As I watched my son and his classmates graduate last June at the gorgeous auditorium theater in downtown Chicago, I realized how incredibly lucky we had been in our experiences with Chicago Public Schools and, selfishly, I was relieved Luke was finished. During the years he spent in the system, he experienced almost nothing but happy situations, caring teachers, motivated classmates, supportive administrators and kind security who knew exactly who he was and referred to him as, "Our Lukey." Luke's success was, however, also a result of his being exceptionally intelligent, personable, white and living in a neigborhood that ensured his acceptance at one of the best elementary and middle-schools in the city which then ensured his matriculation from one of the top magnet high schools. In other words, we are very grateful but we also know our experience isn't the norm and as the schools deteriorate, despite our mayor's concerted efforts to help them by encouraging flight with teacher mill charter schools and extending the school day, I feel we pulled the ladder up.
Last year I took Luke to see the film The Interrupters, which documents the work of a group of ex-criminals working with Ceasefire, an organization dedicated to eliminating crime in some of Chicago's worst neighborhoods. It is a stunning piece of work, controversial in that there are questions about whether some of the organizers have returned to their criminal ways, but its message is clear: the city of Chicago is failing half its population and the young are the victims. Sitting in the darkened movie theater, I heard someone sniffling and realized my son -- my tough, nearly legally adult son, was crying. On the way home he said this. "Mom, I can't believe I live in the same city. It's like an entirely different world. It's not fair."
No, it's not fair. Yes, I'm very grateful to the teachers who cherished my boy into becoming a freshman at the University of Illinois, fully prepared for college-level challenges. But I want to drop the ladder back down and help every child, support every teacher, encourage every parent and remind our mayor that no one deserves the salaries he is paying the administrators when half the children live through hell just trying to go to school.
This blog post is part of HuffPost Chicago's "State of CPS" series, which features perspectives from Chicago Public School teachers, students, administrators, staff, parents and others experiencing recent changes to the district firsthand. Interested in sharing your take? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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