UPTOWN — Mary E. Courtenay Elementary School in Uptown is in the running for a $25,000 grant from State Farm that would allow it to create a "peer court program" to help students mediate disputes peacefully.
"With this grant, we will empower students to take control of the issues within their school and in so doing, change the culture of Courtenay," says the grant application, written by Courtenay Local School Council member Matt Maloney, also a State Farm Insurance agent.
Uptown youth development agency Alternatives, Inc., would help establish the justice program, which would encourage kids to communicate about their conflicts and take responsibility for their actions.
The grant application describes Courtenay as standing "at the center of a crisis in Chicago," in the aftermath of the school district's decision last year to close 50 schools. Courtenay, originally in Ravenswood, was merged with Joseph E. Stockton Elementary School in its Uptown building.
"The largest public school closure in history resulted in our school being shut down and merged. That has meant that new cultures of students at our school are learning to get along," Maloney wrote.
In January, a month after parents and teachers expressed concerns about what some called a "war zone" at the school, additional security was hired and school leaders said they were tackling the issue of student fighting.
Cassandra Vickas, head of the LSC, said "I think in every school we need a way to teach children how to be responsible for their own actions."
She noted Courtenay already has a peer mentor program where kids learn how to resolve problems without involving adults, and is expanding its anti-bullying program. The grant would allow the school to create a peer jury system, which is student-run and focuses on why kids are misbehaving and addressing those issues, instead of booting them from school.
Vickas said that despite a rocky transition into the merger, things are improving.
"But the negativity was an eye-opener," Vickas said.