After a long and painful Chicago teachers strike, many people in the Chicago area want to put 2019 school news far behind them. But before moving into 2020, it’s worth a pause to remember what else happened this year. Senior Editor Kate Grossman, who oversees schools coverage at WBEZ, picked the education stories of 2019 that are well worth a second look.
Here’s a series that’s essential reading for anyone interested in the big issues affecting Chicago Public Schools. Many schools, often in the poorest parts of town, can go an entire school year without a teacher. Compounding those vacancies, the schools also face a severe shortage of substitutes willing to come to their communities. In a three-part series, Sarah Karp brings to life what this means for students and their schools.
More than 50 years ago, Cheryl Sundari Dembe and Marilyn Webb enrolled in Ph.D. programs at the University of Chicago among just a handful of women. Both left without degrees after facing harassment and discrimination. Last June, Dembe and Webb returned to campus to bring home the degrees they had been wrongly denied. Kate McGee’s story transports you back to the 1960s, into these women’s lives and thoughts today, and to their culminating graduation ceremonies.
In this story, WBEZ’s suburban and state education reporter Susie An looks at the growing enrollment of new immigrant students from Latin American in suburban schools. Susie takes listeners and readers to Bensenville in DuPage County where you meet a teen named Elder, who left his family behind in Guatemala. Although he’s 17 years old, he started school as a freshman because he’s behind academically. “I want to study,” he said through an interpreter. “I don’t do it out of obligation or because I have to do it. I do it because I like academics.”
In recent years, the percentage of Chicago Public Schools students earning at least one college credit by taking college level classes in their high schools has skyrocketed, from 5% in 2014 to almost 15% now. “They saw new doors that could open up for me,” one student told WBEZ about her high school, where she took college-level classes. “That pushed me to do better and drove me to want to go to school.” But as early college has grown in Chicago, some worry the classes are watered-down and give lower-performing students the false impression they are ready for college-level work. Reporters Sarah Karp and Kate McGee explore this fascinating issue.
Remember in 2009, when states across the country began to embrace a new set of tough learning standards called Common Core? It was meant to transform how students are taught and what they learn. Ten years later, reporters Susie An and Adriana Cardona-Maguigad visited schools in the area to see if the policy is living up to its promise.
When the University of Illinois at Chicago suddenly and unexpectedly announced last fall that it was cutting its gymnastics teams at the end of the school year, Kate McGee knew there was a story to tell. In beautiful and moving detail she chronicled the final season of the women’s gymnastics team — telling the personal tale of a group of young women struggling with the loss of their team family and a sport that had profoundly shaped them, as well as a broader story about college sports.
This story about Walter Payton College Prep, a selective enrollment high school on the city’s North Side, got a lot of people talking. On the surface, the elite school school is knocking it out of the park, regularly named the best school in the city and the state. But inside, it has also been grappling with a big drop in black students that has coincided with a series of disturbing racial incidents in recent years.
And lest you think we only do serious here at WBEZ, this delightful story by Adriana Cardona-Maguigad looks at the explosion in recent years of prom send-offs — the party before prom. Some send-offs are over the top, but the mom we profiled tried to hold back. She looked at her son’s wish list and vetoed a few things, like a throne and a crown. “I am not gonna rent a chair for [him] to sit in for 15 minutes,” she said. “He also wanted a red Mercedes-Benz rented for him — so we had to veto that as well.” Also, the photos by Marc Monaghan are gorgeous.