Teachers Talk Back: On School Climate and Culture
Angela Young is a cooperative work training teacher at Southside Occupational Academy (SOA), a transition center for students aged 16-22 with disabilities in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. In this conversation with E4E-Chicago Outreach Director Jessica Sullivan, Angela shares her compassion for diverse learners and why her school is a gem in the Englewood neighborhood.
Jessica Sullivan (JS): What drew you to the education profession?
Angela Young (AY): I was an assistant manager in a shoe store and lost my job as my daughter was about to turn a year old. I asked God, “What do I do now?” When I lost my previous job, I turned to my faith for guidance. During this reflection I remembered the time when I worked for a Christian community school. I enjoyed helping the students who had a hard time learning and connecting with school. That following year was the beginning of my journey. I registered for college and studied special education. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve been in education for 19 years.
JS: What is your current role at Southside Occupational?
AY: I am a cooperative work training teacher, teaching vocational, life, and transition skills to students with special needs. The focus is on assisting the students to be work and life ready.
JS: Why is Southside Occupational the “a gem in Englewood?”
AY: We have serviced students for over 25 years, teaching functional academics, vocational skills, and life skills by providing them a variety of experiences. They learn through engaging with the community by using their immediate environment, anything from a car wash to a greenhouse for horticulture. Our new science program allows kids to learn about agriculture, complete with chickens and ducks, in the heart of the city. Through experiences with their community, students learn how to prepare for work, complete a variety of vocational tasks with varied levels of support, navigate their community, safety measures when using public transportation, soft skills (such as how to hold a basic conversation), basic money skills, and even recreation and leisure skills. We meet students where they are, and improve on the skills that already exist, in addition to giving students new skills.
JS: This year E4E-Chicago has focused on school climate and culture. What makes the culture at Southside Occupational work?
AY: We all work together for the good of the students. The success of our students is the driving force for us to work hard on a regular basis, searching for the best way to give them what they need. Our school has achieved great thing since its opening over 25 years ago. Everyone played a part. All of our staff, administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff, security, food service workers, and custodial staff work hard to achieve the common goal of making the lives of students successful.
JS: E4E members have been working to end discipline disparities through their In Class, Not Cuffs Campaign. How do you do this in the classroom?
AY: The important thing is to give all students the tools they need to succeed to empower them to make the right choices. It is an educator’s job to teach students so they may make wise decisions for their futures, regardless of color or ability level. We are to set them ALL up for success and diminish the school-to-prison pipeline.