The students at Harvey Austin School 97 on Sycamore Street come to school with a long list of issues – unstable home lives, a lack of nutritious meals, and firsthand knowledge of crime and violence.
But a new partnership between the school and Vive La Casa on Wyoming Avenue hopes to show the children that just because they live in undesirable conditions, the conditions do not define who they are.
“They need someone to tell them they don’t have to stay here, that they can be successful. They need to hear someone say ‘I see you being a doctor. I see you being a lawyer,’ ” said Rachel Bunch-McCarley, a social worker at the school.
The partnership began last December when Vive – a refugee shelter – donated an overflow of collected bicycles, helmets and clothing for Christmas giveaways to the school.
Then organizers decided to turn it into an ongoing program.
Another benefit of the partnership is that it forges a relationship that Vive families can benefit from. Once the families move out of Vive, Executive Director Angela Jordan-Mosely said, they tend to migrate to nearby areas like the school. An existing partnership can make the transition smoother.
“We’re forming this new partnership because, I think, the East Side needs to see beacons in the community,” Jordan-Mosely said.
Often the children at Harvey Austin do not have the basics to perform well in school, said Bunch-McCarley, who provides therapy sessions with students and their families.
The students come from neighborhoods that are crime- and drug-infested, she said, and poor housing stock contributes to their challenges.
Many of the kids also are “parentified,” said Bunch-McCarley, referring to a kind of role reversal in which children have to act as a parent to their own parents or guardians. Children are put in that role because parents have to work, or are dealing with addictions, or are in and out of jail, Bunch-McCarley said.
Kids who witness crime often have to move from house to house in fear of retaliation, Bunch-McCarley said, adding to the educational challenges they face.
Compounding their problems is a lack of resources in low-income communities. For instance, they don’t have the advantage of a grocery store that sells healthy foods. Instead, they go into corner stores and buy processed, sugary foods with a long shelf life, Bunch-McCarley said, food whose nutritional shortcomings make it harder to concentrate in school.
“If your body’s healthy, it can affect your moods and thinking processes,” Bunch-McCarley said.
Partnerships like the one between Harvey Austin School and Vive help mitigate the effects of such challenges and are important to the children’s learning and growing. They give the students a better shot at achieving their full potential, despite facing obstacles other children never have to face.
“Just because they live in these areas,” Bunch-McCarley said, “it doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving.”