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Back of the Yards Residents Wary About Upcoming High School

As the Back of the Yards High School plans to open in the fall 2013, residents say they are beginning to worry about the safety and education of students.

Members of gangs like the Two-Six and the Saints are active in the area.

“I’m not really fond of it for the fact that Back of the Yards is really infested with gang-banging and having a high school in our area not even a block away, you’re going to have gangs all over the neighborhood going to one single high school,” said Back of the Yards resident Daniel Tafoya.

Residents said they want more security and community involvement to help keep the neighborhood secure. They said the police presence won’t be enough.

“It’s going to be a lot of death.  A lot of violence. It’s too many Latino gangs around here,” said one parent who asked to not be identified.

Since the announcement of the school’s development in 2008, residents have been critical of the idea. The Public Building Commission, implementing the new Urban High School prototype, designed the high school, which will be located at 47th Street and Hoyne Avenue.

The school will provide children a neighborhood school, as the closest schools in Back of the Yards now are Richards Career Academy and Tilden Community High School, outside that area.

Back of the Yards High School is also going to have a public library available to residents.

The high school will be an International Baccalaureate curriculum-based school. IB schools typically are more rigorous with their teaching as it covers a more international-based education instead of the regular curriculum taught in Chicago Public Schools. The program is recognized all over the world and has several locations in Chicago, like Hyde Park Academy and Lincoln Park High School.

Newly appointed principal for Back of the Yards High School, Patricia Barrera-Brekke, has hopes that the parents will understand that the IB program isn’t going to harm their child’s chances of advancing through school.

“It’s my understanding that parents are concerned about the high school because it’s an IB program,” Barrera-Brekke said. “When they hear IB, they think selective and they think ‘What about my kid?’ So, what our effort is going to be is that we’re going to be a wall-to-wall IB. We’ll be a neighborhood school where every student that is interested in that school, and we hope it’s every kid, chooses us.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard recently announced the wall-to-wall program for Back of the Yards High School. The program will have five high schools that will take students who are freshmen and sophomore and place them in a Middle Years Program.

Once they’re finished with their sophomore year, students can decide if they want to pursue a full Diploma Program, IB certificate, IB career-related certificate or complete an IB core requirement.

Some parents at a neighboring elementary school, James Hedges, aren’t concerned about the IB curriculum.

Geysi Rivera said it’s not up to the school to train the children but the parents.

“I believe it’s according to how the parents raise them. You can be in the worst area and school and still get As,” she said.

According to, Hedges 8th grade ISAT (Illinois Standard Achievements Test) scores for 2012 have been below Illinois’ state average. However, a Hedges teacher, Alex Airey, said the school’s students are ready to handle the curriculum that the IB program holds.

“From what I’ve read in the results, it’s been very positive to what the curriculum provides,” he said.

Barrera-Brekke’s biggest challenge for the upcoming year is to find staff that is willing to teach under the IB program and has experience in it.

“I think it’s going to be pretty critical and making sure the staff is well prepared to deliver an IB curriculum to kids,” she said.

She wants teachers who are willing to create curricula and don’t to teach a “pre-packaged curriculum.” She has already begun recruiting students from schools in the area to attend the school. She’s also looking for parents to assist with security and watch over students.

Some residents welcome the new school and said the school will improve the image of the neighborhood and provide an economic boost.

“It’s going to make the houses here grow value by the fact that we’re having a high school here. Obviously with having a high school, we’re going to have a park and the library,” Tafoya said.

Storeowner Jose Calderon said the school will impact the children the most.

“People say, ‘Oh, you’re going to get a lot of business.’ I don’t know, it may or may not, it depends on where the students come from. But I think it’s going to bring a lot of people over here. It’s going to be less crowded. They have Richards and we get one (high school) over here,” he said.

With many IB school students predominately African-American and Hispanic and also living in poverty, Barrera-Brekke, the future principal, wants to use the school as a tool for the students.

“Every kid’s got a goal, right? And how do they get there? I don’t think they grow up wanting to be somebody with negative behaviors. So we have to show them what the power of education does,” she said.

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