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'No Military Coup at Ames!' A Conversation with Women at Ames Middle School

On Friday, December 6, 2013, this reporter met with a number of parents in a collective meeting at Ames Middle School, at Armitage (2000 North) and Hamlin (3800 West), in Chicago. I had been reading articles in Substance about Alderman Roberto Maldonado and his efforts to convert Ames to a city-wide, selective enrollment high school, Marine Military Academy, and that there was resistance to people in the neighborhood. I decided I would try to talk with some of the parents to try to better understand the situation.

I was given a contact person, whom was asked to set up a meeting, and myself and altogether nine different women met for two hours, as they shared their stories.

These women, mostly parents of students, included women from Ames and a couple of its feeder schools, Nixon and McAuliffe Elementary schools, as well as a woman whose grandson is in McAuliffe and hopes to transfer eventually to Ames. Most of the women spoke English, but there were people to translate so those needing it could express themselves more completely in Spanish for this non-Spanish speaker. Since I could not confidently identify all of the speakers quoted, I decided not to attribute specific quotes.

Our collective interview took place after a representative from College Greenlight, a non-profit organization that promotes long-term preparation for post-secondary training for students, gave an hour-long presentation to the group. It was said this was typical for a Friday morning educational program for the parent-monitors, people who help teachers in the classroom, and in the community.

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Where will they go?, asks one woman, if Ames is converted to a selective enrollment high school; where will the kids currently at Ames go? The feeder schools are overcrowded, so where will students go?

Talking with these parent-monitors, this is just one of many questions they have; questions Alderman Maldonado, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have all failed to answer. Yet, these so-called leaders have lied, double-talked and ignored the Ames community, according to the women. In fact, the women claim that both School Board President David Vitale, as well as Byrd Bennett, have said in the past that Ames was not on any list to be changed. So why are they now talking about making this a military school?

Probably the most important issue raised by the women is the deep sense of disrespect they feel from these leaders. CPS is ignoring how community people feel: they dont feel what we feel.

The women are most angry at Maldonado. They claim he doesnt care. They claim he served as principal for a day five years ago, and came to the conclusion after this wealth of experience that the students needed discipline.

Yet they note that he doesnt send his children to public schools; according to the women, he sends his children to a private school. But what kind of kids does Maldonado want?, they ask, noting the extensive rules for children in our society: Robots?

The parents recognize the difficulty of the students: Its very hard to be a child, pointed out one. But all these rules are taking their youth away: Kids have to be kids. If Ames turns to a military school, there will be even more rules to follow.

No information is being given to the parents; no one in a position of power is even talking with them. They are worried about their children having to leave Ames: where are the students going? No one knowsor if they know, they arent talking publiclyand it seems that no one cares. The parents are confused. The principal at Ames, claim the women, says that he doesnt have any information, and is always vague. One of the women whose children are at Nixon, however, doubts his truthfulness: The principal at Nixon knows whats going on. In any case, the principal at Ames doesnt share any information. The women dont know if the principal knows: Why doesnt he tell us?

The issue of safety is paramount. They know their neighborhood, and generally how to protect their students. We know our community. What if they have to go elsewhere: They will not be safe on the streets. The students, claim the parents, are afraid to go to other schools.

These are not insignificant issues. Ames wasnt a good school.

However, with the help of a new principal, Turon Ivy, support by the teachers and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), Ames has been turned around in the past couple of years. One of the key ingredients has been the establishment of a neighborhood clinic at Ames, where people can get medical attention and advice when needed. Low income families are getting help; something is going on. Parents without children at Ames are showing up to help the students. The building belongs to us, our kids, our communities, argue the parents. In fact, students are currently being bused to Ames, as their schools are overcrowded. The women said that a growing number of students are coming to Ames from both the south- and north-sides of the city.

Accordingly, there has been a community built around Ames, that includes not only the parents and their children, but also of the people of the surrounding neighborhoods. There are a number of courses presented for the neighbors of Ames: we have photo classes, English, Zumba, art, and classes on recycling. Others point out there are other programs: tutoring, Junior Achievement, orchestra, peace and leadership, recreation, and soccerespecially soccer!

The parent-monitors are also learning. Not only is my daughter learning, but so am I, says one. Everyday I learn something new. Every Friday, there is a special educational program from the parent-monitors. The parent-monitors have gone through a specific program and are certified, helping teachers in the classrooms and throughout the school.

Parents have been connecting, not only at Ames, but also in the feeder schools, and then among parents in the feeder schools and Ames. The parents fear that the relationships built over the last few years will be torn apart if the school closes: CPS has no idea. The women said that a Mr. Conner, apparently head of military schools for CPS, says that most of the military academies are in Latino areas: why? They also noted that these schools are also being presented for African American students in other parts of the city.

As we ended our conversation, they handed me a leaflet titled No Military Coup at Ames! As compared to what Alderman Maldonado and the Mayors Offices claim, the Logan Square School Facilities Council Members leaflet points out:

Maldonado has NOT ONCE come to Ames Middle School to meet with Ames parents.

Ames parents survey 357 Ames neighbors and found that 87% opposed a military high school at Ames.

Ames outperforms the Marine Academy: According to the State Board of Education, in 2012, Marine had only 26.6% of its students meeting or exceeding standards in reading and 32.9% in math, while Ames had 59.9% in reading and 73.3% in math.

That according to the CPS website, only 56.5% of Marine students enrolled in college, lower than the CPS average.

Marine only graduated 56.5% of the 122 students who entered as freshmen, four years ago: Marine is a push-out factory.

Parents are continuing their opposition to converting Ames in another way as well: with the help of Attorney Joel Monarch, they have created a petition for an advisory referendum that they seek to be placed on ballots for the General Primary Election on March 18, 2014. The question they want added reads, Should Ames Middle School (1920 N. Hamlin Avenue) be maintained as a neighborhood school, rather than being converted into a military high school? And while I was there, over ten teams of volunteers went out into the community, seeking signatures for their petition.

One final note: I called Alderman Maldonados office, and my call was forwarded to his Chief of Staffs message machine. This article was held up for over 24 hours to allow him to present his version of developments, but I received no contact from him or any of his staff. I will continue to seek the Aldermans viewpoint.

[Kim Scipes is Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union, UAW #1981.]



Comments:

December 11, 2013 at 3:08 PM

By: ALIVETTE ALICEA

parent voluntary of Ames middle school

i am a parent of 5 two graduated from ames last year ....I work very hard to kept ames as a comunidad.

December 12, 2013 at 10:52 AM

By: Albert Korach

Ames iddle School

Here I go again! I'm getting involved in the Ames situation for no other reason than to keep the interest up.I just took my 84 year old body to Florida to try an keep it warm. When I left the Chicago area our youth were being killed by at least one a day. The situation in the Miami Area is about the same. On some days the "kill rate" is even better down here.

I think of myself as a military liberal having grown up in an Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union family. The Boy Scouts, Sea Scouts & neighborhood organizations were an important part of my life. I served as a school delegate and on the Executive Board of the CTU. For many years I was the VP of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund as well as a retiree editor for Substance.

I find it ironic that after many years in the scouts I helped to set up their medical support for their national Jamboree as an officer in the 801st General Hospital in Colorado Springs. In short my military experience has made me a better person and citizen.

I started out as a private in a National Guard unit and retired as a Lt. Col. after acive duty at the Army Medical Field Service School in Texas. I feel that much of the negativity regarding the military has been caused by the many bad decisions made by our legislators.Keep in mind. Some military and home discipline will help.

December 12, 2013 at 11:00 AM

By: Albert Korach

AMES MIDDLE SCHOOL

Sorry it's AMES MIDDLE SCHOOL

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