HERMOSA — North-Grand High School is getting a youth intervention specialist, full-time psychologist and drama teacher this school year.
The psychologist will be at the school full-time, a first for the school; previously, the psychologist role had been a part-time job at the school. The changes will help the school care for its students socially and emotionally — and they come as schools increasingly look for more ways to provide for students’ mental health and prevent and respond to conflict in holistic ways.
Principal Emily Feltes said the hires are all about providing resources to the community.
“As a principal of a neighborhood school, I feel like the school should be the heartbeat of the community,” she said. “We should be welcoming families in. We should be able to provide resources. … I’m really passionate about figuring out ways to be able to do that.”
The youth intervention specialist will engage students in social-emotional learning, helping students develop communication skills, deal with conflict in and out of the classroom and learn what constitutes a healthy relationship.
The youth intervention specialist will also provide additional support as the school looks to implement restorative justice practices and peer mediation options to deal with conflicts.
On that front, Feltes also hopes to assemble a peer jury in the fall. Peer juries typically give students a say in some disciplinary matters.
“We’ve been able to decrease our out-of-school and in-school suspensions a lot over the course of the last decade and for sure, the past couple of years,” she said. “But something we want to continue to work on is to provide … [a] deeper level [of] restorative practices for kids.”
After conflict or harm, restorative methods “provide a way of thinking about, talking about and responding to issues and problems by involving all participants to discuss their feelings and opinions, identify what happened, describe how it affected everyone and find solutions to make things better,” according to a Chicago Public Schools toolkit on restorative practices.
Another hire — the addition of a psychologist on a full-time basis — is rooted in individual student needs, which are identified in Individualized Education Program plans, and the number of diverse learners at North-Grand, Feltes said.
And administrators decided to hire a drama teacher thanks to student feedback.
“We selected that type of teacher based on student interest,” Feltes said. “We survey our kids multiple times a year about electives. Our students show an interest in the arts. So we wanted to expand our arts.”
Feltes might also have more hiring to do because the freshman class is expected to grow.
“I just advocated for a funds advance to see if I can get one to two more teachers to reduce class size, based off [the] huge number of freshmen who selected to go here through the GoCPS process, so more than I anticipated for and budgeted for,” she said.
North-Grand is projected to have more than 1,100 students this school year. That is about 70 more students compared to last year.
Feltes said a funding boost from CPS allowed for the hires. In the past two years, the district has awarded North-Grand a $100,000 equity grant.
The grant “may not seem like a lot of money, but it’s enough to purchase a position with benefits,” she said. “So that could be a teacher … it could be a counselor … it could be, you know, whatever the school community calls for.”
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