Elihu Yale Elementary is located at 70th Street and Princeton Avenue, officially in the Greater Grand Crossing community area, but considered part of the Englewood neighborhood because it is west of the Dan Ryan. The school was named after the founder of Yale University, and for more than 15 years, the Yale Club of Chicago has partnered with the school to provide tutors, mentors, and volunteers. Yale has numerous other community partners as well, including the Joffrey Ballet and Ravinia. They are also a site for the Children’s Home & Aid’s Community Schools Initiative, a model program that provides “academic support, enrichment, counseling services and parent and community programs”, resulting in improved attendance, behavior, and test scores. According to CH&A, “for every $1 we invest in Community Schools programming, society saves $4 in future costs.”
Right next to Yale is a giant growing space, the Eat to Live garden. The garden was started by Real Men Charities, who run the Real Men Cook program. Nutrition, gardening, and cooking programming that utilize the garden are provided to Yale students through Real Men Cook and the Angelic Organic Learning Center.
“[I]f you know the area, you know that there has been some trauma there for a while. But it’s stabilized a bit because of the kids — because of the garden and the farm vision that we give them. We have children and parents working in the farm and the garden together and being served healthy meals by the men. So we have men in the schools that are supporters, and they are […] a stabilizing effort.” —Yvette Moyo, director of Real Men Charities which started the Yale Eat to Live garden
In recent years, Englewood has begun to work on transforming itself from an area of food deserts and vacant lots into a center for urban agriculture. An urban farm will be established across the street from the garden this summer, a new site expanding on the success of the garden’s programs.
“The vision we’ve given to the children for two years is that they’re at the cutting edge of everything Chicago will be in the future and that is a part of an urban agriculture movement that not will only provide jobs but businesses for them and their parents, which is what’s really missing – the opportunity to be fruitful and to provide for families and communities. When we talk about underemployment, and the level of literacy, the dropout rate of the parents even. This is something that we can provide for the community. And we kind of promised that we’ll be there for them, that they have added value by working in the Eat to Live Garden.”–Yvette Moyo
The farm will still be built if the school closes, but Yale students will be moved to Harvard, ⅔ of a mile away, and the school would no longer be available as a source of water for the garden or classrooms for the summer gardening camp. The students will lose their connection to an established school garden.
At community meetings and hearings (recordings here, here, and here), parents and students expressed repeatedly that they are worried about their students safety traveling to Harvard.
“If you close Yale, God forbid that anything should ever happen to our children. Who do we hold responsible? Can you the people who are trying to close Yale, can you guarantee that our children of Englewood will be safe if you close Yale? Then if you can guarantee me and other parents and grandparents that their loved ones won’t be in danger, then close it, but if you all don’t want the bloods of our children in your hands, then leave Yale open.” —Diana Carr, Yale parent leader
Many teachers and parents were also concerned about special education students and students in temporary living situations making the transition to a new school. Nearly a quarter of Yale’s students are classified as special education. This makes the school seem even less utilized on paper than it would otherwise be; CPS’s utilization formula does not take into account the smaller class size limits that SPED populations require. Even for general education, Yale students have benefited from the smaller class sizes that their “underutilized” school has. The colocation of Harvard and Yale will result in 100% capacity at Harvard—a number that does not take into account Yale’s 23% SPED population.
“Yale is all we have. If you close down Yale, where will we go? I entered this school in kindergarten, and I want to graduate from Yale. If you close the school, where would it leave me? In a new school with strangers who pick on me and don’t believe in me or my success?[…]This leaves me all wondering, does my life have value, does anyone at the Board of Education care about me, or do they just care empty seats?” —Angela Copeland, Yale 5th grader
Post contributor: Ellen Gradman