My Charter School Taught Me Relationships Matters

The power of relationship can never be understated. Throughout my life I have heard phrase after phrase that illumines this point: “It isn’t what you know but who you know.” “No one cares what you know until they know that you care.” Relationship matters. Every successful person knows this and can point to people who were instrumental in helping them reach their dreams. I learned this early in life and it has taken me through many unique experiences and positioned me in places that I never could have gotten to on my own. A graduate degree and many professional advancements later what I learned in a small middle school with a long name on the Westside of Chicago is what I use every day in my work and life. Relationship matters.

The Academy of Communications and Technology was one of Chicago’s first charter schools and parents still thought it a bit risky to take their students out of traditional public schools in order to put them in a system that was still yet to prove its worth on a national scale. However, it didn’t take long for parents of ACT students to notice a difference in their students. I was one of those students who was gaining a wonderful education in a smaller classroom environment with teachers who were committed to our success. I showed gains in reading comprehension, math and science during my time at ACT. Yet, my greatest lesson was that relationships really matter. We saw it in the way the school interacted with neighboring churches and businesses in order to get valuable resources for students. We learned it when we connected with current and potential donors at fundraisers. We practiced it as we engaged in hundreds of hours of community engagement and service that ACT pushed its students to gain valuable experience, skills and social capital. Relationships matters.   

The litmus test of any educational institution is not its ability to churn out students who unenthusiastically meet the measures dictated by state standardized examiners but those that tap into the passion of a student and provide the tools necessary to cultivate and hone the requisite skills. The point of education isn’t to prepare a student for more schooling with the hopes that along the way the student will gain the tools needed to thrive personally and professionally. The point of education is to prepare young people to become global citizens, versatile enough to negotiate divergent scenarios and be nonetheless unscathed. My experience at ACT was the latter. The focused attention on my development as a whole person made it possible for me to become who I am today. Relationship matters.  

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.

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