Friday, May 19, 2006

Big Picture Meeting

About 75 people attended a meeting at Big Picture last night to discuss the board's plan for the school. I think a number of the most vocal people there were parents of current 8th-graders who planned to attend Big Picture. Principal Alfredo Nambo says district officials have decided the school will not be allowed to take in 9th-graders next fall, but all the current students in grades 9,10, and 11 will be allowed to stay. I think that means through graduation, but I'm not sure. At first I thought only the 11th graders would be able to stay, but last night Alfredo assured everyone that all the current students will be staying on and not have to transfer. That's a big relief.

Alfredo says the school has decided not to fight the board's decision about stopping the flow of incoming freshmen, and instead staff will concentrate their efforts on making sure all the current students are succeeding. I can't argue with that, given what I'm seeing from Julian and Dawn. Julian is not succeeding, though he told me last night he's a lot more on top of his work this quarter than he has been in the past, and I'm glad to hear that. With about a 2.5 GPA, Dawn is doing OK but not great, and she needs to do great to have a shot at real success in college. I'm also disappointed that neither of them will be participating in an organized summer program. I know how hard it is to get kids to do that, but there are students going to Colorado, Montana, and other places and I was really hoping Dawn and/or Julian would be among them. Many factors are responsible for that, including their own lack of initative and my lack of being on top of them about getting it done, but I do wish the school was also more on top of them about applications. I was really hoping Dawn would do the Lincoln Park Zoo internship but we missed the application deadline and neither her advisor nor the LTI coordinator were on top of it. (I grant the LTI person was very new in the job at that point.)

The other Big Picture is in exactly the same boat. I think CPS is having a really hard time accepting how this model of education works when its own internal thrust is largely about test scores. While I can see that the execution of the model here needs work, if CPS had its eye on the most important indicators--dropout/graduation rate and college readiness--I think it would be a lot easier to find a meeting of minds. I also can't argue that it's not expensive. It is.

I also wish I could do more directly to be of help.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More Bad News

I got home from my trip Tuesday night. As usual, something always happens right when I get home that smacks me in the face to say. "Welcome back to the hood, b---h."

On Tuesday it was the cops stopping Julian and Chava four times in five minutes. Apparently someone was spotted with a gun on the south end of the block, and the boys had the misfortune of taking 51st to walk to the store. There were cop cars all over our block around 8:30.

I was at Dawn's house watching TV with her and her mom. Dawn saw the cars and went outside. "Ama! Donde esta Julian?" she called. Her mom flipped, not surprisingly. We all went out and she took the cell phone.

We could see them coming up the block, grinning sheepishly. Fortunately, they survived three pickups and pat-downs with no confrontations. The fourth one came while we were all standing in front of the house. A police car drove down the block the wrong way, flashing that outside searchlight thing into the yard.

"I hate that light," Chava muttered. (He's seen it all too often, I'm sure.)

The cops started driving away, slowly, then backed up and told the guys to come to the car. They patted them down and another car pulled up. I remember that one had two blonde female officers.

The boys were very polite. Everything was very low-key. The cops were not confrontational; they were very professional. But I have to say I was more than a little annoyed.

However, I was very polite. "These boys live here, officers," I said. "He lives here. This is his friend."

"Oh," said a cop. They wrapped up the pat-down quickly and left. White privilege at its finest--if you've got it, share it, I always say. :-)

Chava earned points for manners later on, it must be noted. "Thanks for trying to help us with the 5-0," he said.

Last night Julian and his mom got in a shouting match. He wanted to go out; his mom wanted him to stay in and do homework and not put himself at risk of getting picked up by cops. THey fought mostly in Spanish. Julian tried to enlist my aid by repeating himself in English, "It's five weeks til the end of the semester, right?"

"Yes," I said evenly, "but you need to be doing the work now." He stopped talking to me.

Teenage boys are just hard. I wish I knew how to help, but I really don't.

Really Bad News

The Big Picture High School in Back of the Yards is being threatened with closure. The Board of Education has told the school not to accept new freshmen for next fall. I'm told the current juniors will be able to stay and graduate in June of 07, but there's no word yet about what happens to the sophomores and freshmen, including Dawn and Julian.

My friend Mike Klonsky went ballistic over this on his blog, sparing me from having to do it here. Here's the link:

There's a meeting tonight at 6 at the school for parents and community to strategize.

I will tell you all that at the Neighborhood Housing Services board meeting last night I did not hear resounding support for saving Big Picture. The Peace and Education Coalition is focused on getting a new high school building in the neighborhood with enough space to serve a lot of kids, and frankly Big Picture has not been involved in the Coalition, so it hasn't won their backing. They've never been to a meeting, I've been told.

What I heard was a lot of griping--they don't serve many kids, how many of them are from the neighborhood anyway? (the first class had a lot from Little Village, which I think left a bad taste in some people's mouths) all the schools here need help, we need a real high school in here, etc. etc.

I tried to be sympathetic (and we do need a real high school, that will serve more kids--but it needs to be done right or it won't serve them well), but finally I told everyone in that room straight out: "My concern here is for the 80 kids in that building right now, especially for the two of them who live next door to me. If the school closes, what happens to them?"

One person said: "They'll transfer." Yes, probably to Richards, one of the worst high schools in the city. Great.

Another person said, more thoughtfully, "Probably if they have to transfer, a lot of them will drop out." Bingo.

I think I'm gearing up to pay tuition for Dawn to go to Our Lady of Tepeyac in Little Village. I don't know what to do about Julian. Frankly, I'm tempted to tell him to just goof around at Richards until he can drop out and go to Second Chance, where he might get some education. Ouch.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

DC Dispatch

This morning at the Senate's Dirksen building, the 8th-grade class from San Miguel School had coffee with Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama. I know because I was there.

I'm in DC for my sister's wedding, but had time this morning to go to the Illinois senators' weekly constituent coffee. When I walked in the door, I spotted one of the San Miguel teachers immediately. So funny! Last week a friend of mine told me there is a phrase for "small world" in Spanish which literally translates, "the world is a handkerchief."

There were at least five different school groups there, and one student from each group got to ask a question. One of the girls from San Miguel asked: "What will the final version of the immigration bill that comes out of the Senate look like?"

Dick Durbin took the question and said that it will have provisions for border enforcement, a path to citizenship (but a long and an arduous one, that not everybody will be able to complete), and that the version right now includes the DREAM Act, which would open opportunites for legal status for young people who finish high school, pass a criminal background check, and go to college or serve in the military.

Durbin also took a moment to talk up San Miguel. "I know that school. It's an excellent school in Back of the Yards. You are all lucky to be there." No foolin'. San Miguel in the house!! (Excuse me, make that San Miguel in the Senate!)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lawn Care Follies

Who knew lawn care had racial politics? (Well, anyone who watched the movie "A Day without a Mexican," but these racial politics didn't make it into that movie.)

Here's the politics of lawn care in my 'hood, racial or otherwise: I hired Junior's dad to do my lawn. As I suspected, I didn't understand the full implications of what I had done because I don't speak Spanish well enough to understand what I got into. So I found out tonight that I hired him for the season to take care of getting my yard and garden together.

But I didn't know I had done this on Sunday, when Mr. Worrisome and his brother showed up with a bunch of rolls of sod and tried to sell me some. They actually succeeded in selling me a few rolls.

"How much?" I asked Mr. W.
"A dollar seventy-five," he said.
"So, three for seven?" I said. (I was just ballparking and I knew it was a low-ball estimate.)
Mr. W's math isn't that great, or he just wanted to unload them. "Sure."

Later, Julian told me I could have gotten them for a dollar apiece from his uncle or cousin or something.

"I'm gonna marry you in two years," Mr. Worrisome informed me, once I had agreed to buy his sod. "We're going to Paris. You speak French?"

"Jai oubliee tout le francais," I told him. "That means, 'I forgot all the French.'"

"Guess I won't marry you, then," he said.

(Whew! I thought. That was easy.)

Mr Worrisome was all pissy about the fact he had tried to sell his crappy-ass, dried-out, yellow-grassed sod to Dawn's family, but they said no. "They have a relative who's in the business," I told him. It sort of shut him up.

Anyway, I spent seven bucks and they gave me four or five rolls, I think (more than I was expecting). We laid them on the bare spot in the front yard. "I'd rather just put down seed," I thought to myself.

"Some water and fertilizer, and they'll be green in no time," said Mr. W. Fat chance, I thought to myself.

So last night around midnight I was out in the yard and Julian and his mom were out. Julian wanted to know why I bought that crappy sod, so I explained as best I could, in Spanish for his and his mom's benefit. They informed me that they heard Mr. W is the child molester in that house. (Remember I said there was a sex offender in that house? I think it's not him, though--I think it's his even creepier brother or cousin or something.) Anyway, they got it that I was basically buying my way out of hassle from Mr. W.

However, tonight I had to explain the whole thing over again to Junior's parents. Rosa came over with Junior and Fernando to tell me that her husband had put out seed in the front yard and the sod on top of it would ruin it. So that's how I found out I have full-service lawn care for the entire season.

I had been hoping for a reason to get rid of that sod, so once Rosa gave it to me, I was ready to go. "Well, I'll throw it out then," I said, gesturing to show taking the sod to the garbage. I started rolling it up and spotted some earthworms on the backside, so I stopped and pulled one off and threw it back in my own grass. Rosa was so grossed out she had to turn her back and walk out of the yard! We were all laughing, even Daya's grandmother, a very serious-looking Mexican lady.

Marisol saved the sod from certain death. She was out with Daya and with her in-laws, who are here for the first time ever from a little town outside Guanajuato. Fernando, Danny and Oscar wanted to help move the sod. So between all of us (mostly me and Marisol) we got it over to her yard and rolled it out. Then her father-in-law got out the hose and started soaking it down. He looked like he was happy to have a project.

So now the sod has a home, my seed will sprout, and Mr. Worrisome got paid. A happy ending all around. Who says we can't all just get along?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tech troubles

OK, guys, I don't know why the main content is publishing so far down the page, and I've tried a few things to fix it that haven't worked (fiddled with settings, tried republishing the blog changing something from floating to fixed). Anway, if any tech geeks or fellow Bloggers have better ideas for me, I'm open.

Junior Reads!

Last night, for once, I got home early enough to hang out with Junior and Oscar. I got home about quarter of eight--so nice that it was still light out and had stopped raining and being cloudy! I invted them over, thenswigged down some OJ and ate some cold black beans with salt straight out of the Tupperware so I wouldn't starve while kicking around a soccer ball.

Fernando didn't have the best luck getting friends to come along. He tried Daniel but either he didn't want to or his mom wouldn't let him because it was late. Then he tried to get the boys down the block to come play but they weren't home. "Aren't they at Gage Park tonight?" I asked, having seen them play on Joey's team in the Park District league.

"Oh, yeah!" said Fernando.

"Why don't you play on that team?" I asked him. He said he used to play, but they lost a lot so he stopped.

Fernando had a lot of great questions for me last night, but we kept getting distracted so I never even really tried to answer them. "Why do the black people hate Mexicans? They want us to go back to Mexico. Even white people say that a lot of times," he observed.

I got as far as "some people are afraid that Mexican people who come to this country will take away jobs for people who are born here, or will work for less money than somebody born here would make," and then..

Oscar said, "I'm thirsty!"

And I said, "Want some orange juice?"

And he said, "Yeah!" and we went back in the house. I'll have to try again with Fernando some other time, maybe when his little brother isn't interrupting.

Oscar wanted to draw, so I got out some paper and my nice pastels. Fernando found my copy of Shel Silverstein's "A Light in the Attic."

"I know that book," he said. "Can I read it?"

"Sure," I replied. "Let's read it together."

So we read the poem about General Gore and General Clay who almost went to the beach instead of fighting their war, but bailed on the beach trip and killed each other instead. Fernando likes that one. He can read it pretty well. We did partner reading for fluency and he didn't even know.

Then I gave a dramatic reading of my favorite poem in there, "Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out." Oscar laughed at it, too.

Fernando wanted to borrow the book, so I loaned it to him. I'm going to get him "A Light in the Attic" for his birthday, which is next week, so we'll each have one in our respective houses.

Rosa came and got them around 8:30 because they had to take baths before bed and before school tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

CAPS & Research Link

I just found a link to the UIC study on immigration and its economic effects in Chicago:

By the way, in unrelated news--last night's CAPS meeting was attended by three people. No drama there. I heard there was a non-fatal shooting last Thursday night and the police recovered the van from which the shots were fired. The sergeant tells me they are pretty sure who did it, but because it was gang-related the victim will not be wiling to testify so they are just waiting for the next wave of retaliations before they can arrest anyone. Nasty.

What to Do

OK, guys, not to turn this into a political blog, but after reading a lot of uninformed or badly informed posts at Gaper's Block and the Chicago Tribune (Eric Zorn's blog and comments), I have found exactly one post that gets at the real issue with immigration. It's from someone with the handle kds:

>Everyday, I work with individuals who are in the process of immigrating to this country legally. >It is an expensive and time consuming process, with artificial quotas that make it extremely >difficult for individuals from certain countries to be able to work here or gain permanent >residency through legitimate channels. I think the only way we can stem illegal immigration, is >to increase the availability of legitimate immigration into this country. Create laws that more >readily allow workers from Latin America (and the rest of the world) to enter the U.S. to work >and then strictly enforce deportation laws against those who are here illegally.

I would add that in the Mexican case we exacerbate the immediate problem by promoting free trade through NAFTA which has had the short-term effect of destroying local agriculture, leaving small farmers broke. (Think the 80s farm crisis here when people were shooting themselves. Then imagine living somewhere where you can't get a job at McDonald's or the gas station because there isn't one.) My economist friend who is smarter than I am says it will take 50 years for Latin America to develop economies strong enough to discourage economic migration. So what will we do in the meantime?

The net economic gain or loss from illegal immigrants to this country is hotly disputed. Someone on Gaper's Block pointed to the Center for Immigration Studies, which describes itself as "pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted." Apparently their stats say that illegal immigration is an economic loss for the country, but they count children of illegal immigrants, who are U.S. citizens, as part of the cost, which I think is at least debatable.

Last night on TV I saw UIC expert Nik Theodore quoted as saying his research indicates illegal immigrants are a net gain for the state of Illinois. Many people complain about illegals who don't pay taxes, but more do than I think is commonly acknowledged, frankly because many are working using fake Social Security cards, which means they pay into the system and take out nothing. (Not that I think using a fake SSN is so great, but that's what happens when it is done.) What is also well known is that illegal immigrants are much less likely then U.S. citizens of similar income to use social services like Medicaid, food stamps, etc. The one place where I would agree they are a cost is on medical services for the uninsured, but since we can't seem to insure 44 million people in this country, if 12 million of them are all the illegal immigrants we've got, I think there's a bigger problem than immigration at work on access to medical care.

For an on the ground perspective, there is no question in my mind that illegal immigrants are a net asset in my neighborhood. Most of the people standing on the corner selling drugs, pimping and prostituting themselves publicly on my block are U.S. citizens. Most of the people who keep their kids in the house and work jobs are not. (There are exceptions on both sides, but I'm calling it like I see it here.) And I'll save my post about what's going on with the U.S. citizens in my hood for another day.

Anyway, I'm spouting today, but here's my take in a nutshell. The U.S. has a big red tape problem with what legal immigration is and how to do it. The problem is, as often has been true in the past, we have country quotas that don't correspond to where the demand to get here is coming from. And because the high demand is from people with darker skins, we don't want to change the quotas, except maybe when they hold a master's degree in computer science,but I think we don't even have enough H-1 visas to satisfy the demand for highly-skilled workers, right? Anyway, we do a fine job of creating economic conditions around the globe that make it much more difficult for people to earn a good living in their home countries, then we act all pissy when they want to come here and make a better life for their children, just as people have been doing in this country for two hundred years and more. That doesn't seem fair to me.

I see nothing wrong with the McCain-Kennedy plan to give people who have been here for years a way to legalize themselves. They go to the end of the line to get a green card, they don't butt in front of people who made it through the red tape maze legally, they learn English, they pay a fine. Who among us has not paid a speeding or a parking ticket in their lifetime? Let that person cast the first stone about illegal immigration.

And I really support the DREAM Act, which would make it possible for illegal immigrants who arrived here as children, like Dawn, Joey, Danny, Junior, Oscar, Julian, probably Chava, and most of the kids you've read about on this blog, to get financial aid to go to college and to apply for legal status once they've completed two years. If we don't do something to make it possible for young kids who were brought here from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries to make a life for themselves in the U.S., we're creating a generation of gangbangers with no future. We're wasting a ton of intellectual potential. And don't talk to me about deporting them. They grew up here. As one other smart poster somewhere said this morning, "They're more American than any immigrant will ever be."

Monday, May 01, 2006

La Segunda Marcha

Around 12:30 this afternoon, a bunch of us here at my office were staring out the window, craning our necks northward to Jackson Boulevard, where the street was blocked off and a motorcade of unmarked police cars was leading today's march for immigrant rights. The crowd was still coming, three hours later.

If that wasn't half a million people, I'll eat my sombrero.

I took my lunch hour to go out and see the crowd. There was a large contingent of organized Muslims, with placards saying "Unite Families" on one side and "Muslims Support the American Dream" on the other. I also spotted Korean drummers, Irish and Polish contingents carrying flags, a couple of my Catholic Worker pals on bicycles, Fr. Bruce and Sister Angie from Holy Cross, and some friends with kids at Pierce Elementary on the North Side, where 150 kids and parents took off. (And that is a pretty muticultural school.)

Last night I was walking down 47th Street and saw lots of signs in the windows announcing stores would be closed today to honor the marchers and their efforts. When I got home, Julian and Chava were out on the front porch next door. They said they were going today. I was so sad to see so many friends but not run into my neighbors. Well, even my luck running into people at demonstrations could run out in a crowd of half a million.

Some more sights: t-shirts with an Uncle Sam-style fist and finger pointing, but words that said: "Hey, Pilgrim! Who you calling illegal!"

A Mexican-American guy taking pictures with his cell phone at the corner of Jackson and Michigan. "Since this whole thing came up, I've been taking some crap at work, but I just tell the guys, 'I'm a Buckeye from Ohio, born and bred,'" he told me. He was surprised I knew enough Spanish to explain "Si se puede" to another bystander.

People chanting the "USA! USA!" cheer. It's the first time ever I've been psyched about cheering "USA" --usually those folks are morons at football games or something.

A few signs saying: "The giant wasn't sleeping, the giant was working," in both English and Spanish.

Windy Citizen Share