For 10 years, I have wondered what happened to Alexis. I have wondered what has happened to Jaylanie, Jeremiah, Heaven, and the countless number of kids, whose names I don’t remember, but are in the photos that archive our history.
For 10 years, I have wondered what happened to the mother who in broken English told me how happy she was that her child was safe in the programs we offered at her school.
For 10 years, I wonder what happened to the little boy who was crying on the last day of school because he only had one WWF wrestling figurine, and his friend who had the other one, was going to another school. They were no longer able to play together.
As we wrap up our 20th-anniversary celebrations, it's crucial to acknowledge the 10-year milestone of the largest school closure in history, which took place in Chicago. CDE taught at six of the schools since our founding. We found a home at Von Humboldt and Ana Roque De Duprey Elementary Schools. It was a big building with two schools inside of it. While the schools had their issues it was also filled with hope and change. It was filled with dedicated teachers and staff who worked countless hours not only giving the students academic support but much-needed social-emotional support.
Throughout my experience, I have discovered that integrating social justice principles into programming not only entails educating children about influential artists and activist leaders but also providing them with the means to amplify their own voices. Additionally, it is crucial to establish a secure and supportive atmosphere that enables children to have the freedom to be themselves.
It was about teaching Alexis who was five how to finger paint for the first time. it was about teaching Heaven the difference between focus time and time to be silly. It was about listening to 12-year-old Denise talking about how she didn’t like to walk home because the men in her neighborhood looked at her funny. For you see, when these kids walked out of our doors, they walked into adulthood. They had to become tough just to survive.
The neighborhood schools were systematically disinvested in while charter schools, just blocks away opened up fresh and shiny. CPS said the schools were closing due to poor performance but we know now from books like Ghosts In The Schoolyard by Eve L. Ewing and reporting from WBEZ that wasn’t the case.
They closed the schools citing budget limitations, building underutilization, and concerns about academic performance. What the students heard was they were not smart. The teachers heard they were not doing their job teaching. What we heard was that we were failures.
For 10 years, most of these buildings have remained closed. Our office is across from Trumbull School closed for poor student testing, not acknowledging that most of the students had IEP’s and were special needs students. It was reopened as Waldorf School in 2018.
The “architecture of memory” is a phrase I use when a building, a place, or even an intersection of two streets fills you with memories of a moment in your life’s timeline. As I walk past the deserted playgrounds and school buildings, my thoughts drift toward the children and families we once worked with. I reminisce about the happiness they experienced, but also the sorrow they endured due to the school closures.
I believe schools should be the beacon of the community. Schools should be placed not only for academics but community resources. I spoke at the school board hearings and to me, it was a “dog and pony show.” The school board knew what they were going to do, they just needed to make it seem like it was fair.
Currently, CPS is facing low enrollment and another budget crisis as pandemic relief money is running out. Are we facing another round of school closings? The current administration is hoping to fill the schools with community resources but they say it’s not profitable. But what costs more? If the last 10 years have shown us anything is that when we disinvest in neighborhood schools, we disinvest in neighborhoods.
So invest! Invest in mental health. Invest in wellness and community building. Without it, we will have more empty schools, more people dying from gun violence, and more families and communities asking for help on deaf ears.
CDE will continue to do our part in building commUNITY through the arts, one voice, one story, one person at a time.
Thank you for reading this and please enjoy the photos and videos of our students.
Executive Director and Founder