HUMBOLDT PARK — Parents, students and teachers met at Roberto Clemente High School Saturday for a neighborhood schools fair, which aimed to tout programs and services offered by neighborhood schools across the city.
The event was spearheaded by 13 moms who met while protesting Chicago Public Schools' decision to close 50 schools earlier this year.
Rousemary Vega, a parent at Lafayette Elementary School in Humboldt Park before it was closed, said she felt parents did not know what her neighborhood school had to offer.
"They took my children's school, and I felt I let them down because the school wasn't advertised enough," Vega said. "It wasn't showcased enough, the beautiful programs it had."
So Vega and other CPS moms organized a school fair, and on Saturday, 59 neighborhood schools from across the city touted their programs to prospective CPS parents.
Julie Kosowski, whose daughter attends Louis Nettlehorst Elementary School in Lakeview, said she joined the team of moms organizing the fair because she and others felt CPS is promoting charter and magnet schools and not highlighting neighborhood schools.
"We are standing on the shoulders of lots of other people who have worked hard for public education to be an opportunity for everybody, and we do feel that it's being dismantled," Kosowski said. "And we're responding to that."
Saturday's fair included 45 elementary schools and 14 high schools featuring programs with everything from belly dancing to robotics. North Grand High School students William Gallion and Saul Rodriguez stood behind a table filled with models and a robot built by students in the pre-engineering program offered at their school.
"The program tries to teach them what it means to be an engineer," Gallion, a 17-year-old senior said. "It lets you see how it is before you go to college. It tries to put you ahead of the curve."
Pre-engineering is one of three four-year career and technical education programs offered at North Grand High School, which opened in 2005. Rodriguez, who showed off the remote-controlled robot for passers-by, said the program gives students a taste of all types of engineering, so they are ready to choose by the time they get to college.
"I like hands-on building classes, and I think this was a great opportunity to start doing that," Rodriguez, also a senior, said. "It's a great way to expand my mind in engineering."
Patrick Escobedo, an Edison Park parent who has two young children soon to enter CPS, said he was impressed with the diversity of programs he saw on Saturday.
Escobedo, whose wife is a teacher at Robert Grimes Elementary, said he feels the positive aspects of neighborhood schools do not get promoted by CPS officials.
"Personally, I don't feel they do it enough," he said. "I would love to see more support for neighborhood schools. In addition to doing the job of educating, they become a part of these neighborhoods."
Several aldermen also made it to Saturday's fair. Ald. John Arena (45th) said he felt it is important to highlight neighborhood schools at a time where they are seeing their "resources being starved away."
"They're really getting a bad sell by CPS itself and by the current administration," Arena said. "And this is not just Chicago. This is a national movement to kind of put down local schools, and we've got to reverse that."
Shoneice Reynolds, one of the 13 moms who organized the fair, echoed that sentiment. Reynolds, whose son Asean Johnson attends Marcus Garvey Elementary in Washington Heights and made an impassioned speech to save the school, said she also has a child at Urban Prep High School.
Reynolds said the mothers who organized Saturday's fair met during board meetings and rallies during the process to close 50 schools. Reynolds said the moms, who are from all across the city, never would have met otherwise.
"We solely thank the mayor of Chicago and CPS for bringing us together," she said.
The group is not an official organization yet, they said, but they do have some future events in mind. Reynolds said the group is trying to come up with a name but are using "BAM" in the meantime.
"'Cause we think we're some badass moms," she said. "That's how we came up with 'BAM.'"