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A City Education: Maintaining Morale When Your School's Being Closed

Students at Chicago's Lafayette Elementary have engaged in marches, called politicians, and attended school board meetings to save their school.

In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.

In March, when Chicago Public Schools announced their plan to close 54 of the district's school programs and 61 school buildings, City Year Chicago Corps Member Lillian Dypold was on a field trip with eighth grade students at the Museum of Science and Industry.

"My teacher told me that we would wait until the end of the day to share the information with the students," Dypold said. "Unfortunately, during the day protestors and news vans had parked outside the school, so we ended up informing the students on the bus ride back."

Lafayette Elementary School, a school in Chicago's Humboldt Park community, is the only school scheduled to be closed out of the 21 schools where City Year Chicago currently serves.

"Many of my students were in tears when they found out while others didn't show much outward emotion," Dypold said. "On the bus, four students and I embraced each other as they cried. I felt like I didn't have enough hands to comfort all those around me who were hurting."

Meg Healy, the team leader of seven corps members who serve at Lafayette, states that even though her team was aware that their school was on the preliminary school closing list it was still disappointing when the final list was announced.

"I was sad that our students would have to go through this upheaval, and that the wonderful staff, teachers and parents at Lafayette would be disbanded," Healy said. "Also, since this was City Year's first year at Lafayette and we had worked very hard to forge a strong partnership, I was disappointed that City Year could not leave a legacy at the school."

According to the Associated Press, teachers at impacted schools began getting formal notice of the closures first thing in the morning.

As soon as the news was announced, the City Year team didn't have much time to react.

"Being so immersed in a community that was reeling with disappointment and anxiety, my team got right to work trying to keep up the morale and motivation in their classrooms," Healy said.

In order to process their feelings surrounding the closure, the team had a meeting with their manager and Healy where they discussed how their purpose in Lafayette has transitioned from creating a foundation for future City Year teams to preparing the students for their transition, keeping morale up in the school, and emotionally supporting the school's community.

Despite many students initially being upset by the decision, they have since channeled their frustrations into fighting back.

Students have engaged in marches, called politicians, attended school board meetings, and created posters in order to not lose their school.

While some students have turned their frustration into activism, some have reverted to disengagement as they feel that their last quarter in school will not matter once they attend the new school next year.

Lafayette team member Earl Aaron said that once he clarified to his students that their records will follow them wherever they attend school next year they began to understand the importance of finishing the remainder of the year strong.

The City Year team serving in Lafayette Elementary works to keep the morale and motivation of the students and the staff high. Rather than engage in the politics and protestation of school closures, they seek to overcome a challenge not typical to the City Year experience.

"When I began my year of service I wanted to help students, but I also wanted to learn more about the reality of urban education and move beyond the political rhetoric," said first year corps member Lillian Dypold. "Having seen first-hand how the strike and the school closings have affected my students this year, I have certainly been allowed to learn more about their reality."

Want to stop school closings in your town? Add becoming an active member of a school community to your GOOD "to-do" list.

Photo courtesy of City Year Chicago

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