> CHICAGO HOPES FOR KIDS

IS CHANGING ACADEMIC TRAJECTORIES FOR STUDENTS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS

Chicago HOPES for Kids is the only organization in Chicago that provides educational after school and remote learning programs for students experiencing homelessness in grades Kindergarten through 9th, directly to the shelters and communities where they live. It is our mission to provide students with the resources and encouragement they need to succeed academically, despite the challenges of homelessness.

Family homelessness is a widespread, but largely invisible, problem in the US. In 2019, over 17,000 families with children were found to be experiencing homelessness in Chicago, and almost 17,000 individual children were identified as homeless by Chicago Public Schools. Our students are majority Black and Latinx, and all are living below the poverty line. These families usually aren’t living on the street, but rather
in shelters or doubled up with family and friends. While perhaps less dramatic than street homelessness, our students experience significant trauma that impacts their academics and their future.

Our children fall, on average, 1-2 grades behind their housed peers. Many students have fallen even further behind due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of access to digital resources. As many as 3 million marginalized students, including students experiencing homelessness, may not have experienced any formalized schooling in 2020 after initial shutdowns in March, translating to a year of lost learning.

Most homeless shelters do not have WiFi, and the only device that many students can access is a cellphone or shared computer. When COVID-19 led to widespread closures, we quickly pivoted from our regular after-school program to a virtual format, and provided tablets and computers directly to students to ensure their access. Even as in-person programs and school have resumed, we have continued to provide virtual options to stay connected with alumni students and promote digital literacy. It is important for our students to engage with digital learning since competency in the digital space is critical for high school graduation and post-secondary pursuits. Without these skills, students may experience a lifelong lack of opportunity.

Research has found that providing after-school programming can be a transformative experience for children living in shelters, resulting in improved attendance, grades, homework completion, and attitudes toward school. HOPES supports students experiencing homelessness with out of-school time intervention to bring them up to grade level in reading and instill a love of learning. We provide our program through a trauma-informed lens because we recognize that students have, at minimum, experienced the trauma of homelessness which impacts their social and emotional skills and educational outcomes.

The curriculum includes a specific focus on literacy to support overall school success and improve graduation rates, because research from the University of Chicago has shown that if students are reading above grade level by the 3rd grade they have a 80% chance of graduating high school. Research further shows that failing to graduate high school results in students being 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness as a young adult. By promoting students’ academic success in grades K-9, with
a specific emphasis on emerging readers in grades K-3, we help to break the generational cycle of homelessness.

Our work is made possible by our dedicated donors, enrichment partners, shelter partners, staff, board, AmeriCorps members, and, of course, volunteers. Our volunteers are the heart of our program, joining us at shelters across the city each week to work one on one with students and provide the mentorship and academic support they need to succeed in school. We are always looking for more passionate individuals who are ready to connect with our students and inspire them to reach their full potential. Thank you to all our supporters, past and present, who have carried us through over 12 years of innovative interventions for Chicago’s most vulnerable children.

CHICAGO HOPES FOR KIDS

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