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Visits, pizza, ice cream to help CPS students join new schools

Friday, June 21, 2013

What happens when students from closing Chicago public schools get into class in the fall with students at their new schools?

The students from Stewart are making their new educational home at Joseph Brennemann Elementary. Their school is closing, and Thursday they paid a visit to Brennemann.

A new school, new faces, and some new rules await students moving from one school to another. The idea is to get the kids together before the new school year begins. All of the so-called "welcoming school"s are doing this in their own form and fashion. It is called "cultural integration" - a fancy term that means, at its heart: getting to know one another. Should differences be found, work those differences out.

"Just allowing them the opportunity to talk through some of those differences -- what those differences are, and how we can build tolerance around each other," said Brennemann Principal Sarah Abdelal.

On Thursday, the 6th and 7th graders from Stewart and Brennemann sat together for a "turn and talk," in which they turned, facing someone sitting next to them whom they did not know. From their new peers, they also learned of new procedures and rules at their new school.

Familiarity with faces and expectations is meant to make a difficult transition easier to take. Pizza can help. Some schools are doing ice cream socials or bar-b-ques. Significantly, most are planning mixers for parents. Food and meetings do not guarantee harmony, but they are meant to send a message that was understood by Brennemann sixth grader Adedamola Oseni.

"We make them comfortable by always being nice, always treat them nice," said Oseni. "Just make them feel comfortable at the school."

"It is a huge challenge, and it's a challenge that I think we all will rise to -- most especially the students," said Abdelal.

Some of the students at Stewart and Brennemann already know each other, as they live in the same general area on the North Side, and they share activities outside of school. So their cultural integration would appear to be far less challenging than some other combining schools which face animosity between neighborhoods, gang affiliations, a host of issues not easily overcome. However, the intent is to break down as many barriers as possible before the new school year begins.

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