Sunday, June 14, 2009

School Rivals Set to Merge in Shadows of Cabrini

Today's Chicago Tribune featured a column by Mary Schmich, talking about the coming merger of two elementary schools serving the Cabrini Green area of Chicago.

I've known Mary for many years and she has written many columns on the past about the challenges of living in Cabrini Green, and even about the work we do to mobilize volunteers to help inner city kids overcome those challenges.

I've been leading a tutor/mentor program connecting Cabrini Green youth with tutors/mentors for more than 30 years. I started Cabrini Connections and the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993, following the shooting of 7 year old Dantrell Davis in October 1992.

Some of our kids attend Jenner School then go on to area high schools. I know these kids well.

In her column Schmich says "Jenner lies on the south side of Division Street, Schiller on the north. Students on either side cross with a sense of peril."

This map, created with the new interactive Tutor/Mentor Program Locator shows the locations of Shiller and Jenner Schools, with overlays showing poverty demographics, in the Cabrini Green neighborhood. You can create your own version of this map if you visit this link.

She goes on to say, "Cabrini may be vanishing, and many of the displaced students may commute to school here from far parts of the city, but gang rivalries and assorted resentments continue to be handed down like family recipies."

She interviewed a teacher at Jenner who is trying to build harmony between the new students from Schiller and the current students at Jenner. She quotes a teacher who says "The students are on a shrinking iceberg".

Schmich wrote, "When this teacher asked kids to list potential problems of the merger of two schools one student responded, 'Fighting. Guns. Disrespect. Arguing. No Friends. New teachers. Bad feelings."

I believe in non-school tutor/mentor programs because they offer a place during the non-school hours where kids can meet, and be supported by extra adults beyond the family. We held our annual year end dinner on June 4, and a video was shown, in which two students interview their parents, who talk about the value of Cabrini Connections. View it here.

Schmich is a great writer, and I'm glad she pays attention to what is going on in Cabrini Green. However, I just wish she and other writers would talk about programs like Cabrini Connections who are working to help these kids, but who are limited in their ability because they constantly struggle for operating dollars.

The story could have gone on to talk about ways tutor/mentor programs are trying to help kids in Cabrini, but are struggling because many people don't think the neighborhood still has kids who need our help. The article shows that kids from Schiller and Jenner are still dealing with poverty. The video from our year end dinner hows that parents feel we're a value to their kids.

In addition, the reporter could have used the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator to create a map image as I did. Anyone reading the story could search the Program Locator to determine the need for tutor/mentor programs in different areas of the city, and to find programs that exist in these areas.

There are thousands of people in Chicago who might support programs like Cabrini Connections, but unless reporters and media show us as one solution to the challenges kids face, too few people will know we exist, and too few will support us. We don't have the advertising dollars to get this story out as often as it needs to be heard.

Thus, if you are reading this, pass it on. Ask people you know to send donations to Cabrini Connections, or to other tutor/mentor programs operating in other neighborhoods, who are just as isolated, and just as in need of funding. Parents value our services.

In addition, if you appreciate what we're trying to do with the maps and Program Locator, please provide some funds to help us keep developing this resource. The demographics of the city are changing and with each Census, we need to update these maps so they are as accurate as possible. We cannot do that without funds to pay for the staff who do this work. If you'd like to help call us at 312-492-9614.

If tutor/mentor programs are to remain in places where they are needed, it will be because private sector leaders have stepped forward with their own time, talent and dollars to help us do this work.

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