Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The ISAT Is Coming

This year's ISAT testing will run March 3-14. Make that March 4 here in Chicago, since we all love Pulaski Day.

I just realized that might have something to do with why two parents I don't know so well approached me in the last week about tutoring their kids. They seemed like they wanted to set up regular gigs, and I'm not able to be very regular about homework help. I gave one mom a couple of numbers to programs I know of in the neighborhood: The Mantle and Holy Cross.

The dad seemed like he wanted to look for some counseling for his son, too. UIC's Mile Square Health Center will be opening a clinic here in the neighborhood very soon, and it will have mental health services, I understand. When I know more, I'll post more. I know his kid better, so we'll see if he wants to bring homework over some time when I am more free than I am this week.

If either of these parents thought I could work a miracle for their kids on the ISAT, they are sadly mistaken. One of them is in danger of failing, apparently. The parent was just up at school recently and got the word.

I know the board has material for parents of kids in 3rd, 6th and 8th grade about testing, and I know some schools and some neighborhoods break it down for parents at least a little earlier in the year than this. I'll have to remember this for next year. Maybe this would be a way to get people together for coffee--here's what you need to know about school this year.

Dorothy's Tour of Cook County: First Hospital, Then Jail

Dorothy just got out of jail. She didn't even have to be in there! There was an outstanding warrant for her because she missed a court date when she was hospitalized recently. Some cops must have seen her on the street, stopped her, and found the warrant in the system. So she spent three or four days in jail until she could get in front of the judge and say she missed her court date because she was in Stroger Hospital.

When she was in Stroger, a nurse gave her $40 on her last day so she could buy her prescriptions. Even at Stroger you have to pay something, even if you ain't got nothin'. She had six prescriptions to fill and they were $6 a piece, I gather. So she got them and a pack of Depends. Then she got busted and didn't have her medicine with her in jail. She looks too skinny right now--her cheekbones are sticking out.

At the Dominick's, last I recall, a box of Depends was about ten bucks. (Maybe Stroger has a deal on Depends, too.) She lucked out--I had a ten in my purse. "When can I come do some work?" she asked.

Tony just did all the snow, I thought. "Tomorrow. You can take out the trash." I haven't even taken out the kitchen or the upstairs bathroom trash for a week, between the cold and the snow and trying to work on a project. It's cold, she might as well come in and warm up for a minute. "Come around 12:30. You can take out the trash and we'll have lunch."

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Visit Next Door

It's been a long time since I just stopped by to hang out next door. This afternoon when I got home from the eyeglass place Dawn was outside. "Are you going to work, or are you home?"

"I'm home," she said.

"Good. I have something for you. Let me go get it." I went in and got her W-2. She and I went in her house together. It's nice in there now that the heater is fixed. They put the furniture back in the living room.

Dawn's mom had made beef stew with vegetables. She invited me to have some. It was good, especially on a sleety winter afternoon. We watched the weather report predicting lots of snow.

Joey wanted to go to the gym at San Miguel with a friend. Mom freaked out about him walking over there by himself. He explained he was going to walk to the friend's house and then the friend's mom would drive them to the gym, but she still had a freakage. They got into a shouting match and Joey was ready to leave the house with or without Mom's permission.

I suggested that if Joey waited until I finished my soup, I'd walk him over to his friend's house (and even to the gym if necessary--I didn't quite catch everything that was going on--the ride from the friend's mom became apparent to me later). Mom thought that was OK and so did Joe, although he was impatient to get going. He went down to Peter Pan's house to see if he wanted to go, but I guess he didn't find him.

We walked over to Hermitage to the friend's house. At Paulina, another friend of his, Frizzy (I'll call him, for his hair) was out on the street kicking a soccer ball by himself. Despite the freezing rain, Frizzy was out in shorts and sneakers with no socks. Joey kicked it back and forth with him a couple of times, then we went on to Paulina. During our walk, Joey told me school is "good and bad." Good: the only thing that is boring right now is math; everything else is interesting. "I'm not bored," he said. Bad: math is boring.

"Boring because it's too hard and you don't get it, or boring because it's easy, or just boring?"

"Boring," he said. "I don't like it."

He has a new friend whom he does like, who apparently went from new bad boy to student of the month in no time flat. This led Joey into a reflection on the mystery of how you get to be student of the month, which I don't understand any better than he does. He was up for it once for improvement but he didn't get it.

"You're always my student of the month," I said, "and for real, this month you're the art student of the month."

"Yeah." His mom's car died so Medicine Man will have to get him there this week.

We got to the friend's house. He went to the side to knock. I waited. He came back and said the friend wasn't going tonight because his mom's work schedule had changed and she wouldn't be able to pick him up. So we walked back together.

"I'm going to play soccer with my friend. He'll be there," Joey told me.

"OK," I said. I decided to blow off working at home and just hang out and watch them play. When we got back to Paulina, Frizzy had already found some other friends to play, and they were kicking it in front of Big Picture. Joey jumped right in.

"Ma-ritza! Is that you hangin' on the corner?" It was Tony.

I laughed. "Oh, yeah, that's me, just hanging on the corner."

Later, some cops apparently thought I was hanging on the corner. I got the bright light in my face. I guess they decided a lone white female didn't fit the description of whatever.

I mostly stayed out of the kids' way, but if the ball came my way I kicked it back to them. A couple of other kids playing knew me and said hi. One of Peter Pan's little brothers was there. He said he had to go home at six, so I decided to stick around until then and see whether Joey would go home, too. I didn't want his mom to think I'd abandoned him.

Sometimes it was sleeting, sometimes it wasn't. Frizzy went after the ball when it went in a giant puddle. He didn't mind sticking his sockless foot in there after it. Yow.

Tony had noticed Frizzy earlier. "I saw that kid in shorts and no socks," he said. "Man, when I was younger...not any more!"

Sure enough, at 6 p.m. a mom came out from the next block down on Paulina and started calling for a couple of the kids. "It's six o'clock," I said. Peter Pan's brother took off, and Joey came along. The three of us walked back to Marshfield together.

I went back in the house with Joey because I hadn't gotten to talk with Dawn, which was the original point of the whole endeavor. She was in the bathroom when I came in, and that could be a long bath, but I hung out anyway and played peek-a-boo with Angel.

Dawn's mom asked me about how to get child support. I don't know the law that well, but I gave her some names of people to talk to. She said she had talked with Mujeres Latinas en Accion a little bit. I hope she keeps talking to them; they know a lot more than I do.

Dawn came out of the bathroom, went in her room a got a big broken piece of mirror, then came and sat on the sofa and trimmed her eyebrows. Apparently that was an old mirror of Joey's that broke, but hers is broken, too. She says her hand mirrors break, too. Cheap mirrors? Bad luck (superstition!)? Who knows?

Dawn stopped working at the dollar store recently because she has to make up credit for a class she failed at semester. With all the drama she's been through, I was grateful to hear she only has one class to make up. I guess the good part is maybe I will see her more often.

While I was there, her dad stopped by. I felt really weird being there but I also felt weird getting up and leaving right away, so I just said hi and stayed put. He went right to Angelito, then went back to Joey's room and gave him a hug. Dawn just kept on trimming her eyebrows, and her mom disappeared into the kitchen until he was done greeting his sons.

Eventually, Dad went out in the garage (he came back later with a toolbox). While he was gone, Joey came in the living room and kissed his little brother's tummy--he still likes to do that--then found a chair with wheels, took his mom's arm, and started pulling himself back and forth, gently. "It's my exercise," he joked in English, for my benefit. Mom was feeding Angel some baby food.

Joey went to hug his mom and Angel started crying. We all laughed at his classic display of sibling rivalry. I told a story about the time when my youngest sister asked my mom, "Are you all my mommy?" Then Joey hugged his mom again and she hugged back. Angel, who had been playing with his mom's cell phone, dropped it on her head. We could tell he didn't mean it to hurt as much as it did, but at least I couldn't tell if he'd done it on purpose as a reaction to the hug or if it just happened.

Maybe Mom couldn't tell either. She tried an experiment. She hugged Dawn (which Dawn accepted with kind of an amused smile). Angel dropped the cell phone on her again, but not as hard--she had also wisely put her back to him. We all cracked up laughing.

Then I realized they were all there and I haven't put many pictures in my cell phone since I lost the old one in November and got a replacement. So I took a cell phone photo of all of them on the sofa, everybody but Dad and Julian, Jr. It didn't come out great, but it seemed like everybody had fun doing it.

Earlier, Mom had told me if she doesn't start working soon, she'll lose the house. School Lady has hooked her up with a cooking job somewhere up on North Avenue and she can get a ride there with her. Mom also said when she's ready to look for new places to live she wants me to drive. "Para servirle/at your service," I said, and saluted her. She giggled.

Car Crashes into Little Caesars Pizza

About 4:15 p.m. this afternoon a car crashed into the front window of the Little Caesars Pizza place in Bishop Plaza at 47th and Bishop. Apparently, the woman driving the car had a seizure and passed out behind the wheel in the parking lot. Her car hit at least one other vehicle before crashing into the window and stopping against the metal window frame. It appears the car didn't hit anyone, thank goodness.

I happened to be in the eyeglass place next door when it happened. Everyone was crowding to the front windows and shouting. At first I thought it was another shooting about to happen, so I went to the back of the store and hid behind a display for a minute or two. When I realized it was a car crashing into something, I still wondered if it was gangbangers trying to get somebody.

One of the eyeglass people called 911. At first someone opened the car door and seemed like they were trying to get her out. A bunch of other bystanders called out, "Don't touch her! Let the paramedics do it!" which is the right answer, because if she had a neck or back injury (which seemed very possible) moving her could make it worse. The firefighters and an ambulance arrived within minutes. Somehow a rumor spread that she had been to a clinic at UIC earlier that day.

This poor shopping plaza seems cursed. The woman who rang up my total for glasses told me she was there back in the fall when the shooting happened. It was the first week the store was open. "I'm still a little shellshocked," she said.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Feels Like Summer!

Well, almost. Just being able to walk to and from church this morning without putting the hood up on my jacket felt like spring.

Late this afternoon, some Bradys and a couple of their cousins (I think) showed up to play soccer in the backyard. The yard was still half frozen, and to avoid hitting the composter we set the goals up on the snowy part. "Is this soccer or ice skating?" I asked.

"Maybe both," said the one in the red jacket. She wanted to be on my team, so we played girls against boys for a while (we had three on a side). It got pretty silly with all the slipping and sliding going on. There were a couple of times after a goal when we all just stood around laughing for about a minute before we started up again. They usually involved one or both of the older guys falling down on the packed, icy snow. They didn't seem to mind.

A couple of houses north, one of the guys was breaking out the grill. He must have used a bottle of lighter fluid, based on the giant plume of flame going up over there. "If there's barbecue and soccer, it must be summer," I called over.

"Want me to bring you some fire?" he asked.

"I think we're doing OK," I answered. The kids' cheeks were all rosy.

At some point we mixed up the teams--I got the two younger boys and the oldest boy took goalie for the other side with his sister and his cousin. We played for about 45 minutes, until everybody's coordination started falling apart, after they met their quota of falls or balls hitting them in the head or the face.

Julian came out the back door of his house and asked if I had the keys to the parking pad gate padlocks. I did. His dad's cars are still back there and he was going to work on one of them. He and his mom went to talk to his probation officer last week about getting permission to move to Indiana to work construction. I hope it works out for him.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Economics, Macro and Micro

I'm not going to bother linking to any of the dismal stories about the current state of the national economy. But I'll link to this piece from Crain's about how the credit crunch deep-sixed a Loop office building deal.

Meanwhile, here in the neighborhood, signals are mixed. The Goldblatt's renovation continues, Park Federal Savings Bank's new branch is almost finished, and there were plenty of shoppers at the Home Depot on 47th and Western last Saturday. More importantly, rumor had it the Farmer's Best grocery store at 47th and Bishop would close in the wake of a gang shooting there last fall. So far, they are still open and still drawing customers, so perhaps they were talked out of it.

But the Neighborhood Housing Services branch office on 47th is getting a lot of business, too, mostly from people trying to prevent their house from being foreclosed. Normally I would cheer for more NHS business, but I'd like to see that business in home purchase and rehab loans, not in foreclosure prevention. Frankly, by the time most people seek help, it's often too late to work out a deal with the bank.

To its credit, NHS has been in this business for a few years now. In 2002, NHS and the City of Chicago launched the Homeownership Preservation Initiative, or HOPI. HOPI's goals are to work with lenders and homeowners to avoid foreclosure where possible. If a house is foreclosed, NHS can acquire it through HOPI and resell it to a qualified first-time buyer, thus preserving housing stock and reducing vacant housing and the crime it draws. For more about HOPI and how it works, click here.

My hope is that because this neighborhood was one of the last to get on the economic boom, it'll also take a while for the bust to catch up with us. In real estate, I think bargain hunters will still be looking around here. There's a brand-new house nearby for sale; if you're looking, email and I'll give you the number to call for more info.

My fear is that the slowdown in construction will dry up jobs that keep a lot of people here employed. To sound like Andy Rooney at the end of 60 Minutes, dja ever notice that economic slowdowns always seem to happen just when they are finally starting to help really poor people? Dja ever wonder why it works that way?

Tons of Fun News!

Dawn's house has heat! Hurray! I stopped in very briefly this morning and the heat was on. My friends' nephew had come yesterday. Dawn's mom was about to sit down with a family counselor I think Big Picture helped her contact, so I got out of the way.

More books got distributed today--yay! It was awfully fun to walk around giving people books today. The upper grade English teacher was really happy to see some brand-new books for independent reading. She had a class set of Adaline Falling Star in her window sill waiting for repairs. All but one of them were completely beaten up: covers torn, pages dog-eared. Clearly they had been well-loved by previous readers. The book came out in 2000, but I would have guessed they were 15 years old by their appearance. She was planning to try to repair the covers and binders as best she could. She also had a new class set of another book waiting for plastic covers in hopes of preventing such mutilation down the road.

I had another batch for the Chavez main campus. The teacher leader there was pleasantly surprised that most of them were nonfiction for younger readers. Later I stopped by Big Picture and San Miguel. At San Miguel I met the librarian, who was delighted. "Any time you get more, come on by," she said.

This afternoon, I went to the big dollar store south of 51st, and discovered School Lady's oldest daughter works there. She told me her youngest sister has been bugging her to take her to the library, but she hasn't had time to go. So I went over there and handed her a bagful. She brought out a puppy for me to pet. His eyes were open this time.

Finally, I had saved all the Spanish-language ones for the Bradys--they have primary grade and younger kids in the house who don't know much English yet, and it will help strengthen both their Spanish and their general literacy to read and be read to in Spanish. The way their mom's eyes lit up when she saw Spanish-language books last fall make me think either she or the older kids will be reading those to the youngest ones. So I took the new, smaller batch (maybe eight or so) and handed them to one of the boys, who had spotted me on the street, grabbed his coat and ran over to pick them up. I wasn't sure if he was more excited about the book or the excuse to be outside after all the crummy weather we've been having. However, he took them back down the street, and when I came back outside, he and his sisters were letting their friends from up the block each pick one they liked. The boy chose one about animal fur and skin; the girl picked a book about how to grow seeds.

So now I just have about half a dozen books left for Mr. Worrisome's nephew and niece.

Alternative High School Registration Open

At today's Peace and Education Coalition meeting, everyone was encouraged to let any teenagers looking to go back and finish high school to sign up at Dugan and Second Chance alternative high schools by March 14. Young people between the ages of 17 and 21 who have dropped out of high school and want to try again for their diploma are invited to register.

Right now, 35 of the 100 students now attending both schools are expected to graduate this June. So plenty of spaces will be opening up.

You can download applications for Dugan, at 4541 S. Wood, here.

For more information on Second Chance, at 5114 S. Elizabeth, check out their web site, but I think you'll have to call for application info.

The Gift That Kept on Giving

On Sunday, Dorothy showed up while I was unloading book boxes from the back of Medicine Man's station wagon. She helped me bring them in.

"Why don't you pick out some books for your niece's kids?" She liked that idea. I got her a plastic bag and she picked out some books. I saw her out on the street with the bag the next day.

Last night she ran into me at the corner. "You know those kids over there?" she said, pointing kitty-corner across the street. "I gave them those books, and they said to tell you they want more."

So I put down my groceries in the house, picked out a bagful of books and went over. The people who live there have two grandchildren who stay with them. We'll call them Nay-Nay and Brandon. There were four or five adults sitting around the kitchen table. Their mother was at the head. We hadn't met before.

"Can you make sure they are always first in line when you have books?" she asked, but in a commanding tone. I saluted her and said "aye-aye" but with my fingers crossed behind my back, since so many kids here need books. But these two are high on the list.

"Fantastic Four!" one of the guys at the opposite end of the table cried. He looked about as excited as Brandon was.

They wanted more books with black people in them, of course. When I bought books last fall I looked for them, but this time I had to take what I was given. There were a few in there, but not enough.

The kids asked to come back to my house and look through the boxes themselves. I said yes. "Strawberry Shortcake!" yelled Nay-Nay. She cleaned me out, saying she would give the extra copies to friends at school. That seemed like a good idea. Peer-to-peer distribution seems like it would be most effective.

They ended up taking about half the books with them, in two boxes. While holding both boxes, Brandon fell on the ice while I was trying to get the gate open, but he was OK. I told him to stop being a macho man and let us carry them. His sister and I each took a box for about half a block, then he took the heavy one back and she took the lighter one.

Brandon wants to bake cookies this weekend, or at least get a recipe. A recipe I can manage for sure. I need to clean house before we take on a baking endeavor.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Junior Gets a High School

My apologies for all my fretting at the UIC/Noble people. They came through on the promise that wait-listed students would be offered admission at other Noble Network schools.

Yesterday, Junior came over with a letter from Noble Network offering him admission at his choice of Golder College Prep, Rauner College Prep or Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy. Whoo-hoo! "Yeah, my mom was pretty excited," he said.

Even though we have neighbors who go to Rauner, given his mom's concerns that he'll get lost on a complicated route to school, I suggested they go with Golder. He'd just have to take the Ashland bus farther north than if he had gone to UIC, but he wouldn't have to transfer to another bus or train.

Free Books!

Thanks to Rebecca Janowitz for donating four boxes of leftover books from the Hyde Park Children's Book Fair for distribution around the neighborhood. Yes, the Bradys eagerly picked up a few. So did Ms. Ribs' grandson, who is an avid reader in second grade. Grandma Ribs suggested he write a paragraph for her when he finishes each book so she'll know what it's about, too. (Grandma was on the LSC at Gage Park High School back in the day, can you tell?)

Little Grandbaby Ribs informed me he is cutting his video game time back to just 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night. He heard too much gaming messes up your hands.

The Ribs' next-door neighbors have two grandsons, who happened to be out front of their grandparents' house when I was about to ring the Ribs' bell. Those boys picked out some books for themselves, too.

Of course the Bradys have had an initial raid, but when they stopped by yesterday I had only brought the first box in. Junior and his brother were here then, too. They all picked out books and the younger kids played a version of Memory with really pretty animal cards while I worked with Junior on his history fair report. Junior and bro came back today for more report research, and they both picked out more books. There was even a baby book in Spanish for their soon-to-arrive little brother.

I'll save some for the Bradys, School Lady's kids, a couple more kids on the next block up, and the little guy a couple of houses north. His aunt is worried about him. She saw me on Ashland last night and told me, "He's not learning anything in school." Looks like we'll talk on Wednesday, when she's off work.

The rest I think can be split up among Chavez, Big Picture, San Miguel and Second Chance. I think there's enough books for people of all different ages and reading levels to go around.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

US Energy Savings Gas Scam: Beware!

Canvassers for US Energy Savings took a stroll down Marshfield Avenue a few weeks ago--probably in mid-January, but in case they are still lurking around our neighborhood or either nearby communities, here's the word: Just say no!

When they rang my doorbell, a lady with a clipboard gave me a sales pitch about how this new company could save me a lot of money on my gas bill. She asked to see my gas bill to determine whether I was eligible. I thought this was fishy but I also thought there might be something to it with all the deregulation going on these days, and she already knew my address, so I let her see the bill.

Of course, she decided I was eligible and asked me to sign up on the spot. "No, I never sign anything without checking it out first," I said, so she gave me a blue flyer with her name and "independent contractor ID number", plus a phone number and email for the company.

Today I got an email from friends in Little Village warning that in fact, consumers are likely to be charged hundreds of dollars more for gas than if they stayed with Peoples. For more on this, check out the Citizens Utility Board

The CUB web site has English and Spanish language flyers you can download and pass around to friends and neighbors. It also lists Do Not Market numbers to keep your account out of the hands of scammers like this. The number for Peoples Gas is

Also, my friends in La Villita warn that some of these canvassers practice "slamming," where they sign you up for the service whether you wanted it or not, by getting your account number from your gas bill. Ouch! Don't let that happen to you!

Apparently, even nuns aren't safe from these unscrupulous salespeople, according to last Tuesday's Tribune.

Now they are in the 12th Ward. Last year, Ald. Cardenas passed out warning flyers across the ward. My Little Village contact has asked him to do it again. I hope more aldermen will follow the example.

In the mean time, if you have any questions or comments for US Energy Savings, or just want to give them a piece of your mind, you can call them at 1.888.674.7847 or email

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hard Times Come Again No More

This is Nanci Griffith's beautiful rendition of "Hard Times" with striking photos. It's long, six minutes, but if you watch it, maybe you could spend those minutes in prayer/good thoughts for Dawn and her family. See why below.

Hard Times Next Door

Hard times, hard times come again no more
Many days you have lingered
Around my cabin door;
Oh, hard times come again no more

On Monday night I went by Dawn's house to see her mother. Times are very hard there.

Her dad moved out of the house, I think in late January. He couldn't take Dawn's and Julian's problems any more, her mother told me. Apparently mothers don't get such choices.

When I walked in the house, their living room was cold and drafty and the TV and sofa had been moved further inside, into the dining room. They had hung up a quilt between the living and dining rooms to block the draft. Dawn's mom told me there was a problem with the furnace and they were using space heaters. This is a big and very common problem in the neighborhood, and it causes a lot of fires in the winter.

I sat down on the sofa with Mom and little Angelito, who is almost one and a half now. He's talking a little in Spanish, but I don't understand his speech very well yet. Pretty soon Mom was in tears. She hasn't worked outside the home in more than a decade. So far Dad is putting in some money for the mortgage and food for the kids, but she's afraid that won't last. Big Picture is helping her do the forms for food stamps and CEDA, which helps poor people keep their gas and electric service going.

Yesterday? Tuesday? I forget-- Dad was on the street while I was clearing snow. He was dropping off Joey and Angelito after spending some time with them. He says he's still going to do the fence between our houses--he's still waiting for materials from Indiana. So at least he hasn't totally vanished from his sons' lives. Joey has a good relationship with his dad and I'd like to see them keep it together if possible.

I know it was Tuesday that I went to see my friends from St. Joseph's to get some help with the furnace. (The husband in that couple had come out last winter at my request.) This time they thought the furnance needed a real pro. Fortunately, the wife's nephew is certified in furnace maintenance and repair. He was willing to donate the labor; I said I'd pay for parts if any were needed. He was supposed to go there yesterday. Nobody called me so I hope that means it went OK. We can't have their house blowing up--that would be bad for my property values, not to mention my property, life and limb.

Dawn is working after school and weekends in a dollar store in the neighborhood. Looks like she's the main breadwinner right now. She is still going to school. We still haven't had more than a passing phone conversation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

High School Sweepstakes Update

In the interests of transparency, I thought I'd let you all know how things have gone with the 8th graders on my block in the high school sweepstakes so far.

8th graders I know here: Junior, Danny, School Lady's daughter, former Noble Neighborhood daughter, a Brady, and F., a guy I barely know and have to knock on the basement window of his family's apartment to talk to. I feel like there are a couple more 8th-graders on this block that I'm forgetting. So we'll say I've had some contact with 6 out of 8.

Five of the six went with me to the high school fair and at least got some information and exposure there. Four of the six got applications from me for Perspectives Math & Science Academy. Two got them back--one in time for the lottery (coming on Friday) and one got it back to me too late and will go straight to the wait list.

One, Junior, actually got an application for UIC College Prep (Noble) and went in the lottery. He is now wait listed. The Brady girl has older sisters at another Noble school, so she gets automatic admit to a Noble. I'm not sure if she's planning to go to UIC or to the same school her sisters attend (it's farther away). Former Noble Neighborhood daughter and her mom tried to come to the UIC College prep info session but they got lost and we didn't connect by phone. Danny is still waiting to hear from Curie and Whitney Young.

Results; one of six is for sure in a school to which I'd send my own kid if I had one. One more is waitlisted at one charter and still has a shot at another. One more is waitlisted at one charter and waiting to hear about a public school she might be OK at (Kennedy). One more might get into Curie if we're damn lucky. Two are AWOL--one of them I might be able to get waitlisted at Noble and Perspectives, but who knows how much good that will do. So the block is one for eight, and that's one I certainly can't claim my efforts had any effect on.

What can I say about what has worked? Parents who are on top of education (i.e. the Bradys) do have more success. Some parents can be worried into it--like Junior's mom, who is worried sick about him. Despite all the crises in her life right now, she made it a priority to get his stuff done, and I was able to help (like getting Junior to write his application essay, which was no small feat). But other parents want to be on top of the process and I am the flaky one--the former Noble neighborhood people, School Lady. I wasn't as organized or consistent about getting them timely information as one could be, and they suffered as a result.

Now let's talk about the schools and the process. It is abundantly clear that some charter schools are much easier to access than others. If you want an application for Perspectives, you go to their web site, download one and fill it out. That can be a stretch for parents who lack Internet access or the knowledge to go there, but with a helping hand from somebody (a friend/neighbor, ideally the school counselor--hello!) that could be figured out.

Noble, by contrast, makes it much harder to get an application--the kid and a parent have to show up in person at a meeting, some of which were held during regular working hours. It was pretty hard to find the schedule of meetings, too--at least it took me a while and I like to think I'm pretty savvy. Then the application required an essay with a word length, and they checked. So anybody who gets in that lottery has already shown a pretty high level of both persistence and intellectual skill (this goes for both the kid and the parent). At the lottery last night, they passed out the entire list of eligible applicants by name and current elementary school. No surprise, many were from magnets, classical & gifted schools and some from Catholic and other private schools. I've heard rumors that charters get a list of high achieving 8th graders from which to recruit, but I frankly doubt that is necessary. All those parents know how the game is played and are playing 100 percent for their kid. That's enough.

Now for what the elementary schools here are doing. At the UIC lottery last night I counted 30 kids from Seward on the list. Junior was the only one from Chavez. I know that both the Seward counselor and a teacher over there have worked really hard to make sure kids know their options. The teacher even drove kids and parents to UIC info sessions so they could get applications. I'll have to try to deepen relationships at Chavez for next year so our kids have a better chance.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What's Going in the Goldblatt's Building?

Last Friday I finally heard something about what's going in the Goldblatt's. I was walking east on 47th to the Ashland bus stop and passed a construction crew. One guy was on the street directing coworkers on a scaffold. I asked him in English what was going to go in the building, but it became clear he didn't understand the question. So I tried again in Spanish and he said muebleria/furniture store.

This is very interesting since the Aronson's Furniture place just went out of business. I don't know whether it's good we're getting another store to replace that one or if it's a bad sign for that furniture store that the other one folded. I guess we'll see.

UIC/Noble Lottery Tonight

Well, things did not go so well for Junior tonight in the UIC College Prep admissions lottery. He got pulled out of the golden raffle bin at number 96 of 198. Another 230 kids got pulled ahead of the wait list and won admission on the spot. Ouch.

To save you doing the math, that meant there were 428 applicants for 230 spaces, or almost two kids for every slot.

Goint there, it was snowing hard and even under long johns my legs stung from the cold while walking over to the Behavioral Sciences building from the Ashland bus. I was glad Junior and his mom had not come. She just got off bed rest-she didn't need to be out in that weather.

About 200 people showed up--on a rough head count, 80 percent were Latino, 20 percent African American. I saw two white families in the crowd and one other white lady by herself, like me. She picked up a letter for a winning student with a Latino name, so I wondered whether she was his mother or just another do-gooder like yours truly.

They showed some stats on a projector before the lottery started. Significantly more girls than boys applied, though I no longer remember the exact numbers.

If I were a parent, I could not have stood the agony of waiting to see whether my kid got picked, nor the disappointment when he didn't. This is a very strong impetus to get involved with the plans for a new neighborhood high school, I'll tell you.

There are two possibilities still on the table. First, it looked like many applicants, and many of those chosen, were from magnets and gifted centers, so this may have been their insurance policy in case they didn't get into a selective enrollment school. So some number of those admitted probably won't take the offer, which means some wait-list kids will get in. However, I doubt that will get us to number 96.

More encouraging is Noble Network's promise that the kids on the UIC College Prep wait list will be invited to take open slots at other Noble Network Schools. They have a couple of schools that don't have a full 9-12 grade complement yet, and I'm not sure if they are opening any other schools besides UIC. The things is, this still may not help Junior that much, because his mom is really worried that he will struggle to manage a complicated commute, and most of the other buildings I know of will be further away and more trouble to get to.

He still has one more chance--the Perspectives Math & Science Academy is Friday, and he's in that one. Someone else on the block got her application to me but too late for the lottery--she'll go straight to the waiting list.

Monday, February 04, 2008


School Lady's little yippy dog had six puppies recently. Yesterday I went by to give her 8th grade daughter an application for Perspectives/IIT's new Math and Science Academy.

I knocked on the door and the oldest daughter answered. She's in the culinary arts program at Richards, which is the best thing going on over there.

"How's school?"

"Better!" she said cheerfully.


We went in and her sisters were playing cards in the living room. I gave 8th Grader the application and explained that the school will partner with IIT. "If you do well, you'll have a chance to take classes over there when you are a junior or senior."

"That's a great opportunity," her big sister said. She looked impressed.

"We have puppies!" interrupted her youngest sister.

We were pretty much done, so the interruption was welcome. "Puppies? Can I see?"

"She'll bark."

"I'll just look from back here." We walked to the bedroom (it's one of those carved up houses with weird room configurations--living room, bedroom, kitchen). School lady came out of the kitchen and said hello. Youngest daughter went back in the kitchen and brought out a puppy.

Pure white, about six inches long, eyes still closed. Their dog had a litter of six. "Congratulations," I said to School Lady, "or maybe I'm sorry." She laughed. I won't be taking any--allergies, but if anyone reading this is interested, post a comment or email marshfieldtattler@hotmail and maybe we can hook you up.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Gutierrez Un-Endorses Lipinski

All you political junkies out there may be interested to know that Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who had been a supporter of 3rd district Rep. Dan Lipinski, has officially taken a step back. Buried in this Tribune story on the Lipinski-Pera race is the word that Gutierrez has withdrawn his endorsement of Lipinski. A spokeswoman said Gutierrez "cannot look past his record on immigration." And rightly so. He voted for the horrifying Sensenbrenner immigration bill and keeps pitching border security and crackdowns on "lawbreakers" without seeming to realize that there are actually plenty of immigrants in his district who would like to see comprehensive immigration reform to bring people who've been in the country for years paying taxes and working out of the shadows and on to a path of earned citizenship.

Pera appears to be mounting a strong challenge, with help from a couple of friends of mine here in the neighborhood. Both Capitol Fax and a new-to-me blog called Down With Tyranny have more of interest on the race and on Lipiski's last-ditch, hypocritical efforts to paint himself as a friend of those tangled in immigration red tape.

Chicago Magazine Gives Some Love

Chicago Magazine has finally posted online its Feburary 2008 article on 171 best Chicago websites. I'm happy to say Marshfield Tattler made it into their neighborhood recommendations.

Some others they list that I like, too:

Community Media Workshop (maps are useful)
Hot Type
Outside In

Some of the ones in my bookmarks, like Beachwood Reporter, District 299 and Gapers Block, are also listed. Happy surfing!

Dawn Comes Home

I don't know where I left you all in the saga, but Dawn finally did come home. I spoke to her briefly on Friday by phone. She sounded pretty happy. We might get to talk today but I'm not sure. She's going to work later this afternoon and I'm going to the airport.

She says Joey told her the art class at Marwen is really good and she should do one, too. "I want to, but I don't have time," she told me. I suggested when the new session opens in March she could see how her schedule is and whether there is a class she'd like to take.

There's more than this going on, but I don't know the whole story yet. Stay tuned.

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