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  1. Last year, when Juneteenth was celebrated by so many major corporations for the first time, some joked that us white people would quickly turn it into another commercialized exercise of appropriation. This year, you might still be asking, what should us white folks do on Juneteenth? Here are three options: educate ourselves, educate other white people, or actively work to dismantle a part of our white supremacy culture. [Related: The importance of celebrating Juneteenth in Chicago] During the height of the pandemic and racial unrest, all the books on the New York Times best-seller list were about anti-racism and white supremacy. Hopefully, we read the books and learned that we have a long way to go, as a society but also as white people. Educating other white people is challenging as we have to leave our comfort zone and possibly offend someone. I am certainly not the best at it, too often biting my tongue when someone demonstrates their bias, or by doing the opposite and offending without educating. And too often than I'd like to admit, I'm the one that needs educating. I’m working on it, through regular participation in SEED and a local chapter of AWARE, both at our children’s school, Near North Montessori. The third option, challenging or dismantling a part of the white supremacy culture in our institutions and organizations, might seem even more daunting than confronting and educating another white person, but it does not need to be. [Related: How to become an anti-racist parent] Our children attend a private school, and I know there is hypocrisy in choosing a private school while claiming to be helping to dismantle white supremacy. I contend it is only incrementally different, if at all, to choices many white parents make since public schools mimic the segregation in our society, and many public schools are not diverse or safe for Black, indigenous, and people of color. This year, Near North Montessori has hired a new Head of School which, after an extensive search, chose Brian Corley who had previously been the Diversity Director at the school. Brian will be one of only a handful of Black Heads of School across all the private schools in the Midwest. This is good, but we can do more. Our school, despite having diversity, does not have enough Black educators. This is a dilemma for many schools, public and private. Our soon-to-be former Head has been working to fix the training options for Montessori teachers, which seems to be one of the most vexing obstacles, and HR has made shifts to address the pipeline. But they need more tools, and money is one of the primary weapons in our society. So, my wife and I are donating a fair amount to our children’s school to start a fund to recruit and retain Black teachers. Why is it important to have Black educators on staff? My former colleague, the late Principal Robert Croston, explained it best in an article he wrote: "If more White and affluent students were educated by Black men, many stereotypes about us would fall on deaf ears and more White and affluent Americans would be able to champion our plight. As a Black male educator, some of my favorite interactions with young people include those with non- Black students because they get to experience the love, care and intellect of someone like myself. They can rebuff the swirling stereotypes when they see and know a Black man as a principal. If West Pullman schools on the South Side of Chicago need Black men, then Wilmette schools on the North Shore of Chicagoland need Black male teachers even more.” So, this Juneteenth, ask yourself and your school’s leadership: Why aren’t there more Black teachers and administrators, if any? If the first response is, “They don’t apply,” then you might have to ask: Why don’t Black teachers apply (or stay) at your school? [Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?] The uncomfortable truth is, white people like us probably have a lot more work to do to ensure schools are welcoming, safe places for Black, indigenous, and people of color to work and thrive. Donating money is one way to dismantle white supremacy, but only if you couple it with educating yourself and other white people (I highly recommend an insightful podcast on this topic, Nice White Parents). This Juneteenth, celebrate by finding ways to challenge or dismantle a part of the white supremacy culture in your child’s school, be it public or private. I guarantee you it is there, and if you do not see it, you just might be an active part of it.
  2. Our family has opted to never return to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as an education choice post the COVID-19 shutdown. I want to preface this entire blog by saying that we are fully aware that this is an extremely privileged choice that I am very thankful for, and am very aware that not everyone, and likely most in the CPS system, can make. Knowing that CPS was highly unlikely to return to any type of in-person school this past fall, we decided to move our children to a remote mountain town out west that we all enjoy visiting as a family. We never in our wildest dreams thought we would be purchasing a home and uprooting our children by registering them in brand-new schools this past fall, but…we did. I have three children with vastly different learning needs; however, I strongly believe that all children should be in school, in-person. That belief was verified by nearly all of the private and parochial schools around the country that successfully opened in the fall for in-person instruction, and stayed open. As parents, we knew we couldn’t stand by and watch our children waste yet another instructional year in “fake computer school,” as we call it. [Related: Questions to ask yourself when considering a CPS school] For the past six months in our new town, our two youngest children in first and sixth grade have had in-person school five days per week. Our oldest in seventh grade had a bit of a rockier start. He was initially hybrid at two days per week, then the middle school had to go fully remote for a while, but since January the middle school is now hybrid with two days per week again. He does so poorly with remote school, however, that the school labeled him as high priority and he is now in four days per week with zero issues. The entire district is hoping to be back full-time, in-person, five days per week after spring break, and it looks promising. My youngest is behind a full year in her reading due to the teacher’s strike in October 2019, and then the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020. What I view as the Chicago Teacher’s Union's complete unwillingness to even contemplate in-person learning drove us to this somewhat drastic measure of moving, but we couldn’t let any of our children lose yet another year of learning. Zooming in does not work for her, and improving remote school would do next to nothing. We are grateful that our jobs allow us to live anywhere and that our kids have been able to take advantage of in-person school. In closing, I would say that a driving factor of leaving CPS entirely was the attitude of the CTU and its social media outbursts, and what I see as a complete disregard for all of our children’s best interests. In the end we will pursue private, or move. Cate White is a B2B content marketing professional by trade and has lived in the city of Chicago for 18 years. She currently lives out of state due to COVID-19 and the CTU, but normally resides in the North Center area with her three children and husband. The NPN blog gives voice to our members' thoughts about parenting in the city, and the views expressed don't necessarily reflect our own. Want to write for us? Email lauren@npnparents.org with your topic ideas. Photo by Kelly Sikkema
  3. Article

    Back to school…finally.

    When Mayor Lightfoot announced that CPS children would have the option of returning in person, I went into a slight panic. It felt incredibly different from when CPS announced that the 2020-2021 school year would begin virtually, since the pandemic was still raging and a second wave was expected in the fall. But this announcement? It brought forth a sense of panic. We’d adjusted to virtual learning since it quickly became our new normal, and accepted that our first-grader, Amara (pictured), may not go back to in-person this school year. Our youngest daughter returned to full-time daycare back in September, which made virtual learning easier with only one child to supervise. [Related: Anxious about the upcoming school year? Here's how to ease your child's fears — and yours.] Through virtual learning, we discovered that Amara would push every technology limit available. One of our first instances was during the first month of school when her teacher emailed us explaining that Amara mistakenly deleted some pages from her assignment. My husband and I knew that it was not a mistake. Later, she started changing the teacher’s directions. For example, if the assignment stated, “In your math book, complete pages 5, 6, and 7 and then write two sentences explaining why Jim received more apples than Johnny,” she would change it to read, “In your math book, complete pages 5 and 6,” to finish her work sooner. We ended up adjusting her screen time settings to be extensive, but also realized early on that she may do better within the structure of the physical classroom. Her first day back was incredible and her mental health improved almost immediately. Simply being in the school building seemed to elicit a positive reaction and a sense of normalcy. She met her teacher in person for the first time and saw a few friends from last year. She played on the playground during recess and had school lunch — all things we previously took for granted. It’s still very different; the children are spaced out in the classroom, proper mask-wearing is enforced, there are no before/after school activities, and of course, children only attend two days per week with a large virtual component. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] The best part has been the mornings she attends in person. Getting ready for school those two days a week feels so close to the before times and gives me a glimpse of hope that we will eventually return. She looks forward to those those two days and always has an extra pep in her step. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe, in-person return to school in the fall.
  4. Video

    High School Admissions 101

    Join NPN as we partner with Grace Lee Sawin of Chicago School GPS for a seminar aimed at parents seeking school search guidance beyond elementary school. This session covers these topics and questions: An overview of Chicago's public and private high school admissions process How do I choose a good school fit for my child? What are the criteria for the various public and private high school programs? Tips on navigating virtual open houses during the pandemic What should I know about the GoCPS application process? Please note this presentation starts around the 5:30 mark as there were a couple of audience members with audio issues in the first few minutes.
  5. We’ve just closed the door on that stressful season when high school students-to-be partake in applications. My wife and I have been talking about high schools for our 6th grader for a couple of years, so we empathize. Fortunately, your choices are much better than what you might realize. For families stressing about which school is “right” for their child, likely the anxiety is caused by the selection process to get into the “best” high schools. You might believe there are only a handful of acceptable choices for high schools, requiring astronomically high test scores, and all the rest are less than adequate. But it may be time to adjust your perspective. [Related: This CPS resource makes high school search so much easier] Our city boasts some of the best schools in the country. These schools, like Walter Payton and Northside, are ranked in the top 1% nationally. If that’s your thing, game on! For those with kids who don’t enjoy high-stakes tests or who want other choices, CPS has 24 high schools ranked in the top quartile of the nation—meaning they are better than 75% of the schools in our country. Of these 24, six have a neighborhood enrollment policy, so if you live in a specific boundary near the school, your child cannot be denied enrollment. Over the past six months, the average price for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home near these schools ranged from $145,000 to $1.4 million. If you’re willing to accept a school that is merely in the top 50th percentile in the nation you can add 21 more CPS high schools to your list, for a total of 45 to consider. Ten of these additional schools have neighborhood components, starting with an average price of $159,000 for a 3-bedroom 2-bath home. Another ten of these schools give preference to students living in proximity. For example, the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, on the far South Side, or Von Steuben on the North Side, are magnet programs requiring students to score in the average range on the NWEA MAP, but students are given additional preference if they live in proximity to the school. So why even consider moving to the suburbs, when you can make a shorter move across town? [Related: High School Admissions 101 (member-only video)] If you are open to considering options that are merely better than half the schools in the nation, you have an even greater number of choices. If I can’t convince you, I highly recommend the book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims, who describes how pushing kids to only believe they are successful if they get into top schools is causing lots of issues—and worst of all, it will not allow children the space to become who they are.
  6. Many Chicago parents, myself included, start thinking about high school at the same time we're applying to preschool. This phenomenon isn’t limited to “type A” parents or “helicopter” parents or overachieving parents. We begin thinking about high school so early because our children’s access to education can influence major life decisions such as where we live, and because to new and not-so-new parents, public high schools in Chicago are something of a mystery. [Related: High School Admissions 101 (members-only video)] What are public high schools like in Chicago? Are they all the same or does each school offer different programs? Is there an application process? Is it the same for all schools? These are just a few of the questions I had as a preschool parent. If you have questions like this, too, you'll love this useful resource from Chicago Public Schools that lists every public high school in the city, each school’s programs’ eligibility requirements, selection process and more. CPS organized all of this information into one document, which you can find in the Elementary and High School Guide at go.cps.edu. To go directly to the list of high school programs, eligibility and selection process, click here. CPS hasn't publicized this document, as far as I can tell, so I want to make sure other parents can find it! In this document, one section is organized by the type of admission screening required, such as an audition, an essay, attendance at an information session, and more. The next section lists the schools with IB programs and service leadership (formerly military) programs. The last section lists each high school and gives detailed information about program eligibility requirements and the selection process for each program at each school. Some high schools, such as Lincoln Park High School, have six different programs to which students can be admitted and this document lays out the differences in eligibility and selection for each one. [Related: You have more CPS high school options than you think] This information would have been enlightening for me to come across when my children were younger, when I wanted to know what public high school options were available. Now as a parent of a 5th grader, this information got me up to speed quickly. At this point, I am casting a wide net for my son and this document has it all. When my son is in middle school we’ll use this information to narrow down his high school search, prioritize his choices, and prepare his application. I still have questions about the high school search, but for now, at least, some of them have been answered. Check out NPN's school search tools to make your school search easier! Our School Directory compiles up-to-date stats on every school in the city. And look for upcoming NPN School Choice events such as CPS 101.

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