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Chicago Public Schools Continues Support of New Students with Welcome Center Pilot

17 July 2023

Welcome Center at Clemente High School Will Centralize Supports for One Region of the City while all schools continue to enroll new students

CPS Office of Communications

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CHICAGO – Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Pedro Martinez announced Monday that the District will continue providing enrollment support for new students at schools across the city and through a pilot Welcome Center at Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School which will provide enrollment services for new arrivals living in the West Town and Humboldt Park communities.. The new Welcome Center builds on the District’s ongoing work to support new arrival students and families as they enter CPS classrooms.

"Since my first day in office, my team and I have been working to create the strongest possible plan to support newly arriving families in Chicago, and this Welcome Center is an essential part of that plan," said Mayor Brandon Johnson. "Regardless of the language a family speaks, their country of origin, or the circumstances that have brought them to our city, this Welcome Center is equipped to serve them, and that commitment to service will always be one of our city's greatest strengths."

Schools across the District have long served newly arriving children, assessing students for English language and other educational services as well as connecting families with District and external resources to support their health and well being. That work has historically taken place at CPS schools and will continue to largely take place at schools in the 2023-24 school year with the Welcome Center serving as a pilot center where such services become centralized and streamlined for the West Town and Humboldt Park areas.

“The diverse and vibrant neighborhoods across Chicago bear witness to our long tradition of welcoming new students from around the world. Those that come here in search of a better life have enriched our culture and strengthened our communities and our schools,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. “They deserve all we have to offer. With strong collaboration from our partners, we will continue supporting any child of new arrivals who enroll in our schools, not only because it's the law, but because it's the right thing to do and an honor to serve each child who walks through our doors.”

Federal, state, and local policies make clear that all children have the right to immediate enrollment in public schools regardless of their national origin, citizenship, or immigration status. Monday’s announcement confirmed alignment with these policies and also reaffirmed the District’s commitment to ensure that every student in Chicago feels welcomed, supported, and safe in their school communities.

English Learners make up more than 20 percent of the District's enrollment, with CPS families from all over the world speaking hundreds of home languages. CPS schools have access to high-quality curriculum across all content areas that are grade-level appropriate, meaningful, and responsive to their communities and identities. The District has also worked hard to recruit and retain talented teachers and school leaders that meet the diverse needs of students, with $3 million in additional funding in FY2023 for more licensed teachers than ever before, including bilingual educators. The District’s FY2024 budget calls for a $15 million increase in funding for bilingual instruction, including $8 million for enrollment adjustments at schools receiving new students.

With the recent influx of new arrivals, in part due to Texas bussing people to sanctuary cities, the District has worked with our partners at the City and school-level leaders over the past year to enroll students and ensure proper placement and academic support. CPS receives information, including children's date of birth which is used to schedule school enrollments, from the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services (DFSS) and other partner organizations. In addition, the District provides support for new arrival students and families under federal, state and local policies aimed at assessing students’ linguistic, academic, and social-emotional needs and placing them in the appropriate instructional setting with access to resources that meet each student’s specific needs. Immigrant and migrant children and youth experiencing homelessness are considered “Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS)” as defined by the Federal McKinney-Vento Act. More information can be found here and on the Illinois State Board of Education’s website.

The pilot Welcome Center at Roberto Clemente High School will centralize these supports for families that are living near the West Town and Humboldt Park communities and have been referred to CPS by the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), other government agencies, or community based organizations. Families referred to the new pilot Welcome Center will visit by appointment only and be escorted to and from the Welcome Center which is slated to begin accepting referrals later this week.

“This work is in our blood and we’ve been doing it forever,” said Clemente High School Principal Devon Morales. “The steel flags that tower over Division street pay homage to the first wave of Puerto Rican newcomers that came to Chicago to work for the steel and welding industries during the mid 1940s-1960s. For decades this school was known as the ‘Puerto Rican High School.’ You can see the cultural influence in our name, in the beautiful murals painted across the neighborhood, in the curriculum that centers around students, in the community partnerships that wrap our students in support. New immigrants were a tremendous contributor to our city back then and they are now. We stand proud in our commitment to welcome and support them.”

Just as they do in our schools, CPS staff at the new Welcome Center will guide families through the registration and enrollment process, assessing each student’s language, academic, and social-emotional needs and placing them in the appropriate learning environment. The pilot provides the opportunity to centralize and streamline these supports for a specific geographic location and explore how best to serve families across the city. CPS will consider expanding this model to additional sites throughout the city depending on success and ongoing need. Clemente High School was selected as the initial pilot site based on its location in a dense newcomer area, existing resources and infrastructure to meet the operational demand, and the school’s vast experience taking in large numbers of students from newly arriving families. Similar criteria will be used to determine other pilot locations as needed.

“We celebrate this pilot Welcome Center today but in reality, every school in every neighborhood serves as a welcoming center,” said Principal Gerardo Arriaga of Monarcas Academy, formerly Enrico Tonti Elementary, in Gage Park. “We recognize that many students of newly arriving families have been through a lot and we have been honored to serve these families and get students back into a classroom with the resources and support to help them succeed.”

Outlined below are the services available to all students at all schools and ones that the Welcome Center pilot will provide to referred newly arriving families with school-aged children living close to the West Town/Humboldt Park area.

Language Access and Supports: Interpretation services, including on-site and over the phone, are available to ensure any service provided is done using the families native language.

Registration/Enrollment Support: Families are guided through the registration and enrollment process and matched with the best school to meet their needs. Staff will also continue working closely with the assigned schools to ensure they have resources in place to support the incoming students.

Language Screenings: Language screenings are provided to measure a student’s English language proficiency. The results determine their eligibility to receive bilingual education service and help ensure the assigned school is one that has bilingual educators.

Food and Nutrition: Access to free, healthy and nutritionally balanced breakfast and lunch meals that meet or exceed the USDA meal program requirements.

Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) Resources: Many children newly-arrived families qualify for STLS status granting them access to various benefits, like transportation, uniforms, school supplies and referrals to community resources. Confidential interviews are conducted with the families to determine eligibility for, and provide access to, STLS resources.

Transportation: One of the resources available to students enrolled in STLS includes two types of transportation options to and from their school. For students in sixth grade and younger, Ventra cards for CTA transportation are available for both the student and parent or primary caregiver. For seventh through 12th grades, Ventra cards are available to students.

If an adult is unavailable to accompany a child in sixth grade or younger on CTA transportation, the student and/or parent/guardian can apply for hardship transportation that allows CPS to arrange yellow school bus service.

Medical Information and Care: Families are offered medical information, including Medicaid and other public benefits they may be eligible for, as well as connection to medical care and resources. Additionally, families will be offered the opportunity to review CPS’ minimum health requirements for school attendance, mandated by the State of Illinois (Illinois Department of Public Health [IDPH] Immunization Guide). Families may receive some, or all, school required and/or recommended immunizations pending a medical records review that same day.

As a reminder, CPS follows federal law that mandates students in temporary housing be excluded from immunization requirements as part of their right to immediate enrollment. Connection to medical care will include staying up to date on pediatric immunization requirements following this initial visit and assessment, amongst other health care needs.

Social Work Intake and Trauma Screening: Many newcomer students face particular challenges that call for empathy and understanding around the stressors of relocating to a new country and adapting to a new society. Social workers conduct intakes, trauma screenings, and assess for basic needs like shoes, clothing, toiletries, school supplies, etc. and connect families with available resources.

Community Resources: We know that organizing with community-based organizations and city partners provides those most in need with the strongest network of support. That’s why dedicated staff coordinate with all relevant partners to ensure families have access to every available resource.