Date of Event: February 21, 2014. Location: Garfield Park Conservatory
Each year, Communities In Schools of Chicago connects as many as 1,500 programs and services to a network of 159 public schools across Chicago. These connections reach as many as 70,000 students annually, providing them the social, emotional, physical health and enrichment supports they need to learn, stay in school and succeed in life.
Because CISC connects more students in Chicago with school-based supports than perhaps any other organization in the city, it has become incumbent upon our organization to ensure that each program it links to students and families meets a high standard of quality and effectiveness. This is particularly important given the wide range of topics CISC partners’ programs address as well as the variety of formats they take – from single-session concerts and dramatic performances to semester-long prevention education classes. For the past seven years, CISC has developed a range of best practices to support its network of nearly 200 community partners to deliver sound classroom presentations. Through a combination of direct program observations undertaken by CISC staff, annual surveying of school partners, and feedback from students and teachers participating in programming, CISC has long helped partners in improving basic aspects of their programming, including the structure of lessons, professionalism of presenters, and engagement of students in meaningful activities and discussions.
During the next several years, CISC will invest significant staff resources to move beyond this basic operational model and deepen its understanding of the hallmarks of quality school-based programming. CISC will develop this expertise by focusing each year on investigating programming in one of eight major areas in which its partners offer school-based services (see Table 1). Through a review of evidence-based literature, discussion with our partners and experts in a variety of fields, and regular attendance of specialized seminars and trainings, CISC’s program staff will develop standards for effective school-based programming in key priority areas such as violence prevention, arts and academic enrichment, health education and, potentially, related prevention education fields.
As CISC systematically develops its expertise in quality school-based programming, it will continue to transform the nature of the support it provides community partner organizations. After years of primarily focusing on connecting community partners to schools most in need of their services, CISC will devote increasing attention to ensure that those programs are rigorous in terms of their instructional methodology, program model, and facilitators’ knowledge and skills. By identifying and codifying these elements of effective programming across a variety of priority areas the next several years, CISC will enhance the quality of the services it connects to schools each year and maximize the impact of those programs on tens of thousands of students.
CISC initiated its development of quality school-based program standards by exploring best practices related to violence prevention providers. During the 2012-13 academic year, CISC staff read more than 40 peer-reviewed research articles, interviewed 15 experts in the fields of public health, juvenile justice, sociology and education, and participated in a range of informative seminars and trainings related to youth violence, resiliency practices and various community trends. From this work, CISC developed its Elements of Effective Prevention Programs.
In subsequent years, CISC will adapt the process developed for the Elements of Effective Violence Prevention Programming to build its organizational knowledge of effective practices in other high-priority areas (2013-2014 – Arts Education). Like the violence prevention elements, these standards will enable CISC to better monitor the quality of specialized programming it connects to schools, identify partners who need support in enhancing the rigor of their programs, and, overall, help the organization to connect more programs that have a positive impact on the lives of young people.
This event unveiled the Elements for CISC community partners and gave organizations an opportunity to invesitagate and challenge the Elements through their unique lens of providing school-based programs. With our partner feedback, we will be able to deepen our process of developing Elements of Effective Programs across a multitude of content areas.