Interventions Boost Urban Student Outcomes

Building an active link between school, home, church and community is essential for the sustained success of students living in Chicago’s most under-resources neighborhoods, believes Anwar Smith, a graduate of UIC’s Master’s of Youth Development program.

Students often carry around emotional baggage, so staying connected to all aspects of their lives helps to keep them focused, said Smith, senior director of operations at By The Hand, a faith-based after-school program that serves children between first grade and college.

“Our staff visits their schools and homes to make sure they don’t fall through the gaps,” Smith said. “We dive into their lives a little deeper and get a clearer picture where these kids are coming from and it helps how we provide services.”

By The Hand, which started in 2001 with 16 students at the Moody Bible Church, has grown to roughly 1,000 students, spread out across locations in four neighborhoods– Cabrini-Green, 1000 N. Sedgwick St.; Altgeld-Murray, 13015 S. Ellis Ave.; Austin, 415 N. Laramie Ave; and Englewood, 220 W. 45th Place.

The organization works with community schools to identify students in need of intervention.

“We go beyond just providing recreational experiences or academic experiences– we do those things too, but we also focus on making sure the students have proper health care like eye glasses and dental, as well as a full-balanced meal,” Smith said.

When students come to By The Hand, they’re fed and are given a little recreation and devotion time, and then they go through rotations that focus on their homework, reading and writing, personal deficiencies and also electives/enrichments that for the older kids, include college tours and job shadowing. Additionally, with teenagers, a focus of the program is on choice.

“We’re trying to give them the opportunity to make important decisions on a daily basis in a controlled environment,” Smith said.

Smith began working at By The Hand five months ago. Prior to this, he worked at the Salvation Army for 10 years. Smith counts his time at UIC as important to his life’s work.

“At UIC, I really learned how to incorporate the faith community approach along with a youth development approach,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of synergy that works well between the two.”

In the next five to 10 years, By The Hand hopes to serve upwards of 5,000 students, and continues to strive to strengthen their vision.

“We’re trying to find new and innovative ways to step into the [students] worlds,” he said.