There has been a lot of news coverage on the strike, much of it about the positions of both sides, with the Chicago Teachers Union taking on Lori Lightfoot, the city’s new Democratic mayor who had promised liberal reforms.
What sometimes gets lost in the discussions: the facts on the ground, such as what teachers and students deal with every day at school. One story that gets at that is in the New Yorker, written by a former Washington Post colleague, Peter Slevin, who is an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
He writes about Kelvyn Park High School, which has seventh through 12th grades and is on the northwest side of Chicago, not far from Lightfoot’s home. Nearly 90 percent of students are Hispanic, 7 percent are black and almost all come from low-income families, the district reports. You can read the entire article here, but below are four paragraphs that tell an important story about the life of this school — and of many others throughout the country.
Jessica Andrick, wearing a long red scarf and a ski hat that featured a silhouette of the Chicago skyline, spread some peanut butter on an English muffin, and took a seat on the sidewalk. She is the only school counsellor for the four hundred students at Kelvyn Park. “This still isn’t a big caseload, compared to some schools, but it feels like a lot,” she told me. Her duties also include administering Advanced Placement tests, helping students who are applying to college fill out financial forms, and planning graduation.Some students knock on her door to talk about troubles they’re having in class, but others have problems that are beyond her ability to solve. Maybe one parent lives in Chicago and works long hours, and the other lives in Mexico. Or a student has experienced trauma but lacks the know-how to process it. “They’re trying to live without getting any sort of treatment for it, and we’re not in a position to do intensive therapy,” Andrick said. The school has two social workers and a part-time psychologist, but it’s never enough. Too often, when she refers a student to a clinic for therapy, the waiting list is long or the family has no health insurance and can’t pay.As Andrick was describing the situation, Stacy Hopp, the school’s case manager for special education, joined us. Every day, she sees the gaps that the C.T.U. negotiating teams are trying to fill. Approximately one in every four students at Kelvyn Park is identified as a special-education student, and each of them needs a learning plan and meetings with a parent present. The school is down two special-education teachers, and Hopp teaches three classes. In one of them, where she partners with a general-education English teacher, there are thirty-five students. “When they all show up,” she said, “we don’t have enough chairs.”The school hosts a vision clinic, Hopp said, because “kids are squinting, and they don’t have parents who can take them, and they don’t have insurance, so we do it here.” There are children with underlying health issues, including diabetes and asthma, and she would like a nurse to be stationed at the school more than one day a week. (Lightfoot’s team has offered a full-time nurse and social worker for every school, every day.) “We have pregnant girls who come to me and ask questions, like, ‘You’ve had a baby. Tell me about it,’ ” Hopp said. Veronica Jara, who teaches English as a second language, coördinates bilingual education, and serves as the school’s athletic director, told me, “When they get sick, they ask, ‘Can I go to the nurse?’ And I have to say, ‘The nurse isn’t here today.’ ”