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Burke Elementary School serves a variety of needs for its students and community members.

As a recent recipient of the New Chance Arts & Literature Fund, teachers and faculty at Burke have been able to face some of the challenges that students experience on a daily basis. Burke’s community is comprised of 87.1% low-income students, with a large majority of that demographic being Black and Brown children.

In a recent interview with Burke educators, Social Works learned of the high need of this school community and the impact that resources can have on student morale and participation.Assistant Principal Terry Davis describes the Burke Elementary environment as one of resilience.

For so many of his students, the landscape of their environment poses threats to safety and positive learning environments that they tackle together as a school community every day. He states, “everything from crime, to poverty, joblessness, and homelessness…are issues our kids and families [grapple] with on a regular basis.

We are developing strategies to better support our families.” The hope of implementing more resources with the New Chance Fund is to bring more resources into the school but also instill a sense of pride about the community that these students come from. With the implementation of new art supplies and musical instruments, Davis describes the excitement students experience when coming to school. In fact, families have also become more involved with programming as well, which is another important factor in building a thriving learning community.

When asked what challenges she and her students face at Burke, music teacher Sabrina Townsend describes an environment where children are sometimes lacking their fundamental needs. She states, “the biggest challenge is the overwhelming poverty [students face], which has created a culture where it’s hard for kids to function in school. They’re tired and hungry,” making it a challenge for students to focus throughout the day. Thus, a classroom environment that keeps students engaged and motivated is important. With the Fund, Burke has been able to purchase a variety of instruments the school did not previously have, such as guitars and violins.

Townsend states she had students who never participated or wanted to come to class, but now they ask her in the hallways when they’ll be able to play with instruments and have music again. Variety and opportunity also means that Townsend can actively engage with different student needs and interests, which is optimal for teaching and fostering positivity in the classroom.Evidenced by the energy from staff that Social Works interviewed, Burke students have more exciting opportunities to engage with art in the future.

Assistant Principal Terry Davis leaves staff with an important message that he carries into his labor.

He states, “My message to the world is to be committed to our young people and the future. I believe our young people are the most precious humans on the face of the earth…it takes more than a village to raise a child. We can send people to the moon, but we can’t figure out how to fix Black and Brown school in the U.S. There’s a complex historical background, but if we become serious, we can fix it.” As such, we continue to have a commitment as a Chicago community to improve the lives of young people in our city. Learn more about the New Chance Arts & Literature Fund. You can also learn more about our mission and other initiatives like Warmest Winter Chicagoland Open Mike.

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