For a neighborhood to thrive, there must be people, there must be jobs, there must be businesses. And, above all, there must be schools –– high-functioning schools to give a neighborhood a platform to build upon.
Without thriving schools, a neighborhood has no solid ground and will sink.
Too often, Chicago’s neighborhood schools become a footnote in the ever-present discussion of what’s wrong with the city. The truth is that many neighborhood high schools –– like Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts –– offer substantive, quality options for parents and students.
Given its success, it’s hard to imagine that Dyett’s future was in limbo not so long ago. But thanks to protests, which included a 34-day hunger strike, Chicago Public Schools officials reversed their decision to close Dyett at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
With the backing of Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, support from the residents of Bronzeville and Washington Park and dedicated faculty and staff, Dyett, Chicago’s only open enrollment arts high school, is now thriving. This proves that academic stress and intellectual rigor are not limited, nor should they be, by area code or cross streets.
Students here have the opportunity to take the highest levels of core classes. The school offers a variety of Advanced Placement courses in the humanities and natural sciences. Rising juniors can enroll in college classes during the summer months and beyond, earning credit free of charge. The school also requires that each student select an “Art Pathway.” These include traditional/visual art, digital media, theater, music and dance.
Upon graduating from Dyett, alums have had valuable experiences and a supportive network of not-for-profit organizations, businesses and corporate partners. As a result of a strategic partnership with nonprofit digital startup incubator 1871, for example, some students became “Eagle Entrepreneurs,” getting hands-on instruction from my good friend Howard Tullman, 1871’s former CEO.
Brandon Breaux, one of the city’s prominent artists, donates his time and energy, regularly sponsoring field trips to the Chicago Cultural Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art. That’s just one example of how Dyett students, including my own child, are exposed to industries relevant to their interests.
The staff has implemented mentoring programs and services to help students navigate challenges that might arise. Polished Pebbles, Male Mogul, GIRL Speak and Bright Star Community Outreach’s TURN Center are a few of the organizations that provide mentoring, trauma counseling, restorative justice and more.
The students are coming to understand that the only price for a quality education is one’s willingness to work hard.
As the chairman of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, I am extremely proud that Dyett is one of our neighborhood schools. For every stakeholder who fought for this school, it clearly was worth the struggle.
Christopher Harris Sr. is senior pastor of Bright Star Church.