Summer wasn’t quite the same in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country and disrupted almost everything about our lives, including the end of the school year. But at Morton East High School, West40’s ALOP advocates were determined to stay connected to their students and help any way they could.
As part of West40’s outreach, the ALOP team decided to invite students, advocates and school staff to a socially distanced pizza party in late June. The event gave students the chance to see their advocates in person for the first time since early spring. And after months of quarantine, there was excitement in the air.
“Being a part of the ALOP program has been my favorite part of school,” said Annette G, a student. It’s great to see everyone. I really missed my advocates.”
“This is exciting,” added Elizabeth, another ALOP student. “It gives me hope that I’ll see these people again at school one day, that we’ll get back to normal.”
For the students at Morton East, shutting down school early hadn’t just impacted their academics. The experience affected their families and their day-to-day lives.
“I know for some of our students, the last thing on their minds was schoolwork. A lot of them were just trying to get food,” said Kevin Sanchez, an advocate. “So West40 was making care packages for students to receive. Some families aren’t working during this time, so being able to make sure they were okay was a priority for us.”
This party gave advocates a way to check in on students of all grade levels. But it was especially valuable as a way to connect with freshmen, some of whom had only been in the ALOP program for a few months before the year was cut short. West40 has learned that some of the most important parts of advocacy are consistency and continuity.
“We catch people early at our Freshman Center and implement a strong foundation to show them they can do it,” said Kevin Sanchez. “A lot of these kids think, ‘I’m growing up in this neighborhood, I’m not going to succeed.’ But we show them that you can become something outside this community.”
As students grabbed slices of pizza and looked for shade from the summer sun, the school’s principal, Jose Gamboa, reflected on what this event and the larger ALOP program means to the students involved.
“We have a big building here with 3,500 students and 150 employees. When you have that kind of balance, the biggest challenge is trying to stay connected to so many students,” said Principal Gamboa. “Our Cicero area has been hit hard by COVID-19, with a lot of cases and people losing jobs. But West40 has stepped up. They have helped connect with students, provided food and emergency resources, whatever people needed. Nobody ever said ‘no.’ We need this West40 team at our school now more than ever.”