I’ve been following the school closing/turnaround issue pretty closely. I attended the last State Facilities Task force hearing, have made it a point to talk to teachers and parents at schools on the action list and attended the recent Board of Education meeting where many parents spoke out on school actions.
One piece of information that I learned has really stuck with me. From testimony at the last Board of Education meeting, I learned that students at Dyett High School, one of the schools slated to be closed, do not have an art teacher and students have to take an on-line art course to get credit needed to graduate. Yes, you read that correctly, a high-school without an art teacher.
Can you imagine? I can’t. I was fortunate to have myriad art courses at my public high school in the suburbs of Chicago, and took advantage of most of them from painting to drawing to 3-dimensional design. Art was one of two subjects I looked forward to in high school, with literature being the other. If it weren’t for my art classes, I probably would have had little interest in school. And at my own son’s school and many others, we supplement the deficient CPS curriculum through fundraising for arts and other subjects.
The courses at my old high school are not dissimilar to what is offered at the University of Chicago Lab School, where our mayor’s kids attend. At Lab, “music and art are integral parts of the High School curriculum, with students required to take a minimum of one year each, selected among music theory, performance, fine arts, drawing, painting, photography, and drama as well as other selections.” They also have something called Artfest, “a daylong event where regular classes are suspended and students signup for workshops that focus on the arts.”
But at Dyett and many other schools in CPS, there is no art teacher to help hone the many creative gifts that children surely have but have no opportunity to explore. An on-line art course is no substitute. These disparities, within our state, within our city and within CPS are astounding. And no one at CPS is calling attention to them. Not even as the debate rages about a longer school day and our mayor calls for more time in reading, math and science. I dare him to try and find a parent in Chicago who doesn’t want more art, not to mention music, PE and all the other programs chronically missing from our children’s day.
For students at Dyett, the CPS transition plan calls for them to move to Phillips High School, another Level 3 (worst performing) school on probation a few miles away. CPS claims that Phillips is improving as an AUSL school and this is a much better option for Dyett students as they are showing growth. But when I check the stats I see that there is a 63% attendance rate, 32% of kids dropout each year and only 11% of the kids meet/exceed PSAE state standards. Is this really the kind of option any parent would be excited about? Especially when it means kids will have to travel into a different neighborhood with different gang issues and serious safety concerns?
I would like CPS to give Dyett students an art teacher, perhaps two or even three. Maybe a course in drawing, sculpture, photography, poetry or dance. And that goes for all the schools on the action list and the probation list, many of which I am sure have been losing programs and positions, for years. Let’s give them an Artsfest day where they can take workshops and have opportunities year round to showcase their work? How about Acting Studio? Photojournalism?
Every child deserves to be exposed to a wide range of learning opportunities to engage them and draw on their gifts and talents. Do we think maybe more than 63% of kids would show up if the day was a little more engaging? We need to face the facts- there is dearth of creative and inspirational educational opportunities provided to public school students, especially low-incone students-- in this state and city. No wonder the dropout rate is so high.