Life on Life
For more than 20 years we have worked in youth development and ministered in the inner cities of Chicago, New York, and Indianapolis through coaching, mentoring, and teaching. Our heart and passion has been to see at-risk children become all that God has created them to be with a belief that all people have been entrusted with innate talents and gifts by God. After serving in a range of urban youth ministry contexts through a variety of programmatic approaches, we concluded that the reliance upon a program for youth development fails to meet the critical life needs of young people growing up in urban poverty.
In 2006 we founded Life on Life with the conviction that “it takes a life to change a life” and a passion for dreaming for at-risk youth until they can dream for themselves. As followers of Jesus, Life on Life points to how our own lives have been changed by the life of Jesus, therefore we seek to impart by sharing our lives with the young people we serve. A central organizational value of Life on Life is the lasting impact catalyzed in the context of significant, “life-on-life” relationships. Real impact is not facilitated through a program, but by the relationships that a program facilitates between the youth served and adults who demonstrate that they care through unwavering commitment and maintenance of high expectations.
Life on Life seeks to counteract inner-city youth becoming mere statistics of violence, drugs, gangs, and a poor education system. The mission of Life on Life is to inspire greatness, engage in mentor relationships, and ignite a passion in the lives of talented urban youth through the tool of the Performing Arts. Since its launch, Life on Life has focused its energies on the development, coaching and mentoring of a team of young acrobats, the Flipside Acrobats.
Eleven boys, from ages 7-12, are currently engaged in Life on Life’s Flipside Acrobatics team. These young men share a common interest in and propensity toward acrobatic potential, and they exhibit a high work ethic in developing their acrobatic talent. Nevertheless, these young men are met with significant environmental challenges that pose a danger to the fulfillment of their true potential. All of the Flipside Acrobats are being raised on Chicago’s west side, predominantly in the Austin neighborhood. More than 90% of them are being raised in single parent households.
Life on Life’s vision for the Flipside Acrobats is to see each young men live up to their talent, to fulfill their God-given potential in life, as demonstrated academically, vocationally, and in community. Academically, we desire to see every young man served complete a relevant post-secondary education. Vocationally, we desire to see each Flipside Acrobat equipped with a broad, Kingdom view of the world and fully engaged in life work that maximizes their personal role in this world. In community, we desire to see each young man connected to a life-giving community, living as young men of character who demonstrate responsibility for their actions, their families, and their communities.
Since launching in 2006, Life on Life has effectively doubled its enrollment, established an internal culture based on respect, integrity and responsibility, and has significantly grown the acrobatic skill of participating youth.
Current programming includes two afternoon practices per week during the school year, which is only scratching the surface of the needs faced by participating youth. School year practices are focused on acrobatic skill development with an emphasis on capitalizing on teachable moments for character development. Throughout the year, performance opportunities in a range of venues and communities are arranged. These performances serve a dual purpose of giving the Flipside Acrobats an opportunity to shine, while providing a context for mentoring and broadening their view of the world as they visit other cities and states.
To date, Life on Life has achieved significant success in developing each acrobat’s talent while fostering the growth of mentoring relationships. Life on Life has successfully established trusting relationships with the parents of the youth we serve and the parents acknowledge that their sons’ involvement is about so much more than acrobatics. However, there are significant barriers related to education that stand in the way of the fulfillment of Life on Life’s vision for each acrobat.
Barriers to Vision Fulfillment
All of the Flipside Acrobats are enrolled a s (CPS) charter school in the Austin community. This particular school is currently rated “Level 3 – Low” by CPS for earning only 42.9% of its Performance Policy points in 2012-2013. CPS list student attainment as “Below Average” in comparison to national measures of student scores on standardized Reading and Math tests [Citation]. According to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Accountability Summary 2013, only 36% to 40% of the school’s students met or exceeded Illinois state standards for Reading and Math, respectively . I have witnessed the shortfalls of the acrobats’ academic setting firsthand. I have personally visited classrooms, even serving as a substitute teacher in CPS schools and I have experienced the significant lack of structure and discipline, which contributes to an environment that isn’t conducive to learning
Beyond the hardships associated with the Flipside Acrobats being positioned in a challenged academic environment, current school year programming limits the potential of Life on Life’s impact. By only having two afternoons per week to work on practice, time is too short to bring in other essential program elements such as life skills and a more structured character development system.
If these barriers are not addressed, we fear that the vision for Life on Life will not be achieved. If dramatic steps are not taken to improve academic services to the Flipside Acrobats, they are in danger of failing to live up to their full potential, or worse, falling victim to ongoing, generational cycles of educational non-attainment, poverty, and incarceration. [Secondary stats related to educational failure implications for urban youth]
The Opportunity for Life on Life Academy
To address the barriers associated with limited time with our youth and to provide a viable alternative to the current educational opportunities available to the Flipside Acrobats; we are seeking to dramatically increase our services to these young men. Therefore, we propose to launch the Life on Life Academy in August, 2016. Life on Life Academy will be a small school by design, serving only the Flipside Acrobats. Through Life on Life Academy, we will make use of proven technology to bring a personalized educational model to serve each of our acrobats, thereby ensuring their academic achievement and preparation for future success. In addition to ensuring that each acrobat served is performing at or above grade level, Life on Life Academy will serve to practically strengthen the impact of Life on Life on the Flipside Acrobats by fostering the growth of a culture that is characterized by diligence, empowerment, and each young person’s God-given value.
Life on Life Academy will be facilitated by a skilled Academic Coach who will work with each acrobat and his parent(s) to develop a standards-based, personalized growth and learning plan. Acrobatic coaches and volunteers will be present to ensure that each acrobat receives the attention and assistance needed to thrive.
It is clear that the Academy will significantly increase the effectiveness of our organization to bring about the impacts we envision for the youth we serve. We are shifting the programming approach of Life on Life to the Academy so that the talented young men served by our organization will grow to achieve their full potential academically, spiritually, and in their character.
By opening Life on Life Academy, we will address the significant academic needs of our youth through individualized education plans facilitated in an attentive setting that provides a 1:6 teacher to student ratio. We will address the needs of our youth to overcome negative environmental and cultural elements through the development of an empowering, positive culture that provides a positive identity and promotes standards of excellence, care, empowerment, and integrity. We will create a context that will impart significant positive impact in the most effective way we know: Life on Life.