Gabriel, an eighth grader at a CIS of Chicago partner school on the Far Southeast Side, was on track to being promoted to high school. Then, last March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Like most school districts across the United States, the Chicago Public Schools system – including Gabriel’s school – quickly moved to remote learning. Accustomed to the structure that in-person school provided, Gabriel struggled to adjust to online instruction.

Rather than wake up early to prepare for the school day ahead, he often slept in. And without a home internet connection, he couldn’t reliably log on each day to participate in online lessons and complete assignments. Some school days, he spent his time playing video games or walking around his neighborhood while the rest of his classmates were at home learning.

Worried that Gabriel had disengaged from school, his teachers turned to CIS of Chicago for help. Gabriel was enrolled in CIS of Chicago’s Intensive Program and received one-on-one support from Chavara Turner, a CIS Student Supports Manager, to help him achieve academic, behavioral, and social-emotional learning goals. Ms. Turner wasted no time working to re-engage him in learning.

After contacting Gabriel’s mother, whom Ms. Turner learned had recently lost her job, she reconnected with Gabriel and helped him get back on track. Ms. Turner helped his mother obtain a laptop computer for him through the school district, and she found workarounds for accessing free WIFI so that he could download his assignments. Ms. Turner also provided Gabriel with one-on-one counseling for the rest of the academic year, making sure he was caught up with his classwork and recommitted to finishing the school year strong.

By June, Gabriel boosted his grades to a B average and became a regular participant in online lessons. He graduated from eighth grade – on time – and enrolled in George Washington High School for the fall semester, where he plans to take the next steps toward his dream of owning his own construction company.

In normal times, many Chicago Public Schools students like Gabriel face significant obstacles on their path to graduation. Economic insecurity, community violence, and unequal access to healthcare and other resources – all stemming from decades of structural racism and disinvestment in our communities of color – are just a few of the enormous forces that stand in many of our young people’s way. In 2020, a pandemic, and the graphic murders of yet more African Americans, only added to the collective trauma that our students face.

Through it all, our young people have persevered. They have risen above the challenges, and in the process, they inspire us with their hopes and dreams. Because of their strength and resiliency, our team here at CIS of Chicago is compelled to work harder than ever to help them succeed.

The 2020-21 academic year will be like no other, but our team is ready. Since March, we have dramatically adapted our entire program to continue supporting students, wherever they may be. From our clinical staff, like Ms. Turner, providing virtual counseling, to our Partnership Program team helping students, families, and school communities access school supplies, hygiene products, and clothing, we are rising to the challenge, too.

This year, our efforts will positively impact the lives of 50,000 students, helping them stay engaged with school and on the path to graduation. More than ever, your continued support is making a difference in the lives of our students and families. Thank you.

Names in this story have been changed to protect student privacy.