The deadline to apply to Chicago Public Schools for next year through GoCPS is coming up quickly: December 11. While families are making decisions, I wanted to share the story of one family’s choice to buck the tide. Usually we hear about South Side families sending their children to downtown or even North Side schools. But Nikki Fitzgerald and her family chose a long north-south commute, to Bronzeville Classical. Here’s why, in Nikki’s words.
Our Family Made a “Crazy” Decision We Love
Unconventional is a word our family is used to identifying with. We made the unorthodox decision to attend a South Side selective enrollment elementary school while living on the North Side. Here is why we made this “crazy” decision.
Our little family is very diverse: dad is African American, mom is Caucasian and our daughter is of course, the best of both of us. With that being said, we started off our CPS journey considering all options. After much deliberation, we ended up in the lottery system and we hopped around two different schools before settling in on a third school on the far North Side, which was a commute of 20 minutes.
The school was great for my daughter, she fit in with her friendly, out-going nature and was well liked. But the school was predominately white and we had concerns for her future happiness and development as a biracial girl whom the world saw as a Black girl. Unfortunately, we did have some kids and parents who did not appreciate our family dynamic. Overall, though, my daughter was happy.
Then, in summer 2017, Chicago Public schools announced that four new schools were opening up on the South Side for the Fall 2018 school year. We read about them all and decided to go for Bronzeville Classical School. Our daughter did well on her testing and she was offered a first-round spot to start second grade there. Her class will be the first class to graduate from the new school!
We were so proud and also, again in agony about making the right decision for our child and our family. When you leave a school you lotteried into, you have lost it for good. If your new school is not what you expected it to be, then you have a huge dilemma on your hands. We worried about her transition from a neighborhood to a selective enrollment school at that age, because, academically, she essentially just skipped second grade and went right into third grade work and beyond.
She was unbelievably excited to go to school with many more kids who would look just like her! She seamlessly made the transition. That calmed our academic concerns almost immediately. Before school started, we considered moving to the South Side, but my husband’s work office was about a mile from Bronzeville Classical, so he could take her to school every morning. I would pick her up in the afternoons, so we decided we could make it work and still live on the North Side, where we had developed roots for almost two decades.
For Us, Commuting Is a Worthwhile Sacrifice
Since our old elementary school was farther north of our home, my husband was never able to take my daughter to school. Because of the distance, time and traffic, he missed many functions and parent/teacher conferences. Now he is right down the street from her school. He can attend most every single function as well as bring her to school in the mornings. Now both of us get quality time with our daughter in the car. We can use the commute to catch up on life, quiz her on spelling, and get her reading or homework done.
Still, it is definitely a sacrifice for love for our daughter and for love of her education and well-being, that we commute through downtown Chicago to the South Side for school. We doubled our commute time from 20 minutes to 40 or 45 minutes to school. Sometimes our family has very long days because we stay south to attend early evening meetings or special events at Bronzeville Classical. It takes extra effort for all of us, and we do miss some things. But, by making extra efforts to be involved in her school community, we show our daughter our values.
Many CPS parents talk about investing in neighborhood schools to turn them around. We believe in that, too, but our school, a family and a community we love, is just a little bit farther away from where we physically live. We are very active in our home community of Lincoln Square and we volunteer in our community as a family. Likewise, we do the same for our school and the community of Bronzeville. Our family is diverse, so it is only fitting that we have decided to embrace our segregated city and bring it full circle. Our world got bigger, more diverse and a whole lot better when we decided what was best for our daughter as well as for our family as a whole.
We parents are letting our daughter know that she does not have to choose a side. She doesn’t have to conform to what society tells us are the norms. More than chasing educational attainment, we are truly living in the moment. We’re embracing different cultures and upholding our values of education and experiences as a whole family unit. Hopefully we are raising a compassionate and well-rounded global citizen to share with the world!
School is what you make of it, whether it’s your neighborhood school or a faraway school for your child’s benefit. After three years in, we are currently getting a break from the commute because of the pandemic. But we will be ready to do it all again soon. We have five years left of commuting to Bronzeville. It won’t be easy, but it will be well worth it!