Maria Trejo, Elev8 director at Ames Middle School in Chicago, says that her school, which was recently in danger of becoming a military school, will not be closed or made a welcoming school. Ames boundaries, however, will be reconfigured for the upcoming school year. This change will increase their enrollment by 300-500 students.
Trejo says that safety is everyone’s number one concern. “Now that the list is out, parents are very concerned because the kids will have to be transported through gang territories,” she says. A newly formed organization called The Logan Square School Facilities Council (LSSFC), Trejo adds, is also pressuring CPS to come up with a safe passage plan.
When Chicago Public Schools made the very controversial decision this past March to close 54 public schools, many pointed out that black and Latino students would be the hardest hit. Nine out of ten students potentially affected by school closings this year are black and eight of the schools that are scheduled to be closed and incorporated into other schools have over 20 percent Latino enrollment.
Chicago Public Schools has argued the schools that are being closed have been losing students as a result of the population changes in the city. Last month, it also also announced that it will be investing $155 million in welcoming schools to provide children with the resources they need. Despite the justifications, the announcements of the closures were initially met with protests and boycotts throughout Chicago.
The most recent school hearings, however, have been sparsely attended. Community leaders believe that some people are simply burned out at this point. The list of schools being closed will not be official until May 22nd, but many parents, community organizers, and school officials are already preparing for the upcoming changes.
Chicago Public Schools has announced that that each welcoming school will have a dedicated safety plan tailored for its specific needs. They’ve partnered with CPD to make sure each plan considers neighborhood conditions, the distance between schools, and an analysis of other safety risks such as busy streets and intersections. They will also provide individual support strategy plans based on the distinct needs of students, families and communities.
Cristina Carreto, Family and Community Engagement Manager for Pilsen and Little Village, also says safety is at the top of everyone’s list. “We’re working hard with CPD [Chicago Police Department] to make sure the transition runs smoothly,” she says.
Carreto says that the elementary schools in her predominately Latino neighborhoods– Cardenas and Castellanos– will be the welcoming schools while nearby Paderewski, located in a predominately African American community, will likely be closing. “I think their concern is the integration of students with a different background,” she says. “We want to start building these relationships with each other. We want to build that gradually.” Carreto says that they are also beginning to plan bullying and culture workshops. They are also considering summer picnics, carnivals, tours for students and parents, and setting up pen pals between the three schools. But they hesitate to implement any measures until the school closure is certain.
Student transitions and safety are not the only concern. Trejo believes that the added distance between home and school will prevent many parents from becoming engaged in their children’s education, especially because most are busy working parents.
Alivette Alicea, who has two of her five children at Ames, says she’s hopeful about the changes.
“We have the faith that it’s going to be good for us because we’re underutilized,” she says. She’s also glad that the principal is having an open house and tours for students and parents. “That’s awesome because not all of the other schools do that. If we could bring more parents to get involved, it would be great for students.”