School closings “another trauma,” say child mental health professionals

Here is the letter written by Erika Schmidt, Director of the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy in Chicago, and her staff, to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Byrd-Bennett did not respond. Background on this letter here.

CENTER FOR CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHOTHERAPY

Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis

122 South Michigan Avenue Suite 1301

Chicago IL 60603

 

April 12, 2013

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

Chief Executive Officer

Chicago Public Schools

125 South Clark Street

Chicago IL 60603

 

Dear Ms. Byrd-Bennett:

For the past 4 years, I have had the privilege of directing a unique project at the Granville T. Woods Math and Science Academy in the Englewood neighborhood. This project provides group counseling services to children who have been exposed to violence at Woods, as well as several other schools in Englewood. Children are referred because they exhibit behavior problems in the classroom or home, because they do not learn at the level of their potential, and because they cannot negotiate interpersonal relationships successfully. Our goal is to help ameliorate the corrosive impact of exposure to violence on these children’s self-esteem, sense of safety, and hope for the future. We have had the support of the principal, Ms. Rosalyn Armour, and her staff, as well as the dedicated staff from Family Focus of Englewood, who have all contributed to the positive impact of this project on the lives and learning of the children we serve.

As we have helped the children become more effective learners, we have also learned a great deal from them. The most important lesson they have taught us is how the school becomes a vital community for these children, a “safe haven” where they feel protected from the violence outside, supported in their development, and can be respected members of the school community. Many of these children struggle with the problems of poverty, racism, and inadequate resources as well as the traumatic effect of violence. One child said to the group therapist, “If I can run really, really fast, maybe I won’t get hit by a bullet going to the library.” This poignant wish to avoid a bullet in order to read speaks volumes about the challenge these children face. When a child attends a school that inspires him to want to read anyway, that school has become a place that represents a child’s hope for their own future.

Woods School is a safe haven for these children, a source of continuity for them, and a place that represents the possibility for growth and development. The loss of the school environment, and the meaningful relationships they have established there, is another trauma in the lives of children who are exposed to too much trauma. We do recognize the challenge of providing for the educational needs of these children, but we are concerned that the children’s need for a secure community environment, which is absolutely essential for learning to take place, is being overlooked.

We request that you reconsider the decision to close Granville T. Woods Math and Science Academy.

Sincerely,

 

Erika Schmidt, LCSW

Director, Center for Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy

Director, Englewood Project

 

Englewood Project Staff:

Stephanie Beiser, LCSW, Project Coordinator

Sarah Clarke, LCSW

Marcie Hromas

Eva Johnson, LCSW

Sonia Kennedy, EdD, MSW, LSW

Aileen Schloerb, LCSW

Sivan Schneider, PsyD

Deborah R.Weaver, LCSW

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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.