Skip to main content

A Community-Centered, Holistic Approach to Immigrant Families in Public Schools

Testimony by Logan Square Neighborhood Association

To the Illinois New Americans Policy Council Meeting

Chicago, April 27, 2006

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago is a 44-year-old multi-issue community organization on the northwest side of Chicago. The Logan Square community is about two-thirds Latino. Its public schools are over 90% Latino and low-income. Most parents are first generation immigrants from Mexico with some mixture from other Spanish speaking areas.

Working collaboratively with principals, teachers and parents, LSNA has developed a set of institutions and programs in collaboration with 8 public schools. Our common goal is to make schools centers of their communities, to build family-centered learning communities. We believe that for most children, the involvement of parents is a key their academic success. LSNA programs and leadership training have created schools that are family-friendly and trusted by parents, and in which parents can play a significant role. Through our programs literally thousands of parents and students are becoming educated together and moving forward together. Families in our schools are hungry for education, and our set of institutions make this accessible.

LSNA works inside and with 10 public schools. Our nationally recognized programs form a replicable model which can greatly improve immigrant education. In 12 years, our Community Schools model has resulted in: greatly improved test scores, a huge improvement in school climate, increased family literacy, training and employment for the parents, access to health care and other public services, a parent pipeline for bilingual teaching and more. It has been tested, and it works.

I will talk particularly about the two basic pieces of our model. Our many other innovative programs flow from this foundation.

1) LSNA Parent Mentor Program: (begun 1995, now in 9 schools) – About 120 parents, mostly immigrant mothers, are hired and trained each year to assist teachers 2 hours per day in classrooms. Parents receive a stipend of $600 per semester and weekly workshops. Most go on to further schooling or jobs. Their presence in the school has transformed school climate and built bridges to the rest of the families. The mentors themselves are personally transformed, become active participants in public life, return to school, learn English, get jobs, etc. LSNA has graduated over 1,000 parents in the past decade, who are able to be role models and effectively help their children. Parent mentors typically assist the children who are falling behind. Sixty are in training to become bilingual teachers, and will start graduating next year.

Program coordination at the school is provided either by an experienced parent or by a school employee, under the co-supervision of CPS and LSNA staff people. Many parent mentors also become involved in other LSNA activities and in neighborhood issues such as affordable housing. Five work at LSNA to help residents access health insurance, low-cost clinics, food stamps, etc, serving more than 2,100 each year.

LSNA raises the money and pays stipends and parent coordinators. The cost is approximately $25,000 per school plus LSNA costs of about $20,000 per school. LSNA provides ongoing training, mentoring of coordinators and parents, fundraising, reporting and financial management, and involves parents in neighborhood issues. Current funding comes from Illinois State Board of Education, Polk Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Illinois Dept of Human Services, and others. Individual schools contribute. All this funding is year-to-year, and LSNA spends a great deal of time fundraising.

2. School Community Learning Centers (begun 1996, now in 6 schools)

LSNA runs after-school and evening community centers in six schools. Centers provide ESL and GED for adults, along with childcare, tutoring, culture and recreation activities for their children. Over 700 families study in our centers each week. The City Colleges provide adult education. 20 additional non-profit agencies provide classes and services. Some classes are taught by parents or teachers. 60 neighborhood residents are employed part time by the centers to provide security, childcare and some classes. The centers also provide a site for whatever else the community and school wants, such as Family Reading Nights, Family Math Nights, etc. All activities are free.

Before each center opened, parent mentors helped to plan by surveying residents door -to-door. Each center has a community board which helps make decisions about hiring, programming and other issues.

Basic cost for a SCLC is $180,000 per year. Centers are currently in their 3rd year of a 5-year declining 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from ISBE, and they receive some funding from ICCB. Chicago Public Schools provides the site and utilities. One school gets funding from the Campaign for Community Schools. There is not enough money for the need and it is very competitive.

LSNA was one of the first in Chicago to start SCLCs, but there is national and local support (if not enough money) for the idea. Arne Duncan used the LSNA model to urge many more after-school centers in Chicago schools.

In the past 7 years test scores in LSNA schools have more than doubled, from an average of about 20% testing at national norms, to nearly 50%. Thousands of adults have studied ESL in LSNA centers and over 100 adults yearly get their GED. Beyond providing educational achievement, LSNA programs at school sites serve as ideal centers of immigrant integration. Public schools are the one public space that exists in every community, they are nearby, accessible, open to all families, and an institution that parents are deeply interested in. They can host citizenship classes, health or counseling activities, etc. The key is to make them comfortable places for families. By combining aggressive parent involvement programs and community centers, the school becomes a welcoming place that can serve family needs effectively.

Based on 10 years of experience, we feel strongly that this school-based model could successfully become a state-wide initiative, perhaps one where organizations and schools could apply for funding jointly.


Recommendations:

1. LSNA’s Parent Mentor program should be recognized as successful pilots and turned into a statewide immigration integration program with a permanent line of funding from ISBE and/or IDHS.

2. LSNA’s community-based model for School-Community Learning Centers should be developed as a state-wide immigrant integration program with a permanent line of funding from ISBE and ICCB.

3. ISBE should open up the federally-funded “Supplemental Educational Services” (mandated and funded through “No Child Left Behind”) to fund linguistically/ culturally informed and community-based agencies to provide after-school tutoring for public school students.

For its work in schools, LSNA has won the following awards:

2000 James Brown IV Award for community service from the Chicago Community Trust

2005 “Chicago Community Organizing Award”

2005 Ford Foundation’s “Leadership for a Changing World” Award

For more information, see the LSNA Case Study from “Strong Neighborhoods, Strong Schools,” available by order from www.crosscity.org or online at www.lsna.net.

Contacts:

Nancy Aardema, LSNA Executive Director, nancyaardema@yahoo.com

Joanna Brown, LSNA lead education organizer, joannabrown47@hotmail.com

Lissette Moreno, Director of Community Learning Centers, Lmoreno28@aol.com

2240 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL., 60618

773-384-4370, fax 773-384-0624