This past year has been tumultuous, especially for educators. Across the country, school leaders have had to juggle navigating a global pandemic and our nation’s racial reckoning. They’ve transitioned to virtual teaching and learning, created space to discuss police brutality and systemic racism in their schools, and addressed the physical, social, and emotional needs of their students and families. In light of all, they have persevered through. Our School Leaders Who Inspire Series is intended to celebrate and highlight the prominent and impactful educators we have the pleasure of working with.
Over the course of this series, we will share interviews with school leaders about their motivations to lead and teach, their biggest lessons, influences, and best advice. You will learn more about their contributions to the public school system and how they have worked to provide their students with a high quality and equitable education.
"My inspiration for supporting Black students' education and creativity was born from my own experiences watching my mother pursue education while managing personal trauma and overcoming economic barriers. I used poetry to navigate the death of my primary parent which taught me to use art as a tool for healing and self-expression."
Our Conversation with Jennifer Hodges
How long have you been working in the charter school sector?
I joined KIPP Chicago in August 2019 to launch and lead the Whole Child Initiative.
What motivated you to do this work?
My life purpose is to use my creativity toward generational advancement and to help elevate human potential. My ultimate motivation is to remove barriers to access for student success. I chose KIPP Chicago and the Whole Child Initiative to be part of my journey to implement lasting solutions and approaches to pervasive and emerging community challenges such as poverty and access to quality education. As a youth, I resided in three economically contrasting neighborhoods in the heart of Detroit, Michigan, and I understand the interconnectedness of stable communities, the overarching benefit of accessibility to gainful employment, and the positive effects of access to quality education. Living and working in Chicago, I witness the disparities and effects of marginalized communities and how it increases violence, unhealthy behaviors, and psychological damage. This perspective fuels my desire to make changes to benefit resilient Black and Latinx communities. Being a convener of key stakeholders to create solutions-focused programs, living in contrasting Detroit communities, and advocating for strategic investment in communities of greatest need affirm my love and passion for children and their families.
What book, experience, or resource has had the biggest impact on how you approach this work?
My inspiration for supporting Black students' education and creativity was born from my own experiences watching my mother pursue education while managing personal trauma and overcoming economic barriers. I used poetry to navigate the death of my primary parent which taught me to use art as a tool for healing and self-expression. My story is not unique and I am dedicated to offering support to and fostering creativity within children like me. I aim to design the Whole Child Initiative from a place of empathy for our students who may experience forms of personal or economic trauma.
In many ways, I am a success story of the benefits of better education, the resiliency required to pursue higher education, and the importance of arts in the recovery from traumatic experiences. Although my trauma was the loss of a parent, there are many other psychological and emotional traumas that affect communities and its residents, like food insecurity, homelessness, violence, and poor health. Access to education and better paying jobs are solutions to most community challenges, but coupled with an effective tool for self-expression - like artistic expression - can create lasting holistic resolutions from traumatic experiences for the individual and for the improvement of communities. I not only want to improve communities, I want to heal the psychological and emotional wellbeing of those in need through art and education.
What strategies or best practices does your school use to help support your students’ racial identity development?
The Whole Child Initiative (WCI) is KIPP Chicago’s multifaceted and community-centered approach on our journey toward becoming an anti-racist organization by removing barriers of access for student success while supporting parent and teacher wellness. This approach embraces a whole child, community focus, which ensures each student, family, and teammate is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Through the launch of the WCI, KIPP Chicago's goal is to remove barriers to student success and matriculation. We are aligned in the belief that when you center the holistic needs of the child, they will succeed.
The seven Whole Child priorities integrate social and emotional practices that work in synergy to offer students the tools for relentless pursuit of happiness and a life of choice. The seven tenets of Whole Child are: Food Justice, Enhance Teacher Wellbeing, Inclusive and Challenging Curriculum, Identity Development Practices, Family and Community Partnerships, Social and Emotional Learning, Elevate KIPP’s Children’s Museum of Art and Social Justice.
Embracing an inclusive and challenging curriculum. We center our student’s racial identity by implementing the 1619 Project into the middle school curriculum to reframe how history is taught and to share the contributions of Black people to US and global societies.
Cultivating identity development practices. Two key initiatives to promote identity development are The McNair Leadership Fellowship, designed to support a cohort of Leaders of Color to thrive in management roles. Additionally, the physical space our students occupy is a positive reflection of Black and Latinx students at each school.
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Jennifer L. Hodges
Creator + Executive