Two Chicago public schools spent decades just blocks apart, but each served a very different student population. On Tuesday, the two schools became one.
The new Ogden-Jenner school merges an overcrowded Gold Coast elementary school that serves many white and wealthy students with an under-enrolled school that historically served poor, black students from the Cabrini-Green housing project.
The school district went forward with the controversial merger after several years of debate, studies, and planning. It represents a grand experiment for Chicago Public Schools, marking one of the rare times the school district has pursued a plan that would intentionally integrate two schools.
David Ramos, the local school council of the new combined school, is optimistic the two schools can come together seamlessly. The Ogden building is for kindergarten through fourth grade students while the Jenner building, about six blocks away, has fifth through eighth grade students.
“We are all Chicago,” said Ramos, who accompanied the principal on Tuesday to both campuses to ring the opening bell. “We go to the same Jewel, [the] same community stores in the neighborhood here. So why not say, ‘I know you because you are an Ogden parent.’ That is what is great about it.”
Many Ogden-Jenner students said they were excited be finally starting school, but also nervous. They had many opportunities to meet their new classmates last school year and over the summer.
For many of the Ogden parents, combining the schools is a chance for their kids to get outside their comfort zone.
“I think it will help them adapt to what the real world will look like,” said Senitra Griffin, an Ogden mom. “Everything is not be cookie-cutter all the time, and we have to learn how to adapt to change.”
The stakes for Jenner parents are higher. They see it as a chance for their kids to get a better education. Several said they were looking forward to a school with more resources. This year, for example, the library at the Jenner building is reopening after years of sitting dormant.
They said they believed that schools serving white, wealthier families have smaller classes and better programs.
The idea to merge the two schools was first floated by the principals of Ogden and Jenner in 2015. Jenner Principal Robert Croston pushed the idea as a way to make sure his students had equal access to resources.
He also was worried that Jenner, which had a dwindling population, would be shut down and then reopened for other students.
Croston died last year after an illness. But Ogden Principal Michael Beyer carried the project forward.