In today's digital age, a world of educational resources is right at our fingertips, so whether you're a seasoned parent or new to navigating this ever-evolving educational landscape, in this blog post, we'll explore various resources and strategies tailored to help parents (like you) make informed decisions, advocate for your children, determine the right post-secondary plans and find sustainable ways to engage with your child's mental well-being.
You will find resources categorized within three fundamental pillars that form the bedrock of our work: leadership development, mental well-being, and career development.
Education Is The Passport To The Future, For Tomorrow Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It Today.” – Malcolm X
3. Career Development
On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court rejected affirmative action in university admission decisions, dealing a significant blow to race-based consideration in college admissions; shifting the educational landscape. This ruling has sparked renewed discussions about the complexities of achieving a truly equitable and inclusive educational system.
By declining to uphold affirmative action, the Court ruling disproportionately affects individuals from undeserved communities who are first-generation or low-income, as it potentially diminishes their opportunities to overcome systemic barriers and secure a place in higher education.
So often, we just accept that money, power, and privilege are perfectly justifiable forms of affirmative action, while kids growing up as I did are expected to compete when the ground is anything but level.
Jacqui’s unique perspective as a first-gen college student and education major serves as a lens through which we can understand the impact and importance of education for future generations as we navigate this evolving landscape. By embracing the values of empowerment, we can strive towards a future where education becomes a transformative force, empowering individuals from all backgrounds to reach their full potential and work towards a more inclusive and equitable educational ecosystem.
Jacqui: I want to become an English high school teacher and I’m also passionate about social work and want to go into family law one day, so writing will be important in my journey. I’m gaining the skills to write well through articulation in ways that are helpful for everyone. I’m also learning how to analyze, dissect, and respond to difficult texts and subjects in a creative and academic manner. I also love to read and write for fun.
LP: Are you a 1st generation college student? If yes, what’s one word that would describe how you felt entering your first year of college?
LP: What does empowerment mean or feel like to you?
Jacqui: Empowerment means that I’m able to show up as my authentic self without feeling self-conscious about what others may think… I’m able to spread my confidence and optimism to others around me.
LP: What’s something you wish you knew as an incoming freshman?
Jacqui: There’s so much freedom and responsibility that having a set routine for yourself is key.
LP: How has your experience as a Lion’s Pride Big/Little impacted your feelings of leadership and empowerment throughout your college experience?
Jacqui: …through understanding the importance of managing mental health within education. Also, I’m able to learn from my mistakes and obstacles without feeling ashamed which helps me to support others better when navigating their obstacles.
LP: What advice would you give to those transitioning into college?
Jacqui: Always explore and reach out for resources when you need help!
LP: What support systems do you feel incoming students could benefit from to overcome challenges and obstacles they may face during their transition into college, and how could this contribute to their overall feelings of empowerment?
Jacqui: Joining extracurricular that pertain to your identity(ies) and/or major is imperative because you’ll be able to be surrounded by those who can relate to you in particular ways. Also, you can diversify your circle to learn more about the culture and community. Creating relationships with your professors is helpful because the rapport you build with them creates a strong foundation for trust and is an easy way to network.
LP: As an education minor, what are some things you’ve learned that impact your feelings towards the importance of education?
Jacqui: As an education minor, learning about the school-to-prison nexus (STPN), which means the school system and carceral system is the same, impacted my feelings about the importance of education. I want to be an advocate, champion, and resource for disenfranchised students who are vulnerable to the STPN. Upon this, learning about the white, supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy (WSCP) funded my passions. The WSCP helped me to understand that schooling [can be] a system and systemic oppression and racism can hinder and damage underrepresented students in ways that are perpetuating children and their families to fall victim to systems such as the STPN. Lastly, the book and term Pushout by Monique W. Morris was important because I got to explore the ways I can be an agent for change for young Blacks who are dehumanized and “pushed out” of the system as a Black woman educator.
Q: What’s your ‘go-to’ meal while in college?
Q: If you could create one law for people to follow, what would it be?
JL: Absolutely no violence of any kind.
Q: Favorite summer activity to do in Chicago?
JL: Find different food places to try, especially downtown
Q: If you could have a superpower related to education, what would it be and why?
JL: Be able to solve my future student’s mental and emotional blockages in the classroom.
Q: If you could have dinner with any historical figure, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
JL: I would have dinner with Sojourner Truth because she’d have historical context about what it means to be an African American and woman’s rights activist. I’d also want to hear her wisdom about triumphing through the woes of what it means to be a Black woman in America and what it means to constantly be put in a position of being the protector but not protected. It would be beautiful to hear what kept her optimistic.
*For additional resources and organizations who have been advocating for this cause, check out:
At Lion’s Pride, we believe students are the answer. So, rather than suggesting what students need, we believe in empowering them to cultivate core values such as leadership, optimism, perseverance, and respect to help nurture relationships with themselves, their peers, and others in their community.
According to Springtide Research Institute, the mental-health crisis among young people is reaching epidemic proportions, declaring high rates of depression, anxiety, violence, and suicide. It is more important now than ever to shift away from what one person can do differently to improve their mental health and reframe the issue as a collective concern; this means including students in the conversation around their needs.
Our team is committed to examining how belonging and inclusion through our program can help impact students in positive ways. With our mission to foster social-emotional aptitude within young people, we recognize mental health and wellness as a primary concern and acknowledge the need for nurturing community, a sense of belonging, and emotional regulation.
Students have expressed an increased sense of belonging after participating in the Lion’s Pride community. Having the opportunity to feel known, named, and noticed, supports three pillars of the belonging process mentioned in the Spring Research Institute article on How to Build Belonging.
Going back to my freshman year, I didn’t feel like I belonged. Parts of me still felt I was in the body of my seventh-grade self. When I joined Lion’s Pride, I was part of a group where I felt supported
As a critical aspect of personal growth and development, peer mentoring can; be the difference between feelings of isolation and disconnection or catalyze feelings of support and empowerment. We interviewed two former Lion’s Pride participants on how their experience in Lion’s Pride impacted their sense of belonging and inclusion, and they said:
Lion’s Pride Interviewer (LP): Tell us a little about yourself and your role in Lion’s Pride?
(Taiwo): I transferred to Baker College Prep as a sophomore and joined Lion’s Pride as a Junior, and I have been a Big for two years. The program is pretty cool, being able to get to know freshmen from different backgrounds. I didn’t have this opportunity as a freshman, so it feels amazing talking to them about their experiences and helping them in their academics.
(Yesenia): During my freshman year when I was a Little, I was part of Ms. Gilstrap’s original group while she was still here. I’ve grown up since then, and now I’m a senior Big and preparing for college. I’ve applied to North Park University, UIC, Loyola, and more.
(LP): In a general sense, what do belonging and inclusion mean to you?
(Taiwo): Communicating. For instance, establishing a bond and communicating outside of the program to make it stronger. When you feel like that’s your home; they feel safe coming to you and you feel safe going to them and trusting each other to be vulnerable creates that feeling of belonging.
(Yesenia): Previously, I felt like not everyone belongs because we’re all our own people. It’s been important to know that you might not belong all the time, and learn to accept who you are for yourself.
(LP): Can you describe a time when you didn’t feel you belonged or were included?
(Taiwo): When I first moved to the United States, I used to feel left out. My accent was strong and people would make fun of me. I would try to fit in but I wouldn’t be included and that made me feel different than the people who were from here.
(Yesenia): I have a very big personality, and not many people feel comfortable with that, so sometimes I may be “too much” for people.
(LP): Can you tell us how being a part of Lion’s Pride either enhanced or reframed your sense of belonging and inclusion?
(LP): What would you say is your biggest takeaway from being a part of Lion’s Pride?
(Taiwo): My biggest takeaway would be helping my Little because when I help them I’m also learning too, we’re all learning and growing together. I have been able to work on my weakness, in how I communicate. In the beginning, working with my Little was challenging and it taught me to be patient and open, once I got to know her it became easy.
(Yesenia): It taught me to be on top of my academics and care about school, because sometimes you can get in the mindset of not caring, but Lion’s Pride is there to remind you that you might need to raise your GPA.
(LP): How do you feel teachers can be more inclusive of students' voices?
(Taiwo): I would say understanding students’ points of view before reacting can build trust and patience. Things are not easy, so making students feel comfortable and safe talking to them.
(Yesenia): Teachers can be more understanding of students and know that people come from different backgrounds and not everyone has the same story.
(LP): What advice would you give to current/future Bigs or Littles planning to join Lion’s Pride Mentoring?
(Taiwo): Being patient with every step that your Little takes. They might not know what’s going on and since you know more than they do, be patient and support them in everything they do. There might be times when your Little one doesn't feel motivated, but sitting aside and helping through their assignment can help them feel motivated because they have someone to work with.
(Yesenia): If you have the chance, do it.
Knowing that a peer mentor can serve as a powerful tool for fostering feelings of belonging and inclusion among individuals, specifically in academic settings, reinforces the need to amplify the voices of young people. Through active listening, acknowledgment of students as contributors to their community, and creating safe environments for them to share what matters most, we can empower our students to show up as their best selves and transition into the world feeling confident and prepared to thrive socially and emotionally.
For additional information and tips on fostering feelings of belonging and inclusion for your students check out some of the resources shared.
The team at Lion’s Pride Mentoring has always set out to empower young people to serve as leaders in their communities, believing that students are best equipped to identify and solve student problems. Over the course of this school year, Lion’s Pride Mentoring plans to expand the power of students in the program. One new method for increased student voice comes with the addition of “Bigs Only” sessions.
The first “Big Only” session took place at the founding Lion’s Pride Mentoring campus, Baker College Prep where Bigs, student mentors in the program, were able to gather together and discuss with their fellow Bigs how they are doing with their Little, student mentee. Bigs also received extra support and guidance from the Lion’s Pride Mentoring Program Manager Brianna Kuramitsu to find solutions to better mentor their Little and encourage them.
“I put upon myself to be more active in the campus communities, so now I’m President of the Black Student Union. I’m also part of a mentoring program like I was in high school. It's called Net Search STEM Mentorship Program where I am a mentor to three freshmen.”
Travis continued on saying how the program “was a wake-up call for sure” and how the program was the reason why he joined Net Search. A few alumni were able to join us at our first ever holiday party where they shared their experience with the program and how Lion’s Pride Mentoring continues to support them.
As Lion’s Pride Mentoring begins to see more alumni graduating from college in the coming years, the need for more opportunities for alumni will become more necessary. While we await the hire of our Manager of Student Supports, Lion’s Pride Mentoring would love to connect with individuals and companies interested in providing career shadow days, internships, or career advice. Check out our “Become A Volunteer” section of our website for more information and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed on other opportunities with Lion’s Pride Mentoring.
This school year marks the fifth anniversary of launching the Pride program at Baker College Prep. The program model established at Baker in 2017 formed the basis for the Lion’s Pride Mentoring program implemented today. As student mentor training wraps up at Baker within the next month and full programming begins, we are excited to welcome back some familiar faces to the Lion’s Pride Program.
Abdoullaye Doucoure, former Big at Baker College Prep, returned to the Lion’s Pride Mentoring organization earlier this month. Abdoullaye will serve as the fall intern for the organization as he continues his studies at Western Illinois University, pursuing a degree in broadcasting production. When asked why he applied for the position, Abdoullaye stated, “I want to grow and experience behind the scenes work of nonprofits and build community bonds between people and resources.”
Brandon will be joining a group of 18 students serving as Bigs at Baker this school year and is one of five former mentees returning to the program as a mentor. This is the largest number of former mentees coming back to serve as mentors in a single school year since former mentees became eligible to serve as mentors.
Lions Pride Mentoring celebrated another former Little taking on a role within the organization last year when Zion McKinnie joined the Lion’s Pride Mentoring staff at The Noble Academy. In her profile earlier this year, Zion discussed how being in the program helped her to “develop an open mind” and “really helped with the transition in high school.”
Zion will continue to serve as a campus manager this year and is excited about learning trauma-informed practices and strategies for healing-centered engagement from our Lion’s Pride Mentoring program support team.
I would love for a former student to serve on our program support team or to take my job.
As Lion’s Pride Mentoring celebrates this five year anniversary at Baker with all the familiar faces returning, Co-founder and Executive Director Jasmine Gilstrap hopes to continue to see former students return to the organization.
“We are beginning the process of launching our Student Representative Council in the coming months,” said Gilstrap. “The goal will be to establish a way for student voices to live on our Board of Directors to encourage students to pursue board membership in the future. Long term, I would love for a former student to serve on our program support team or to take my job as Executive Director.”
With over 250 students served since the first program at Baker, the chances are great for continuing to have Lion’s Pride Mentoring students pay forward their learnings from the program in some capacity, helping others to reach their greatest potential just as they have.
The mission of Lion’s Pride Mentoring is to empower youth leaders to guide incoming freshmen to reach their fullest potential. Thanks to our amazing donors and school partners, we are able to bring this mission to life.
This school year, our students had an 88% attendance rate at a time when chronic absenteeism in Illinois has nearly doubled from 11% pre-pandemic to 21% in the last year! Just as our program provides mentorship to struggling ninth grade students, we are also able to bring students different opportunities, resources, and even a chance to intern with Lion’s Pride Mentoring.
This is a program where you speak up, you make things happen, your words have volume.
Earlier this month, our summer intern Sofia Davis, a former Lion’s Pride Mentoring Big herself, took some time to speak with those who have participated in the program. Sofia heard from fellow former participants about how the program has helped them to gain skills that they are applying in their everyday lives.
Student interviews are an integral part of our program evaluation process and provide another way for us to leverage student voice in our decision making. When interviewing Elias Ramirez, former Big at UIC College Prep, he stated, “The program taught me leadership skills in terms of communication.” He went on to share how this has helped in college to work well with peers and professors.
We saw a common theme of students being able to build communication skills in this year’s student interviews and our end of the year student survey. When describing the program, recent program graduate and 2021 Pride Big of the Year Precious Mannie stated “This is a program where you speak up, you make things happen, your words have volume.”
As we continue to grow as an organization, we have some exciting updates to share:
For more Lion's Pride Mentoring updates, check out our annual report when it is released on Thursday, July 28th. Sign up for our newsletter to receive a notification when it goes live.
Lion's Pride Mentoring Co-Founder and Executive Director Jasmine Gilstrap along with 8 other nonprofit leaders shared their 3-minute pitch with an audience of over 350 both virtually and in person at SVP Chiago's Fast Pitch showcase on Thursday, May 12. Together, this year's pitchers raised over $48,000!
2022 Fast Pitch Presenters (Left to Right): Susan Garcia Trieschmann, Michelle Chellee Rashad, Joey Mak, Dorin McIntyre, Olatunji Oboi Reed, Priya Shah, Jasmine Gilstrap, Walter Mendenhall, and Dion Dawson.
SVP Chicago's Fast Pitch event is a free, two-month communications training and mentoring program for innovative nonprofits that are effecting social change in Chicago that culminates in the Fast Pitch showcase in May.
Nine nonprofit leaders are selected to participate based on the outsized potential impact of their organization in their communities. These leaders receive training and mentoring from a team of SVP Chicago partners who will coach them over the course of two months on how to “tell their story” in a powerful and compelling way.
Executive Director Jasmine Gilstrp was coached this year by Fit Together CEO Eileen Hamra, Jabian Consulting Executive Director and Chicago Market Lead Daniel Hickey, and World Bank Group Global Finance & Entrepreneurship Specialist Mohini Bhatia.
Watch the video below to see Jasmine's full pitch showcasing our work at Lion's Pride Mentoring and all pitches from this year's event can be seen on the SVP Chicago website.
Lion’s Pride (LP): Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Zion McKinnie (ZM): I started out at Gary Comer College Prep Middle School and was there until late 7th grade. After that, I moved to Baker College Prep where I was one of the founding littles for the Lion’s Pride Program. I came to work at The Noble Academy shortly after my graduation and I currently serve as a cultural specialist.
[At The Noble Academy, the culture specialist works to collect and analyze the culture “metrics” of the school that include components of academics, social-emotional well-being, and character development. The overall goal of the position is to create an environment where students feel safe, valued, and supported.]
LP: How would you say Lion’s Pride has impacted you as a person?
ZM: Lion’s Pride really helped me develop an open mind. I had already been a part of Noble pre-high school, so when Lion’s Pride was offered to me as a program to help me transition into Baker, I didn’t really feel like I needed it. But the program really helped with the transition in high school. A lot of people overall were helped throughout the program in different ways. You learn how to be more independent through your involvement with the program.
LP: What does your current role entail and what are your favorite parts about your position?
ZM: Some tasks that I am in charge of include organizing parent-teacher conferences, student remedial programs, improving culture and teamwork practices, and in doing so I work directly with Lion’s Pride. The role allows me to develop pre-established relationships, and through developing an open culture and relationships with scholars, I am able to know what they need and where they are in terms of strengths and the areas where they might need more help.
I always tell the students that I was a founding little, now I’m a big. This position gives me the ability to give back.
It was because people invested time in me, and I want to give back and to be the confidant that I had been given. It’s very important that these students know that there is someone who cares about them. They need to feel cared about, and know that they’re more than a number or statistic.
LP: Through Lion’s Pride, we have a cyclical experience of students both receiving mentors and then becoming potential future mentors themselves. Why do you think it’s important for students to have mentors at this level?
ZM: Having a mentor helps over the areas that your parents cannot necessarily support and essentially fills in the gaps. A mentor can be involved in areas that your parents can’t necessarily support and can find the weaknesses that they cannot necessarily find. As a mentor, by finding these weaknesses, you can understand how to help students come up with solutions for themselves. We teach our mentors that it’s their role to ask students, what can we do better? How can we help? And by doing so, we learn for ourselves how to better help the students we are mentoring.
LP: Who are your mentors right now?
ZM: There are a couple. My middle school algebra teacher. My drama teacher at Baker. The Community Outreach Manager at Gary Comer Youth Center. Former teachers allow for an interesting perspective because now I can look at how things are when I’m on this side of the fence. Now I can go to them as friends and ask them questions from both perspectives.
When I first started this role I was very overwhelmed and wasn’t sure about all the decisions that I had made. But when I talked to my mentors she reminded me that being in the education system was something that she knew I wanted to do, and that there is a gray area of being an educator. Legally you can only do so much to help a student and having that responsibility to find that balance is overwhelming. My mentors however remind me that these are the feelings that keep you going as an educator and help keep you going in the right direction. They remind me that this is an area where I can make the most impact.
LP: How do you see yourself changing with the role that you’re currently in?
ZM: I currently see myself building up in the role, taking on more responsibility. In the future I would really like to go into the education space, and teach psychology at the high school level. Ideally I’d like to teach at either the 11-12, middle school, or 1-2 grade range. The most likely opportunity to teach would be at the high school level where the students' opportunities are already developed and molded. But middle school students can be pushed into certain directions, and made aware of how their thought processes work.
LP: Let’s say you could go back and meet Zion from five years ago. What would she be the most surprised by? How do you see Zion in the next five years changing?
ZM: Zion from five years ago would be happy that she would be back at Noble so soon, but shocked that it would be so fast. She would want to help because she understands both sides of the fence. Noble has shaped me into the person I am by shaping my work ethic, taught me the importance of punctuality, how to dress appropriately for work environment, how to behave in work environment, etc. It was because people invested time in me, and I want to give back and to be the confidant that I had been given. It’s very important that these students know that there is someone who cares about them. They need to feel cared about, and know that they’re more than a number or statistic. I felt cared about when I was at Noble, and it’s important to me that the students now know that there is someone who also cares about them.
ZM: I think that Lion’s Pride will be at every Noble campus in the next five years. Lion’s Pride has the potential to go out of Noble, and integrate bigs and littles from other schools. I hope that we’re able to expand to any and all school campuses that are interested, maybe with even more capacity and space for more students.
LP: We know that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are incredibly important in the education space. What do you think are steps that need to be taken to work towards this goal?
ZM: Speaking for our campuses, we know that representation matters. At The Noble Academy, the people who oversee our programs are very diverse and showcase a broad range of people of color. Having students see who is managing the programs, who’s teaching and instructing is very important. That as well as working with littles one on one, and making sure that we remind our bigs that they need support too. Offering support on both sides, and making sure that students are aware that you’re there to give it is very important. It helps them get what they need so that they can later give back. It’s always important to ask bigs what support I can offer to help them, because you can only support others best when you are who you need to be first.
Rapid Fire Q&A
Favorite spot in the city?
The Kenwood Hyde-Park Bronzeville Area. I grew up deeply integrated and involved with the arts so this area holds a lot of significance for me
Deep dish pizza? Yes or no.
Favorite museum in the city?
Museum of Science and Industry. My favorite part of the museum is the Crystals, Diamonds, and Gems exhibit.
What are you looking forward to the most as the weather gets warmer?
Outdoor events. Silverroom block party, Dancing Under the Stars, Movies in Millennium, Jazz Concerts, etc.
Underrated thing to do in Chicago?
Watching the sunrise at South Shore Community Center
Overrated thing to do in Chicago?
Tour of Chicago
Dalonte Burns Biography
Dalonte Burns is a father, husband, educator, and leader here in Chicago. He is a first-generation college graduate and a native Chicagoan, born and raised on the westside.
Dalonte graduated from Noble Street College Prep and has worn many hats within the Noble Schools community including serving as a Paraprofessional, Learning Specialist, Dean of Specialized Services and Dean of Instruction at Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy before transitioning to his alma mater Noble Street College Prep where he served as Principal Resident.
Dalonte has committed his life’s work to education to serve his community in order to elevate and bring attention to the power of those most marginalized. He’s a firm believer in liberatory education being a key lever to multi-generational transformation.
Lion’s Pride (LP): You have been in education for over a decade now. What initially inspired you to pursue a career in education?
Dalonte Burns (DB): The thing that initially inspired me was how transformational it was for my father. My father was in insurance sales for most of his work life and the year before he passed away, he worked at a school, a Noble school.
He worked at Rowe-Clark and that year I was also in my first year of college. I’m the first one in my family to go to college so we would talk almost every day. The conversations wouldn’t be about me. It would start off with “how’s it going?” and then he would share all of these stories about his experiences now in education and the relationships he was building with students.
This let me know that there was something special happening because he would also have a certain level of joy that last year working at Rowe-Clark that I didn’t see before. Years later, I was at a gas station in the suburbs, far away from Rowe-Clark, and I came across a person that said, “I know you.” I responded “hey” even though I didn’t know them and they said “you’re Mr. Burns’s son.” I told them, “oh yea, that was my dad” and then they went on for five minutes about the impact he had on their lives in just the one year that he had with them.
Right at that moment, I realized there was something special about the work happening in schools. I always respected educators, but I think in that moment it just showed education is something that is transformational and spoke to the power of legacy. A legacy that I was also a part of with my own experience with education, being someone who was the first person in their family to go to college. Hearing that student share their story let me know how important this work is and once I had the opportunity to work in schools, I never got out.
The impact we have goes beyond our lifetime. We just never know our impact and I am grateful that sometimes we have folks that come back to tell us.
LP: That experience you had with your father is extremely powerful. Have you experienced any of those moments for yourself with a student you have taught who years later shared the personal impact you had on their life?
DB: I actually think about a parent, that’s the first one that comes to mind. It was the first group of students that I graduated. I was their advisor. It was after graduation, after the refreshments and the speeches, I am going to the parking lot and a parent runs up to me and just gives me the biggest hug. She’s in tears and tells me thank you and talks about the impact that I had on her son. I had no awareness of the impact and I didn’t think I had done anything, but she just kept going on and on about how grateful she was.
It makes me think about how the impact we have goes beyond our lifetime. We just never know our impact and I am grateful that sometimes we have folks that come back to tell us. I am hoping that the thing that I did, the work that I did with that student has a lasting impact. I am a recipient of that long lasting impact with the teachers I had in my life. And the thing that I experienced as a Black man in education, I am able to have a similar impact on someone else who looks like me, a Black boy.
LP: Transitioning a little bit to your work in regards to education equity. It is a phrase that we have heard so many times over the past two years and you have shared that you believe “education equity is providing students with opportunities to engage in education as a practice of freedom, positioning students with both the ability and opportunity to become active agents in the transformation of their world.” Can you elaborate more on what this means to you? How do you see your role as principal as working towards creating those experiences for students?
DB: When I think about liberation, I think about having the opportunity and ability to actualize your deepest aspirations. I don’t see it as just an output, I see it as an input. Not only what does it look like when we leave a space, but also what does it look like while we are engaging in a space? How are we engaging in that liberatory experience that speaks to the idea of who we are becoming? How do classrooms and school spaces become that for our students?
That’s the thing I hope to become as a principal in that when students walk into UIC College Prep, they are able to live out their aspirations. And it can be as simple as “I just need to make it through the day. I’ve had a rough morning” or “I am trying to re-evaluate the relationships I am in and my friendships.” How do we create that space where a student goes from “I want to raise my GPA” to “I want to engage in critical analysis about what I am learning?” Whatever the thing is, I want students to have the opportunity to take up space to live out those aspirations.
One thing that has been the history of what it meant to be a person of color, and speaking to my personal experience, a Black man in America, is not having the opportunity to live out or even at times, to discover those aspirations. For a long time, I have been trying to become a thing I did not see in front of me by being the first.
That used to be something I would say or I would hear others say with a sense of pride: “I am the first.” But there is also a little bit of that feeling like “dang, I shouldn’t be the first.”
I think folks still being the first speaks to the fact that we are not far removed from some of the things that have specifically impacted Black folks even though we try to create that distance in time. We are not that far removed and we are still in the early stages of trying to breakthrough so we can breathe and have the opportunity to live out our wildest dreams. I’m hoping schools can be a place where students have the opportunity to actualize that and that schools are not a microcosm of the experience of a Black man in America.
It’s hard because our educational system was grounded and created on these White supremacist and colonial practices. Now we have a unique and hard opportunity to really re-imagine what it looks like. But, it’s been like that for centuries and we have four years with a kid to try to do that. That’s hard.
LP: Our vision at Lion’s Pride is similar to yours where we want to provide a space where students can share their voices; for students to be able to feel like they have some say in programming and are free to take a journey in exploration and exploring who they are. When you think about our model with students being mentors and our curriculum which allows students to have these deep conversations and discussions, what are the things you are most looking forward to this year when it comes to the impact of the Lion’s Pride program on UICCP students? What do you hope students say about their experience in the program?
DB: If students say nothing else, I hope they say they felt seen, they felt heard, they felt valued, and that they belong. I want students to really speak to this sense of belonging. I believe that’s what we need to be able to position ourselves as a place for students to pursue those aspirations.
And we have to now deal with our own biases and mindsets and how to interrogate the things like the word “disrespect.” We have to question how what used to be defined as disrespect isn't actually disrespect, but a bias people have from their upbringing and in doing so, making sure we are not using our position of power to use this word of “disrespect” to silence the voices of students.
That tension is real, that tension is hard, but I also think there’s some beauty in that because I think that’s part of the transformational process in trying to re-imagine our schools. For example when someone hears a Black girl get loud and they get triggered as an adult when really the student is just happy. The question becomes how do I unpack that for myself so I am not silencing their joy and creating a space where they feel they don’t belong? Or how do I ensure students have that space to make a mistake and for it to be ok instead of a threat to the safety of the community?
Another question is how do we make sure we are not responding in a way to criminalize them? That can be what our educational system does for our students. But then when it's students who come from a place of privilege, it’s “boys will be boys.” Our students don’t get a chance to experience that forgiveness.
LP: That extension of grace is important and ensuring everyone receives that grace is the work we are tasked with. If you had to summarize your one big thing for schools to think about this year and this current moment when it comes to addressing student sense of belonging and personal biases in the education system to create equitable outcomes for students?
DB: I would say how do we create conditions in our schools for everybody to experience a sense of belonging. I know our kids are the focal point of our work, but even from a leadership perspective, what does it also mean for our staff community? How do we create those conditions for our entire school community to experience that sense of belonging and embrace that plus take ownership? Like whatever position we have, how do I ensure that I am making space for my colleagues so they feel seen, feel heard, and feel valued, and feel that belonging? So in summary, creating conditions so our community can experience a sense of belonging.
A Native Chicagoan Q&A
LP: Cubs or Sox?
DB: Sox even though I’m westside
LP: Sears Tower or Willis Tower?
DB: Sears Tower
LP: Deep dish or thin crust?
DB: I am going to go with thin crust. I don’t want to have to need a knife and fork to eat my pizza. Get a nice slice I can eat with my hands
LP: How do you like your Italian beef?
DB: Lightly dipped, not all the way drench with extra mozzarella cheese. I don’t need the extra peppers and not too much dip because then it runs all over the plate
LP: Favorite museum?
DB: The first thing that came to my mind was The Field Museum, but I don’t know how much I agree with what I am saying. Part of me wants to say the Shedd Aquarium. I haven’t been there in a long time, but I will say the Shedd Aquarium.
LP: Favorite Summertime Chi activity?
DB: Going to my mom’s house with my cousins and my siblings, hanging out on the deck, just getting outside with family.
The first official COVID-19 case in the United States was recorded on January 20, 2020. Two months later, the United States went into lockdown as cases began increasing. Schools across the country went from in-person classes to virtual learning. Restaurants went to takeout only. Only grocery stores and other essential services were open to the public.
No one could have imagined that 2020, the start of a new decade, would bring so many hardships. Among those hardships were students who historically struggled the most with school having to adjust to learning online, studying at home, and for some, completing work without access to the internet at home, often resorting to going to other areas near their home to get internet access.
When we spoke with high school students within the Lion’s Pride programs, they discussed how the pandemic has affected their studying. Daisy Nieto, high school graduate from UIC College Prep and a first year at University of Chicago had much to share on her experience. When asked how much learning has been a challenge for her, Nieto stated that, “it was significantly harder to stay focused last year when school was virtual, so in that way, yes, learning was greatly hindered.”
Daisy Nieto was a Big for the Lion’s Pride program during the 2020-2021 school year and appreciated how the Lion’s Pride supported her during the pandemic. “Programming helped me understand a bit more about planning for the long-term and helped me think about things I hadn't considered before,” said Nieto.
Similar to Nieto, Ryan Garcia, Manager of Pre-college and Career Exploration at Noble Schools, saw the direct impact of the pandemic on students and the continued struggles students are experiencing firsthand as a result of last school year’s remote learning. While trying to accelerate learning recovery has led to schools feeling that they should be doing more, Garcia does not think that approach is what is best at this time.
“It's hard to picture what schools could be doing in a sense of the word ‘more’ as I imagine there's a lot they're already doing with trying to adjust to how the pandemic affected their lives as well,” said Garcia. “I believe schools should take this opportunity to look at the systemic approaches to providing education and try to better utilize the time that students spend in classrooms by offering other opportunities to experience things that will help them in their future.”
A study conducted by Lurie Children’s Hospital highlighted the impact of the pandemic on student mental health specifically with 1,500 parents reporting that 44% of their children experienced changes in their mental health which led to disorders. However, only 18% of those students got professional help, a statistic that Lion's Pride hopes to change with our programming.
In the past year, Lion’s Pride as an organization has recognized an increase of our students when it came to them expressing depression and frustration with online school. In response to student needs, Lion's Pride has been working with students on how to better prioritize their studies while also attending to their social-emotional needs. Through programming, we have taught students on how to manage their time and what strategies they can use to improve their overall mental health to no longer feel stressed about school work during this time.
Students are generally having trouble staying focused in this post-lockdown world and would like more to be done within the schools to support their transition back into the classroom. More learning support and engagement opportunities to help them excel in the classrooms such as the Lion's Pride program can help students not feel they have to rely solely on themselves to succeed. As we approach the end of 2021, we believe the new year can bring more ways for schools to continue supporting their students and make sure they are taking care of themselves academically and mentally. Lion's Pride is just one of many ways students can receive the support they need to find success in school. For more information about the Lion's Pride program, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.