November 4, 2016

Umoja at Gage Park High School: Partners in Whole School Change

Michelle.jpgUmoja is incredibly proud to be partnering with 13 Chicago public high schools this year through our College & Career Readiness, Social Emotional Learning, and Restorative Justice programming. We are an on-the-ground partner for schools to ensure every student graduates from high school, ready for college and career success. 

Umoja’s commitment to whole school change is embodied at Gage Park High School – where we have two full-time Umoja staffers, an active Peace Room, and our high-impact Seminar curriculum is taught in all four grade levels five days a week.

Our dynamic duo of Michelle Brown and Samuel Green are partnering with Gage Park teachers and administrators to promote a positive school culture and foster a ‘growth mindset’ among students. As a Restorative Justice Specialist, Michelle’s focus is on increasing the peace in the school. “I’ve had a lot of community building circles in here [the Peace Room], so students are aware that it’s not just where conflict gets resolved or that the room is associated with something negative, it’s also a place where you can come and speak your mind. This is a place for you to be free to express yourself in whatever way is most comfortable for you. I try to be intentional in making that space and making it accessible for all students. It’s been very well received.”

As a Social Emotional Learning Specialist, Samuel wants to empower students to see their full potential, “How can we enable them with the skills so that they can become their own advocate? That’s where we will see a big change in their success.” Michelle also strives to help students express themselves and feel heard. “I have learned that if you give someone the space to say what their experience was in a situation or how they’ve been impacted, that’s all they need. They can make that behavior shift. The way they perceive situations and attitudes can shift. It just reminds me of the importance of really ‘hearing’ people and giving people the space to have a voice.” Sam.jpg

It has been a challenging year for CPS teachers, and Michelle and Samuel both recognize their important role to support teachers and staff. As Samuel put it, “The challenge is always how to provide a consistent tone for the adults in the building and in what ways we can navigate, together, through the stressors. It’s my job to be that guiding force.”

Samuel and Michelle agree that having Umoja’s two signature programs at Gage Park High School creates opportunities for each to grow their impact “Michelle and I have been working together, thinking about how we can maximize each other’s program and be able to provide the best for our students.”