Chapin Hall a Key Player in the Elev8 Community School Initiative
Over the past few decades, there has been a movement toward the integration of before- and after-school learning opportunities and physical health, mental health, and other social services into the school setting. One model that incorporates this idea is the community school. With over 100 community schools in operation, Chicago Public Schools is home to the largest community school initiative in the nation. Another such initiative is Elev8, a project that includes five different schools in five different Chicago neighborhoods, as well as schools in Oakland, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and sites throughout New Mexico. Elev8 is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, with local funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, Michael Reese Health Trust, the Polk Brothers Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase.
Each Elev8 location has partnered with a local evaluator to collect information about the successes, challenges, and lessons learned in each year of implementation. Chapin Hall is the local evaluator for all Chicago Elev8 sites. All Elev8 sites share three areas of focus: academic enrichment and extended-day learning, comprehensive, youth-friendly preventive healthcare services, and family social supports (such as access to public benefits and youth mentoring). In addition, the Chicago sites are emphasizing community and parent involvement.
"There is evidence that children and youth benefit from learning opportunities and support provided in multiple contexts. The hope is that the integration of health, social, and other services into the schools will result in strong partnerships between schools, families, and community agencies and leaders," said Lauren Rich, co-principal investigator on the project. "In turn, these partnerships may foster positive youth development and educational achievement."
Elev8 builds on other community school and community development initiatives in Chicago. In Chicago, five local community organizations have partnered with five schools to implement the initiative in each of the neighborhood sites. These five Elev8 communities are part of the MacArthur Foundation’s New Communities Program (NCP), operated by the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC). This program is a long-term initiative to support comprehensive community development in 16 Chicago community areas. Starting between 1998 and 2003, the NCP communities undertook a community planning process that involves local residents and lead community agencies in the creation of quality-of-life plans. With these plans, the communities are establishing partnerships to address issues including employment, parks and recreation, healthcare, housing affordability, and commercial and retail development.
Nine of the NCP lead agencies were invited to partner with a local middle school or elementary school serving middle school students and respond to a call for proposals for Elev8. Of these nine agencies, five agencies —and the partner schools they identified—were selected to participate in Elev8. After the five lead community agencies were selected, each chose additional partners necessary for the implementation of Elev8, including a health partner and a partner from the local Center For Working Families.
“Chicago’s history with Community Schools and the existing structures and partnerships built by the New Communities Project provide an excellent foundation from which to enhance schools’ ability to provide equitable access to integrated learning, health, and social supports for underserved youth,” explained Matt Stagner, executive director of Chapin Hall and co-principal investigator of the project. “The time is ripe to harness the expertise, momentum, and goodwill created by these efforts to develop schools that demonstrate best practices and innovative strategies. We hope our evaluation will capture the lessons of these efforts for school districts nationwide.”