Chicago Fun Facts Part II: Chicago Public Schools Edition

1. Chicago Public Schools have extended time…for recess.
Chicago Public School teachers recently went on strike for what they deemed to be unfair contracts. Their slogan: “Our students deserve better.” One of the points of contention was the length of the school day. K-8 schools went from having a 5 hour, 45 minute day to having a 7 hour school day. Since the school day has been extended, the moderate observer of the news would believe that students are spending more time in math or reading, the subjects where students lag behind the national averages. However, this time is being spent in recess. Partial recess and then work, you ask? Not in all schools, because some teachers feel they did not receive a large enough raise to teach more.

2. A three-year-old can be denied preschool for not having the right paperwork.

BS/L has been working with a grandmother who is watching her three-year-old grandson. He is curious, bright, and would thrive in preschool, where he would learn the background skills he needs to succeed in school. The mother of the child is in jail, and no father was ever named for the child. Because the grandmother does not have legal guardianship, she cannot access his birth certificate. Because the child does not have a birth certificate, he cannot enroll in school. He remains at home, unable to interact with other children and unable to access books and other learning tools.

3. CPS students in inner city areas have never seen the cultural sites of Chicago, but they have seen Paranormal Activity 4.

Talking with students as we walk the streets, it is astounding the sites of their very own city that they have never experienced. Children in poverty are robbed of culturally rich experiences that broaden their horizons. Travel is expensive, museums have entry fees, and children remain in their own 5-block radius world. This is where schools can help, right? The upper grades of Fulton Elementary School recently went on a field trip to see the R-rated movie. Have the children not been exposed to enough horror in their own neighborhood?

4. The 16 year olds to whom the general public yells to get back into school don’t actually have a school to attend.

BS/L has been working with young men in Cabrini Green who have been in and out of the juvenile correctional system. Because of time spent at the Audi home or other violations with school, their schooling has been interrupted repeatedly. Most have earned zero high school credits. There is a network of alternative schools in the area, which various CPS officials tell me will meet their needs. Each official brings me to the same chart of schools, with various restrictions. You can go to certain schools if you have earned credits, or are a minimum age of 17, or are Spanish-speaking, or get through a lottery system, or get past the waiting list. You can go to a certain school, unless you have a specific type of criminal violation. There are many young men that do not fit into any of these boxes, and despite going from school to school, office to office, we cannot find a school that will take them. This becomes even more complicated when you add gang turf lines and transportation issues into the mix.

Poverty in Chicago is a complex problem, and educational deficiencies add to the weight that holds the poor down. In these past two posts we’ve highlighted only some of the many obstacles that stand in the way of giving all people a dignified way of life. There are many more silent loop holes and unintended consequences that make it that much harder for anyone to fight against their daily circumstances.

In this past Sunday’s reading, the Catholic Church focused on Jesus’ great commandment to love God and love our neighbor. This is not a demand with a small scope. This is not an adage to use while ministering to someone, or visiting the poor, sick, or imprisoned. It does not just mean “be nice.” It is a challenge and law for all Christians all the time, so that their actions—whether direct or indirect—love their neighbors into existence. Those actions include voting, speaking out, staying informed, and fighting for just systems to alleviate the plight the poor must face every day.

–Megan Cottam, BSL

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About Brothers and Sisters of Love

The Mission of Brothers and Sisters of Love is to be a visible sign of Jesus’ Love, Peace, and Presence to the poor in gang-infested neighborhoods in Chicago and to be a bridge between gangs & the poor with the Church. This is done by: 1. Loving everyone 2. Trusting in God 3. Forgiving everyone everything 4. Never being afraid.
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