On the South Side, a Top High School Waits for Diversity | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

On the South Side, a Top High School Waits for Diversity

Chicago Public Schools will be releasing some important numbers in the coming days. They'll tell the public who got into the city's elite high schools. Advocates are concerned that a new admissions policy in place this year will mean fewer seats for black and Latino students at those top schools. Most of the attention will be on selective enrollment high schools north of Roosevelt Road—big-name schools like Whitney Young and Northside College Prep. But one South Side college prep is in for some significant changes there.

At King College Prep High School in the Kenwood neighborhood… you can count the number of freshmen who are NOT African-American on a single hand. There's one white kid, two Native Americans, and two Latinos—in a class of 231 students.


GOLDSTEIN: When I first came here I remember in the lunchroom and someone told me they hadn't seen someone with blue eyes before, which I thought was kind of weird.


Daniel Goldstein is the only white kid in the senior class.


GOLDSTEIN: So I think definitely diversity helps with getting past the shock of interacting with people who are different than you.


King wants to enroll kids from all backgrounds. And the school has tried. King has bused kids in from nearby Chinatown elementary schools for tours, showing off its theater and renowned band program. The school hired a bilingual staffer to communicate with Latino parents it hopes will arrive someday.


But in a segregated town like Chicago, attracting nonblack kids to a south-side school has been a tough assignment—even if it is a selective enrollment school with a white principal. Jeff Wright:


WRIGHT: If you've been told your whole life, ‘No, you do not cross 47th Street or the viaduct or the Dan Ryan,' or whatever it happens to be, then sending your 14- or 15-year-old child past that same barrier is very difficult.


But next fall, the number of white, Asian and Latino kids in King's freshman class will hit a new high—jumping from 5 to 26.


John Trock is one reason why.


Here's our list of kids… and let's see here. What I do is I keep a file. Every student has a file. Here's all our graduates this year.  


Trock is a counselor at Seward Elementary in the largely Mexican Back of the Yards neighborhood, about 4 miles due west of King.


Trock has had students accepted into King before, and he had more accepted this year, which he thinks might be related to the district's new admissions policy. But no one from Trock's nearly all-Latino elementary school has crossed the racial line to go to King in the past. He's seen kids go to less prestigious schools or take long bus rides rather than enrolling there. This year, Trock tried harder to sell King.


TROCK: Once we start to get a few, we'll get more. You have to break the ice. So that's what we did this year. We took the field trip. They were wonderful at King High School. It's a beautiful school. It has a wonderful academic program. And we took the kids over there and they went through it and they looked at the school, and that's how I got some students to go to King.

VANESSA: Most schools have only certain things you can join—but they had almost everything.


Vanessa Ochoa loved King when Trock brought her and classmates there.


VANESSA: They had a lot of sports, they had a lot of different activities for art—They have band, vocals—a lot of things that I like.


She had the grades and test scores to get in. But it turned out there was another hurdle—her parents.


FATHER: At first, honestly, I just didn't want her to go there.  No, No, you're not going. Basically because of where it's at.


Vanessa eventually persuaded her dad and mom, Cesar Ochoa and Veronica Garcia. She told them she wouldn't be alone; three classmates from Seward are planning to go too. She dragged her mom to an open house. People with money are moving into the area around King—people of all races— and her mom noticed that. And one of the school's only white students was the tour guide at the open house.


MOTHER: She said that her father was a teacher there. So it makes me think that maybe we're missing out. How do we know that's a bad school? How do we know that… maybe we're all missing out on that great opportunity! So I'm willing to give her a chance.


But back at Seward Elementary, some of Vanessa's classmates have been less open-minded. They're giving her a hard time.


VANESSA: Like today, one of my friends was asking me, ‘Would you go out with a black person?' And I didn't answer him. I'm like, whatever. Just ignored him.  And he's like, ‘How come you don't answer me?' I'm like, ‘I don't wanna answer that. I don't really care about that.' And he's like, ‘So you will!' And then he started being racist, and I'm like, just be quiet.


Vanessa insists she won't cave in and go to another school But the pressure is real for her and other classmates. Salvador Rosas' friends tell him King is a black school.


SALVADOR: A lot of my friends are telling me I should change my mind because of that. Well, they're saying that I should go to a school that's more balanced, because they might just exclude me or something. But I'm pretty sure it's a really good school, and I really like it. So I really want to go there.


ROSAS: Tengo temor, porque es barrio de gente morena.

Salvador's mom is scared he's going to a black neighborhood for school. She says two of her older sons got into scuffles with black kids en route to their schools. 


ROSAS:  Le quebraron su nariz. Entonces para poder mandar los niños a otro barrio, que no hay mayoría hispanos, sí da miedo.


[TRANSLATION: They broke his nose. So to send your kids to another neighborhood where Latinos are not the majority—it is scary.]


Ambi: King College Prep High School


Some students at King say they've never, in 10 years of schooling, been in a class with anyone outside their race. All the students I interviewed at King told me they welcome more diversity.


But freshman Ashia Tukes says it might not be easy for anybody.


TUKES: I think it's going to be hard for some of us too because we're not used to it. So, like, they're gonna feel kind of out of place because they're not used to seeing other races. Just like I'm not used to it. But I can adjust to it.


Freshman Maryiah Winding has a provocative prediction for this historically black school—and one that's likely to concern black parents who've been fighting for good schools for their children.


WINDING: I'm pretty sure that by the time I graduate, that African Americans will no longer be the majority at King. Every year the diversity increases. I think it's a good thing. I prefer more diverse settings. But I just hope it doesn't interfere with good opportunities for African Americans.  


We'll know soon whether African American kids have lost seats in the city's very top schools. If they have, integrating King may be a lot more controversial.

Music Button:  Samantha James, "Life is Waiting", from the CD Subconscious, (Om)


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