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CPS plan could put military school, middle school in close quarters

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Updated: November 1, 2013 8:46PM



A flock of freshmen fuss over the girl’s hair between bells one morning, trying to wrestle her long skinny braids into a knot on the back of her head. They smooth and pin and twist.

As the bell rings and students take their seats, the girl with the braids still struggles to secure the heavy knot.

She has to make it work. Or she can’t stay.

No way Master Gunnery Sgt. Eugenio Bautista will let the rules slide. And the rules at Marine Math and Science Academy dictate that cadets’ hair will not drop below the collars of their Marine-issue uniforms.

Period.

“We will wait for Miss Martin to fix her hair so we can move on,” Bautista tells the seated cadets.

“Sorry,” the girl offers. Once she succeeds, another girl, in full camouflage and tan boots, leads the Pledge of Allegiance: “Class, atten-TION.”

So begins ROTC class at Marine, perhaps the most striking of differences among the military academy’s requirements for all students. Formation is another standout, a military-inspired ceremony that Marine can’t manage properly since the Army school that shares its building has the gym first.

Marine is looking for more space. And it just got permission to add on seventh and eighth grades, too, should it find room for them.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) says he has the solution in Logan Square. He wants Marine to move into the spacious new-ish building constructed for the Ames Middle School. He approached CPS with the plan to give Logan Square a military school fromgrades seven to 12.

“I do embrace the academic culture that model brings to many of our kids who can use that,” the alderman said. “Ames was an experiment. It failed to fill that void.”

Ames is fighting any occupation.

Herein lies the conflict.

This is a story about two Chicago Public Schools: one a military high school on the West Side, the other a middle school on the Near Northwest Side.

Geographically, they are more than four miles apart. Philosphically, the distance is much greater.

But their futures — and space — could soon be entwined. They’ll know for sure come March 31, when schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will announce who’s closing and who’s consolidating.

The story is about one school’s right to spread out so more children can take advantage of what it offers, and the other’s to protect the larger community it has nurtured beyond the school day.

Should the alderman succeed, Marine and Ames will have to learn to live together.

The two schools share some commonalities but engender two boldly different models of education.

The Marine Math and Science Academy puts discipline at the heart of everything the school does, believing that if you can remove students’ distractions of what to wear and what to eat and how to stay safe, you free them to learn.

“Our expectation is students go off, graduate from high school and go to college. It’s not training students for the military,” said Todd Connor who heads all CPS military programs. “It’s not right for all kids, and we don’t push for that.”

Ames Middle School assembled a community into its building to surround its children with extra services and opportunities, believing that if you take care of students and families’ health and language and other needs, you enable them to learn.

“These are all things that are not happening everywhere in the city of Chicago that are taking place right in our building so yeah, something needs to be different, and it’s us,” said Ames Principal Turon Ivy. “We’re trying to provide a world-class education for our kids right here in the heart of Chicago when a lot of people say it can’t be done. This will be a place — Ames — where it will be done.”

And Ames has no interest in sharing its building. Any “extra” rooms are already used for after-school and other programs. Losing space would mean drastically reducing or eliminating many of those extras.

Here’s the smack talk floating around:

◆ Marine is too strict.

Its military focus leaves no time for creative pursuits. It doesn’t do enough for English language learners, and since it doesn’t have to take everyone, what about the rest of the kids?

◆ Ames lacks discipline.

Its students bounce off the walls, running amok and spilling after school into the streets. Academically it’s lacking. And there aren’t enough kids to fill its modern building.

The misconceptions all around are many. Marine, in East Garfield Park, is not a reform school; its organizers would say that very bad kids don’t stick around for long. Ames is shaping up under a new principal and filled its ample space with college programs, hours of after school activities for kids and families, and a health clinic now open to the entire community.

Here’s what they have in common:

◆ Good academic status known in CPS-speak as Level 2.

◆ A new principal this year after years of short principal tenure.

◆ Committed outside partners.

◆ A student body of mostly poor kids.

◆More space than students, according to CPS.

◆ Metal detectors at the front doors.

◆ Full-time art and music teachers.

◆ Uniforms.

◆ An expectation that graduates will go to college.

Que quito? What do I take away?’

The Ames population dwindled over the last several years, especially after CPS kept nearby kids in the Mozart Elementary School for seventh and eighth grade. Last year’s enrollment of 583 is now 480; last year’s seventh-grade class of 279 now is 280 eighth-graders. Ames just dodged the dreaded list of 129 schools CPS could close.

Ames’ test scores were not great, and it had a terrible reputation for discipline.

So Ames’ parents — especially the Parent Mentors who volunteer throughout the building as impromptu security, recess monitors and tutors — point to the new principal the school got this year, who has many years’ experience leading Chicago charter schools. Some kids eat three meals a day at the school; their parents take English classes, there, too.

Community members compare the special education stats and point also to the high number of English language learners at Ames, 21 percent. Marine has 3 percent of students learning English.

Many Ames students study in both languages under bilingual programs with bilingual teachers.

Like in Mr. Jaramillo’s seventh-grade math class where 17 kids are adding and subtracting negative numbers. “Que quito? What do I take away?” Jose Jaramillo asks about the problem on the board.

“You use whatever one of the strategies we’ve done,” Mr. Jaramillo explains. “Use the chips or use the calculator or flip the signs. Usa las fichas, or invierta la señal.

Negative 12, Victor Ortiz decides.

Victor walks the class though his answer, everyone following button by button on calculators. Mr. Jaramillo asks if everyone agrees.

“Si,” the kids reply as they see it. “Si.”

Camouflage, yes. Cell phones, no.

Marine is strict, Connor said, to free kids to learn. CPS’ six military academies hope to turn out not necessarily recruits but young educated adults committed to what they call “service leadership.”

Cell phones may be carried to school, but must be left in bins on the other side of metal detectors. Halls must be quiet. Cadets, as they’re called, must be prompt. Uniforms must be exactly right or kids can’t stay in class. The handbook even dictates what color bra female cadets must wear when in dress uniform.

“We don’t have a different code of conduct,” from other CPS schools, Connor said. “The difference is we actually use it.”

The model is not for everyone.

Indeed, Marine’s overall enrollment has slightly increased over the past few years to 364, but the school appears to have had trouble retaining students. The 69 current seniors started as a freshman class of 122; the 90 juniors began as 115 freshmen. The 83 graduating members of the class of 2012 began as 141 ninth-graders.

Mornings for Marine cadets begin not a minute before 7:30 a.m. breakfast. The early crowd lines up, waiting to pass through the metal detectors.

Marine Commandant Col. Otto Rutt greets them as they screen their bookbags, drop their phones into their grade’s marked bin. Rutt glances at the neat camouflage walking past him and each student’s head, making sure everyone is up to snuff. Cadets must be seated in the auditorium for morning formation by 7:55 sharp; cadets assigned to guard the auditorium’s doors will enforce that time, barring latecomers with their bodies if need be.

Khakis, flowers and bows

Ames Middle School was back in uniform as of September after years on hiatus. At the parents’ urging, principal Turon Ivy chose khaki pants, and white shirts for seventh-graders, navy shirts for the eighth. Hairdos are up to the kids; some spike theirs sky-high, some add flowers and giant bows.

At the front door each morning, Mr. Ivy teases about the wackier styles as his kids enter, mmm hmm-ing in his deep voice at kids who goof off.

“Why are you late?” he asks a girl who comes in after the 8:45 a.m. bell.

“Because I woke up late,” she says.

“Were you at work last night?” he asks.

She was not. She fills out her tardy slip.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Mr. Ivy tells her, “you weren’t working so you should have been in bed so you could get up in the morning.”

Mr. Ivy later revealed his true purpose at the door each morning­— So kids first see his face: “It’s an opportunity for me to start building relationships with them, saying ‘This is why we’re here. We’re invested in you in the long run.’”

A as in Alpha. B as in Bravo.

Save for studentsstanding at attention when adults enter theroom, Marine classes feel like any other in a CPS high school. Students are offered five advanced placement courses. Everyone takes art. Freshman English is dissecting “Of Mice and Men.” Senior precalculus is figuring angles using two triangle sides. Most classrooms have Marine Corps values posted: Honor, courage, commitment.

Every cadet takes junior ROTC with a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps. Some of it is physical, some leadership skills. Mondays, freshmen get ACT prep.

But first Bautista reinforces a life skill, reminding them that on Friday, they’ll wear Bravo dress uniforms.

“Today is the day, tomorrow, the day after, to make sure you prepared for that date,” he tells them. “Don’t wait until Friday and show up in incomplete uniforms. Just look ahead.”

Bautista sets them to task silently on an ACT skill called “making connections.” He starts a 10 minute timer, offering pencils and picking up trash.

They swap papers and Bautista reads out the answers: A as in Alpha. B as in Bravo. C as in Charlie, D as in Delta.

Some cadets are sent to the supply room, where Department of Defense-sponsored uniforms are kept under the watchful eye of Adriana Sarama, the school’s military property custodian and Marine alumnus mom.

The DOD supplies everything cadets wear, and kids need warm liners ordered as usual from Quantico, Va., sewn into digital camouflage jackets. The cadets who like the long wool trenches called all-weather coats are picking them up, too. A seamstress works right in the room.

“Everything’s fitted so it’s how it’s supposed to look,” Sarama said. “I try as much as I can because I want them to look good.”

She’s heard the moving rumors and is acting accordingly: “I’m trying to keep as much as I can at the warehouse. So if we have to move, I won’t have to be rushing.”

‘Creating community’

At Ames, homerooms switch teachers, staying with one for math and science, and the other for reading and social studies.

At first it’s hard to tell which Mr. Jose Ramirez is teaching. His 7th graders are discussing a passage about race relations.

“What one value is necessary to create a harmonious society?” Mr. Ramirez asks. “What one value, Enrique?”

“Creating community,” Enrique Davila says.

“And what does she say about creating a community? Turn to your partner now and create an answer. ”

Someone reads aloud: “The one value that is necessary to create a harmonious society is the efforts of people working on a small scale to build a truly tolerant harmonious society.”

And what is that small scale?

One girl knows: With our parents.

“It starts at home, ladies and gentlemen. That’s why we’re here. Because we’re trying to instill those good values in you,” Mr. Ramirez continues. “You don’t walk into a classroom with gum in your mouth, because why? Because it’ll fall out, distract you. Those little things. It starts on a small scale. But it has to start at home first and foremost.”

‘I love the school and all it offers’ Alize Vijil, 12, has her sights set on Lane Technical High School, she says amid her friends chatting at a lunch table, her thick reddish hair pulled up, her ubiquitous fat purple notebook for origami by her side.

Ames has a ton of things to do after school. The seventh grader likes Mr. Ivy. A girl like her doesn’t need extra discipline.

And she and her friends can walk to school. She hates the thought of commuting.

“You would have to wake up extra early to go to another school, and that doesn’t really help us with learning,” Alize said.

Diana Ruiz, 16, wants to be a teacher, she says after school on her way to the bus. She gets good grades, she has rank at Marine and she was determined to get into a military school. Her uniform is perfect though class is over, her dark hair still smoothed back. If Marine moves to Logan Square, it’d be too far from home. Location is why she didn’t go to Rickover Naval in Edgewater.

The more the neighbors stare at her uniform, the greater her sense of pride.

“I love the school and all it offers,” said Diana, a junior at Marine. “I’ve changed a lot and I’ve improved a lot because of the school.”

She is surrounded for the most part by children as motivated as she is. Choice is the key to succeeding here.

“We don’t want any kids if you send them where they don’t want to be,” Diana said. “They’re not going to do their best.”

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