San Miguel School Chicago is located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the corner of 48th and Damen. San Miguel was founded in 1995 by two former Christian Brothers in a convent dining room with 18 students and four staff members. San Miguel was founded on the belief that a school should involve students in learning that is both liberating and empowering. San Miguel’s model aims to create an educational community where parents, staff and community members can learn and work together to help students achieve a better quality of life regardless of the obstacles they face due to poverty, gangs, violence, migration and discrimination.
“The mission of San Miguel School is to transform the lives of our students, their families and communities through education, by touching hearts and inspiring minds.”
A Day in San Miguel
I began my work with San Miguel two years ago as a tutor/mentor through the Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships. I have previously worked and completed observation hours in other schools before, and I have never felt more welcomed than I did at San Miguel. San Miguel is located on the fourth floor of a church on the corner of W 48th and Dame. There is no elevator, so the first couple times you walk up six flights of stairs you are sure to be out of breath. San Miguel serves 90 students and extends over just one hallway. There is only one classroom per grade, an office, a small library, a reading support classroom and one conference room. As you walk in the building you are sure to be received by a smiling face and students and teachers all say hi from their classrooms. The cafeteria and gym are located across the parking lot in the new community center, an expansion that was added last year. Due to the limited size of the school, students stay in their classrooms and teachers are the ones that rotate. One of San Miguel’s main focus is building literacy skills, meaning that their unique schedule incorporates an hour an a half of daily independent reading. San Miguel relies on volunteers to have a 1 staff to 4 student ratio at all times. This allows all students to receive small group or individual academic support.
Supportive Model: What makes San Miguel Unique?
San Miguel recruits the lowest performing fifth graders around the area and within three years, with tutoring, mentoring and counseling students leave San Miguel with strong academic skills. Although San Miguel is a private school, staff is fully aware of the neighborhood they serve through fundraising and grants, San Miguel’s students pay anywhere from $0 to $200 for their yearly tuition.
San Miguel offers unique ongoing support beyond students middle school years. San Miguel’s grad support program offers students high school guidance support, scholarship guidance, college exposure trips, college application guidance, tutoring, mentoring and counseling. The grad support staff stays connected with San Miguel graduates no matter what high school they attend. Staff will meet with students about once a month and will stay connected with students beyond their high school graduation. Through San Miguel’s support students are graduating high school and attending college at double the rates of their neighborhood peers.
Ms. Esparza is a commonly known person both at San Miguel and around the community. She started off as a parent volunteer when her daughter attended San Miguel back in 2004. She now holds a position of Parent-Outreach Coordinator. Ms. Esparza is responsible for bringing health, immigration, literacy and counseling workshops to parents. Additionally she coordinates fundraisers for the schools and recently started a yard-sale project to teach parents business skills.
San Miguel stays connected with its students after they graduate, so it comes to no surprise that many stay involved in their community. Currently, there are three staff members who graduated from San Miguel; and three others who had their children attend San Miguel. What is unique about this school is that their alumni return to volunteer in events and every year they host a San Miguel Grad fundraiser, with all the proceeds going back to the school. I have attended the event two years in a row now. It is incredible to see generations of San Miguel graduates who still keep in contact with each other and are so eager to give back to their middle school.
San Miguel opened a community center last year in September. The purpose of the community center is to reach out to the families in the Back of the Yards neighborhood and provide a safe space for families to spend time together. The community center offers health and wellness classes, early childhood education, sports, and art classes. Additionally, San Miguel’s staff is involved in organizations such as Increase the Peace and Hoops in the Hood. Ricky, an alum and San Miguel staff, and Mike, 7th grade English teacher, are the co-chairs of Increase the Peace in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
Students at San Miguel are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities. Although it is a small school, San Miguel offers a variety of sports and club activities. Students take many fieldtrips in order to be exposed to a variety of opportunities. Students go to Washington D.C., summer camp in Minnesota, college visits, and Six Flags, to name a few. All the fieldtrips are fully paid for so that students do not miss any opportunities due to financial hardships.
A Call for More Community Schools
Parents across Chicago neighborhoods have been fighting to keep schools like San Miguel open. They want their students to be able to attend schools that cater to their community needs and understand the demographics of their neighborhood. Community Organizations like COFI, KOCO, J4J, and ENLACE are fighting to make schools like San Miguel the rule NOT the exception. If one school can make a difference over the last 23 years, imagine the lives that 50 schools could change.
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