Despite the complaints of Logan Square residents, teachers and students, Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the unpopular decision to turn Ames Middle School into a military academy due to “gang-related activity” last December.
Since the military academy has a selective admission process, many students are forced to attend Kelvyn Park High School, which now teaches grades seventh through twelfth to account for the student displacement. Not only will some middle schoolers be prematurely pushed academically due to seventh and eighth graders now having to learn at a ninth grade level, but also many parents are concerned that the high school will experience overcrowding.
Alondra Moreno, 13, is an eighth grader at the new Marine Math and Science Academy located at 1920 N. Hamlin Ave. She previously attended Ames and said the new school is unfair in its demands.
“During a drill, I was given walking orders and abbreviations that I didn’t understand,” Moreno said. “I asked the sergeant what was going on, instead of explaining it to me the first time, I was screamed at, then told properly what to do.”
In addition to these types of interactions, girls wearing their hair in a bun, boys having buzz cuts and shirts being tucked in are just some of the changes that students must adjust to in the new school.
Thomas Schreck, who taught at Ames for 14 years, said he values the relationships that he has with his students.
“I feel as though I am losing kids and losing connections; with the new school I do not feel like I can do that 100 percent,” Schreck said.
Other changes at the new school troubled the longtime educator. He said students don’t have recess, so they have less time express themselves and be kids. He also expressed concern about the school’s tacit endorsement of the military.
“I feel disturbed,” Schreck said. “I do not want students to get the message that they have to join the military.”
Many in the community said the change was a political move, rather than a beneficial one.
Emma Segura, 36, is a mother of a son who would have attended the old Ames Middle School this fall. She said she went to board meetings and door-to-door to protest this change. But the efforts she and many others made failed.
A referendum that contained a majority in favor of Ames Middle School not being turned into a military academy was also ignored.
Maldonado, Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools were unavailable for comment.
Other factors in the making of the military academy did not match up, Segura said.
“Humboldt Park asked Chicago Public Schools to give them money to fix their school,” Segura said. “Instead they gave Ames $7 million to make it a military school.”
The money could have been used on new materials for the students instead of also using money for a new football field, she added.
“CPS said they had no money, so it makes no sense for them to make these changes,” Segura said.
In addition, multiple after school programs that were previously at Ames will be discontinued. Many people said they’ll miss Elev8, a program that extended learning opportunities for students beyond the classroom, provided school-based health services and offered family support and resources designed to promote economic stability.
“It was an amazing program where teacher and parent mentors would work as a team to let students know that there were people in the school that cared about them,” Schreck said.
Moreno, who was a part of the program, said she enjoyed getting help on her homework and going on field trips to tour colleges over the weekend.
Schreck said that he and other teachers were skillful in dealing with gang members. Each teacher at the school had a specific group of students that they were in charge of throughout the school year.
“I usually had the gang kids in my group, but no one would know it because kids from opposite gangs would be friends in my classroom,” he said.
One thing is certain: many people are unsatisfied with this new change.
“The only way we can improve in education is if CPS pays attention to what the schools really need,” Segura said.