We’re back! After two more long, exhausting days in the classroom, along with a ton of preparation for the spring carnival on Friday, and then the carnival itself, we ended our trip to Chicago the same way we started: with a mixture of emotions. The excess hugs and farewells from the students and teachers alike brought us sadness, but also a sense of accomplishment. We were greatly humbled to know that we were able to make even the slightest impact on the Academy of St. Benedict the African as a whole. Finally, as a group, we concluded that our exhaustion was fueled by five days’ worth of great work for a lot of great people.
When it came to Friday, all of our preparation paid off. Beginning at 8:30 AM and running all the way until 2:30 PM, the Academy of St. Benedict the African’s Spring Carnival definitely gave us all a run for our money. The first wave of students included both pre-school classes, and from then on the grade levels poured into the gym in grade levels of two. Each of us got to experience our specific classrooms in a more active setting, as they interacted in various games and challenges that rewarded them with candy and other prizes. When clean-up was finally over at the end of the day, we can assure you that our feet were sore, but for a good cause. After plenty of “Can you come back next carnival?” from multiple students, we hope that our positive responses can one day come true.
After living and working within the great city of Chicago and its Urban Youth Educational setting, we definitely got a greater insight into a school that was very different than any school any of us have ever experienced. Throughout our journey, we’ve come to realize as a group that while most people would assume that urban schools are often underachieving and unfixable, the Academy of St. Benedict the African has shown us all that the “problem” of Urban Education is most certainly not unsolvable. ASBA does an outstanding job of working with the families of their students to ensure that they are able to give their children a strong education in a positive environment. These are two things that we often take for granted in our own society and in the schools that we grew up attending. The school offers a great deal of educational, emotional, and child-care support, such as the Title One program, in which students who are struggling in the classroom are brought aside separately in order to bring them up to pace with their classmates, the Extended Day program, in which students stay after school and participate in activities such as music, art, dance, and forms of physical education, and personal counseling for students who are having trouble with anything from school, to family life, etc. In addition, the school offers a great deal of financial assistance to families, such as scholarships, educational grants, free/reduced lunch programs, and also, some parents are even given the opportunity to volunteer at the school itself to help pay tuition. Finally, the school runs the “I’ll be back” campaign, which is their aim to keep kids at ASBA for each new school year. They do this by setting registration goals for each grade, and rewarding the grades that reach their goals. In their eyes, it’s a win-win for both parties: the students get to continue going to school in a strong educational setting, and the school gets to continue providing that strong educational setting to each student that comes through its doors, with the help of continuing registration.
While the challenges that Urban Youth face may look like they’re restricting communities from obtaining any hope of a good education for their children, schools like the Academy of St. Benedict the African challenge this view every day, and it was great to see that first-hand. We hope you enjoyed our amateur accounts of some of the experiences we happened to face whilst journeying through good ole Chicago, and on behalf of the Urban Youth Chicago TRIPS group, here’s to signing off for good!