Take Flight - visit to Chicago

Over half term, Project ‘Take Flight’ travelled to Chicago to visit our partner schools and see what developments have been made over the last year.  The cohort this year consisted of four Year 13 students, Olivia, Corey, Harvey and Abi, two members of staff, myself and Zoe Day, and Conor Cotter.  Conor was part of the 2016 cohort but, having passed his A levels and left KC, he decided to take a year out before starting his university studies and thus agreed to travel as part of this year’s cohort.  The students had spent much of the Spring and Summer of this year fundraising as well as producing projects to present to the American schools.   The 2016 cohort had focused largely on teaching styles and the students this year looked to expand their educational focus by looking more at transitions between schools as well as developing the Social Justice project that the original cohort started in October 2016.

We spent the first few days in Chicago sightseeing; on Friday night, we admired the artistic sculptures and displays in Millennium Park and took a stroll down the river walk.  Saturday saw us explore the area by bicycle, a huge hit with the entire group and definitely a recommended way to see a city, before experiencing a dine in cinema.  We were very lucky to have fantastic weather; t-shirts and sunglasses in October are a rare treat!  Then on Sunday, we had a fabulous day, despite the weather turning cold and very, very wet!  We met up with students and staff from one of our partner schools, the Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy (TRCCA), for brunch before embarking on a river tour and then a trip up the John Hancock Building where we experienced TILT.  This was a fabulous opportunity for both sets of students to meet in a more informal setting and was certainly something appreciated by the Take Flight cohort.  We, as staff, were able to take the opportunity to discuss changes and developments to the school since our last visit and it was lovely to have the whole day to chat. 

Monday was our first day of visits and we were very fortunate that Ernest Williams and Danielle Beecham, student success directors for Edison in the US, had been able to arrange for us to visit the Yates Elementary School.  This is not an Edison school itself but we were able to spend time touring the school and speaking to staff and students; some of our discoveries were shocking to say the least and I know that we were all profoundly affected by some of the stories we were told but we were left impressed by the positivity and determination that was clear to see.  We also visited DePaul University campus – a very different campus to many that our students had visited in the UK. 

On Tuesday, we reunited with the students from TRCCA.  Having visited the school last year, both Conor and I commented on the positive changes we noticed on this visit.  Our students had a fabulous day; Corey and Harvey presented their Social Justice project and handled a steady stream of questions with well informed maturity.  The students then listened to the TRCCA students present on the issue of police brutality and engaged in a frank and interesting discussion before filming a public service announcement about the importance of working together. 

The Bridgescape Academies that we visited on Wednesday and Thursday are not regular high schools; they are alternative education establishments aimed at helping those who can not or do not attend ordinary high schools to gain their high school diploma.  We visited the Humboldt Park and Brainerd campuses; these are two very different areas of the city and each has their own issues to contend with.  During our visits, we presented on the Social Justice project, last year’s trip and Kingsthorpe and its surrounding area.  We experienced snapshots of different lessons (the Maths lesson was a little traumatic for some of us!) and heard about some of the difficulties students face.  It was hard to listen to some of the things the staff and students had to tell us but we all agreed that it made us that bit more appreciative of our own way of life.

Finally, on the Thursday, we were very fortunate to be able to attend the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital to speak to Dr Helen Binns – a leading researcher into childhood obesity, the focus of our Social Justice project.   Take Flight were able to present their findings and ask questions about her research.  Dr Binns was very impressed with the work they had done and it was a fantastic opportunity for our students to be able to meet with her. 

During the week, we were also able to go shopping and attend a Chicago Bulls basketball game as well as experience the Sky Ledge on the 113th floor of the Willis (Sears) Tower.  We certainly made the most of our time in America and it has taken us a few days to get over our jet lag and general tiredness!

However, the work does not stop here for Project ‘Take Flight’!  The current cohort is now preparing for their Presentation Evening; this is an opportunity for them to be able to present their project and trip in much more detail.  If anyone would like to attend, please let us know!  They will also be doing assemblies for the rest of the school as well as inviting members of Year 11 and Year 12 to join the cohort and take over the project as they will shortly be stepping down to focus on their A levels.  Take Flight has two very exciting points of focus moving forward into 2018;  the first is to support the American students, many of whom come from economically challenging background, in financing a trip to the UK in 2018.  This is something that we know the American students really want to do and we want them to have the same opportunity and experiences in travel and discovery that we had in travelling to Chicago.  Secondly, Danielle Beecham had a discussion with Conor and I about visiting new Edison / Bridgescape schools that have opened in Miami and this is something that Project ‘Take Flight’ will be looking to pursue.

The success of Project ‘Take Flight’ never ceases to amaze me; it always makes me very proud of our Kingsthorpe students and what they have achieved.  Our trip to Chicago was amazing and I am so pleased that what started off in February 2016 as a bit of wishful thinking has continued to grow and create amazing opportunities.

Abbie Coleman

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