African American Initiative Partners with Israel Idonije to Encourage Students to Stay in School
The United Way African American Initiative (AAI) is now in its fifth year of working with students in Bronzeville/Grand Boulevard, Englewood, Lawndale, Rogers Park and Roseland. AAI is developing sustainable approaches to help youth improve their academic performance and school attendance, learn leadership skills, discover career options and practice non-violent conflict resolution.
The program has been demonstrating some impressive results. For example, in Roseland 97% of students attending schools where the AAI is active are from low-income families—often a major factor in determining student achievement. However, AAI students are overcoming the odds and succeeding in many areas:
•More than 90% of AAI participants are on track for grade promotion (compared to 40% of their peers).
• More than 95% of participants stayed in school.
• 76% of participants improved their grades and increased attendance
These notable results have other organizations taking notice. On Tuesday, October 27, the Israel Idonije Foundation invited the United Way AAI to join Idonije as he traveled to four elementary schools to encourage students to stay in school. The Rev. Rodney Walker and Johnny Muhammed from Teamwork Englewood and Larry Phillips from Metropolitan Family Services, Calumet Center spoke to students about the importance of an education. The Israel Idonije Foundation promotes the pursuit of education and knowledge, while providing programs for youth and community members so young people can actualize and maximize their full potential. Idonije plays defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears and also sits on the United Way AAI Senior Advisory Board.
Once a month, the NFL player visits four Chicago elementary schools to encourage students in grades 5 through 7 to stay in school and earn good grades through his program, First Down Izzy’z Kidz. The program provides participants incentives including tickets to Bears games if they maintain at least a 96% school attendance rate.
“It seems like every day we are losing kids to the street,” Idonije told a group of kids from Bannecker Elementary School in Englewood. “We don’t want you to get desensitized because what’s going on out there is not okay. You have dedicated yourselves and have gone above and beyond to obtain a 96% attendance. That is great discipline and a very special accomplishment. We want you to know that people care about you.”
Other AAI programs active in the community include Centers for New Horizons in Bronzeville, YMEN and Lawndale Christian Health Center in North Lawndale, and Alternatives in Rogers Park.
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Chicago Bears defensive tackle, Israel Idonije meets with kids from his First Down program at Bannecker Elementary School in Englewood.