Because you asked: Mayor Lightfoot, Here’s How to Improve Education…

This memo from our Storycatchers Theatre’s Changing Voices participants was submitted to the Chicago Community Trust’s “On The Table” as a response to the new Mayor’s request for input about fixing our education system. These young adults have been through public schools and have personally experienced how the system is not properly or holistically educating youth.

They were asked to talk about the issues they feel were obstacles to their success and what solutions should be considered to eliminate them. This is a summary of this discussion.

We want financial literacy!

There needs to be more attention given to consumer education. Courses need to be offered early in the education system and placed into a curriculum that runs throughout high school. Although economics classes do exist in the schools, it’s not practical knowledge and real-world applications of financial literacy: teaching the concepts of saving, investing, banking, and budgeting – and how having this knowledge is critical to being successfully independent.

Class sizes are too big!

How can no child be left behind when there are too many students in one class?  And many of whom are at different levels? There needs to be smaller class sizes to allow for a curriculum that’s more relevant to each student. If there’s no way to reduce class sizes, then CPS should add educators trained in social, emotional, and behavioral issues who can provide support for students from an early age to help prevent disruptions in large classrooms. Ideally, there would be an aid in each class who is trained to support with social/emotional development.

We want teachers with shared experiences!

We think that there should be teachers in our community that look like they come from similar communities. It’s an immediate bridge to trust. When we believe that teachers understand where we come from and the issues youth face, it’s easier to connect to them and more quickly build a bond. That bond is important when students see many different teachers each year.

College isn’t for everyone!

In order to prepare youth for lasting employment, there should be more exposure to other career options as opposed to solely focusing on college. College is not for everyone. If they consistently hear that a high school diploma is needed to get into college, that diploma is less important for those that have no interest in college.

To fill the gaps in education and provide paths for those that do not want to go to college, there needs to be better access to career-oriented internships or apprenticeships. A lot of us are raising families and supporting parents. Skilled trades are in demand, and are a way to become financially independent more quickly, avoid high student loan debt, and contribute to our community. This career path needs to be more accessible to us.

City Colleges need to reach out!

The biggest issues with city colleges is that they don’t do enough outreach in disinvested communities to help potential students understand the complex application process and the educational pathways available to them.

As many youth have no prior experience with college, they enroll in courses that don’t always align with desired career paths. They end up spending money on courses that make getting a degree take longer than required. This is how many of them end up in debt. Although city colleges offer the “2nd Chance” program, they don’t feel confident in navigating this program as they don’t have good support for exploring ways to pay for school.

Finally, prospective college students see a lot of ads in their mail box from other colleges but none from City Colleges. Do they not want youth to apply? Unfortunately, many youth end up going to for-profit colleges or expensive universities that make them feel special, thus getting them into more debt than needed and in an environment that’s not right for them.

A note from the Storycatchers staff.

Ms. Lightfoot. I hope you and your team is able to recognize that in order to solve these educational issues our young people have highlighted, more deeply rooted issues need to be addressed. For example…

  • How do we get more Black men to become teachers?
  • How do we train teachers to teach in an individualized and trauma-informed way so they are equipped to handle the challenges youth in these communities face?
  • And how do we reduce violence in these communities so that youth can focus on their schoolwork instead of how they’re getting home safely? How do we create communal safe spaces and support systems to help youth heal from trauma, which will reduce violence and reduce the underwhelmingly unmet need for counselors?
  • How do we bring more stable jobs to a neighborhood to allow parents to be more invested in their children’s educational success instead of worrying about how they’re paying bills?

Mayor Lightfoot, we realize these challenges are interwoven, complex, and long-standing. But by no means are they unsolvable. More than anything else, we ask that these youth’s voices be a part of the conversation. Because there can be no solutions without them.

Thank you,
The Storycatchers Theatre staff and youth


How your own opinions about what Mayor Lightfoot should do about improving education?