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Courtesy of Gerardo Aguilera, Alexandra Alvarez, & Cristina Henriquez

Election is over, but students' message to Emanuel still resonates

by Danielle Cadet
Feb 24, 2011

It’s a simple message that’s straightforward and to the point: “Invest in us!”

That’s what three students from Roger C. Sullivan High School are asking of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.

The students said they were hurt and upset after watching a mayoral candidate forum where Emanuel claimed the city’s best schools are charters. Now that Emanuel has won the mayoral race, they feel they have a duty to fellow public school students.

“Now that I did this video I feel like it’s my responsibility to care about my city,” said Gerardo Aguilera, 17, one of the students involved. “In four years I’m going to be the one voting [for mayor].”

After attending a mayoral candidate forum for high school students hosted by Mikva Challenge, a nonpartisan organization that encourages civic leadership among local youth, Aguilera decided to volunteer for Miguel Del Valle’s campaign along with Alexandra Alvarez, 16, and Cristina Henriquez, 17. The students originally planned on spending the day canvassing their Rogers Park neighborhood to garner support, but changed their plans after seeing the forum footage.

“We wanted to point out here’s a man who can be our mayor but he doesn’t know anything about education,” said Aguilera.

They did their research and determined that Emanuel, in fact, had not. They posted a video on YouTube noting his error.

Donald Moore, executive director of local education advocacy group Designs for Change, also checked out Emanuel’s claim.

“According to my calculations,” said Moore. “The students are correct.”

Moore combined school test scores in order to calculate the city’s highest performing schools and found interesting results.

“Not only did the charter schools not rank the highest,” he said, “but the ones that are even on this list of the top 35 really don’t serve that many students compared with the overwhelming majority of other schools on the list.”

Although Emanuel said the seven best-performing high schools are charters, Moore said his research showed that charter schools weren’t even in the top 10.

The students said Emanuel’s comment indicates the city has given up on neighborhood schools, and they have grim thoughts of what the future holds.

“Public schools are going to become dumping grounds for kids who can’t go anywhere else,” said Alvarez.

Moore said he feels the comment raises major issues about the future mayor’s morals and decision-making ability.

“It makes me uneasy to have a mayor who is either very comfortable not telling the truth or having a staff that came up with this result which just doesn’t hold up,” he said.

Attempts to reach Emanuel for comment were unsuccessful.

Despite the election results, the students plan to continue voicing their concerns. They are brainstorming a follow-up video directed at Emanuel’s plans to expand charter schools and hope to affect change for future public school students.

“We know that he’s planning as mayor to privatize schools and we don’t want that,” said Alvarez. “We will be gone, but we have family members who are going to be in Chicago public schools and it’s just kind of giving up on kids who don’t have the resources.”