By Dana Fischetti

At DePaul, third-year music education majors spend a year-long practicum teaching a half hour a week at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that do not have full-time music teachers. Last year, one DePaul student taught in a special education classroom that included a child with apraxia who did not speak. During music lessons, the teacher noticed the child mouthing words to songs, and later he began to sing along, eventually leading to spoken words.

“This child began to talk after he learned to sing,” said Jacqueline Kelly-McHale, DePaul’s music education coordinator. “That story speaks volumes to the power of music, which opened the door to a lost part of this child.”

Sharing the gift of music with classrooms across Chicagoland is just one of many long-standing and highly successful collaborations DePaul has with Chicago Public Schools.  Community outreach and public service always have been key components of DePaul’s mission. Deepening DePaul’s partnerships with the city of Chicago to sustain and improve community life is a priority in the university’s strategic plan, Vision 2018.

From mentoring to music education to digital literacy, DePaul is engaged in a wide variety of initiatives that enhance learning for CPS students and support CPS teachers. Here are a few examples, among many, of strong DePaul-CPS collaborations:

K-8 music education
Kelly-McHale and several of her third-year music education students work each year with one K-8 CPS school that does not have a full-time music teacher. Their weekly 30-minute classroom lessons incorporate singing, movement, playing instruments and music composition. This year, they are teaching at Jahn World Language School.

“When we come into the classroom, the students’ faces light up,” said Kelly-McHale. “They love their DePaul music teachers, and they receive so much benefit from the program. They work better in groups, behavior improves and they are more excited about learning.”

School administrators are seeing the value of music education, she said. “Every school that we have worked with has hired a certified music teacher, even with limited budgets. They see how an active music program results in a more complete student. High-risk and low-income students don’t always come to school with the tools that other kids may. Music helps to level the playing field in the learning environment.”

Cultural Competencies

The College of Education provides many avenues of assistance to CPS. Among those ways, undergraduate and graduate students have administered the Respect Excellence Attitude Leadership, or R.E.A.L. program, operated by Associate Professor Horace Hall, in 15 to 20 CPS schools since 2000. This program helps Latino and African-American students learn cultural competency skills. In addition, CPS teachers can find professional development opportunities through DePaul’s collaboration with the nonprofit organization Facing History and Ourselves.

Male Initiative Project

The Male Initiative Project (MIP), a CPS mentoring program, seeks to improve high school graduation rates of male African-American and Latino students by addressing the physical and emotional issues facing adolescent males. The program also helps the wider Chicago community understand how to serve this population.

“Adolescent males of color often feel invisible,” said Glenna Ousley, director of community outreach in DePaul’s Center for Access and Attainment. “MIP brings these students together with an adult to talk about the challenges they face.”

MIP serves more than 300 young men of color in 20 CPS high schools through the volunteer efforts of counselors, teachers and administrators. School chapters build supportive bonds among the students and improve academic performance. At Kenwood Academy High School, where counselor Shelby Wyatt started MIP in 2006, graduation and college-going rates of MIP students have increased, attendance has improved and behavioral issues have decreased.

Since 2007, DePaul has supported MIP by hosting student development conferences, providing MIP with student interns, hosting student leadership workshops, providing grant-writing assistance, and facilitating research and reporting. In 2011, DePaul hosted a national “Forum on the Effectiveness of School-Based Male Mentoring” with more than 50 educators to share research on successful mentoring programs.

The partnership also provided the catalyst to establish the Men of Color Initiative at DePaul, which supports first-generation or low-income male students of color in their academic endeavors at the university. This program also has resulted in increased retention and graduation rates for participating students.

Taste of Computing

Taste of Computing, funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, is working to expand high school computer science education, particularly for underrepresented groups—women, African-Americans and Latinos. It offers comprehensive professional development for teachers through summer workshops and mini-sessions during the school year. The curriculum uses projects in web design, programming and robotics to develop students’ skills in critical thinking and problem solving.

It is engaging, inquiry based and fun, said Lucia Dettori, associate dean in the College of Computing and Digital Media and a co-principal investigator for the grant.

About 70 teachers received training in summer 2012, many of whom taught Taste of Computing in their schools last year. A second group of about 50 teachers attended the summer 2013 workshop. The course has been adopted by more than 20 Chicago high schools—including five schools focused on science, technology, engineering and math—which are using it as their foundational course for freshmen.

The collaborative project includes co-principal investigators from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Loyola University, DePaul and two CPS teachers. The group is currently developing an assessment tool for the course to measure student learning.