Eleventh-grader Malik Wright wants the world to know: “Catch everything, even when it’s not thrown at you. You only get one chance at life, so you want to catch every opportunity that comes your way.” At Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School, students, teachers, and faculty would agree, and the school helps make that possible.
Located on Chicago’s West Side, Michele Clark High School is one of the city’s science, technology, education, and math (STEM) high schools, and is generally underserved. Recently, however, the school received a grant through the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund. This fund has had a massive impact on the students and staff of the school—an effect that also resonates throughout the surrounding community.
Teacher Melissa Hughes explains that the students primarily face challenges that are a result of the systems of oppression and racism they exist within as well as the fallout from those things.
“In education, in justice systems, economics,” Hughes says, “all of those impact our students daily, and that plays out in complex trauma.” Principal Charles Anderson sees this challenge similarly: Students experience different instances of trauma, and it’s hard for them to shut that off just because they’ve arrived at school. Hughes and Anderson both seek out ways to navigate this trauma in educating their students. “Sometimes we struggle with trying to expose them to any and everything possible,” Anderson says.
With the help of the New Chance Fund, Hughes explains that they’ve been able to expose the students to more activities and opportunities: “It’s let me dream big and have hope. I’ve been able to bring in artists from the West Side of Chicago, and we wouldn’t have the funds for that if not for this grant.”
During the 2017-2018 school year, Michele Clark High School was able to facilitate a West Side arts festival to highlight local artists as well as the school’s students. Throughout the year, spoken word artists and muralists like Avery R. Young, Max Sansing, Kush Thompson, and Patricia Smith (all West Side natives) visited the school and helped provide workshops and art for the students. At the end of the school year, they hosted a culminating event where students presented their visual arts and performed alongside the local artists. Says Hughes, “The funding provided the opportunity to bring in the artists and put on the festival.”
In addition to the arts festival, the school has been able to expand its other arts offerings as well as STEM education. Per Principal Anderson, the grant has provided the funds for things that give students exposure in the classroom and after school. The school was renting a mobile studio that would come twice weekly where kids could make beats, and the students created quite a few songs through that production. As the mobile studio was such a success, the grant provided the funding for the school to purchase their equipment, which turned into a student project: they got to learn how to work the materials, how to produce media like videos, and how to put on shows.
The New Chance Fund has offered not only new equipment and workshops but an emotional and social impact on the children as well. Principal Anderson says, “The students feel like somebody cares about us. Somebody looked at us and said, ‘Here’s some money. We want you guys to do some things.’” According to Anderson, the students’ morale has improved drastically. They are more proud to show off their building, and they’re proud to come to a school that’s been beautified with artwork and state-of-the-art technology.
Anderson also describes how they have been able to showcase some of the rooms during parent and community meetings, and that a church uses the facilities as well. The grant has been a catalyst to help improve morale and the experience of going to school, and it has increased community recognition.
“Before the Chance grant,” 12th grader Tiana White says, “this school was mostly sports and STEM[-focused]. Now, the arts have a niche in the school. Now, kids can do something that invokes their creativity.” Her peers agree: Malik says that it’s made school a more fun place to go, and Devon Richardson, 10th grade, says that it’s made his job as Mayor of the School easier. “Having the technology in my school improves the simplicity of my job,” Devon maintains since he’s in charge of the sound system during events.
The students also describe how receiving the grant has meant a lot to them personally. “It makes me feel like we’re on the map,” Malik states,” not like we’re just another school in Chicago. Like we are something, not just another school in the hood.”
Principal Anderson’s message to the world is bold, brave, but full of truth: “Watch out, here comes Michele Clark. Here come some of Michele Clark’s students that are willing to change the world, willing to take risks, and willing to make things happen that have never happened before.”
Learn more about the New Chance Arts & Literature Fund. You can also learn more about our mission and other initiatives like Warmest Winter Chicago and Open Mike.
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Date & Time
Friday, April 26th