GRAND BOULEVARD — The bullet hole is still in the door.
Weeks after a 14-year-old Wendell Phillips Academy freshman and a security guard were shot and wounded as school let out, students and teachers at the school at 244 E. Pershing Road have a reminder of that terrifying moment every day.
As the wounded student and guard recover, the shooter has not been arrested and police have released no new information on what led to the violence.
Now, long after police, camera crews and curious onlookers left the campus, the school community is trying to figure out how to heal.
While school counselors have opened their doors, the Wendell Phillips local school council met last week to discuss more ways to help the students — and many of those in attendance said Chicago Public Schools needs to get more creative about helping kids heal from trauma.
Principal Matthew Sullivan said faculty have been doing their best to be supportive, but they need helping coping themselves. Parents brainstormed ideas to uplift the school environment, like yoga classes and beautification projects for campus.
There are no easy answers, but many said there needs to be long-term support for students, families and teachers when schools are rocked by violence. Trauma-informed programming and longterm counseling could make all the difference, and prevent future tragedies. The effects of violence don’t dissipate after a few days; neither should the interventions, parents and community leaders say.
“We need the people who said they would help to step up,” one Wendell Phillips parent said.
‘It’s all hands on deck’
Wendell Phillips High has a complicated history.
The school that educated luminaries like John H. Johnson and Timuel Black struggled with overcrowding and underfunding for most of its 116 years.
After decades of low performance and neglect, it was rescued from the CPS closure list when the Academy for Urban School Leadership took it over in 2010. Faculty and staff rosters were overhauled and a new curriculum was introduced.
Academic performance is improving, but the school is still under-resourced, relying on philanthropy and its own fundraising to pay for STEM positions and other programs.
That lack of resources and systemic neglect motivates community activist Marquinn McDonald.
McDonald has spent years creating violence prevention strategies for organizations, leading self-defense workshops and patrolling the streets with his fellow Watch Guard members to prevent carjackings in the area. A lot of his work involves regularly interacting with teens and young adults — mostly Black, mostly male, mostly at-risk.
McDonald wants CPS to be more “transparent and creative” when it comes to engaging students dealing with trauma. Even something like first responder training, where students can be trained to give first aid or CPR to someone who is hurt, can change a teen’s outlook and help them feel empowered.
A lot of these kids feel isolated, he said.
“I see more parents at football games than report card pickup. These teachers and staff are going at it alone. This is an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of situation,” McDonald said. “We have to stop pointing fingers at [Mayor] Lori Lightfoot and [Cook County State’s Attorney] Kim Foxx. We need to be here for these kids.
“All these kids have a community, a village amongst themselves because they don’t have it among their own families. We look for things to blame. Yeah, it can be video games, or trap music but it’s also a lack of resources,” McDonald said.
Walter Taylor, director of professional development for the Chicago Teachers Union, said they, too, have been asking for more help and resources.
According to CPS, the district’s team of licensed clinicians work with school leadership to help students and staff after a crisis. Some of those interventions may include helping the school develop an on-site support plan, and connecting affected families with additional grief counseling.
The district didn’t respond to further questions about how long the crisis team remains at a school following a traumatic incident like the shooting at Wendell Phillips. Taylor said schools only receive a few days of grief counseling, which is indicative of a larger problem.
“It’s like putting a bandaid on something the size of Mars. This is something that needs a long range of support,” Taylor said. “It’s why we’ve been calling for wraparound services for every school.”
That means full-time social workers, counselors and nurses in every school, he said. It also means more money from the city’s coffers. The city has pledged to have a full-time nurse and social worker in each school by 2023. More programming also would help ease the burden on faculty impacted by trauma, he said.
“We have many different versions of trainings that we can be doing in school in terms of restorative practice, which can change the culture of a school,” Taylor said. “We know those dollars and cents exist. They’re there. We could be utilizing that for this purpose.”
The district has rolled out more trauma supports and mental health resources this year, particularly as the pandemic kept students out of school much of last year.
Last month, the district announced a $7.5 million plan to expand an anti-violence youth program connecting high-risk teens with mentoring and therapy. With “Choose to Change,” the district is partnering with New Life Centers of Chicagoland, Lifeline to Hope, Build Chicago and Bright Star Community Outreach to serve 1,000 students this year.
Phillips’ nascent local school council, formed during the pandemic, is doing what it can to get more parents involved.
Parent LaTrina Spaulding has raised money for the school’s athletic programs with community events like the Bronzeville 5K. Hoping to bring some measure of healing, she’s turning to the community again for help as she sets out to transform two classrooms into quiet rooms, one for students, one for staff.
With the school covering the cost, the only thing needed is labor, Spaulding said.
As Wendell Phillips tries to move forward, it’s going to take a village to help.
“It would be great if someone could teach a yoga class,” Spaulding said. “I know that as a parent of a student there that people perceive the kids a certain way, but kids need attention and to know that they’re cared about. They need consistency.”
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