Urban Initiatives’ Culture & Climate department’s primary goal is to bring adults into a school in order to positively impact the school’s environment through sport and play. They impact the school’s environment in an effort to improve student outcomes in the areas of social-emotional learning, physical activity, and academic success. They do so through our recess program and the Community Schools Initiative. Our Culture & Climate department will serve over 20 schools this year through these two different programs and requires over 60 staff members to fulfill the needs of our partner schools.
This department’s monumental task — to ultimately improve the Culture and Climate of Chicago Public Schools — requires extensive staff training, diligence, dynamic leaders, and consistent improvement. This summer, our Culture & Climate department revamped the way they prepare for the school year. The team focused on hiring top-quality staff this summer to allow time for in-depth and comprehensive training, and time for staff to reflect on their role in the school ecosystem compared to the Urban Initiatives team.
The Culture & Climate staff members play a unique role at Urban Initiatives because while they are appreciated, important members of our team, they are also most effective at their jobs when they fully immerse themselves in their school’s community. This dynamic pulls them in two different directions- as school support staff and as an Urban Initiatives’ team member. Training this year really honed in on that challenge and worked to process the nuances of this balance well before the first day of school in order to best prepare these staff members for their roles.
Our Culture & Climate programming has always aligned with Chicago Public School’s goals for school cultures, but this year training also focused on establishing a common language between the way that CPS talks about school culture and systems of support and the way that Urban Initiatives talks about our work. The primary goal was to gain clarity on CPS’s MTSS — multi-tiered system of support — and how Culture & Climate team members fit into the MTSS model. MTSS is a way of describing the varying levels of support provided to youth within a school system. The first tier is the basic level of support that all students receive which is simply that all students have a right to programming and instruction. The second tier is more specialized and includes one on one support systems. Tier three is very specialized support for select students.
Our Culture & Climate programming team members fit into the first tier of support because they support the entire school community through resource coordination and recess programming. It is important not only for our Culture & Climate team members to utilize this language to match CPS standards, but also to advocate for themselves and the students they serve. Our team members often get asked by school staff to provide more specialized support to students, but it is important that they can utilize the MTSS language, ensuring that they have the capacity to serve the entire student body. It isn’t possible to serve every child in a school if they start moving into the second tier of support for a select group of youth. Creating common language between our staff and CPS was a vital step for ensuring our team can do the best possible job and to communicate the quality of our work to other CPS stakeholders.
After examining their role and establishing a common language, our Culture & Climate team dove deep on three focus areas for this school year: student safety, adult engagement, and recognizing youth behaviors. Unlike in past years, when training jumped directly into planning activities and executing programming, this year they stepped back to look at the basics. This solid foundation of three basic principles will allow all Culture & Climate staff members to provide the highest possible quality programming to our youth this school year while being the biggest assets to their school administrators and teachers as possible.
Our Culture & Climate team serves thousands of students across CPS each and every day. They are some of the few members of a school’s ecosystem that have an opportunity to interact with every child every day, and their role in creating safe, fun, and effective learning environments can’t be understated. We are so excited to see all the incredible programming they will implement and we are so proud of the strong foundations that they set in trainings this year!