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Charles Evans Hughes Elementary School in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood doesn’t usually make it into the news.

It’s the kind of place that’s quiet about the work it does. “If you had never been to Hughes,” says Principal Lucille Howard, “you would not know about Hughes.” Serving the surrounding neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, C.E. Hughes Elementary upholds core values of increasing overall achievement and preparing students for higher education and the workforce via high-quality instruction. They promote positive self-discipline, motivation and excellence, and strive to create a safe and supportive environment for students with diverse learning styles. Funding from the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund has supported C.E. Hughes Elementary in upholding its mission and afforded the school the exciting opportunity to implement school-wide music and theatre programs, something they would not have the resources to do otherwise.

One of the challenges the students at Hughes face is multigenerational poverty in their community, and teachers and faculty recognize that this leads to additional problems.

Principal Howard has been at Hughes for 28 years, and has served as principal for 14 of those. One of the issues that Howard observes at the school is a high mobility rate, which can affect learning and students’ ability to sustain academic growth. Hughes performs high academically, and students who start out at Hughes tend to do well—unless they leave. “Students that typically stay here do well. And they go on to go to high school, and even college, and graduate,” says Howard.

One way that Hughes is fostering student engagement is via the music and theatre programs they have been able to establish thanks to the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund. The school-wide music program has enough instruments for all of their students, from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. “I’ve had many positions over the years,” says music teacher William Hecker, “but I have never had a classroom with a set of instruments that I could readily go to…I can put an instrument in each child’s hand and each child can connect with an instrument.”

With the fund, the school has been able to purchase a drumline setup that accommodates about 20 students at a time, African drumming equipment with 30 or so drums, shakers, and other rhythm instruments, and recording equipment plus a digital interface that lets teachers like Hecker set up a recording studio in class. Students learn about melody, harmony, and how to accompany their own singing with instruments. “I really never thought about this music stuff until they were really serious about this,” says Hughes student Seonn Rucker.

Every grade level gets the opportunity to try out all of the instruments.

This level of exposure is rare; “If Chance the Rapper never donated the grant…we wouldn’t learn how to play the ukulele, the piano, the drums,” says Hughes student Dequandis Jenkins.

C.E. Hughes Elementary has also started a theatre program this year, in year two of grant funding. The program is currently working on a production of “Music Through Time,” which will open in June of this year. “Everyone is involved and excited,” says Howard. “They even were talking about going to a different venue because they have such high hopes for this and they know it’s going to be very successful.”

Another way that the grant has made an impact at C.E. Hughes Elementary is its positive influence on the community’s mindset. “Sometimes we think that because we don’t have the resources, we are not able to do certain things,” says Howard. With the grant, she says, “we received the resources, which did help us purchase the instruments, and, furthermore, get a full-time music teacher. But it also taught us that we could do other things without resources.”

One thing the school has been able to organize without resources is the annual talent show. “We know our students love to dance, they love to perform,” says Howard. “[The students] actually choreograph their own dances, [design] their outfits…Everything is student-centered, student-directed, student-focused…Everything else is done by them with their creative thoughts.” This year is the second year the school is hosting the annual talent show, and everyone is looking forward to it. “Last year’s performance was an outstanding success,” says Howard.

At an underserved school like C.E. Hughes Elementary, making sure their students feel supported is something that is important to the administration. “I try to set up my classroom in a bright and cheerful manner. I try to post things in the room that explain [to students] how much I care about them…I encourage them, I tell them that mistakes happen, it’s okay to make mistakes,” says Hecker. Getting the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund has made this message loud and clear to students. “I’m just honored that there are so many people around us that care about us, and where our future’s going, and to make sure that we make the right decisions to stay on track,” says Seonn. “Thanks to Chance for showing people, don’t forget where you came from.”

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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