Built in 1893, Lafayette stands between Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park in West Town. It has four recently restored historic murals painted in the Progressive Era by Robert Wadsworth Grafton.
120 years later, Lafayette continues this arts legacy as a Fine Arts Magnet Cluster school. In addition to visual art and music instruction during the school day, one-quarter of the students at Lafayette participate in daily after-school music instruction through the 13-year old Merit Music partnership. The school has the largest string orchestra program of any elementary school in the city. The orchestra has become a YouTube sensation since the announcement that Lafayette is on the closure list with a video of a concert from March 2013. At least 25 of the students in the orchestra have IEPs. GE Capital recently donated $30,000 for their music programs. You can hear music teacher Arthur Weible’s presentation about their amazing music program here.
Lafayette’s special education program began in 1997 with one teacher and one student with autism. It has grown to 66 students in the Low-Incidence Cluster (LIC) program (mostly autism) and is unusual in that it spans pre-K through 8th grade, providing much needed continuity for its students. Special education classrooms have a limit of 13 students—one of the reasons that on paper Lafayette is underutilized according to the CPS calculations that classify schools as underutilized if there are fewer than 24 students per homeroom. In addition, Lafayette has several innovative special-education resource rooms and offices for additional special education staff (occupational therapists, etc.)
Faculty have been attracted to and stayed at Lafayette specifically because of the scope and quality of the autism/LIC program. Lafayette is frequently used as a training facility for LIC professional development due to the wide spectrum of both autism and ages, as well as their highly-qualified staff and faculty. Dedicating 62% of the special education programming and staff to LIC students makes Lafayette one of only a select few schools in all of CPS in its ability and experience with teach these students from Pre K through 8th grade in a safe environment.
In addition, all teachers at Lafayette work toward inclusion in every classroom. Special and general education teachers work together to allow the maximum number of students to experience the classroom. No students are self-contained unless absolutely necessary based on recent behavior and spectrum needs.
Lafayette also has a transitional billingual program for its large English language learner population (117 students or 24%) with three self-contained bilingual classrooms for under third grade and a pull-out program for 4-8th graders, all taught by teachers with bilingual certification. There are two Head Start classrooms at Lafayette as well. A summary of the many special programs can be found in this powerpoint.
Out of the 478 students at Lafayette, 56% receive either special education or bilingual services. There are 152 students with an Individualized Education Plan or 504—32% of the student body. 60% of the special ed population, 91 students, have a diagnosis of Behavior Disorder, Emotional Disorder or Learning Disability. All of these 91 students are required to take the ISAT, and their performance measures are factored into Lafayette’s AYP goals.
According to one teacher, a decade ago, “there was much more of a gang influence in the neighborhood and decreased parent involvement”, but recently “there has definitely been an upward trend in the neighborhood and in the school climate and parent involvement.” Lafayette’s principal, new in the 2012-2013 school year, brought the City Year program to Lafayette, part of AmeriCorp. Young adults working with City Year have been at Lafayette all year in the middle school classrooms, helping out teachers and students ,as well as running camps over winter break and spring break. On Martin Luther King Jr. day, City Year brought in over 700 volunteers who painted murals and quotes all over the school. Lafayette’s cafeterias and parking lots were just renovated.
One parent’s perspective
Valerie Nelson calls herself mommy of 2 Lafayette kids, LSC chair, parent volunteer and beyond hopeful parent. Her daughter Leza has been at Lafayette for 3 1/2 years. Valerie writes:
“She started there non-verbal and in diapers. Her teachers have shown me that she can be more than her diagnosis. It’s my second home. My husband calls it my second love. When it comes for anything for the kids, teachers, school, he doesn’t fight me on it, he helps me. We’ve (teachers, therapists) developed the sensory room, the fine motor skills room. My cousin and I sewed weighted blankets, lap pads and scarves for the classrooms. Without us being close, parents, teachers and myself couldn’t have done it. We wouldn’t have known the need for something we could make ourselves. We’ve raised funds in the building for the sensory room and fine motor skills room! The staff totally supports us.
Most other autism programs isolate the special needs kids. At Lafayette, we’re mixed up with regular kids, inclusion, in music,art, gym, recess and technology. Our Gen Ed kids learn when they are little kids that special needs kids can be treated like normal kids. They’ve been together the whole entire time. They learn they’re just kids.The staff knows all the kids, and go out of their way with them. One little girl who hugs me every time she sees me, has never said a complete word. One day recently while sitting next to our security guard (during indoor recess) the same little girl didn’t want to leave the auditorium. The security tried to give her a book to calm her down and she said, “No!” A complete word. Something I have never heard from her. As a mom of a child who started at Lafayette with a non-verbal daughter I know how desperate it feels to hear one clear word.
CPS has said the building should hold 1300 kids. Currently, we have 478 kids. CPS says our building is underutilized. I don’t see how because we have 5 autism/low incidence and 3 cross category / SpEd rooms (each with a max of 13 kids per room. Least Restrictive Environment) as well as rooms for sensory, fine motor skills, office for speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychologists, caseworker, social worker, after school rooms, I found we have only five or six unused rooms. .
[…]My oldest daughter Tesa (has a 504, has ADHD) plays in the string orchestra. Amazingly enough we have 25 kids with IEPs play in the orchestra. Where else would these kids receive the support to be able to do so?
What an “Underutilized” School Looks Like
- First floor: 11 occupied classrooms, 4 classrooms used for meetings and trainings by the autism department or other professional development. Additional rooms are the main office, teachers’ lounge, balcony to the auditorium.
- Second floor: 17 rooms with only one empty room. Rooms include, the gym, library, computer lab, a sensory room, an OT fine motor room, counselor’s office, bilingual coordinator’s room/office, and a special-ed technology room .
- Third floor: 20 occupied rooms including a speech-language pathologist’s office, music room, three additional rooms used for the after-school orchestra practice, and a large art room.
In total there are five low incidence/autism classrooms (with an AM and PM preschool class), two Head Start preschool classes, three self-contained, cross-categorical special education classes, and three special-ed resource rooms.
Post author: Leah Harp