When I was growing up, I often heard the popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This notion couldn’t ring more true today, as we fight for our children amid recurring violence on the streets of Chicago and an exorbitant high school dropout rate. Through my work with Ombudsman, I am proud to be part of the village focused on providing out-of-school and off-track teens a second chance at academic success.
As the director of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) for Ombudsman Chicago, I take my responsibility as an advocate for the students and families I serve very seriously. The FACE program was created to formalize Ombudsman’s need for consistent representation throughout the community to find resources for students. We attend meetings and events and constantly network to identify different services to bring back to each of our three locations. The networking piece is so crucial for us because it presents an opportunity for teachers and staff to gather new information that offers students a variety of options to address their needs.
FACE works diligently to establish and maintain ongoing partnerships that help with retention and attendance for our students. Because many of them have barriers outside of the classroom, we must uplift them to “face” their educational futures head on, despite external obstacles. We have some great community partners that play a huge role in our students’ success and help us to create an even stronger village. For example, we work with The Fatherhood Project, which in conjunction with outreach specialists and counselors, provides student fathers and those who are expecting with support, fathering skills and other resources. Then there’s the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which works with our student mothers. Their goal is for babies – particularly those born into poverty — to have substantive early childhood experiences. We also partner with Metropolitan Family Services, Ladder Up, Norwegian American Hospital and Garfield Park Hospital to provide tutoring, financial literacy, medical and social services as well as other vital services.
What I love about Ombudsman is the unyielding commitment to ensure that our students graduate and are prepared for the endless possibilities that follow. Some alternative schools set unrealistic requirements and if the students can’t meet them, they feel as though they’ve failed. Life often twists and turns these young people and we need systems in place to help them reach their full potential and future goals, regardless of the circumstances. We give them a different environment in which they can excel. I’ve worked with several students who have had all of the odds stacked against them, but succeeded because Ombudsman and FACE initiatives were in place to help them. One person comes to mind – a young man who had been homeless, was struggling to keep a job and working to finish a few final credits. Not only did he graduate, he then went on to college and now gives back by volunteering with our students.
I’ve found that engaging everyone to sustain the village is both a goal and challenge. Sometimes a student has issues at home, yet family support is still very important. Helping everyone to understand and embrace their role requires focus on the end goal. For me, it’s gratifying to know that FACE is there to walk with Ombudsman students and their families every step of the way along their journey to success.
About Patricia Kroll
Patricia Kroll is director of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) for Ombudsman Chicago. With locations at 2401 W. Congress Parkway, 7500 N. Harlem Ave. and 6057 S. Western Ave., Ombudsman Chicago is a CPS Options School that helps students who are at risk of dropping out or who have dropped out of school and want to return and earn their diploma. To learn more about Ombudsman Chicago, visit www.chicagodiploma.com.