School-Age Program Honored by Illinois AfterSchool Network

May 27, 2016 | Chicago, IL

School-Age Staff

The Erie House program was recognized for its exemplary approach to education and socio-emotional support for children ages 5–12. FILE PHOTO

The Erie Neighborhood House School-Age Program received a special honor from the Illinois Afterschool Network (IAN)—the state affiliate to the National AfterSchool Association—earlier this month in Springfield, Ill.

During the 30th Annual Illinois AfterSchool Spring Conference on May 6–7, IAN bestowed the Best Practice Program Award upon Erie House in recognition of its holistic, innovative and high-quality program for children and youth. The awards ceremony took place during IAN’s two-day conference assembling school-age youth workers from across the state to provide professional development, leadership training and networking opportunities.

“The School-Age Program welcomes in some of the city’s most vulnerable children and gives them the love, attention and resources they need to become high-achieving adolescents and adults,” says Joshua Fulcher, director of Expanded Learning Programs for Children and Youth at Erie House.

Fulcher credits associate director Valery Shepard and a staff he describes as “fantastic” with providing children access to hands-on academic help in addition to mental health services and support. “Our staff is able to personally guide, push and encourage the kids to succeed,” he says. “They have demonstrated an ability to be innovative and responsive to both the gifts and needs present in the program.”

He also points to the socio-emotional support the program provides through partnerships with the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a handful of other graduate schools as a unique, distinctive element that sets it apart. “We are able to provide mental health services in a culturally competent way—free of charge—to a population of children very much in need.” This year, the program went so far as to offer a kinesthetic emotions management club that included yoga and meditation.

In total, the School-Age Program serves 180 children at the agency’s historic settlement house location in West Town and at Erie Elementary Charter School in Humboldt Park. The program operates from 2 until 6 during the school year but will transition to a full-day schedule for the summer months (it also runs on a full-day schedule on most holidays and spring break for local schools).

“We are proud of what this award signifies for our School-Age Program,” says Erie House executive director Kirstin Chernawsky. “It’s an important component to the continuum of services we provide, offering families a safe space where their children can learn and grow and develop the skills they need to be future leaders in the community while empowering parents to work and provide for their families.”

She is also pleased by the fact that several members of the School-Age staff are graduates of the program who have returned to invest in a new generation of children and youth. “That speaks volumes about the culture of the program and the impact Erie House is making on the families we serve,” she says.

Fulcher says the program’s summer curriculum will continue to incorporate hands-on learning, including several field trips to tap into Chicago’s vast array of learning opportunities.

The program also hopes to travel to Indiana this August for its annual week-long camping trip and is sponsoring a fundraiser to help cover costs. For more information on the fundraiser and to support the program’s trip, please visit


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