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Manierre Seeks Money For Middle School Trip To Historically Black Colleges

By Mina Bloom | March 22, 2016 6:53am | Updated on March 22, 2016 8:53am
 Derrick Orr (l.) is principal of Old Town's Manierre Elementary School.
Derrick Orr (l.) is principal of Old Town's Manierre Elementary School.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

OLD TOWN — For the second time in the school's history, middle school students at Manierre Elementary will embark on a trip to visit historically black colleges and universities and national landmarks this spring — no thanks to CPS.

Instead, teachers, parents and neighbors are scraping together the money to pay for the trip, which will expose the kids to "excellence," according to Principal Derrick Orr, who is leading the charge for the second year in a row.

"If this is going to be my mission, I'm going to own it," Orr said. "I'm not going to depend on anyone else. I'm going to reach out to everyone, I'm going to go to every church I know and tell them the story of Manierre." 

CPS didn't provide a comment.

So far, the Old Town school, 1420 N. Hudson Ave., has raised more than $35,000 through donations from parents, teachers and neighbors.

One neighbor, Dennis Hauser, feels so passionate about the school's mission that he set up a GoFundMe page for the trip, which has raised more than $10,000 and is still accepting donations. Hauser doesn't have kids at the school or teach there, but he said he wanted to "do everything he can to help boost" the school given its tumultuous past.

The school, which draws mostly black, low-income kids from the Marshall Field Garden housing complex, was one of 300 schools targeted for closing by Chicago Public Schools in 2012.

Parents, teachers and other members of the school community fought to save the school, which DNAinfo Chicago documented. Ultimately, the district spared the school, noting the community's passion.

The latest round of community support is a testament to the school's strength, according to Orr. 

"It's a great feeling to know that people are aligned with your vision," he said. "A lot of people who have no children [at the school] are donating. They want to be involved with something that's very positive."

With more money rolling in from individuals and corporate sponsors like Holiday Inn and Coca Cola, Orr is confident the school will raise enough money for the trip, which is scheduled for April 30 to May 7. He's also prepared to reach into his own wallet if the effort comes up short.

About 30 students and 10 parent chaperones will be traveling to Springfield, Ill., St. Louis, Atlanta and New York, which is two more locations than last year's inaugural trip. Each student costs $2,500, but only has to pay $400. Many students get sponsored so they don't have to pay at all.

Like last year, the students will visit famous sites, like the Ebenezer Baptist Church and Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, along with colleges and universities.

"We want to make sure our kids are college- and career-ready," Orr said. "I didn't want them to see Spelman [College] and Morehouse [College] on TV and never get a chance to visit them. I wanted to give them memories they would never forget."

Next year, Orr has his sights set on Spain, which would be even more significant because many of his students have never been on a plane before so much as outside of the country. 

Under Orr's leadership, the school's attendance and discipline rates have improved. And while it still has academic improvements to make, Manierre is on the right track, Orr said. 

The school has lost at least $15,000 in budget cuts this year, which means little or no money for after-school programs, among other things. But some of those programs remain because dedicated teachers are working without pay.

Still, the school doesn't have the same financial support as others in the area. 

"There are some neighborhoods that can fundraise to come up with positions. We are not one of those schools," he said.

That's why it's so important, Orr said, that the community bands together.

"I don't want our kids to have false dreams. I want to be the person who actually delivers for them."

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