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Free days at museums are important for education

Shedd Aquarium | Sun-Times Medifiles

Shedd Aquarium | Sun-Times Media files

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Updated: September 20, 2013 6:11AM

In the late 1970s I attended Loop College in the “old building” at 70 E. Lake Street, between Wabash and Michigan avenues. Back then, I knew every free admission day at the Art Institute, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. After classes, I would stash my rucksack of books in a locker and wander the various great halls at each place.

As Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney noted last week, Gov. Pat Quinn recently vetoed a measure that would have reduced the number of free days at “state museums and aquariums.” Unfortunately, it appears that the legislature has enough votes to overturn the governor’s decision.

Whether at state cultural institutions or private ones, free admission days are important for education. As a now-departed history professor told me long ago, 90 percent of education happens outside of the classroom. I would add that not all knowledge has to come with a price tag attached. But our politicians and so-called educators have seemingly forgotten both points.

John Vukmirovich, East Side

Whether charter school or not, our students deserve best education

While there have been many editorials and articles lately about the opening of charter schools as district schools in Chicago have been closing, I believe we are all missing the bigger picture: education. As the executive director of Erie Neighborhood House (ENH) and a board member of Erie Elementary Charter School (EECS), I can tell you firsthand that I am pro high-quality education, wherever that education happens.

Erie Neighborhood House has dedicated well over a century to educating the community, including opening EECS in 2005, which provides Chicago children with a high-quality bilingual education that values their unique life experience, language and culture. Like every other charter school, EECS is a public school. Any child who lives in Chicago is welcome. By law, EECS cannot accept only children from the neighborhood, but must — and is happy to — enroll students who live anywhere in the city.

At Erie Elementary Charter School, 100 percent of our lead teachers are certified (all charter schools are required to have at least 75 percent certified teachers). We are required to meet accountability standards set by CPS, including taking the ISAT (and now NWEA) standardized tests. EECS has always received its funding on a per pupil basis, leaving us with less revenue than most district schools. And, while district schools’ operational costs are covered by CPS as a whole rather than school by school, Erie (and all charter schools) must use the per pupil funding we receive to cover all of our costs, including maintenance staff and building improvements.

We do all this while still meeting the needs of a historically disenfranchised population. Nearly half of our students come from Humboldt Park and Logan Square, 90 percent of our students are Latino and African-American, each year we have the same or more special needs children than the CPS average, and 85 percent of our students meet or exceed the income requirements for free or reduced-price lunch. Traditionally, quality education has not been available in high-need, low-income neighborhoods. This is exactly why Erie opened in the first place. We wanted to give another option — a family choice — for high-quality education. And, while our success can be measured by 95 percent student attendance or 82.4 percent of students meeting or exceeding the CPS-defined grade level standards, I believe our biggest indicator of success is measured by our family desire — and 300-student waitlist — to attend Erie Elementary Charter School.

While these charter school clarifications serve to dispel many common myths, EECS is simply trying to do its best for the students it serves. I hope we can stop focusing on charter-versus-district schools and instead focus on what we all agree is most important — ensuring a high quality public education for every child.

Celena Roldan-Moreno, River West

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