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Chicago community organizations come together to meet student, educator challenges with new school year coming

Community groups gather to discuss how to enrich kids' time in school
Community groups gather to discuss how to enrich kids' time in school 02:09

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's about to be that time of year again – back to school – but for some, the occasion comes with more challenges than ever.

Between COVID, rising prices, and staffing shortages, the need is great.

With that in mind, numerous organizations are teaming up to be prepared to help teachers who are stretched thin. CBS 2's Steven had an inside look Tuesday at the event where they teamed up at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Representatives of the organizations gathered at round tables for discussions that tackled a variety of ideas about how to make kids' time in school more enriching. One discussion with the Chicago Department of Transportation surrounded engaging students in alternative programming – getting them excited about arts, and even mental health.

Lizette Solis-Cortes, a clinical liaison at Riveredge Hospital, was one of several community organization leaders who participated in the workshop at UIC.

Her goal is to strengthen the bond with schools throughout Chicago, as in-person learning returns - and so do post pandemic pressures.

"Maybe our local schools have head an incident of suicide, or racial injustices that kind of play out in the school setting – and so they really tap into us," said Solis-Cortes.

Communities In Schools of Chicago – the local chapter of a national nonprofit dedicated to helping students succeed and expanding their opportunities – has been bringing together these groups ahead of the school year for a decade.

But this time is really like none other.

"Our theme this year is to go from surviving to thriving in the coming school year," said Robin Koelsch, senior director of partnerships at Communities In Schools of Chicago. "We know last year, we thought, was going to be a year of recovery - and it really felt more like discovery."

The training event was only for one day - but the people learning at the forum will reach thousands of students.

In total, Communities In Schools of Chicago serves about 55,000 students in 175 Chicago public schools. The organization's school partner network will expand to 200 schools for the new school year.

Meanwhile, educators also need help in a shrinking workforce. Therese Marske of Math Motivators is finding that in-person-school volunteer tutors are hard to recruit right now.

"I'm really trying to also reach out to retirees – anybody who has a strong math background home," Marske said.

Many tutors prefer virtual, but Marske says that is not always the best option for students.

"When they're at school, they're in a space where we know we can get them," she said.

All the stakeholders are doing what it takes to stay ahead of the curve in education's changing landscape.

About 100 organization leaders participated in the sessions Tuesday. They plan to hold more throughout the year.

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