Ryerson Elementary School’s motto is “Putting the pieces together” – a phrase that describes the work of education perfectly. Students learn by making connections, finding patterns, analyzing. In addition, Ryerson has succeeded in strengthening many resources for its students – the pieces that are coming together are strong, planted in community support. For instance, Ryerson recently completed a new library, funded by Target, as well as a Technology Center and a fitness center, funded by the Chicago Bulls. Partnerships include an early elementary science partnership with Northwestern University, the Field Museum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a Community Health partnership with Erie House, and others.
Beyond the sound educational philosophy and schools supports, however, “putting the pieces together” resonates in the lives of Ryerson’s students. Clearly, this is a school community that is resisting the fragmentation caused by violence and poverty, and is striving to create wholeness, safety, and continuity.
Ryerson is the home for many of us. We’ve grown up and matured over the years. We can’t even imagine the doors abruptly closing on us. For many of us, Ryerson is our legacy. Not only have I attended Ryerson since pre-K, but all of 4 my siblings also attended Ryerson. I’m a seventh grade student anticipating graduation next year. I can’t even imagine starting eighth grade year in a different elementary school, in an unfamiliar place where there is no one who knows me by my name.
The teachers at Ryerson care about me. They have watched us grow into the young men and women we are today, and they are more than just teachers, they are family.
We still have work to do, and many things to accomplish; but by putting all the pieces together, I know it can be done. I’m asking you to take into consideration the many things you will be doing by closing the doors, if you close down our school. — Emmanuel Thomas, Ryerson 7th grade student
Emmanuel is eloquent in asking the Board to support the wholeness of the community, to affirm the school’s efforts to “put the pieces together,” rather than shutting them down. His emphasis on the legacy of Ryerson and his declaration that Ryerson is family make it clear that the school has succeeded in creating a safe, affirming, and encouraging environment for its students.
So, it is ironic that the system designed to support it is, instead, undermining the Ryerson community.
The School Board has decided that Ward Elementary will move into Ryerson Elementary. While current Ryerson students may still attend the school building, it will truly be a different school, with new faculty, new students, and a new name. This will put the school under significant strain. People in the community understand the sophisticated geographic challenge of this change far better than the policy makers downtown.
In a recent community hearing, Janice Clark, Chairperson of the Ryerson LSC, presented a chart showing the hazards that the school closing plan presents to students:
Student red lives in the 3800 block of West Huron. That student will have to walk a total of 12 blocks 1.2, miles, 24 minutes to get to and from school B, cross five main busy streets, Chicago Avenue, Augusta, Division, Hamlin, Central Park, walk from seven differently branches of gangs. Student blue lives in the 500 block of Monticello. That student will have to walk a total of 16 blocks, 1.4 miles, 28 minutes to get to and from school C, cross four main busy streets, Hamlin, Chicago Avenue, Austin, and Division and walk through eleven different branches of gangs. Student purple lives in the 900 block of North Harding. That student will have to walk a total of 15-and-a-half blocks, 1.4 miles, 30 minutes to get to and from school F, cross four main busy streets, Hamlin, Central Park, Homan, Chicago Avenue and walk through eight different gangs to get to school. Our children will have to go through colossal of elements where they do not understand and should not understand because as an adult, I do not understand. They will be sent out into a battlefield, a war zone.
(A map of gang boundaries put together by WBEZ can be found here.)
The destabilization of the community that has residents worrying about the safety of their children has long-term ramifications. Destabilized neighborhoods generate crime.
“I’ve seen too many young black men go from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse.[…]Now think if you would have put some of that [incarceration] money in the school building at first.” –Torrence Shorter, Ryerson parent
In fact, a recent Catalyst report shows that more public money will be spent incarcerating residents of West Garfield Park than educating them.
The Catalyst report goes on to explain that closing Ryerson will add to the anger and frustration of young people in the community.
“And eventually, they’re going to act out, and you’re going to lock them up…you’re not just turning one school over to another school, you’re hurting a whole community.”–Torrence Shorter
Post author: Shanti Elliot