Have you met Valerie Groth? She is a very special person making a difference in Chicago. As a teacher and Chicago resident, this story and initiative resonates with me greatly. Chicago is an amazing place to live, but the violence in some parts of our city is simply unacceptable. We must do more to protect our most precious stakeholders-our children.
One in every five people murdered in Chicago is 18 or younger, and one child is murdered approximately every four days. A child in Chicago is shot every 17 hours – and in 2010 alone, almost 700 children were shot; 66 of which were killed. These devastating realities mirror the challenges school teachers in urban districts face when promoting long- term academic success within their classrooms. In an effort to permanently alter these statistics, Valerie (Val) Groth – a Chicago-based speaker, workshop facilitator, podcast host and former CPS social worker – has made it her mission to offer inner-city youth a safe, high-level education away from violent crime on the streets. Groth has dedicated her focus to opening the Ryan Banks Academy (RBA), Chicago’s very first public, college-preparatory boarding middle and high school. Though education is not a cure-all for society’s problems, it does have the power to be a transformative experience for the children, educators, and communities involved. The Ryan Banks Academy’s residential curriculum will give students the best opportunities for success in school, in their communities, and beyond.
While the road to opening the doors of RBA is a long one, a recent “win” truly made Val’s dream a reality with the awarding of a $20,000 grant that she accepted on July 12, 2015. The grant – provided by the WDS Foundation – awards a series of “Scholarships for Real Life” grants that aim “to put the right resources in the hands of amazing people who are acting on the three core values of WDS—community, adventure, service.” These funds will allow Val to take RBA to the next critical step by supporting in future fundraising efforts, encouraging additional volunteer support, and assisting in the production of an upcoming Kickstarter campaign. She will also be receiving mentoring and support from the WDS Foundation over the year-long program. While a major milestone for RBA, Val knows this recent success is just one in a series of small wins to come. Now, more than ever, she’s determined to make the most of the grant, to inspire awareness and garner the necessary funds needed to open the doors of RBA.
Thinking back on the events that have created this opportunity is serendipitous for Val – and the name of the academy holds a story all its own. Niazi “Ryan” Banks was a happy-go-lucky 12 year old boy, who was enthusiastic, full of life, always curious, and loved to make others laugh. His upbringing was challenging, but his thirst for a better life kept him pushing ahead. On May 19, 2012, Ryan Banks was shot and killed by gunfire. Before he was killed, Ryan crafted a vision board (attached below) and chose words of hope and inspiration to speak into his life: “to be the world’s greatest, it starts with a single step”. Ryan is just one of many Chicago students who are lost to gun violence each year. In addition to the children and teens who are lost to senseless acts of violence, thousands more fall through the cracks in other ways – those who do not receive the proper academic and social/emotional support they need at the school level, live in an unsafe neighborhood, and those who are dealing with trauma within their family environment. Ryan Banks Academy is here to serve those students.
I hope you will join me in sharing the word about Ryan Banks Academy, and stop by for updates on the Kickstarter campaign.
ABOUT VALERIE GROTH – MSW, MA, CV ACC: Valerie Groth holds advanced degrees in social work, psychology, and educational leadership. For many years she worked as a school social worker in Chicago Public Schools working closely with students, families, and communities. She is intimately aware of the challenges facing Chicago children and their families, and with a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, Valerie is qualified to serve as a school administrator in the state of Illinois. In addition to spearheading the mission to build Ryan Banks Academy, Valerie also runs a life coaching practice working with individuals who come to her from around the world. She is also a speaker, workshop facilitator, and hosts the “Inspiration With Val” Podcast.