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Elissa Nadworny/MEDILL

Nikkitta McCoy, a single mother of four, drives her three younger children, Nikeal (from left, hidden by the headrest), Nariah and Nolan, to St. Malachy School on Chicago's West Side.

School closings force parents to re-evaluate the morning scramble

by Elissa Nadworny
June 06, 2013

Out the Door

Elissa Nadworny/MEDILL

Nolan, a third-grader at St. Malachy School on the West Side, shuts the car door  upon his arrival to school. 

tuck it

Elissa Nadworny/MEDILL

Nikkitta McCoy helps her daughter Nariah, 5, tuck in her shirt. The shirt didn't have enough time in the dryer so Nariah wiggles to avoid the damp material.


Elissa Nadworny/MEDILL

Nariah and her brother Nolan argue over who sits where during the 15-minute ride to school.

It is 7:30 a.m.

Nikeal McCoy, a sixth-grader at St. Malachy School on Chicago’s West Side, is ready and waiting inside his family’s car, parked out back. His mother and two younger siblings are still inside, frantically finishing up their morning routine before heading out the door.

The scene unfolding at the McCoy’s North Lawndale home happens in households across the city. Teachers say the closing and relocation of 50 Chicago public schools will make getting to school more difficult. This change is forcing teachers and parents to think about how home life can affect school life.

Nikkitta McCoy, a single mother of four, starts her day at 5 a.m. The next three hours are spent keeping her four children on track, so they can leave the house in time for school.

Her middle son, Nikeal, is the most efficient, getting prepared before anyone else. He helps McCoy complete household tasks such as ironing and folding clothes while the other children get ready.

“Nolan is always the worst at getting ready,” McCoy said, of her third-grade son, who even when he does make it in the car, can’t stop yawning during their 15-minute ride.

“It’s easy to tell when the kids are tired,” said Lauren Solarski, a kindergarten teacher at St. Malachy. “Even a bad night’s sleep can affect what we are able get done in the classroom.”

Arguments and conflicts at home can also affect how students function at school.

Tiffany Lewis, a special education teacher at the Montessori School of Englewood sees a clear link between home life and student behavior.

“My students don’t realize their behavior is often a direct reflection of what’s happening at home,” Lewis said. “Something small that happened on their way to school could even be a factor.”

Lewis works one-on-one with students with behavioral issues, but instead of simply punishing them for their behavior, she believes it’s important to look at the source.

“These kids are dealing with a lot at home, and as educators, it’s important for us to consider that,” Lewis said.

Next fall, the Montessori School of Englewood is scheduled to move into a new building a mile away from the current location.

“We’re working with our families to make sure that all our students can move with us,” said Tameka Walton, director of family and community engagement at the Englewood school.

“A number of our families walk to school, so moving a mile away is a struggle for them,” said Walton, who has been helping families become part of the school’s community since it open in August.

Chicago Public Schools has identified families that need special support, and a specialist will meet with the families to smooth the transition. In addition, the Montessori school will partner with a day care to use a van to shuttle neighborhood students to the new school.

“With us being a charter, we have the flexibility in our budget to offer things like that,” Walton said. “Not all other public schools can do that.”

For families who use their own transportation to get their children to school, experts say routines such as McCoy’s can help make the morning more structured.

“They know what they’re supposed to do,” McCoy said. “How quickly they do it, that’s a different story.”

Experts recommend creating a checklist or preparing clothes and bags the night before.

“I’m just grateful when all my kids are here on time,” Solarski said, before capturing her class’ attention at the start of the school day.

Just minutes before, Nolan, Nariah and Nikeal, McCoy’s three younger children, piled out of their mother’s car and walked into the school.

“No matter what, it’s a little crazy,” McCoy said, “but we do make it.”