On Wednesday, July 17, 2016 our team hosted a group of the students of Common Purpose from the University of Exeter in Devon, England for lunch. Common Purpose is an international leadership program designed to train culturally intelligent leaders who are prepared to solve the world’s problems. As members of the program, these students came to Chicago to learn about the factors that have shaped our city and the work being done to correct Chicago’s issues.
The students, hosted by University of Chicago, were assigned the question “What does the city of the future look like, and what do we need to do today to ensure our urban areas are hospitable— both to the surrounding environment and the ever increasing number of people that inhabit it?” In order to answer it, the students visited several of Chicago’s local organizations to learn about our roles in improving the quality of life for Chicago’s citizens. This brought them to our boardroom where we discussed Generation All’s quest to achieve educational equity by encouraging reinvestment in neighborhood public high schools.
To fully explain Generation All’s work, we had to first provide the context for what makes this work so necessary. That meant explaining Chicago’s blatant racial and economic segregation, illustrating the increasing inequity of education outcomes of Chicago high schools, highlighting declining enrollment rates of neighborhood high schools, and questioning the reality of school choice for every CPS student. Next, we explained how organizing and fundraising for the betterment of neighborhood public high schools can serve as a means of making top quality education accessible in every community.
Immediately after the presentation, our team opened up for questions. The first thing the students wanted to know was how this all happened and what policies allowed for such disparities in education to exist and correlate with race and socio-economic status. That was a big question, and there was no direct answer because there are so many underlying causes. There are a number of historical factors that have played into the issue as a whole, many of them concerning race, but it is impossible to pinpoint one exact event that caused it all. It’s important to recognize the causes, but Gen All’s main focus is discovering the solutions and working towards achieving them.
Another question the students posed was how Gen All will unite everyone in its initiative. Revitalizing neighborhood public high schools is no small feat, and it will require as much involvement as possible from students, parents, teachers, community leaders, and government officials. For this reason, and also because of the complexity and intersectionality of the underlying problems, Generation All partners with several of Chicago’s local organizations who work to fix issues relevant to its cause. Most of the partner organizations specialize in specific matters such as violence or immigration, and many are specific to one community. As members of Gen All’s steering committee, all of the groups are able to bounce ideas off of each other and create a hive mind for eliminating the education disparities of neighborhood schools by way of strengthening the communities around them. Through its partners, Generation All has access to a much wider audience.
It’s not all about the troubles that neighborhood schools face. One of the Common Purpose students asked how we will work to change the negative stereotypes people have of neighborhood schools and their students. This is when we told them about the CPS Success hashtag (#CPSuccess) and the focus of Generation All and its partner organizations on changing the negative narrative. Often the stories that are publicized about neighborhood schools and their surrounding communities are about violence and failure, and the great things that are happening there rarely receive the same amount of attention. Changing the narrative is all about changing the negative stereotypes associated with public schools by highlighting the positive stories.
The students of Common Purpose showed a lot of interest in the work Generation All does for equity in education, but their visit with us soon came to an end. They visited other organizations and continued gathering information about the other initiatives for improving Chicago as they developed projects of their own. At the end of their visit,the students presented three projects that they felt would help shape the city of the future and answer the question that set them off on this journey.
Their first project idea was called Empowerment through Equity. This is a 2-week program for local organizations and businesses to teach students aged 16-18 a combination of job skills and school-related skills. The second was called Longer Term which is a program intended to create connections between students from 11 to 17 years old to promote integration, skill-building, and career readiness. The students’ final project involved food trucks that would help solve the issues of segregation and isolations. Each Chicago neighborhood would have its own food truck that sells that neighborhood’s traditional foods throughout the rest of Chicago for a flat rate of $3 per meal.
The forward-thinking students we met recognize that the city of the future will include all of our students, regardless of where they live, their background, or their family income. We’re glad that our work on making good education accessible to these students brought the Common Purpose team to us. We really enjoyed meeting them, and we’re excited to see what they are able to do for the city of the future!