Founded in 1961, the mission of the Sue Duncan Children’s Center is to transform the lives of children by nurturing their academic, athletic, and artistic growth. The Center builds safe, supportive communities that strengthen families and motivate children to succeed.
Sue Duncan Children’s Center can be narrowly defined as an after-school program; however, the success of its grassroots approach to advancing inner-city children academically and socially has been legendary. There are few, if any, non-religious programs in the nation that operate on such a personal level with each child, and share the level of results using very minimal resources and exposure. Children who participate in Center programming reach their full potential and exceed statistical expectations drastically.
The Center services children in grades pre-K through 12, predominantly African American, at two locations on Chicago’s south side. The Center rents classrooms inside elementary schools which means significantly lower overhead and more funding going directly toward programming. Although the schools are separate entities, they serve as convenient locations where students, parents and educators can easily access services. Center staff is also afforded greater access to teachers and receive referrals from administration. This creates a functional triangle of communication between teachers, parents and Center staff regarding individual student progress as part of the “village” approach. Enrollment is not limited to the students attending the schools where the Center is housed with participants representing over 20 elementary and high schools.
- Original Oakland Campus
Housed inside Jackie Robinson Elementary School at 4225 S. Lake Park Avenue. Oakland is bounded by 43rd Street to the south, 35th Street to the north, Lake Shore Drive to Cottage Grove Avenue (800 E) when south of Pershing Road (3900 S), and Vincennes Avenue north of Pershing Road).
- New Woodlawn Campus
Opened in September 2013 as part of the Center’s New Communities Project
Housed inside John Fiske Elementary School at 6020 S. Langley Avenue. Woodlawn is bounded by Lake Michigan to the east, 60th Street to the north, Martin Luther King Drive to the west, and, mostly, 67th Street to the south.
When children arrive each day, they are assigned to a tutor based on what work they need to accomplish. The Center keeps a low tutor-to-student ratio of 1 tutor to no more than 5 students in a group (as opposed to Chicago Public School requiring no more than 32 kids per teacher and often climbing to as many as 40 students). While it is a priority for staff and tutors to strengthen students’ core academic skills, complete homework and get help with school projects, the Center’s educational enhancement programming goes well beyond assigned schoolwork. Our programming engenders intellectual curiosity and a love of learning, and fulfills children’s artistic, recreational and nutritional needs to encourage healthy lifestyles. Older students participate in group discussions, which can consist of anything from math skill-building to a conversation about social issues. All students participate in creative expressions projects that allow them to discover and pursue their talents and passions. Before they leave each day, students share a hot and nutritious meal prepared by Center staff in the school kitchen, and exercise in the gymnasium through team sports and games.
The Center’s educational approach and curriculum is framed by a Code of Ethics that outlines the four core values of our community: Respect, Education, Independence, and Determination. We ask each child to commit to upholding these community values through actions, attitude, and words. Students in grades third and up sign a contract at the start of each school year to show their commitment to upholding the Center’s Code of Ethics. Staff members sign the contact as well to demonstrate the values they seek to instill. This formal agreement between the students and leadership presents an important lesson in partnership, trust and accountability.
The student success rate is phenomenal. Children from neighborhoods where drug abuse, teen pregnancy and gang violence are prevalent beat the odds and go on to make significant contributions to society as engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators, police officers, fire fighters, servicemen and women, well-known athletes, actors, and musicians, community leaders and business owners.
- 100% of the children who attend show measurable progress with their grades, test scores, behavior, self-esteem, and planning for the future. More than 90% improve their grades after just one semester, and students who have attended the Center for a year or more earn over twice as many A’s as they average when first enrolled.
- 100% of 8th grade students graduate and all have gone on to high school, many of them attending top tier Illinois schools. In contrast, an estimated 30% of all Chicago Public School students drop out of school after 8th grade. 100% of our students graduate from high school. College enrollment rates for graduating high school seniors in Chicago Public Schools average a mere 56%, based on 2010 data published on their website. 100% of our 12th graders have enrolled in college.