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10/11 Field Day at Westcott Elementary

Field Day at Westcott Elementary

"From a Looming Strike, to Gun Violence, to Student Joy"

GAGDC Community Schools Program Manager

The day had finally arrived. October 11th 2016, to be exact. I woke up not knowing whether or not I was going to organize an event for 400 students at Westcott Elementary or spend much of my day doing administrative work and praying for a resolution to the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Much had gone into coordinating Field Day. I teamed up with Stacy Williams and Nicole Keene, members of another organization partner, Communities in Schools, and we decided to incentivize student attendance by hosting an event that all students could enjoy as well as providing prizes for students who had shown perfect attendance.

The intention of this festive day was to encourage students to come to school after a long weekend. Based on attendance records, we were able to note that after Columbus Day, students generally take an additional day off and we wanted to keep Westcott Elementary attendance in the high 90 percentile if not at 100%. What appeared to be the only problem was that a Chicago Public School strike was looming which could potentially undermine the efforts to promote kids coming to school on this date an even further increase their days out of school.

At Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, we are already aware of the crippling effect absences from school can have on kids who come from lower socioeconomic communities where there isn’t an abundance of resources to consistently contribute to their intellectual growth. GAGDC’s educational director, Tenisha Jones, shared with the staff an animated film which captured how much students from poor urban communities suffer during summer months compared to students with more economic privilege. Much of what was learned the prior school year is lost due to the lack of intellectual and cultural outlets for kids.

However, when I awoke that morning, I realized that school would still be in session and that Field Day was going to happen. As a prior Recess Coordinator, I had a wealth of activities to play with students ranging from grades kindergarten through 8th grade. We had ideas for “What Time is It Mr. Fox?”, potato sack races, double dutch, basketball, parachute games, tug-o-war, etc. Shortly after I arrived to Westcott, the popcorn machine and the radio I requested from my organization and a box of t-shirts had arrived. My colleague, Anya, had already delivered gift cards to the school to further support our perfect attendance incentive. I love this organization because people truly do support the events they say they will support.

Then, the unforeseen happened. There was an announcement on the intercom stating that all recess activities would be cancelled for the day. What could have possibly happened? We soon learned that there had been a shooting in the neighborhood. How could we go from a looming strike to Field Day potentially being cancelled again . . . this time because of the violence in the community?

With an hour passing by, to ensure it was safe for kids to go outside, we later got the “okay” to continue with Field Day, only five minutes before its initially scheduled time. Parent volunteers came to the school around this time too and pitched in immediately. Our dedicated parents Leora Scott and Kim Burgess tended to the popcorn machine and bagged hundred of bags of popcorn for students. Parents Corrianne Hampton and Kim Burgess also played parachute games and jump rope with the kids. Westcott Elementary staff member Mr. Moore was also outside leading a thrilling game of tug-o-war. My new intern, William Brooks, immediately jumped in to lead potato sack races and basketball games. I bounced from station to station, supporting the different activities and I even taught some of the girls how to jump double dutch.

This was such a phenomenal, lively event! With so many possible changes pending, who knew that the kids would walk away feeling as if they had just attended the best barbecue their aunt or uncle could have hosted—only we did not have barbecue. In those hours of playing with the students of Westcott, the violence in the community was a mere backdrop to the beauty and joy these students were able to experience. My new intern, William Brooks, and I high-fived each other at the close of the event to say “job well done.”

This is the type of work I enjoy doing at Westcott Elementary. Partnering with the schools, parents, and other members of my organization to ensure that we deliver the best educational experience possible to kids from communities like Auburn-Gresham because they deserve it!


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