Walking To School in Chicago Should Be Safe:
School on the Westside Shouldn’t Be Scary
I grab my backpack and sling it over my shoulder as I rush out of the door. I blow my mom a kiss and shoot her a sly grin before pulling my black hoodie down further over my head, drawing in the strings and turning up the volume of my headphones. With my backpack on my back I rush down the street, but I try to make it clear that I am not afraid. A white van pulls up to the side of the chipped curb and comes to a screeching halt. A matte black Mercedes revs its engine and swerves next to it, kicking up a cloud of impenetrable dust. I close my eyes and walk faster. I hear a third car pull up, shouts and something even louder, but I decide to turn my music up and ignore the pang that rattles my body. Just two more blocks, or so I tell myself.
I go to a public school in the Westside of Chicago, called George W. Tilton High School. Frankly, I’m not even sure who George W. Tilton is or was, but I don’t really care. I walk to school every day because my parents both work very hard. I walk down Ferdinand Street. Sometimes I have to walk alone. This walk worries me all day at school. My friends understand. I look up praying that the little security camera at the intersection before North Kildare Avenue is watching over me. Afterall, someone has to have my back? The bell rings. I walk into class and hang my heavy backpack over my chair, located adjacent to my best friend, as the teacher walks in saying good morning; but I can’t shake my fear. Her cheery good morning rings hollow, and I can’t even hear what she says next. I’m scared. I don’t want to talk. And I’m not the only one.
This place is a street located in the Westside of Chicago, called Ferdinand Street. It is supposed to be“the safe way” for children to pass through to get to and from various public schools in the area (Edwards). It doesn't seem so safe, now does it? The magnitude of dangers makes the route anything and everything but safe. This place is called “the heroin highway” and often makes Chicago’s news headlines for vicious crimes and assaults. This street is also not the only street that suffers from being overrun by drug dealers, violence, and crime. Kids who attend public schools in the Westside of Chicago are not worrying about a math exam or their daily English homework. They don’t have the time or stamina to focus on schoolwork when they could be harmed, assaulted, mugged or shot on the way to or from school, or even on campus. These fears carry over into the education experience of the kids living in Westside of Chicago.
The test scores in Chicago are dropping due to violence and exposure to crime and narcotics and now define academic experiences. Poor performance limits certain college opportunities and success in the future. Public schools in the Westside of Chicago battle high numbers of violence, narcotics use/sales and other crimes yearly (Rosen). Specifically, on Ferdinand Street, the street where many children walk to various schools--St. Ferdinand School, George W. Tilton High School, Woodbine School, and Garfield High School. At most times of the day, any passerby can witness the constant sale of narcotics and other illicit activities, leading to shootings and violence.
Neighborhood inhabitants in neighborhoods like these are drowning in fear. Whether it is violence and crime on campus or off campus, the effects on children and the amounts of “cognitive stress” now being experienced, according to Julia Burdick Will, are drastic and cause public school test scores to decline rapidly. Various crimes, drug dealing, and violence-- all present in the environment of children attending public schools in the West Side of Chicago-- as shown in test scores, negatively affects their education and opportunities for a successful future.
Neighborhoods such as Ferdinand Street’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and West Division’s Hermosa neighborhood in the Westside of Chicago, cause permanent and long-lasting negative effects on the education that children receive from the public schools. Ferdinand Street, on the Westside, in Chicago was specifically supposed to be designed for children to walk to and from school on; yet, the area is infested with visible drug dealings and said to be too dangerous for any adult to venture alone down. Brad Edwards, a bold investigative reporter from CBS news Chicago is focused on exposing neighborhood issues and was the first reporter to venture there. His partner narrates, “CHICAGO (CBS)—Drug deals every step of the way. How could this happen on a street that’s always under the watchful eye of Chicago police? On the street designated as a Safe Passage for Chicago school kids? It’s all happening on one block on the West Side where CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards was warned not to go. He did go, to tell its story. Welcome to West Ferdinand Street” (Edwards).
Brad Edwards exposes this horrific scene in hopes that people will open their eyes to local suffering communities and their lasting negative effects on the youth. This investigative reporter for CBS News Chicago, Brad Edwards, conducted a search to support various arguments about certain areas negatively affecting a child’s education. Mr. Edwards, a capable athletic male adult, was told not to venture down this road for fear of his own safety. He shows the worrisome lack of safety among society’s most vulnerable to the world and how this safe place is extremely dangerous for school children to walk through. He also suggests that this area is clearly not under a watchful eye by the police. He uncovers many other neighborhoods with similar issues and newly discovered effects on their youth. This proof shows how high-stress levels can be among kids having to cross through this area daily to get to and from school. Illegal drug dealing, specifically heroin, also happens constantly and within seconds on Ferdinand Street--and other neighboring streets including North Kostner Street, Tripp Avenue, Ohio Street,North Kildare Avenue, and specifically West Division Street in the Humboldt Park and Hermosa neighborhoods. On West Division Street alone 12 people were either wounded or killed in a recent drug-related shooting after 30 were shot after the weekend of Halloween in 2017.
However, this violence and the effects it has on this environment and the people in it are worse than the narcotic related crimes themselves. Children are released from school and let out into the most dangerous parts of town unattended. “It was 3:00 p.m. on a Friday, and a silver sedan pulled up looking to score drugs–and does — just that quickly. Only seconds separate the drive up from the drug deal. West Ferdinand Street is located just north of the 290 — the Ike. The heroin highway that connects the suburbs to the West Side” (Edwards). The sale of narcotics is so common and poses huge issues and threats to the community. This illegal drug dealing entails so much violence to those involved and passersby. From what I have learned, this seems to go on every day on Ferdinand Street and has engulfed much of the Westside. Also, every day at 3 pm, not only do these drug trades go down but also, kids are released from public schools in the area and must walk down Ferdinand street to get home, hopefully safely.
For school children, walking around with the constant threat of potential harm is relentlessly unnerving and is a persistent burden throughout the day. They could easily be mugged, assaulted, beat up, or shot. And last but not least, how could“the Safeway for children going to public schools in the area” also be “the heroin highway” (Edwards). Drug dealers are extremely distinguished from the fellow people in the community, and dealers strike havoc and fear into all of the environments that they infest. The police have not been able to keep this situation under control so that the children have a safe passageway to get to school. And children aren't the only fearful ones.
“Neighbors on Ferdinand Street are naturally reluctant to answer their doors, but one resident invited us (Investigative reporter Brad Edwards and his partner form CBS news) in. She said she watches the drug commerce from her window every day. Her dusty, old davenport in the living room provided front row access to the drama outside. A spit-shined white BMW SUV pulled up, got served and sealed the deal with a double fist bump. Back on the street, we told another resident about our investigation into drug dealing on Ferdinand. ‘You got a good one, then don’t you?’ said a woman, who conceded she was scared but. ‘I’m too old to run.’‘They got a camera right there.’ There is a working police camera on the block. Drug deals take place under its watchful eye. ‘Anytime you have a camera, it normally eliminates that type of activity,’ Rep. Ford said.‘Not here. Not camera 4023. One can only imagine what it’s seen”(Edwards).
Later in this article, we learn that after Mr. Edwards and his camera were noticed, three men, all part of a drug deal, were shot the next day. One can only imagine the dangers posed on the children.
People are afraid of this environment and neighborhoods like these for obvious reasons and won’t even open their doors, so how is a child supposed to be able to open his or her mind at school and focus on learning. Ferdinand Street in the Humboldt Park Neighborhood as said later in the article, embodies “terrorism”. Neighborhoods like these are not receiving resources or help to control these impactful issues that are visually affecting the education of the youth.
Crime and violence on a school campus instills fear and worry into the school children, whether they are the witness to the violence or the victim of the crime, which increases police activity and increases anxiety on campus. What leads to the situation on campus can be a multitude of factors, but outside issues and sources typically find their way onto the school campus and create violence. As disruptive and worrisome as it is in itself, most cases call for police interruption, elevating the seriousness. The repeated and common need for law enforcement, in this scenario-on campus, clearly negatively affects the education of the student in this public school in Chicago and reduces their chance for a successful life. There is an obvious lack of focus and rise of stress with the rising crime rates. “Schools reported at least 51 violent crimes in one year. This means that police are involved in violent conflicts at these schools on average close to twice a week. Exposure to this type of frequent violence may be an important factor shaping already disadvantaged students’ educational experiences in ways that reduce their opportunities to learn in the classroom” (Will). Julia Will suggests that needing to call in law enforcement weekly puts stress on all of the kids and strikes fear and chaos that follows them throughout the day and night. She also acknowledges that having this interruption during the middle of class causes an obvious lack of focus. This statement supports various other claims on low test scores correlated with violence, drug sales and crime, all requiring police activity.
The proximity of a child to the school, or the path to school, shapes the school experience entirely by dampening enthusiasm for academics and learning because the children are simply struggling to survive on a day to day basis. Regardless of the child’s own experience with violence in their life, any case of it hurts performance in school. “Instead of basing the violence measure on the individual experiences of students, this study uses official crime data based on the geographic location of an entire school. By attending a school with a high violent crime rate, students are therefore at risk of victimization at that location, regardless of their actual experience with that violence either as perpetrator, victim, or witness” (Will). Ms. Will teaches us that the location of the student and school is crucial, and sadly this unfortunate geography exists on the Westside of Chicago, where widely unknown and isolated public schools are suffering with low academic achievement due to illicit on-campus activity. Just seeing these crimes affects the mentality of a child. Being a witness or victim is almost equally as damaging, and the effects on school-wide success goes down the drain (Will). “Exposure to this type of violent environment is associated with emotional and cognitive stress as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Stress can also lead to reductions in working memory and cognitive distractions that lead students to perform poorly on tests. This stress may be particularly problematic for students because the physical location of the violence and their learning are the same and their school’s hallways and classrooms may be a constant reminder of earlier violent incidents”(Will). According to Peter Nickeas at the Chicago Tribune, about a year ago at a public school near Division Street, five kids were wounded in an on-campus school shooting and two were killed. The children on campus tried to run away and run to safety because their school campus clearly lacked a safe space. A few weeks later a sixteen year old boy entered the same school campus and was hit by a stray bullet from a gang shooting nearby (Nickeas). Without a safe space, this exposure to violence has psychological consequences for learning even if there are no noticeable changes in their reports of physical safety. The test results in Chicago’s Westside public schools are clearly suffering due to the lack of focus, PTSD, stress and fear that violence, drug dealing businesses and crime place on school children.
The fear of these on-campus experiences follows adolescents throughout their school day and most noticeable affect academic achievement when a dangerous environment is created and left untreated in their classroom (Rosen). In her article"Violence Can Lower Test Scores Whether Kids Live It or Not" Jill Rosen suggests that exposure to violence will affect every part of a child’s life. She also suggests that test scores are the first indicates that children are visibly suffering as an effect of this in these kids’ lives. This statement shows the drastic effects of neighborhood violence and links why Chicago public school test scores, in one of the most dangerous areas, the Westside, are the lowest in the nation and continuing to drop with no help on the way. When children cannot find a safe space on campus, then the dangerous neighborhoods atmosphere becomes part of the on-campus environmental problem. The number of recorded violent crimes are spiking and not distanced from busy public schools in Chicago.“There were, on average, about 70 violent crimes a year within a few blocks of the homes of Chicago public high school students, she found. The home areas of children with high levels of exposure to violence, however, often recorded double that number. The crimes included homicides, sexual assaults, aggregated and simple batteries, aggravated and simple assaults, and robberies” (Rosen). Jill Rosen illustrates an increasing number of crimes, remember that these are only reported crimes to the police, a far lower number than exist in many neighborhoods of public school in Chicago. The numbers are higher than the statistics show because most are just not reported or receive no police action on campus. Kids are trying to survive the violence first and perform well academically second. Assault, homicide, drug dealing and theft engulf the city and the experience of the children attending school. This statement includes many case studies and is continuously updated and becomes more significant as the effects of the youth become more drastic.
Both the on campus and off campus environments are contributing to the unintentionally destructive environments of the classrooms. The “ripple effect” is a common phrase, mostly used to describe the positive change; however, in Chicago, the ripple effect refers to the negative effects of violence on the youth in the city and their failing education opportunities. “Dealing with urban violence has ripple effects we’re only starting to understand,” she says. “We can’t think about violence as ‘something happening to kids in an isolated part of the city where I don’t live.’ That’s just the tip of the iceberg. High crime rates may be concentrated in specific areas, but their effects can be felt in schools all over the city” (Rosen). This ripple effect is just now being seen as more test scores are being reviewed and taken seriously after comparing the spike in neighborhood violence, drug sales, and gang wars. This violence is getting harder to control, and it seeps into the kids lives and truly shapes them as people and their opportunities. Their brains are still developing and they have a lot to learn, like any child, and violence is interfering with their academic progression. The opportunity for the public school attendees in Chicago is low. High marks from a public school are already taken into less account due to those schools apparently being easy to achieve good grades, but even now those grades aren’t being achieved to due the effects of the surrounding environments and the tension built up in the classrooms. She also suggests that just because they aren’t adults with current occupation in the city or government positions, their neighborhoods and school environments will affect the entire city and need to be considered as they are the future and youth will continue to be raised among these conditions. Also, police action is required.
School and a school campus should be a safe place and a place for kids to learn and excel to further their knowledge for the next steps of their lives. School, especially high school, is an essential building block to further success in life, but kid’s opportunities are being crushed by the terrors of various crimes. “Students who are in the same classes with a number of these traumatized children also don’t learn as well, scoring as much as 10 percent lower on annual tests. It’s possible these effects build over time, she says.‘This is just one year—we don’t know what the cumulative effects are,’ Burdick-Will says. ‘If you score 10 percent lower in just one year, you’re that much less prepared for the next year. Ten percent less growth in a year is a pretty big deal’” (Will). Various crimes, anywhere in their lives, put unimaginable amounts of cognitive stress on children and negatively change the school atmosphere entirely. As shown in her article, Ms. Will talks about the lack of safety in any environment leading to “cognitive stress” and hindered achievement, which is show in test scores from public schools in Chicago. Being in an area prone to violence affects how anyone, but mostly a vulnerable child, in everyday life--in accordance to the numbers calculated from numerous case studies. “This study exploits variation in violent crime rates within schools over time to estimate its effect on academic achievement. School and neighborhood fixed-effects models show that violent crime rates harms test scores. This effect is more likely related to direct reductions in learning, through cognitive stress and classroom disruptions, than changes in perceived safety, general school climate, or discipline practices.” The rising crime rates visualized by school kids change the safety of the school they attend, no matter where. Crime and violence “raises the climate” of the classrooms and puts cognitive stress all of the the kids trying to focus in school and get a proper education (Will). Students lose confidence in their teachers and have no one to confide in (for these issues). From what I have learned, this is most prominent in the Westside of Chicago, most specifically on Ferdinand Street where kids witness and run from drug deals, crime and assault everyday.
After experiencing the traumas listed multiple times above, children lose focus in school in order to worry about these dangerous situations, hence the public school test scores in Chicago continuing to drop as crime rates increase (a dangerous inverse relationship). “94 Chicago schools earn low performance rating on the new Illinois report card” and the majority of these school bringing down the average are located on the Westside (Cramer). “Across the state, nearly 37 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 scored proficient or higher in reading. In Chicago, that figure was nearly 10 percentage points lower: 27.4 percent. Last year, that figure was 28.5 percent. And in math, 22.4 percent of Chicago students scored proficient or better, compared with 31.5 percent of students statewide. Last year, 23.7 percent of Chicago students met the state’s standards” (Cramer). Test scores in Chicago are dropping and become some of the lowest in the entire nation.“Nearly half of Chicago schools received the two lowest grades, compared with 20 percent of schools statewide”(Cramer). There is a clear ten percent decrease in achievement on standard test scores each year as exposed by Will and Cramer. This ten percent gap increases each year as the kids fall farther and farther behind in each rising level. With this, the graduation rates are also decreasing. Legitimately dangerous events and the preceding stress is shaping a child’s entire life.
As you may recall this story began with a little boy who spent most of his childhood walking to school along “the heroin highway” to a nearby public school, catty corner to Ferdinand Street, in the Westside of Chicago. He wore his hood low and turned his music up, as he closed the door and all of the doors were closed behind him. Although he worked his hardest in school and tried to close his windows and shut out the loud darkness when he would study, his grades continuously dropped throughout high school, along with his self esteem. He applied for a couple of local colleges but ended up not having the resources or funds to be accepted, nor did his test scores reflect his talent. He came back home to help his mom out with looming financial instabilities. After everything, he had come back to Ferdinand Street. In his adolescence he struggled with violent outbursts and ongoing drug and alcohol abuse, despite being a bright kid. After moving in with his mom he did his best to apply for multiple jobs, and in the end he was accepted into the position of a garbage man. This quiet, brilliant and worried young adult had not passed many classes in school and now his future was paying for it. After his mom passed away, he shed many tears, but a couple of long years later, he met a wonderful woman from the Hermosa- Humboldt park Neighborhood. They had gone to neighboring high schools without even knowing it. Together they had a beautiful baby girl, with big twinkling brown eyes and a seemingly bright future-- but at about the age of twelve she too pulled her hoodie down over her face, turned up the volume of her headphones, blew her parents a kiss after being caught in her dad’s bearhug, and closed the heavy door behind her as she walked to school down Ferdinand Street.
Not having a meaningful high school education affects job opportunities, and the ability to go to college, and the ability to provide for your future family. Just think, without the basis of your education, you would have without a doubt not reached where you are in the world today. In school today kids constantly complain about classes such as math and how they will never use geometry or algebra, but actually just being schooled and understanding those concepts reveals so many later opportunities. Gun violence, gang wars, neighborhood violence, student crimes, and the sale of narcotics all directly affects children despite their lack of direct involvement. The violence in the Westside of Chicago is out of control. In areas like the Westside kids are threatened and the test scores are dropping, but it’s not even about the test scores, the test scores are the proof of the matter. The affected group is the children and their entire futures. The cycle of doom and despair continues at high costs for society and the stabilityof the country. Who will our country’s future leaders be? Even policeman, Al Stinites, from the Bronzeville station talks about being grateful that his children do not go to a public school in the Westside and cross over the heroin highway like so many others kids do (Stinites). He, as many others do, realizes that the light of Chicago’s resilient future is being slowly dimmed.
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