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Students continue to adjust at CPS welcoming school

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Chicago public school students are just over one week into their new school year. For many, that includes a transition to new school after their old building closed.

Teacher Sandra Fleming used to teach at Yale Elementary. Some of the students in her math class went to Yale. But now they are all part of the fabric at Harvard. There has been every effort there to emphasize one team and avoid "we and they."

"I try to make friends with them and tell them about our school," said Nico Johnson, Harvard fifth grader.

There is a daily message to older students that you are best equipped to provide a welcome.

"They know whether they're from Yale or Harvard or new students transferring in. We expect them to be leaders, and part of leadership is, we work together and set good examples for the younger brothers and sisters behind us," said Aisha McCarthy, Harvard principal.

Ninety-two students and one classroom teacher moved to Harvard after Yale closed. Harvard's enrollment is now just more than 500, not quite capacity. While the school year is young, some of the early uneasiness is waning.

"It feels good. I'm learning about these kids, and I feel great about it," said Roshand Bridges, former Yale student.

Harvard held three events during the summer in an effort to better unite two school populations. Yale used to have an outdoor garden. On Wednesday, that tradition was started anew at Harvard.

Harvard is now fully air-conditioned, and Mr. McCullum's fourth graders are working on the five Ws on their iPads. There are many ways to measure what's working and what's not. An early barometer is attendance.

"We're going for 95 percent attendance mark," said McCarthy, who added the school saw a 98-percent attendance rate the first week and is "hitting home every day."

Harvard's attendance and test scores were miserable six years ago when it became one of the first turnaround schools under the Academy of Urban School Leadership. Scores have gone up since. New standardized testing won't come until later in the school year. But Harvard wishes to set its student expectations high.

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