A recently announced plan to focus intensively on at-risk high school students in the Chicago Public Schools comes too late, in the opinion of Rosita Jackson, a member of the Chicago-based Caucus of Rank and File Educators. She is also the mother of four children who have gone through the CPS system, and she is skeptical of the plan announced by Ron Huberman, the system’s chief executive officer.
Based on an analysis of data surrounding more than 500 shootings involving CPS students in recent years, Huberman’s plan identifies 10,000 students who are most at risk. It would supply them with assistance including a paid job and mentoring.
Waiting until students are in high school greatly reduces the chances that the plan will work, Jackson said.
“It’s like if I have cancer and I’m in the fifth stage,” she said. “It’s going to be harder to fight it.”
Instead, Jackson, who has taught at public elementary schools in Chicago, would establish a program for third and fourth graders.
“If we get these difficult kids not when they’re out shooting but in third and fourth grade, you’d be amazed” Jackson said. “We can really change lives. We can change those children before they become disillusioned and become so hard and so mean.”
Experts agree that focusing on younger students is important. Horace Hall, associate professor in educational policy studies and research at DePaul University, said mentoring young students is essential.
“For adolescents,” Hall said, “they’re so disconnected by the time they get to high school. They need some figure mentoring them at an earlier age.”
Right now, the focus in Chicago Public Schools is crisis management, said Bart Hirsch, professor in human development and social policy at Northwestern University.
“If your mother is in the emergency room with a heart attack, you want the doctors to help her stay alive first,” Hirsch said. “Then, when she stabilizes, the physicians can improve her diet and exercise and start with some cholesterol reducing drugs.”
Hall’s ideal comprehensive plan would provide long-term mentoring. Mentors would follow a student or group of students from elementary or middle school to high school. It’s easier to form a relationship when students are younger, he said, than when they’re 17 or 18.
But that plan needs to be set aside for now, Hall conceded.
“We can’t say, ‘Oh, they’re lost, and we’ll be with the kindergarteners and start there,’ ” he said. “Once they get an understanding of what’s happening [in high school], then they can work with folks at middle school."