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November 13, 2015

Ms. Ousley-Taylor, South Shore International College Preparatory High School 

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Ms. Lisa Ousley-Taylor teaches moderate cognitive impaired students and students that function with autism at South Shore International College Preparatory High School (SSICP).

How has Umoja supported you? 

Umoja has supported me by bringing me Amy (Amy is the Restorative Justice Specialist at SSICP). From the time Amy came in, she has been wonderfully supportive and available. Last year she approached me because I wasn’t sure how I could work with her. It was my first year and I was in survival mode, so she came into the classroom and modeled an example of a Community Circle. I noticed that my students wanted to be a part of the Circle. One of my students, for example, wanted to express emotions and he never does that. My students still use the statements from the Community Circle. 

Students often say that they are scared. “Do it afraid,” I tell them. They are learning to advocate for themselves and stand up for themselves. 

There were a lot of visits to the Peace Room last year from my students. We had a very volatile year. Amy always met the students where they were and my students saw that and felt that and they opened up to her. This year my students look forward to Amy coming into the classroom!

How has this work impacted the student body and school culture?

I think that many of our students use some of the techniques that Amy has taught them. I hear “I need to go to the Peace Room” a lot in the halls. I hear “moving forward.” That is the phrase we use a lot in my classroom. “When you do this…,” “I feel,” “Moving forward, I need you to….” And I’m hearing this in the halls! For our students, culturally, that’s not their choice of words and they are using them more and more outside the Peace Room.

Why do you do this work? 

I do this work because I connect. I have special needs myself and I understand how people with special needs think. Why do I do Umoja? Because I also feel like I belong. It is something that I needed 20 years ago — to have a space where students can share how they feel. No one has ever asked them how they feel and it further improves their ability to learn, because they are in a classroom where they are heard. 

What would it be like if Umoja wasn’t at SSICP?

We would be the normal Chicago public high school. I think we would have many more unresolved conflicts. The level of emotional maturity is fostered here now. The bar is set high. When I am in Amy’s room, she doesn’t allow you to come in out of control. She expects that you respect her space. The integrity of our environment would be severely compromised if Umoja wasn’t here.

Read more about the work at SSICP here.