By TONIA HILL
On Wednesday, high school students, parents and education activists gathered near the University of Chicago Laboratory School, 5835 S. Kimbark Ave., to speak out against the proposed closings of their neighborhood elementary and high schools. The group staged a “tent city” outside of the Lab School, which is where Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children attend school.
“We have stood up and demanded that the school’s in Englewood be fully funded just as schools in other neighborhoods,” said Erica Nanton, a community organizer, and Illinois co-chair for the Poor People’s Campaign. “We have been ignored, pushed aside and students have been silenced. “We come today on the grounds [in a] place where Mayor Rahm Emanuel does care.”
The group consisted of parents and students and education advocates from the Grassroots Education Movement, Harper High School, Paul Robeson High School, Hope High School, National Teacher’s Academy, Hirsch High School Students, Hyde Park High School and the Journey for Justice Alliance.
The group presented demands that they are asking the city and Chicago Board of Education to consider before shuttering their neighborhood elementary and high schools for good.
“What if we were your children [Mayor], Rahm Emanuel,” asked Mackenzie Turner, a freshman at Paul Robeson High School in Englewood. “None of our schools are just schools we are a family. We came together and bonded and built that school.”
Jakil Benson, who is also a student at Robeson High School, echoed Turner’s thoughts.
“We don’t have art classes or music classes or things to help us find our gifts. We want to be doctors, lawyers, and musicians. We are being sabotaged by you, Rahm Emanuel,” Benson said. “We have low enrollment because you took our funds away these decisions affect our future. We still deserve a better education.”
During the press conference, Lab students inside of the school cheered in support of the group.
“I notice that Rahm Emanuel and CPS say that they want us to succeed, but they don’t want us to succeed,” said Miracle Boyd, a student at Hope College Prep High School. “If they did they would give us the funding that we need to make sure our students get a successful and rigorous education.”
Parents, students, and advocates are demanding that each school, Team Englewood Community Academy, John Hope College Prep High School, Paul Robeson High School, Harper High School, Hirsch Metropolitan High School and the National Teacher’s Academy, be sustainable community schools.
The group wants to implement a three-month planning process with community members and CPS to examine curriculum, teacher supports, wrap-around services, student-centered school climate and transformative parent and community engagement.
The planning process will be similar to what was done in 2015 with the CPS and community members and Dyett High School for Arts, 555 E. 51st St., that was reopened in 2016.
The group is also demanding that CPS allocate funds to advertise their neighborhoods schools to middle school age students and their parents.
Most important the group wants to ensure that no student is displaced from the Englewood community.
Last month, CPS unveiled a new $85 million neighborhood high school in Englewood. If the board approves of the proposal, the new high school will open in Fall 2019.
The four neighborhood high schools in Englewood, including, Team Englewood, Hope, Robeson, and Harper are under-enrolled and CPS plans to close them in June.
Englewood’s Community Action Council requested that the district construct a new school for the neighborhood in place of the four current schools.
The new school, if approved, will only be open to freshmen students. CPS in a written release for the announcement of the new school said they would help students that are currently enrolled in the four schools with a transition plan.
“CPS will work with families to create individualized plans for the year ahead. Supports will include school selection and enrollment assistance, transportation supports, safety plans, and social and emotional learning resources for students,” said CPS in a written statement.
“Where are we going to go?” asked Turner.
“Just as in 2015 with Dyett, CPS is wrong and does not want our people to go to neighborhood schools, or they’re saying that there is a shortage of high school students,” Nanton said.
She added that there are nearly 700 students in the Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods that are eligible and available to attend fully-funded sustainable community schools.
“I believe that our school is not going to close and I am going to continue to fight for our school and attend every meeting that we have left,” said Harper High School student Tina Brown.
The National Teacher’s Academy, an elementary school in the South Loop, is also slated for closure. NTA will be converted to a new neighborhood high school serving all or portions of the South Loop, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Chinatown and near south side neighborhoods. The conversion would begin in fall of 2019. Current NTA students would be allowed to stay at the school and attend the high school.
CPS has proposed to house a new privately run charter school in Hirsch High School in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood.
Following the press conference outside of Lab School, the coalition walked in pairs to the front doors of the building. The plan was to be given a tour of the Lab School and for a parent to apply to enroll at the Lab School.
“The issue is that we have a mayor that hates us said,” Jitu Brown, community activist, and national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. “The Mayor hates people from our community. What we want to do here is see if we can get a tour and if they’re willing to enroll a few children from this community that would be a great step.”
Protestors were stopped by the University of Chicago Police outside of the Lab School and were not permitted inside the building. A University Police representative told the group that the school had no further comment.
Brown and the group left the school and resumed chanting “We Choose Public Schools” and encouraged the students for speaking out as letting their voices be heard.