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Chicago Schools: What is involved and can President Obama's initiative help?

Hyde Park Academy High School is located at 6220 S Stony Island Ave Chicago, IL 60637. It is gang territory. President Obama originally came to Chicago seeking to change gun violence. There were and are naysayers about how much he will be able to do. Many of the kids say that no gang member is going to give up their guns and Obama can’t change that. The consensus is that nobody has a father figure who has stayed in their lives. “Why should they believe President Obama who won’t stay in their lives?

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“They’re not going to give up their guns. They're not going to even listen to Obama," said Brian Alexander, 16. "Some of them don't have a father in their lives, so why would they listen to the president, a man who's not in their lives either?"

There are several Chicago street gangs, each with its own territory. A Chicago Young Republicans article gave the names of some Chicago gangs. "Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Black P Stones, Vice Lords, Two-Six, Maniac Latin Disciples, Spanish Cobras, Four Corner Hustlers, and New Breeds". Perhaps there are more. All of these gangs are not around Hyde Park Academy, but it does show that there is a gang culture in Chicago no matter where you live. Thus many teens are extremely cautious.

In president Obama’s first visit to Chicago he concentrated on mass shootings and violence in communities. One of the problems he cited was that there was no hope. He was right about that. He said the result was “too many of our kids are being taken from us” He was right again. There is a sense of despair among the children.

1. Loss of hope; hopelessness.
2. Someone or something that causes hopelessness:
3. To lose, give up, or be without hope (often followed by of): to despair of humanity.

Despair is a state of mind. People who have always lived in poverty with parents who lived in poverty often see no chance of ever getting a decent job, leaving their poor neighborhood or getting an education. They are surrounded by drugs and gangs, and their parents may be addicts or non-responsive. A neighborhood gang can seem like the only real family they'll ever have. Joining a gang gives them a sense of belonging and being a part of something important that they can't get otherwise. In some cases, parents approve of their children joining gangs, and may have been a member of the same gang in the past.”

There is another element that is rarely spoken of. Even President Obama may not have considered this. Part of the problem is that many parents did not finish high school themselves. Often, they never got to high school. Chicago has elementary school drop-outs. A major reason is girls having boyfriends that are gang members. Students have claimed that they know not to say no to their partners. The result is girls leaving school in grades 7 or 8 because of pregnancy. They become parents who are not able to help their children because they really never grew up themselves. In addition, they are unable to help their children with school work because they never completed school. They dropped out at ages 12 or 13.

There are children in grade 8 with mothers who are 25, grandmothers who are 37 and great grandmothers not yet 50 years old. It is cyclical and results in generations of drop-outs, and ongoing hopelessness. In 1996 a very successful experiment was conducted in an elementary school located in the Bronzeville area of Chicago. Parents were given the opportunity to get their diplomas and assist volunteering teachers in the school. The project was partnered with another privateschool. However, parents can receive their diplomas under the Illinois School Code Authorization: 105 ILCS 5/26-1 seq

Illinois School Code Authorization 105 ILCS 5/26-1 et seq.: The Illinois Supreme Court held in 1950 that "private school" includes home-schooling if the teacher is competent, the required subjects are taught, and the student receives an education at least equivalent to public school. (People v Levisen 404 Ill. 574 (1950)). Home-based schools are exempt from accreditation. A public school cannot require a home school program to be “registered” or “recognized” through the State Board of Education since the School Code excludes home schools from this voluntary process. The individual school may decide on the assigning of credits or grade placement based on the home school curriculum, universal testing, or other universal screening method (105 ILCS 5/2-3.25o (e)).

This state code does not include parents. However, it gives leniency to private schools. The addition of an adult education program could only enhance things.

The outcome of the 1996 experiment was very positive. Parents were able to help their children and school behavior improved existentially. Some parents continued into college, others found jobs. Lives were changed. President Obama is on the money in his effort for change. Psychologists call it attitude inoculation. Self-help groups, like the one President Obama sat in are excellent. Students do grow from such groups. They solve the need to belong, which means the groups can replace gangs. They strengthen character and through testimonials let others know theirs is a shared experience. It must be noted that self-help groups work best when the participants really want to be there. Here is President Obama’s introduction to his new initiative and part of his testimony.

President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper
This program called “Becoming a Man.” (BAM). It's a program that Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced to me. And it helps young men who show a lot of potential but may have gotten in some trouble to stay on the right path.

“They get help with schoolwork, but they also learn life skills like how to be a responsible citizen, and how to deal with life’s challenges, and how to manage frustrations in a constructive way, and how to set goals for themselves. And it works. One study found that, among young men who participate in the BAM program, arrests for violent crimes dropped 44 percent, and they were more likely to graduate from high school. (Applause.)

‘So as Christian mentioned, during my visit, they’re in a circle and I sat down in the circle, and we went around, led by their counselor, and guys talked about their lives, talked about their stories. They talked about what they were struggling with, and how they were trying to do the right thing, and how sometimes they didn’t always do the right thing. And when it was my turn, I explained to them that when I was their age I was a lot like them. I didn’t have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

And I remember when I was saying this -- Christian, you may remember this -- after I was finished, the guy sitting next to me said, “Are you talking about you?” (Laughter.) I said, yes.”

Clearly it is important what parents think of themselves. In fact what children think of themselves is based in how parents ( or parental figures) think of themselves. Finally, what students think of their school is also quite important. Here are some comments by Hyde Park Academy students.

Posted December 20, 2012
For so many under represented black youths in Chicago, Hyde Park is one of many schools that accepts them no matter what their background is. It may not be always a good thing, but it gives them a chance - which is something we deserve. I graduated 2012 and I am proud to be a Hyde Parker. The school builds character is not for the weak hearted. You learn your place in society and how the world operates to make you better or worse. The counselor’s office and many of the coaches have been a great aid. They really want you to succeed and bring something back to let them know they did not fail. Because of that school I became a posse scholar and I attend the number four liberal arts college in the nation - Middlebury College. I owe my success to the students and staff of Hyde Park who inspired me in several ways to go beyond expectations set upon me and many others like me. For that I am indebted to Hyde Park and Thank You. Take Care. -Cheswayo Mphanza (C/O 2012)
—Submitted by a student

Posted May 4, 2011
I am a proud graduate of Hype Park Academy s class of 2010. I transferred to Hyde Park my senior year and it was completely different from what I was used to. Despite the difference I had an amazing time, the students were great, the teachers were great and the staff were great. HP is not perfect and like any school suffers from underfunding and lack of discipline. However, I feel that HP is doing the excellent due to the resources they are given. My sister now attends HP and she loves it as well!!!
—Submitted by a student

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