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Bontemps Elementary Parents Say It's More Than a School, It's Family

By Wendell Hutson | May 24, 2013 9:08am
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ENGLEWOOD — Arna Bontemps Elementary alum Lashaun Hobbs said attending the South Side school is a tradition in her family.

All six of her children attended the school, and a niece is currently enrolled. 

"This is the only school my family has known and now CPS wants to close it," the 43-year-old said. "Bontemps is a school where the community sends its kids."

Bontemps is one of 50 schools the Chicago School Board voted to close on Wednesday, and the school’s supporters say it’s more than just a building.

“I graduated from Bontemps, and so did my kids, and now their kids are students here,” said Christine Seals, 46, whose six grandchildren are enrolled in prekindergarten through eighth grade. Seals is concerned about class sizes that could grow when Bontemps’ students move to Nicholson Technology Academy, 6006 S. Peoria St.

"Does [CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett] want larger classrooms? By consolidating all these schools that's exactly what is about to happen. One teacher assigned to 30 plus kids is ridiculous," Seals said.

Bontemps alum Rochelle Marsh, 39, said she’s upset her second grade son and kindergarten-age daughter won’t be able to stay at the school. And not just because of the family ties.

“I am not about to walk four more blocks to bring my kids to school,” said Marsh. “Is CPS crazy?

“We walk our kids to school.”

But some agree Bontemps has seen better days.

"It needs to close. The kids are bad up here. They run through the hallway acting like they have no home training and the teachers let them do whatever they want to do," said Chevelle Wilson, a 49-year-old alum, who has daughters in fifth and seventh grade at the school. "I am all for a change at this point."

Wilson's daughter, Shayla Johnson, 11, agreed.

"This school is not all that. The kids here are bad and I am tired of all the drama anyway," she said.

Ayanna Weekly, 36, has four kids that attend Bontemps and three that graduated already. She said her unfamiliarity with Nicholson and its neighborhood makes her uneasy.

"I will home school my kids before I send them to Nicholson. That's prime gang territory and I'm not about to endanger my kids' life," Weekly said. "I don't know the people at [Nicholson] ... I do know that the teachers and staff at Bontemps love my kids and that is the type of school environment I want them to grow up around."

The family atmosphere at Bontemps is the main reason closing the school is so upsetting, said James Freeman, 34, whose daughter is in third grade.

"Our kids are not packages that CPS can ship off to another school. The kids know any parent that sees them doing wrong will tell on them. We look out for each other like that. We make sure that those kids that walk home get there safely," Freeman said. "We trust each other with each other's kids. It's a neighborhood thing."