Principal Emily Feltes-Maslanka of North-Grand High School is investing heavily in support for both her students and their families. She believes everyone deserves wholistic support, and she knows that it helps create a learning environment in which young people pursue and achieve postsecondary success and their life goals.
Emily joined North-Grand 11 years ago and has served as principal for seven years. As a child, Emily looked up to her older sister who was a teacher. Her sister would bring Emily with her to her summer programs and have her participate in class among her peers. Inspired to pursue a career in education, Emily joined an urban teaching cohort at Miami University before returning to Chicago to teach English Language Learner students and English.
Emily’s commitment to supportive services is rooted in both her experience and the research. In fact, data increasingly point to the relationship between our physical, social, emotional, and mental wellbeing and our ability to learn and retain new concepts.
“My whole take is that the school – especially a neighborhood school – should be the heartbeat of the community,” said Emily. “We should be offering resources to families outside of just education or schooling for their children.”
For Emily, this means that North-Grand has a duty to prioritize students and families’ wellbeing – whether that means nutrition support, housing security, or access to physical and mental health resources.
At North-Grand, 27% of students have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans. Additionally, a quarter of the students at the school are non-native English speakers, and many come from immigrant families. In just the past year, North-Grand welcomed about 70 English language learners who require additional supports.
“[We] try to take a more holistic approach to education,” Emily said. “A kid can’t learn algebra and biology or anything else if they’re hungry, if they’re worried about where they’re going home for the night, or if their family is scared or has concerns.”
Emily began expanding her school’s psychiatric resources in 2016. Today she has five school counselors, instead of three, and a dedicated college coach. She also strongly advocated for the two full-time social workers and a full-time educational psychologist that serve North-Grand students, among other clinical positions and partnerships. The growing team includes a Youth Intervention Specialist and Student Services Advocate.These resources ensure North-Grand’s team is better equipped to address students’ needs and can lead to outcomes like better attendance and grades as well as to increased self-esteem.
The physical and mental health challenges of the pandemic exacerbated an already growing crisis, while simultaneously casting a spotlight on the issue. North-Grand’s mental health staff members have helped Emily address the growing requests for support from students and their parents.
Today, North-Grand’s students are attending college at higher rates, and persisting through college more often. Coupled with new funding from the school’s recent Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) programmatic designation, Emily has high hopes for the future of North-Grand.