At Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, their mission is “to engage every student in rigorous, well-rounded, instructional activities that promote critical thinking, complex problem-solving and effective participation in a holistic STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) program to succeed in college and career endeavors as lifelong learners.” Because of the budget deficits in the Chicago Public School System, many schools, including Mahalia Jackson, have not been able to see their missions come to fruition.
When it comes to exploring the arts in elementary school, a common curriculum includes exposing students to music classes and art classes about once a week, and some schools are fortunate enough to offer after-school arts programs. For many Chicago Public Schools, however, these options simply are not available. At Mahalia Jackson, though, educators do feel fortunate that they have received the opportunity to grow their arts program with help from the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund. Despite the lack of public funding allocated around the school district, private investment will help their mission thrive.
Becoming one of the recipients of the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund has greatly affected how parents feel about the school. Educator Ms. Harrington said that parents are acutely aware of how the grant will help improve the school’s arts programming, and they know that their children will gain opportunities in return. One parent said, “My daughter is going to gain so much from Chance coming in.”
Parents are also aware of the hardship the school — and CPS in general — has gone through because of the overall budget deficit. “Lots of parents in the CPS system in general just feel that…their children were slighted at one point,” Harrington said. According to Harrington, it is difficult for parents to send their children to a school with overcrowded classroom settings and lack of resources. “The energy is different,” she said, now that parents are aware of the New Chance grant. “We’re getting things the children deserve. When they were lacking, it was blatantly obvious.” Now, the areas of opportunity that were previously underutilized, including the arts program, will be fulfilled.
The students are excited about the funding, as well. Many students at Mahalia Jackson Elementary expressed feeling forgotten, but receiving the grant from the New Chance Fund has helped them feel noticed. “It makes us feel important,” one student said. “He could have chosen all the other schools and he chose our school.” The students are eager for the school to bring in the arts, including dance and music.
The physical outcome of the grant at Mahalia Jackson Elementary includes enhancing their dance studio, upgrading the computer lab, and more. They will be surveying the students to see what they want and to make sure they have a voice and that the school will be offering things the students want to do. Some of the teachers have seen the direct impact of incorporating arts education. One teacher said, “I have students that don’t talk much, but they will once they have a song on that they like.” Music even helps with discipline: the teacher explained that some students exhibit bad behaviors, but putting a favorite song on will put them in a better mood.
Educator Mr. Feele explained that one of the most important aspects of receiving the funding is to maintain the momentum it provides. “What we wouldn’t like to see,” he said, “is to build an art program and have it crumble or be stripped away from the kids.” For the program to thrive, as well as to live up to the school’s mission, educator Mr. Feele believes in a long-term vision for the school. “[We are] actively working to maintain grants, maintain relationships with the community [and] community partners, and [seeking] wonderful opportunities that are available to us,” Feele said. He also explained, “When I think about the best part [of being a teacher], it’s those ‘wow’ moments that you can give a kid. When you hang up their artwork in the classroom, and they walk in and
say, ‘Wow, look at that!’ or they’ll say, ‘Ew!’ Regardless, you elicited a response from them.” The enhanced arts program will allow those ‘wow’ moments to continue.
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.