SOUTH LOOP — South Loop Elementary School has come a long way since the early 2000s.
Built in 1988, the school served mostly students from outside the community through the 90s, according to parent volunteer Kathy Smith. Back then, the neighborhood was "still on the verge of a no-man's land," and many of the South Loop families that lived close to 1212 South Plymouth Court sent their children to schools outside the neighborhood.
In 2002, as more families moved into the South Loop, Smith said she and other area parents decided to bolster their neighborhood school into a higher-performing program that would entice more members of the community.
"In '02 they added a gifted program, and we were like, 'Let's change the school around,'" Smith said. "So we started going into the neighborhood, talking to people and advertising, saying 'Come to the South Loop School, it's a good school.'"
They launched a small fundraiser in 2003 to help pay for expanded programming. That year, about 50 parents gathered in the school gym for some snacks, drinks, and to make donations, raising around $5,000 to fund improvements to school programming.
"We have come a long way," Smith says, calling South Loop Elementary now "one of the most sought-after schools in the city," with student test score performance skyrocketing.
In 2002, South Loop Elementary School ISAT scores registered well below city and state averages. Last year, 94 percent of South Loop students met or exceeded state standards on the exam, a distinction held by only 120 of Chicago's 681 public schools.
The spring benefit has grown and improved along with it. The tenth anniversary event, with a "Wizard of Oz"-themed "There's No Place like South Loop," is a semi-formal affair at the McCormick Place Hyatt. Tickets sell for $100, and parent volunteer and benefit co-chair Katy Pizza says 215 seats have already been sold.
"It'll be a great celebration of how the school has evolved," Smith said.
The event runs from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and includes "a lot of silent auction items, great food and fantastic entertainment," Pizza said.
Among the auction items are excursions and adventures donated by South Loop teachers, Pizza said.
"This is a record year for how many teachers have donated their time," Pizza said. Offerings include a 20-person karaoke party, museum trips and a chocolate walking tour. Pizza's daughter is lobbying for her parents to bid on a Minecraft party hosted in the school computer lab.