Grassroots student group follows in footsteps of activist teachers

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socjustexpo

As a journalist who covers the schools, I think the CPS survey that asks students what they think about academics and climate in their school is a good idea—a way to take the pulse of what students think. But to a couple of students at Julian High School, that wasn’t the case.

A poster displayed at an expo organized by a new student group explained why: the survey was passed out after the ACT and was multiple choice, demanding that students fill in little bubbles—something they had just spent hours doing. And the questions asked about all their teachers as a whole, even though, as high schoolers, students have different instructors for different classes.

“If they want to serve us better they would come down and talk to us their d–n self,” noted Cheresha Guest, who helped assemble the poster and suggested administrators meet with focus groups to get the real deal on what students think. 

As a journalist who covers the schools, I think the CPS survey that asks students what they think about academics and climate in their school is a good idea—a way to take the pulse of what students think.

But to a couple of students at Julian High School, the survey “sucks.”

A poster displayed at an expo organized by a new student group explained why: the survey was passed out after the ACT and was multiple choice, demanding that students fill in little bubbles—something they had just spent hours doing. And the questions asked about all their teachers as a whole, even though, as high schoolers, students have different instructors for different classes.

“If they want to serve us better they would come down and talk to us their damn self,” noted Cheresha Guest, who helped assemble the poster and suggested administrators meet with focus groups to get the real deal on what students think. 

Such frank commentary is refreshing and too often missing from the discussion on what should happen in schools. The expo’s organizers want that to change.

The group, Chicago Youth Initiating Change, has no outside funding as yet, but is working to put together an independent nonprofit to support the efforts, says Anton Miglietta, a teacher at Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy, an alternative school.

Independent, nonprofit status would make CYIC markedly different from VOYCE or the Mikva Challenge. From what I can tell, both VOYCE and Mikva do good work, but they are in the precarious position of both working with CPS and sometimes criticizing the schools. VOYCE is billed as a collaborative effort between CPS and seven community organizations, and most of Mikva’s programs are run as after-school programs in schools.

That is not to say that CYIC has no outside influences at all. Many of the teachers at the expo were familiar faces from CORE, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, an opposition wing of the Chicago Teachers Union that opposes closings of schools and Renaissance 2010. Jackson Potter, the leader of CORE, was there with his students from Social Justice High School.

Miglietta says CORE and CYIC have no formal connection, but that CORE teachers are committed to social justice and several of them have spurred their students to get involved. Also, CORE and CYIC have come together to protest school closings and Renaissance 2010.

Issues such as violence, pollution, school closings and Renaissance 2010 were all discussed at the expo. Anndrienne Bell, a junior at Chicago Vocational High School cited “very few positives” and a lot of negatives with Renaissance 2010, especially equity. “It is not benefiting everyone, especially poor kids,” she says.

Echoing Bell’s sentiments were students from Salazar Bilingual Center in Humboldt Park. Teacher Daniel Weber beamed with pride as he showed off some of the poster boards and reports put together by his students, including one on school closings that featured a community survey done by students themselves that shows few residents have much knowledge about closings.

Dejuan Roberts and Charles Kilpatrick say they don’t think school closings are a good idea because students are displaced. “They don’t have friends around and they don’t feel stable,” Kilpatrick says.

Weber stresses that the projects were done by two “regular” school students, not those in new schools or selective schools. Interestingly, however, Kilpatrick is going to a charter school for high school; Roberts is going to a Catholic school.

The November/December 2008 Catalyst In Depth reported on questions of equity with school choice and Renaissance 2010. Our analysis found that black students are more likely to end up in schools that are no better than the low-performing neighborhood schools they opted to leave.