Single Mom Pens Open Letter to CPS

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As a single black mother with two children currently being taught in two totally different school settings, I can definitely see a difference in their educational habits that I believe to be inspired per their institutions/peers.  My 8 year old daughter (Cayce) is in 3rd grade at a private Catholic School (St. Angela) and has been there since the age of 4. She was homeschooled from 1-3 years old by her great-grandmother and has never attended daycare.

However, my seventeen year old boy (Trijuannis “TJ”) – currently a senior at Roosevelt High School – has been in CPS for the whole of his school career. He has a learning disability and has been receiving IEP services since kindergarten. His development skills are delayed compared to my daughter’s; but I have never allowed him to use that as an excuse that hindered him from learning just the same as anyone else.  Although there is a 10 year gap between the two, I don’t have the same worries or concerns with Cayce that I have for TJ. Yes, there are certain obstacles that they will encounter being they are of the opposite sex, but their surroundings (in/out of school) are what I will attempt to focus on.

Based on the outcome of TJ’s public school education, I made a promise to myself (as well as my next child) not send them to public school. I transferred TJ four times over the course of his years in grammar school, but he has remained at the same high school. Some of the reasons were, (a) I didn’t feel the teachers were adequately meeting TJ’s needs (b) the No Child Left Behind Act (c) I moved and the school would not provide bus service because we were no longer in the school’s zone. The inadequacy of the teachers and the no child left behind act kind of go hand and hand. I feel the teachers knew they weren’t helping TJ reach his full potential and the no child left behind act allowed them to just continue to pass him along; even though he was nowhere near prepared to move on to the next grade.  Here’s a quick look at what an IEP is supposed to include, by law:

 

  • A statement of your child’s present level of performance (PLOP)—this is how your child is presently doing in school
  • Your child’s annual educational goals
  • Special education supports and services that the school will provide to help your child reach goals
  • Accommodations your child will be allowed when taking standardized tests
  • How and when the school will measure your child’s progress toward annual goals

 

  • Transition planning that prepares teens for life after high school

The only consistency I saw was the wording on his IEP paperwork! I can count on my hands how many times I saw him bring a book home or have homework. He always said “I finished it in class” or “we had a sub today, because so and so quit or was fired, so no homework.”  When it came to his peers, the neighborhood we lived in wasn’t bad at the time, but over the past few years it has gotten worse with the gangs and violence. He got chased home from school, bullied by other kids because of his size and later on pressured to join a gang. I have watched my happily, fun-loving, game playing, church-going, drum playing boy grow into a lazy, sloppy, disrespectful gang member who wants nothing more in life than to get high everyday all day while selling drugs. Now granted, TJ has a mind of his own and is free to make his own decisions, but unfortunately he is very weak minded and easily influenced by others. Because he struggled so hard to fit in, I believe he did whatever was required in order to be a part of the group. I also believe that due to a few life changing circumstances (my mother becoming very ill; him not knowing his father; and the separation of my 12 year boyfriend) all played a role in his decision making process.

Cayce had a pretty well-structured life thus far, prior to the separation of her father and me a little over 2 years ago. My finances are more stable now than they were when TJ was younger, so I am able to afford private school for her. I tried to get TJ to attend a Catholic High School, but I believe he felt out of place when we visited the schools and lacked the confidence to believe that he could be a successful student. Although, I have to admit, I wasn’t too fond of the programming or curriculum they had for students with learning disabilities. I also was worried about TJ wanting to drop out if he felt he wasn’t able to keep up with his peers. I believe Cayce’s home environment (her father and I) provided a strong foundation on her educational journey. Being a kid who had neither, your energy is different going to school and coming home every day. She strived to be the best at everything and still continues that pattern. Her teachers have always provided a very interactive and challenging curriculum, and have been attentive to her learning needs. Although she yearned for education, I believe being surrounded by other children of similar intelligence and eagerness to learn compelled her to strive even harder. The mannerisms that she has at such a young age, are in part due to her educational upbringing. She has gotten dropped off and picked up every day as we do not live in walking distance of the school. When was younger, he had to walk to school with other students in the neighborhood. The school didn’t allow the kids to come in until a certain time and I had to be at work. Cayce’s school offers both before and after care, so I can drop her off as early as 6am and pick her up by 6pm. CPS has never offered any programs like this that I am aware of … and even if they had, I’m sure they would’ve been cancelled based on budget cuts.

With all that is going on with CPS, if Cayce attended one of these schools and TJ was younger, I’d probably be unemployed with all these strikes!!!! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for “fighting for what’s right…..” but at what cost? Is it worth the possibility of a child losing their life because their out in the streets during what should be school hours? Is it worth a single parent with no help from family or friends, no time available to call off work and possibly the risk of leaving children at home unattended for the sake of keeping a job? Who is actually winning and losing here? As a concerned parent of a 17 year old African American young man living on the west side of Chicago and confused about his path….  I fear for his life as a result of these strikes!!! I fear for his daily activities while I am at work because I am unsure of his whereabouts. I fear for his future!!! Moving forward, I can only hope and pray that these problems within CPS can be resolved in a manner in which our children’s learning and lives are not put at risk.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Mother.

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Latoya Oby

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