Teaching Profession

In Designated Schools, Children Play Waiting Games

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 18, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With 350,000 students suddenly without supervision as a result of the Chicago teachers’ strike, community groups, churches, parks, and recreational facilities here swung their doors open last week to keep young people occupied while their parents worked. One of the more controversial providers was the school district itself, which kept up to 147 city schools open as a contingency plan for parents without other options.

Staffed by principals, administrators, and parent and community volunteers, those “Children First” schools sought to keep youngsters busy—and out of trouble—with nonacademic projects and activities.

One such school was Crown Community Academy, located in the Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. On the afternoon of the second day of the strike, the children at Crown, a school serving pre-K through 8th grade, were separated into three groups by age. Primary-grade students were in the gym, dribbling balls, hula-hooping, and playing “double dutch” with jump ropes. Elementary students, roughly grades 3-5, were hard at work with paints and popsicle sticks in an arts-and-crafts center.The older students, meanwhile, were quietly concentrating on games: Sorry!, the card game Uno, a word game called Apples to Apples.

“I’d much rather it be a school day with teaching and learning,” said Lee M. Jackson, the school’s principal. “But at least we know they are safe for four hours here.”

Students play checkers at the Sheridan Park field house in Chicago. Many local facilities opened their doors to give children places to go during school hours.

Lawndale is one of Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods. Although there are signs of revitalization—a community garden grows not far from the school—some of the homes are boarded up and lawns need weeding. Many families here are renters or move often.

Under normal circumstances, more than 99 percent of enrolled students at Crown qualify for federally subsidized meals.

‘Scab Schools’?

One hundred forty-four Children First schools were initially selected with the input of the district’s network chiefs—essentially, regional superintendents—and were picked with an eye toward geographic distribution. School buses weren’t running, but the Chicago Transit Authority offered students free rides during the strike. Additional Children First schools were added as the strike progressed. (The district has a total of 681 schools.)

The Chicago Teachers Union protested the program, describing it as a potential “train wreck.” On the union’s website, a document listing the Children First sites carried the filename “scab schools.” The CTU encouraged picketing teachers to make a strong presence at the schools, an action that earned a rebuke from district schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard.

But those tensions weren’t on display at Crown Community Academy.

“I have the best teachers in the city of Chicago,” Mr. Jackson said. As he walked a reporter out of the building, he greeted the picketing teachers warmly.

“You doing OK out here?” he asked.

One of them jingled some bells she had, in a friendly response.

For their part, the teachers had nice things to say about Mr. Jackson’s leadership. But they voiced concerns that the building didn’t have adults on hand who could at least teach the students second languages, music, or drama.

Steve Taylor, a middle school science teacher at Crown, said he had heard that schools in the city’s tonier North Side neighborhoods have such programs.

“It’s who has the right ears, the right pull in the city’s power structure,” he said. “It’s old-city politics, nothing new.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 19, 2012 edition of Education Week as In Designated Schools, Children Play Waiting Games

Events

Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum What Will It Take for Schools to Get Better?
Find out what educators and leaders can do to incite lasting and productive change that will make a difference in the lives of students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion Searching for Common Ground: Rick and Pedro Go to the Movies Again
Movies and TV shows like "Lean on Me" and "Friday Night Lights" center on real education issues and can help the public work through them.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Validated by EdWeek, Not by My Administration
"I feel like public school in America is broken," writes a former teacher in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Most Americans Support Raising Teacher Pay. But There's a Partisan Rift
Public support for teacher pay raises is at its highest level in at least 15 years, an Education Next survey found.
6 min read
Illustration of woman jumping across piggy banks.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Opinion Searching for Common Ground: Rick and Pedro Go to the Movies
A few education-themed films aptly capture the fact that teachers are people with huge challenges in their lives.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty