As Chicago’s public schools continue to struggle in the face of budget cuts, overcrowding and a city government that seems to prefer to invest in charter schools, a group of parents hosted what they say was the first fair ever to showcase public education in neighborhood schools. Calling themselves BAM, short for “Bad Ass Moms,” the group put together a “Neighborhood Schools Fair” last month as a way to connect Chicago Public Schools families with one another and highlight the accomplishments of their children’s schools.
“What better way to defend public education then by showcasing what we have to offer,” said Rousemary Vega, a CPS parent and resident of Humboldt Park. Vega, one of the founding members of BAM, said the group formed over the summer during a backyard barbeque where CPS parents discussed the massive CPS school closures and budget cuts.
Janet Meegan, another organizer and CPS parent said that the fair was a way great opportunity for parents to learn more about their neighborhood schools.
“You don’t really know until you look at a school,” said Meegan. "My son’s school is on the West Side and I’d never heard of it before [he began attending school there]. When I went to go take a look at it, I thought ‘this is an awesome school.’ I had no idea of all the cool programs they had.”
More than 59 schools participated in the fair, which took place at Clemente Community Academy High School on Western Avenue. In addition to a packed room of informational tables about the various schools, the fair also featured activities to keep children occupied, including facepainting. The event also offered workshops on school councils and a discussion on privatization.
Victoria Benson, a mom and local school council chair from Portage Park Elementary, said she formed a relationship with the fair's organizers at a school budget hearing and thought the event was a great way to develop unity between the neighborhood schools.
“I think every school in Chicago, we’re all the same. Every child in the city of Chicago deserves the same thing,” said Benson.
CPS holds an annual school expo, that the BAM organizers say, is to meant to support “gifted” schools and charters. Meegan argues that the CPS expo is another example of the district's apparent preference for charter schools.
“I don’t think we’re given a choice," she said. "If you’re going to open up charter schools and there’s no other school to walk to, that’s not really a choice. You’re telling that neighborhood they have to go to a charter school.”
Organizers said the event, which drew hundreds of parents, students and community members, and some support from local aldermen, was a complete success.
“From grassroots, little money, only dedication from hard work and mothers, we got it done,” said Vega. “I’ve been getting so many thank yous, so many business cards of people that say ‘I want to do whatever you’ve got coming next.”
As for what is coming next, Vega says the group is set to begin work on a walkathon in support of neighborhood schools. BAM plans to begin organizing the event this month.
"We are going to come out with a 'schoolathon'," said Vega. "Today, we're advertising strong schools for all kids. The schoolathon is basically going to be a 5K walk/run [for] chools. We're going to ask schools to register like they did here, bring their students, everybody will be wearing their school shirts and basically it will be a showcase of our unity — that we haven't given up. We're still marching and moving forward."
Images: Justin Carlson