breakfast for having the best on track record in school history! The freshman had their chant competition and many seniors came to offer support and amp up the crowd. You could feel the difference in energy as the freshman class seemed more united in just these few days. They were then treated to ice cream for giving this new school year their all. All classes began the process of creating norms together. These are agreed upon by everyone in the class community and checked throughout the year for any needed changes.
This sense of community and focus on social-emotional learning doesn’t end this week! Freshmen and senior students will also be in for-credit Seminars every single day of the year using Umoja’s curriculum and supported by Umoja staff alongside a Sullivan teacher. These Seminars build on this week’s goals and help the transition into and out of high school be a success for all students at Sullivan.
This intentional focus on relationships and social-emotional learning is paying off. This year Sullivan has almost double the number of freshman entering the school because Sullivan’s reputation is changing as it becomes a place that supports young people and puts them at the center. Suspensions are down, freshman on-track metrics are up and Umoja is proud to be a partner in this work.