Saga Welcomes Chicago’s New Englewood STEM High School — Saga EducationOctober 22, 2019
Saga proudly serves 18 high schools in Chicago, including the brand new Englewood STEM High (ESHS), which opened this fall with an inaugural freshman class of over 400 students. The high school is located in the heart of the Englewood Community and is a beautiful multimillion dollar state of the art facility. The school will specialize in science, technology, engineering and math, which aligns with Saga’s area of focus. Although the development of the school was controversial, we are grateful to be part of this new initiative. We recently checked in with the Saga team at ESHS – Site Director, Anna Wolf and Saga AmeriCorps Member, Nya Martin, to learn more about their experiences and reflections from the first quarter of the school year.
Tell me about your background and what initially inspired you to Join Saga?
Anna: I earned my undergrad degree in economics and communication from Boston University in 2014. I never considered studying education, but I worked in several positions during and after college that kept drawing me in. So, I decided to apply for Teach for America and from there was placed in a school on the south side of Chicago, LEARN – Hunter Perkins. I spent 4 years teaching special education there. I’ve always felt that students that have gaps or need specialized attention thrive in small group environments which is why I was attracted to Saga.
Nya: I’m originally from the south side of Chicago, and attended the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor for undergrad. I’ve always known that I wanted to work in education. In college, all of my jobs were centered around education. After I graduated, I was a Success Coach with City Year in Detroit which eventually led me to Saga. My impact manager encouraged me to apply. At first I was so nervous about tutoring math because I hadn’t done high school math in 5 years, but I applied to Saga to challenge myself. In my hometown, students are often overlooked or disregarded, but I was ready to help change that.
How does the design of ESHS contribute to student success and engagement?
Nya: When you step inside the school, it is absolutely gorgeous. It is vibrant and brightly lit with huge windows, nice murals, and inspirational writings on the walls. To bring this school to a neighborhood that many people on the outside may see as a dark place, really brightens the perspective and brings a different light to the community. I feel that the students and families here needed something new and bright and that is what ESHS provides.
How does Saga’s program fit inside the school culture at ESHS?
Anna: It’s been really cool to see the big push from school administrators to have Saga be incorporated into the school culture, included in professional development. Our team was even invited to join the school’s team building day before school started where we were able to meet other teachers, coaches, and everyone in the building was involved. Principal Ausar does a really nice job of building and encouraging community across the school. He’s said, “We’re all in this together. No matter what your title is, we’re ALL educators in this building.”
What is one highlight from your experience so far at ESHS?
Anna: The school is comprised of only freshmen which is really unique. There is a concerted effort to create a specific school community here and grow it. On Fridays, students participate in Genius Day, a shift from their block schedule on Monday through Thursday to shorter periods of tutoring, clubs, and seminar activities. During Freshman seminar, students work through team-building activities and a social-emotional curriculum from a school partner, Umoja. Once a month, through another school partner, Embarc, students venture outside the school for experiential-learning opportunities throughout the city, such as Brooklyn Boulders or Intonation Music Studio.
Nya: The first thing I noticed is the push for Black educators and specifically, Black male educators. I know that representation is important for our students. Having representation in their classrooms gives them someone to relate to and draw inspiration from. My students have told me that they can relate to me and they feel comfortable talking to me. I didn’t have resources or support like this in school; I know it’s so critical that it exists here.
How do you know Saga’s program is making an impact at ESHS?
Anna: In the first week of school, we had our AmeriCorps members introduce themselves to students and vice versa. It was a fun experience and there was so much laughter and such a community feel during those periods. Some of the students who said “I hate math” at the beginning of the year have already changed tune and eagerly engage with the Saga curriculum and activities now. During passing period students will come by and stop in and say, “hi” to the team!
What are you looking forward to this school year?
Nya: Some students have a bit of fire in them and will try to push back. What I tend to do is let them know about my own experience and that I can relate to them so I understand, but I will not lower my expectations of them. Saga’s mission statement speaks to how we are here to be a resource for historically marginalized young people. Even though I’m 22, I believe that this is my life’s work. I’m looking forward to seeing my students’ confidence grow and not just in math, but in everything—to feel better about school, loving themselves, and love the process of learning even when it’s difficult.
As with Anna, Nya, and their team, Saga is also looking forward to an incredible school year with the students at Englewood STEM High School and across all of our sites. If you’re interested in learning more about our school partnerships or want to apply to be an AmeriCorps member with Saga Education, please visit www.sagaeducation.org to learn more about all of the ways that you might support our work.