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Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lightfoot Expand Evidence-Based Program to Support Students Facing Trauma

25 October 2021

Partnering with Community-Based Organizations to Help Students Thrive and Succeed

CPS Office of Communications

Phone: 773-553-1620
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Chicago - Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez today announced a bold and aggressive effort to invest $7.5 million in public and private funds over the next year to serve 1,000 youth grappling with high-risk situations. Under the plan, CPS and community partners will expand Choose to Change, a program that has helped reduce the impact of trauma on Chicago’s youth who have experienced higher levels of violence. 

"The pandemic has had a particularly adverse impact on our young people whose educational journeys and social lives were interrupted," said Mayor Lightfoot. "By expanding our mental health programming and supports, our students will have the opportunity to grow and flourish in a safe and nurturing school environment. We will always remain committed to protecting and addressing the social-emotional needs of our children in any way that we can."

While CPS has seen vast improvements in key safety metrics over the last decade, more investments are needed to support students' mental health and wellbeing amid the ongoing pandemic, gun violence and other adverse conditions. CPS and the City of Chicago are answering an urgent call to action by partnering with Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) and Children’s Home and Aid to train four community-based organizations to implement a new, hyperlocal version of the Choose to Change program. 

“The impressive results of the Choose to Change program demonstrate that it will be an important strategy to safeguard our students from the harmful effects of trauma,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. “While we are overjoyed to have returned to in-person learning, we know that our students are coping with issues beyond the classroom and it is imperative that we look to programs like Choose to Change to help ensure that we are supporting all of our students, especially in the area of promoting their emotional well-being.” 

This year, Choose to Change will serve 1,000 students who may have school attendance challenges, involvement with the justice system, and/or have been exposed to violence and trauma. The program provides intensive youth and family support and weekly behavioral health sessions. The effort is part of the District’s commitment to ensure all young people have access to safe environments at school and in their communities. 

CEO Martinez announced the expansion Monday afternoon at Bright Star Community Outreach in Bronzeville, one of four community-based organizations that will work with YAP and Children’s Home and Aid to expand the evidenced-based program. In addition to Bright Star, the new model

will be piloted through New Life Centers of Chicagoland in Little Village, Lifeline to Hope in West Garfield Park, and BUILD Chicago in Humboldt Park. Together, the four new partners will help serve 300 of the total 1000 participating students this year. 

In addition, later this year, CPS will issue a call for proposals for additional community-based organizations in communities with high rates of violence to implement the program. Proposals will be reviewed and selected by the end of the calendar year. 

Building on recently committed public and private investments totaling $7.5 million for this work, including $2.8 million from Mayor Lightfoot, CPS will work with the City of Chicago and the District’s charitable foundation, Children First Fund, to raise an additional $4 million in public and private funding to support an additional 500 students in the 2021-22 school year. 

According to the University of Chicago Crime Lab and Education Lab, C2C is effective at reducing arrests for violent crime by almost 50 percent during program participation. These impacts persist after the program ends, with C2C reducing arrests for violent crime by 38 percent one and a half years after the program ends. As a result of the City’s investment in the program and private funding, the program’s capacity has more than doubled since 2015, and to date has served more than 1,000 participants. The University of Chicago Education Lab will support CPS, Youth Advocate Programs, and Children Home & Aid to monitor outcomes and integrate information about participants’ prior education and experiences with the criminal justice system. 

“Regular headlines about violence in our city have sounded an alarm that there is an urgent need to bring this effective model to scale by sharing it with other Chicago nonprofits that are committed to breaking negative cycles and planting seeds for positive ones,” said YAP Regional Vice President David Williams. “We are excited to be a part of this important systems’ change to expand this program and equip students with essential life tools that offer alternatives to unrest and violence.” 

CPS also will offer Choose to Change to support students who are transitioning out of Nancy B. Jefferson, the CPS school located inside the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Students at Nancy B. Jefferson are 20 times more likely to be a homicide victim than the average CPS student. 

“Over the past year and half, we have seen the impact on our city’s children and we want to ensure that our students from the highest-risk situations are connected to support and trusting adults as they continue to reintegrate back into the school environment,” said Jadine Chou, CPS Chief of Safety and Security. “By expanding the Choose to Change curriculum to community-based organizations, we are partnering with those who already have relationships with the community, increasing our chances to succeed and help students make changes that will support a safer and brighter future.”