Because of my deep experience in Chicago’s schools, friends and friends of friends sometimes call and ask me, “Is my neighborhood school a good school?” Or, “My child did not get into a selective enrollment high school. Should they go to Noble Charter?”
Unfortunately, the real answer is, whether neighborhood, charter or selective enrollment, there is no perfect school. I know; I have seen them all.
Juarez Community Academy Nurtured My Mexican Identity and Culture
I am a proud alum of Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen. I loved how my neighborhood high school nurtured my identity and culture. Even today, years after I graduated, I still encounter many people who are shocked by my success graduating from Juarez and being its first Millenium Scholar. I find myself having to dispel myths and stereotypes repeated by students, parents and professionals within my community.
Neighborhood schools center their work on building a strong school culture to ensure the obstacles students face in our communities do not interfere with their academic achievement. Schools are in tune with the needs of their students from parent workshops, college and career coaching, all in a language and a manner that is accessible to the families they serve. Some schools have bailes for parents, bandas, and tamborazos at student dances.
But every young person is different. Sometimes it takes a different option to help a student succeed.
Charter Schools like the Noble Network served as a better option for my over-active, easily influenced and distracted younger brother. During my time as a charter school teacher, I advocated for my brother to attend charter schools. I even encouraged my family to transfer him from Juarez to a Noble Network School after his Freshman year.
Now a Kindergarten teacher in a KIPP school, my brother thrived because of his highly structured educational experience.
At Whitney Young, My Daughter Had Freedom But Lacked Belonging
Meanwhile, my daughter, who did not lack for self-discipline, would have clashed with the rigid and authoritative culture of a Noble Charter School. She recently graduated from Whitney Young, a selective enrollment high school. As a former Juarez student, I would have loved to experience the privileges she enjoyed there. But the open campus, no uniform, and minimal supervision at her school, while a luxury, did not offset her lack of sense of belonging.
If I could do it again, I would send her to Juarez.
My daughter regrets not attending her local school. She missed out on the community and pride of being a Juarez Eagle. She missed out on being part of a school built by the struggles and sacrifices of the women who fought to have a neighborhood school. She regrets not attending a school named after Mexico’s first indigenous president, a school where the architecture mirrors the plazas found in our original country.
Perhaps the cultural shock of her Selective Enrollment High School will make the transition to college smoother. The cultural programming offered at her university might make her excited about school again.
If you are a parent with a student heading to high school this fall, know that there won’t be a perfect school. Wherever your child is going, be excited about your student’s new school and show them how to maximize their opportunities and resources. Here are some important steps to take as they enter high school:
Who are the freshmen teachers? What is the freshmen-on-track rate at your specific school? What supports are provided to support the transition?
Ensure your child builds at least one connection with an adult in school early on. (For my daughter, it was her librarian.)
Begin identifying summer program opportunities early on and ways to supplement your students educational experiences.
Regardless of where your child attends high school, they will be fine and there will always be ways to be successful. Ultimately, high school success comes down to knowing your child and advocating alongside your scholar.
A life-long resident of Pilsen, Aida Flores is both a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools and the parent of Chicago Public Schools students. As a bilingual and bicultural educator, Aida has taught Spanish and social studies in CPS at both the elementary and high school levels. Her educational journey from Benito Juarez Community Academy to Georgetown University and the Harvard Graduate School of Education has provided her a national perspective on education with a local lens.