So, What Now?
Narrated by Olivia Obineme
How does a school go from having over 1,500 students to less than 150 in a decade?
For one, people are leaving Englewood. In the fifteen years between 2000 and 2015, almost 15,000 Englewood residents left.
And there was another major change in the Chicago educational landscape: the expansion of charter schools.
In 2009, the state charter law is amended via Illinois state bill 612. The bill increased the state charter cap, allowing for 75 charters in Chicago.
Theodria doesn’t remember seeing a massive drop in educational quality at Robeson with the expansion of charter school options in her neighborhood. But she does remember, when she had the choice of where to send her two middle grandchildren once they graduated from middle school, choosing charter.
[Theodria: “I didn't send them to Robeson and I didn't send them to Harper. One of the reasons why was because, um, uh, one of the twins was very quiet. One of them was a socialite and it was just too.
The gang situation was just not a, the, whether it was real or not, it was the reputation of the gangs being in that area or being in the school. So I chose to send them to a charter school. [...] They went to Ralph Ellison, which is on 79th and um, your horn or something near [???], it was in the Englewood community, I didn't send them out of the community. Uh, but I did send them to and one of the reasons I chose that school was that they kept their freshmen, uh, at that time that school had a separate building for the freshmen. So it was like they were in high school but they weren't involved with the whole high school curriculum and the whole high school environment. And that's, that was one of the selling points for me.”]
And what of the students that chose to remain at their neighborhood high school?
Keisha Ruth graduated in 2011. She was a high achieving student who originally wanted to go to Whitney Young or Simeon, but she didn’t apply. Next she considered CVS--Chicago Vocational School--or Phillips.
[KEISHA RUTH: “So my aunt was raising me at the time so she was like, OK, you can just go on and go to Robeson. And I was like, well I don't want to go to Robeson.”]
Although it wasn’t her first choice, or second, or fourth, Keisha actually ended up really enjoying Robeson.
[Keisha Ruth: “I had some of the best teachers in the world at that school. Anybody could ever ask for whether education wise or personal wise, you know, inside the classroom, outside the classroom. These the type of teacher that you want as far as high school kids.”]
She had friendly rivalries with her classmates.
[Keisha Ruth: “I had a friend, she was a point ahead of me. She thought I was going to be Valedictorian, so we've got a friend like that who was working and trying to get good grades and just a smart as you. You keep them type of people around.”]
But things weren’t all amazing. One time Keisha got jumped.
[Keisha Ruth: “I got jumped. It was my freshman year was two period Algebra class and I had ms Carlton. I'll never forget her, but when I got jumped she wasn't there. And it's always stuff happening when the teachers is not there. You got jumped in the classrooms? I did. It was like a one on one and it became a jump in with two sisters. They, they jumped me, um, with the substitute teacher in the room. I think, um, I think she was there. Um, and it was crazy because my cousin, my male cousin, he had just left. So you can tell, like I said at these times, the teacher's not here and the class was booming. Everybody in the class, I just remember cause it was cold until, you know, they want to start a shift for some reason. I don't know, I wasn't friends with this girl. We was cool and I don't know what was on her mind. Just like, no, those females or those guys? That they'd be in the hallway and they just talking shit and they just, we just thinking they hard and all that. You got to show them look this ain't what you want over here. So I don't know, she just started problems with me and ah, I forgot the conversation but I just remember she was running up and I sliced the interface, uh, with scissors and um, and we fought and then her sister jumps. So yeah, she was bleeding. But um, I didn't get arrested. I didn't get in trouble while I was going to get arrested, but it was so quick, like you couldn't have seen it if you was in that group of people. So I don't know, you know, just the starters, just people who's just thinking they run the school or whatever you want to call it, you want to be the hardest. You got this loud mouth and stuff like that. So you know you're going to get shut down if you was dealing with me. So you know, it's just like I wasn't really the type of person that was scared of anything. It's just that I just wasn't with the BS. Meaning like I'm not fitting to start nothing with you. I'm not Finna just disrespecting disrespect you in, you know, just be hard off the top. Like I can beat Yo ass through the school. Like I attack anybody. Nah. I was me, I was cool. They knew I was a girl with a big butt or whatever or the long hair the big hair, whatever. I'll take that all day. But then you disrespected me starting shit then it's a problem. So OK, we faught, her sister jumped me and you know, we got broken up by security and all her kiki braids came out and that was, that was the same month I was 16 because I can go back. I remember this I had my cute feather wrapping my head was my own long hair and you know, I can actually honestly say as a woman being on birth control your head gets my. Sorry, your hair gets long but the dead hair comes out. So as I'm fighting some of this hair is shedding, but that's OK because it's gonna come out anyway. So you know, I'm fighting, I see her kiki braids in the garbage, so I'm like damn. I'm like damn. I got her.”
And outside of school, Keisha didn’t really have a great support system. But she was a driven student who wanted to succeed. So she did.
[ambi from report card pick up]
Anthony Smith is a senior now. He lives with his foster parent near Chicago State. We met him on report card pick up day, a clear, warm day in what had been an unseasonably cold April.
[ambi going to Anthony’s house]
Later, we met him at his house to talk about his past four years at Robeson.
[BACKGROUND WHILE NARRATING, Anthony Smith: “My life story. Is... It's like probably like any other kid, regular life story, but got bad and good going. So my life stories basically like I wasn't. I didn't grow up with mom and dad. Dad was sick, my mom was in jail. Grandma adopted me, so live with my grandma at the time that we live with my grandma. Grandma was probably the only person that really loved me. Really do stuff for me, cared for me all that. So it was like sisters and brothers didn't really get to see like that. Didn't know why. And Grandma just always took care of me. Grandma passed away, 2016, passed away. Then didn't really have nowhere to go. Moved in with one of my aunties.]
Life for Anthony has been very hard. When his grandmother died his sophomore year at Robeson, he bounced around from relative to relative, then from foster parent to foster parent. He’s finally found stability with his current guardian. But before now, his life outside of school and inside of school was unstable.
When Anthony heard Robeson was closing, he was glad.
[Anthony Smith: “When I first heard. When I first heard that Robeson was going to be closing. So tell you the truth. I was kind of happy because I'm like, I was kind of happy cause I was like, oh, I was just thinking like, I done been going to this school for four years and this school done took me through, through, through hell. So I'm like, oh, this school again, I'm not even gonna lie to you. I'm thinking like this school can go to hell.”]
[Erisa: What hell did you go through at Robeson?
Anthony: Far as all the fights and all the gang banging and all the drama and all the just just drama, drama, drama, drama, drama, drama, drama, drama. I'm not, like I said, I'm not going to say I was an angel, but it was just drama, drama, fights, Gang Banging, drama. Drama, drama.]
[Anthony Smith: I'm in the classroom. Person say something. Well you ugly woo woo, Woo. Nah, you're looking at it like, bro, who the fuck is you? Why is you talking to? Why is you Talking to me bro? You don't even know me bro why is you talking to Me. Now We arguing, now we finna get ready to fight. just. Oh, some little stuff just like that. And that's how. That's how I done seen so many fights at Robeson, like so many. Just so many girl fights, dudes fights, jump ons. People coming up to the school to fight other people. I done seen so much stuff. So it was like, what can you do about all that”]
When I asked Anthony if there was anything he liked about Robeson, he mentioned the peace room.
[Anthony Smith: His name was Mr. Meyers and that is one dude I ain't never forget because it was like the peace room was like you can go to the peace run and you can, you can go to the peace room, you can talk. Tell him what's going on. The peace room was all about working things out.”]
The peace room was a part of a restorative justice program at Robeson. It This restorative justice program at Robeson lowered out-of-school suspensions and police notifications, and it raised students’ communication and problem solving skills.
[Anthony Smith: “It was a fight with this boy named Favors that it felt like, I don't know. I, I, I believe he was gay. That's what I believe. I believe he was gay and he had a lot of mouth and kept touching. just touching on me, grabbing on me and stuff like, bro I don't mess around Like that. You can't be touched on me. You can't be touching on me bro. So I got into an argument one time in the classroom. got into a argument, I think Mr. Myers myers was in the classroom with us and he kept talking crazy to me, be like me and real disrespectful like this when I was, I was still working on my uh, I was still working on my uh... Anger management. “
ERISA: “Mr. Myers was talking crazy to you”
ANTHONY: Favors was talking crazy to me. But Mr. Meyers was in the same class because sometimes we have a... we have a peace talk in class. [...] He just kept on and talk crazy to me. So I got up and I think he threw a book or something. He threw something. But once he threw it, I was finna swing. But then Mr. Meyer, I guess he jumped in the way. He was like "stop Anthony, just walk off." So I listened to what he said and just walked out and I went down to the peace room. The other boy came with him. We got to talking. It was like, I'm not really trying to hear it at the time, but I just sat down and I just listened. And we used to do this, like just little meditating thing, like he have a, like a little bell. He uh, hit the hit the stick against the bell and it'll ring and then like moment of silence. And I just think to myself, calm myself and take a deep breath and I'll be, uh, I'll be calm.”]
Peace rooms and the restorative justice program is something Anthony hopes they bring back in the new school.
Anthony is sad about one thing. Even though his time there was troubled, Anthony wishes the other kids who liked Robeson could’ve graduated from Robeson.
Kids like Cameron Harris, a freshman. Cameron specifically chose Robeson. For one, his mom went there.
[CAMERON HARRIS: He chose Robeson for football]
Cameron likes Robeson. He likes his teachers, his friends. He was even voted homecoming prince. Next year, he’ll be heading to Hyde Park Academy.
When Englewood High School began phasing out, Robeson was one of its receiving schools. So was Hyde Park Academy in Woodlawn.
Now, with Robeson closing, Hyde Park Academy is bound to receive some Robeson students.
[clips of Hyde Park Academy students commenting on influx of Robeson kids and what they fear might happen]
At both the community meetings in January and in an email response to our inquiries, CPS mentioned the $8.5 million dollars that they’re investing in supporting students affected by Robeson’s closing and the other three Englewood school’s phasing out.
In an email, CPS Press Secretary Emily Bolton wrote, quote: “Student safety is the district’s top priority, and every student transitioning out of Robeson, as well as other Englewood high school students who have decided to transfer, will get a personalized safety plan.” End quote.
Cameron isn’t worried about transferring to Hyde Park Academy. It was on his list before he chose Robeson.
One of the things we wanted to know was why current freshmen can’t go to the new school.
[CLIP OF CAMERON AND SHIRLEY RESPONDING TO THAT]
In a response via email, Bolton wrote, quote, “In order to build a new, cohesive school community, we know from experience that the phase-in approach is the best option.” End quote. She cited schools like Sarah Goode, Back of the Yards, and Dyett Arts High School as places where a strong school community was born out of the gradual expansion from 9th to 12th grade.
[CPS response to why new school is only for incoming freshman]