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May 16, 2014

“Everything goes back to relationships.”Sullivan_Principal_with_Gates_Millennium_Scholars.JPG

What do Umoja’s school partnerships really look like? We wanted to show you what it looks like from a school Principal and Director of Culture and Climate’s perspective.

In the words of Chad Adams, Roger C. Sullivan High School’s principal, “Umoja uniquely brings the flexibility to customize their partnership to each specific school community. The Peace Room and the Senior Seminar curriculum might exist in multiple schools, but it might look different in every school so that it fits with the needs and desires of that school community. They also build on the strengths and assets in the school community rather than focusing on the deficits.” 

Why do Umoja’s partnerships involve multiple areas of work? As Mr. Adams best explains it, “You can’t meet academic goals if you haven’t touched social and emotional growth and skills. You have to get students in the right mental space to be learning. First if they’re not there at school they aren’t learning and then if you’re not connecting with them and building relationships with them and building trust then they also won’t learn. Everything goes back to relationships.” Sullivan High School in Rogers Park is a prime example of how Umoja’s school partnerships work. First, the senior class is in a daily for-credit Senior Seminar with Umoja’s comprehensive curriculum, and one of our staff members is on site almost full-time supporting the teacher (Tony Smith) and the postsecondary leadership team to ensure all seniors are prepared for life after high school. This work has resulted in some exciting accomplishments this year. For example, two senior students from Sullivan were chosen out of 1,000 students to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship which is a good-through-graduation scholarship for any university of their choice. Overall, more than 90% of Sullivan’s class of 2014 has applied to at least one college or university this year!

Second, Umoja is working with Sullivan to integrate Restorative Justice into their school and has a full-time staff member on site managing a Peace Room, where students can go or be sent to restore conflicts and resolve issues peacefully. Already Umoja has seen more than 250 students and it’s making a big difference in the school. Suspensions have decreased dramatically from more than 470 last year to only 64 in the first semester this year. As Matt Fasana, Sullivan’s Director of Culture and Climate, explains the work is impacting more than discipline numbers, “Traditionally schools have been tasked with an academic emphasis to prepare students for life after but the reality is that many students many students don’t have the other skills necessary. Umoja has put that need to think beyond academics at the forefront of the decisions we make as administrators. Umoja’s partnership also allows schools to be proactive instead of reactive. Students are having an issue, and they are going to the Peace Room and they are seeing real benefit from it. Umoja is also teaching the staff a different practice and a new skill.”

Umoja’s work with teachers is one of the pieces that make our partnerships so unique. From working closely with Mr. Smith in the Senior Seminar classes to helping teachers implement restorative practices, Umoja is supporting teacher development. In the words of Mr. Fasana, “Generally our school has only known zero tolerance and the conversations in the hallway after an incident with a student in the classroom have typically started with a teacher saying ‘You can’t do that.’ Now what we’re seeing is students being asked ‘What happened there?’. We’re at 80% of school staff using the Peace Room at Sullivan and I never anticipated such a high usage.” Mr. Adams agrees and adds, “Umoja does a wonderful job of reigniting that spark about why we became teachers and celebrating this on a daily basis but also self-monitoring the impact of the reality of the work and taking the next steps to recharge as professionals. It’s really about the human capital that Umoja brings – the staff. Without them the curriculum and other tools mean nothing.”