Program Profile: Brighton Park Neighborhood Council 21st CCLC Promotes Behavioral Health

Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) operates a 21st CCLC program at five schools on Chicago’s southwest side, serving students in elementary, middle, and high school. Social and emotional learning and behavioral health are a core component of the 21st CCLC’s programming, a reflection of the organization’s focus on social justice, health care, community safety, violence prevention, and education justice. 

The program offers a range of programming to provide support for all students. This includes young men’s and young women’s groups, where youth come together to talk about issues they face while practicing self-awareness and self-management skills as they work through problems. High school freshmen and sophomores also participate in a college mentor program, where they are paired with a college student throughout the school year. Although the mentoring program’s focus is to improve academic achievement, students also learn social and emotional competencies like goal setting and problem solving, which contribute to academic success. 

The program also uses trauma-informed practices, teaching staff to get to know students and understand the challenges they face instead of addressing behavioral issues in isolation. “It’s unrealistic to expect a student to make strides in their academic performance when they’ve just lost someone to gang violence or had a family member deported,” says Cheryl Flores, BPNC’s director of community schools and youth services and the 21st CCLC project director. “While it’s easier to blame the student and family for not meeting certain benchmarks, it is up to all of us to help them with what’s going on outside the classroom in order for them to perform better when they are in the classroom.” 

In addition to providing programming that promotes social and emotional learning and behavioral health among all students, BPNC trains staff to identify “red flags” or signs of behavioral health problems. All staff can make a referral for group or individual therapy, and once a referral is complete, a trained counselor will follow up with the student for a full assessment. For higher risk students, BPNC offers individual counseling with school-based therapists. Therapists also provide group sessions in anger management, Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools, and a social and emotional learning program called Second Step. The therapists also work closely with a team of full-time case managers who work with other students struggling with behavioral issues and truancy. 

Because of the range of services the 21st CCLC provides, the BPNC works closely with school staff, partner organizations, and families. The 21st CCLC uses meetings to discuss school and student needs and also share results. “We provide services and programs based on the needs of the school, parents, and students,” says Flores. “Parents and leaders know that our schools are under-resourced, and many times our counselors, social workers, and case managers are what’s most needed in the school.” 

The BPNC team has seen academic and behavioral gains in some of the students who participate, but as Flores notes, student successes do not come overnight. Often, students begin to show behavioral changes that illustrate how they are adopting skills and strategies that they can apply in school and in their personal lives. “When you have a student who used to ditch class and is now staying after school to meet with their mentor, that is a success to us. When we have parents coming after work on a snowy Chicago weeknight to a parent meeting about their child’s grades, that is a success. When you see a student use their coping strategies for anxiety, that is a success. When you see an eighth grader who used to get in trouble for their attitude and temper and the teacher informs you they’ve noticed a huge improvement in their behavior, that is a success,” says Flores. 

For 21st CCLC program leaders who want to do more to promote behavioral health, Flores encourages them to start small and build. A 21st CCLC can easily create young men’s and young women’s discussion groups, and students like having their own space to share thoughts with their peers. “Understand the environment your students are coming from, and work from there,” says Flores.