How To Walk To School
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February 16th, 2009 by jacqueline

Hope your new year is off to a rockin’ good start. Lots of great news to share…

In Cyberspace

I’m crazy excited to start blogging for Mamapedia! Check out my latest Mamapedia post!

Mamapedia connects moms at every stage of their children’s lives to compelling content from the source they trust most: other moms. Mamapedia puts all the answers from it’s sister site Mamasource on one easily searchable and accessible virtual town square. Today, Mamapedia.com and the Mamasource communities reach more than two million moms. That’s a lot of moms to power our public school revolution!

I plan to report stories from the front lines of school reform. Shoot me an email, include a jpeg of yourself or your family, if you like, and I’ll incorporate your experience or questions in my How to Walk to School Mamapedia blog post. So, as soon as I can get it together, this page is going to start looking a whole lot more like a real blog post.

Artsy Shark just posted an interview. Always super exciting when the art world takes notice. Every school should be visually delicious. Magic, one gallon of paint at a time.


On the Road

On January 25th, I spoke at Busboy and Poet in partnership with DC Voice and Teaching for Change, 6:30 to 8 PM, 2021 14th St. and V. C-span will be broadcasting the event on Book TV! Let you know when it airs. I was deeply honored that Marty Blank of the Community Schools Coalition introduced me.

Last week, I was the first speaker in the  Kansas City Public Library’s “What Works in Urban Education” series, presented by Tom Bloch and the University Academy. Almost one hundred people came, including Kansas City Mayor, Mark Funkhouser, who is leading the fight for educational reform in Kansas, and our message is part of his initiative!!   Click here to listen to my Kansas City talk (and the Mayor’s following comments).

More book gigs on the docket; check for updates under events and Facebook:

Chicago, February 23: Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Little Theater of Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave,  773 288-8343

Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 7th, 7:30 pm, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA venue: Free Library Of Philadelphia – Central Library, in partnership with the Joseph Fox Book Shop

This year, I hope to visit most major cities. If you know of an organization that would like to host an event, send an email. In the meantime, you can take a virtual tour of the school on YouTube.

In the Press

In Kansas, I spoke with
NPR’s Walt Bodine, the city’s iconic broadcaster, and his tremendous co-host Gina Kaufmann. Lots of interesting callers, especially a parent representing a group in Lawrence, Kansas called Keep Our Neighborhood Schools Open. Proof, once again, that even small cities are struggling with the same problems we face in the giant metropolis. Click here to listen to the NPR interview with Walt.

Susan knocked it out of the park on Chicago Public Radio’s 848. In a super-surreal moment, I shared a page in the Chicago Tribune with Sam Zell and Penny Pritzker.

Last month, while tapping WGN news, I got to spend 45 min in the greenroom with, get this, Jesse Jackson. We talked and talked about Bikram yoga (the man’s 70 years old and in great shape!), and how we could work together to spark a grassroots public school reform movement. After the show, the Reverend even drove me home. How crazy is that? With Jesse behind us, our movement will be unstoppable!

Double good reviews

Booklist (starred review)

“Nettelhorst Elementary School had been on the decline since the 1960s when families living in its Chicago North Side neighborhood fled to the suburbs. As the neighborhood rebounded, the school did not. Then eight energetic women meeting in a nearby park, frustrated that their soon-to-be-school-age children had so few options-either pricey private schools or excruciating competition for the few slots in public magnet schools-decided to take up the challenge of resurrecting a school plagued by declining enrollment and low achievement. Edelberg was part of that parent group; Kurland was the new principal, receptive to new ideas and active parents. In this highly informative book, Edelberg and Kurland essentially lay out a model for reviving the neighborhood school. They detail the struggles, from tensions with some teachers, to a lack of cooperation with school bureaucracy, to charges by some parents that the school was being gentrified. The reformers knew they had to focus on the essentials: develop partnerships with local businesses and nonprofit organizations, improve academic performance, and improve the school’s image to attract more middle-class families. After all the joy and struggle, the group transformed the school into a high performer that has been acclaimed nationally for its achievement. This is a compelling story of transformation and an incredibly helpful resource-a blueprint-for parents similarly motivated.” -Vanessa Bush

Publishers Weekly

“Parents living in the Chicago district served by the notoriously run-down Nettelhorst School-not necessarily failing, but with an unshakable reputation for it-faced a too-typical dilemma: try to get their children into ultra-competitive magnet schools? Find a way to pay for private school tuition? Move to the better-served suburbs? Instead, a small group of motivated parents, including author Edelberg, decided to take a whole new approach-work with principal Kurland to turn Nettelhorst into the school they wanted. Sooner than anyone expected, they had turned the flagging institution around; chronicled here, their process for revitalizing the local school provides an inspirational blueprint for any parents determined to make the most of public education. Edelberg and Kurland offer a lot of inspirational ideas in this memoir of their work but, aside from acknowledging the distinct advantage of a parent population with extra time and finances, they provide little perspective for those working for the same goals but with fewer resources. Still, this volume is an admirable achievement that will doubtless be looked to as a model for school districts in need.”

So, excellent news, and yet, the latest criticism I’ve heard has me apoplectic. This, from a uber-respected education expert, and a woman, no less: “I’m sure your little public school is great, and that you mommies have done a great job fixing it up, but until it’s a model that’s brought to scale, it really isn’t germane.” Are you kidding me? I thought mommies had already gone to scale? Why do so many experts and policy wonks believe that parents can’t really impact school reform in any systemic way? Little mommies, ha! Have they even been to a neighborhood sandbox lately?


Our Relentless Plea

Although you’re probably sick to death of hearing this by now, please, please help spread the word about How to Walk to School. We’ve had a lot of luck channeling our message through existing networks. For example, the National PTA sent out an endorsement to all its members. You can help: become a fan on Facebook, share this email with your friends, follow walktoschool on Twitter, post a review on Amazon and other websites, and, if the book’s not on the shelf of your local bookstore or library, ask them to stock it.

When President Obama asks Americans to roll up their sleeves and get to work, the notion that people could fix their neighborhood public school needs to be on the top of the list.  If you can think how to make our simple answer part of the national dialogue, we could spark a national grassroots school reform movement that could pull us all out of the giant mess we’re in. Now, wouldn’t that be something?


Thanksgiving 2009

The most amazing thing happened– The night before my talk at Labyrinth Books (BTW NJ Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy came), I happened upon a sidewalk chalk poem in front of that mythical Princeton Obama activist house, the very one that supposedly tipped the New Jersey election. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I decided to knock on the door, unannounced at 8:30 on a Sunday night, and ask the inhabitants how one might start a national movement.

Three hours and a bottle of wine later, Wayne and K.P. and his five delicious sons, and I became fast friends, talking, talking, and talking. I could not shut up. As it turns out, Wayne is the president of the Bonner Foundation, and guess what they do? Give wings to movements to bring about social justice and the betterment of humankind! Crazy, huh?

For five days days, down, down, the rabbit hole I went. I never left Wayne’s side, trotting after him like some goofy Irish Setter: meeting with the foundation staff, university presidents and deans, activists, college kids, and captains of industry. I toured a Trenton elementary school, saw the tragic war zone of a neighborhood, and ate lunch in a New Jersey prison. My week as Wayne’s sidekick from Chicago will go down as one of the very best of my life.

The next few months hatching this plan should be interesting. Keep you posted!

Just in: The review from Library Journal, hot off the presses:

“This is a fascinating account of the collaboration between a public school principal, Kurland, the parents of young children considering her elementary school, and the community that transformed a failing public school into an outstanding and revitalized one. In the face of disastrous, widespread public school system failures across America, parent dissatisfaction, and teacher despair, the Chicago-based Nettelhorst School’s success story is a beacon. Edelberg, one of the Nettelhorst parents, and Kurland offer educators hope that change can happen in any public school, given the right mix of parent-teacher patience, willpower, community involvement, pluck, creativity, collaboration, and ability to overcome adversity. They provide a blueprint that schools can use for revitalization projects, detailing, for instance, how to procure donations from area businesses and to ask questions that will get answers about difficult educational problems such as coping with dysfunctional and unsatisfactory teaching. VERDICT This book is essential reading for all elementary school parents and teachers, especially those who have lost their faith in the American public school system and are looking for ways to improve it. Here are solutions and inspiration.”

Click here to learn about Nettelhorst’s Innovative Public/Private Partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks President John McDonough, General Manager Stan Bowman, players John Madden and Thomas Kopecky, and Tommy Hawk unveil the new fitness center at The Nettelhorst School in Chicago. The event was attended by state and city political leaders, as well as by Chicago’s major broadcast and print media, and of course, the kids had a blast with Tommy Hawk and the team! This kind of public/private partnership sets the standard for what’s possible when people put their heads together. In the book, we’ve tried to offer practical advice for how school communities can leverage resources and cultivate mutually beneficial partnerships.

Check out Britton’s fab photo-montage of How to Walk to School’s Psychedelic Launch Party…

At the event, Governor Pat Quinn delivered a super groovy Proclamation:

Whereas, every day, millions of parents throughout the Unites States, including the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, send their children off to schools for an education; and WHEREAS, chools make substantial contributions to the future of America and to the development of our nation’s young people as knowledgeable, responsible and productive citizens; and WHEREAS, creativity, hard work, perseverance and passion can make an astounding difference in a building and in a community; and WHEREAS, while very child deserves a quality education and the skills they will need to succeed in life, the success of many schools is limited by budget realities, declining academic performance, unsatisfactory teaching, crime and violence; and WHEREAS, in their book How to Walk to School, Susan Kurland and Jacqueline Edelberg tell the story of how their efforts transformed Nettelhorst School from an underutilized, struggling neighborhood institution to a successful, community-supported school; and WHEREAS, the revitalization of the school was due to the neighborhood parents, teachers, local businesses and politicians working collectively to become advocates for their children’s education and taking responsibility for the success of the school; WHEREAS, their story is a powerful example of how parents, teachers, community members and policy makers can make a difference in reforming local schools through community involvement and collaboration; and WHEREAS, the observance of September 26 as How to Walk to School Day presents an opportunity to emphasize the importance of education and community development and recognize the leadership and vision of Illinois parents, teachers, businesses and elected officials who are committed to school reform:
THEREFORE, I, Pat Quinn, Governor of the State of Illinois, do hereby proclaim Saturday, September 26, 2009 as HOW TO WALK TO SCHOOL DAY in Illinois, and recognize Nettelhorst School and the collaborative community efforts that have helped transform it into a thriving, vibrant institution. In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Illinois to be affixed. Done at the Capitol, in the City of Springfield, this Twenty-Fifth day of September, in the Year of Our Lord two thousand and nine, and of the State of Illinois the one hundred and Ninety-First.
Pat Quinn
GOVERNOR

Charlie Northway, the talented Nettelhorst seconf grader who won the contest to design a special edition cover, and her proud little sister. Photo: Angie Garbot
Charlie Northway, the talented Nettelhorst second grader who won the contest to design a special edition cover, and her proud little sister. Photo: Angie Garbot

HUGE thank you to State Senator John Cullerton, State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, Alderman Tom Tunney, William Marovitz, Erica Tighe, Britton Walker, The Chicago Blackhawks, The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, Rowman and Littlefield Publishing, Unabridged Bookstore, Paciugo, Argo Tea, the Nettelhorst Community Group, and the Fabulous Revelettes for making our Go-Go party such a great success!

News from the summer:

Nettelhorst makes history leading Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade

Watch Nettelhorst dad, Britton’s, amazing video of the day

“I would like to take the opportunity to honor the administration, teachers, parents, and students of Nettelhorst School for their recognition and their courage during this year’s Pride Month. They also faced some bigotry, and their bravery is inspiring. At this year’s Parade, I proudly wore my Nettelhorst t-shirt to say thank you.”—44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney on Facebook

Two Nettelhorst teachers carry our school banner
Nettelhorst dad Greg Lanier says it best: “When the parade committee started out thinking about marching in the neighborhood Pride parade, we could never have imagined the amazing and overwhelming outpouring of support and solidarity for our simple message: All families matter” Straight, gay, and lesbian, young and old, we marched 200 strong together and we broke the mold by being the first school to participate in Chicago’s parade. And, every single one of you who helped with this effort, bought shirts, marched, danced, blew bubbles, painted, gave high fives, waved, decorated wagons, defended the school, cheered, or voiced your support made it happen. We were on the right side of history yesterday.”
Click on any of the following links to see just some of the coverage of Nettelhorst’s role in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade:
“Nettelhorst Elementary School parents marched near the front of the parade, leaving behind a wave of bubbles. One kid-filled wagon was topped with a sign that read: “School is out and so are my dads”…There were straight parents with gay kids and gay parents with straight kids and an undeniable sense that, at least in this swath of Chicago on this day, people could be wholly themselves.” More… Chicago Tribune: Pride Parade Photo Gallery Chicago Sun-Times: 450,000 cheer Pride Parade Chicago Pride: Chicago comes out for 40th annual Pride Parade More Great photos of the parade at How to Walk to School on Flickr
Back at school, right on the parade route, for a picnic with ice cream!

The Nettelhorst Fence Project

Nettelhorst annual end-of-year public art piece has created quite a buzz!

This year, gay and lesbian families came together to begin to change the climate of the school, and these same families worked tirelessly to solicit fabric donations and tearing copious amounts of fabric into strips. While many fine people came together to make the project happen, this group of dedicated Nettelhorst parents deserves tremendous credit, not only for championing the fence project, but for fighting the good fight.

Here’s the sign that accompanies the Pride Fence:

Hey, What’s This All About?

Each Nettelhorst student has tied a piece of fabric to the fence as a tangible sign of his or her personal intention to create a better world. As Nettelhorst, we’ve also made a collective intention: that each of us becomes kinder, gentler, and more tolerant. Here, the rainbow colors of gay pride are a visible sign of our respect for the neighborhood of which we are a part, and the diversity of families that we serve.  In June, Nettelhorst will be the first public school to walk in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade. We believe family means everybody. Enjoy the summer: SPF 50, baby!

The response from the neighborhood has been tremendous! Here’s a sample of some letters sent to our principal:

Dear Ms. Wulbert: I was walking by the annually-colored fence surrounding your school’s yard and stopped to read the note about what this year’s decorations represent. I cannot tell you how pleased – literally warmed to the core and smiling from ear to ear – I was to read that this year’s ‘flags’ were hung to celebrate the diversity of the Lakeview neighborhood and that Nettlehorst School will be leading this year’s Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade on Sunday, June 28. In a day and age in which gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered persons are marginalized by the highest institutions in the land and are excluded from the most sacred traditions in civilization, your school’s act of courage and compassion sends a message that there is indeed hope for a brighter future.  By teaching your students – and, by extension, their families – that diversity must be celebrated and can be a means to bring us closer together in ‘a more perfect union’ is truly an exceptional act of social justice. I am certain you and your staff have encountered significant grief from this decision.  And, as I am certain you are well aware, those detractors raise their concerns out of fear more than anything else.  I encourage you to stand tall and strong, supporting the community that you so generously serve.  I know the community will respond in kind. As a 20-year resident of Lakeview, I am proud to know that Nettlehorst is ‘my school’. Warmest regards and most sincere thanks -J. Gregory Des Rosiers, Chicago Dear Ms. Wulbert: I want to extend a note of thank you to you, your students, their families and your staff.  I am a ten year resident of Lakeview and recently stopped to notice this year’s fence art. Supporting diversity whether by being a leading part of this year’s Pride Parade or through the rainbow fence sends an important message, a note of acceptance and support to the community and serves to educate families and young adults. I am so proud that Nettlehorst is a vibrant part of the Lakeview community, not only in the outdoor art, but in the student body, their families and in their promotion and support of diversity. My hope is that the letters of support you receive far outnumber those that disapprove.  I am certain your decision to show support was not entered into without careful consideration and I appreciate the tremendous demonstration of support. Sincerely, Cameron J. Walker, Chicago Dear Ms. Wulbert: I heard that Nettelhorst is going to lead the Pride Parade. If that is true then BRAVO! Modeling acceptance of everyone as human beings is an amazing choice to make. Thank You! Sincerely, Richard R. Cordova

Sadly, it’s not all good vibes here at Melrose and Broadway.

On June 19th, a hate group carrying signs saying, “God Hates Fags,” “God is Your Enemy,” “Some Jews Will Repent,” and anti-semitic signs descended on Nettelhorst–likely the Fred Phelps clan from Kansas in town to picket area synagogues. It was only a matter of time before the hate blogs found us. Here’s a sample of the ugly: Everybody,” say the little signs of explanation. Does this mean we can look forward to Nettlehorst having the kids tie red, white and blue ribbons to that fence as “a visible sign” of respect for the veterans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. How about a pro-gun rally for the kids? Surely there must be one or two Nettlehorst parents who are veterans and/or believe in the right to own a gun for self-protection. Perhaps Nettlehorst can load the kids into some buses and take them to a neighborhood where the biggest annual event does not involve drunken men flashing their bare asses from floats on a public street in a show of “pride.” After all, if you really want to round out the kids’ education, and if you really believe in teaching diversity and tolerance, shouldn’t they include the heterosexual culture as well? Well? According to the Family Equality Council, “The school has a gay and lesbian parent social group. There are LGBT staff, but the staff overall seems to be very inclusive. Teachers have age-appropriate LGBT books in their classrooms, and the school is participating in the gay pride parade this year….” Are there any age-appropriate heterosexual books in the classrooms? If so, why not brag about that, too? The staff is “very inclusive?” I challenge any pro-life group to set up a speaking engagement there. Better yet, I challenge Nettlehorst to invite a pro-life group to speak there. That would be very inclusive of them.

My LGBT friends tell me that this kind of nonsense is to be expected, but it makes me sad all the same.

Ray of Sunshine! Here’s what the Chicago Tribune had to say, on the front page, no less: Chicago school to march in Pride Parade Nettelhorst Elementary School to show solidarity with surrounding gay community

By Rex W. Huppke | Tribune reporter, June 25, 2009 The black metal fence in front of Nettelhorst Elementary School is obscured by thousands of strips of dyed fabric — yellows giving way to greens, then blues, purples and reds — each one tied on by the small hands of a student. The ruffled, waist-high rainbow is a symbol of the school’s solidarity with its east Lakeview community, and a sign hanging by the gate trumpets that Nettelhorst this year “will be the first Chicago public school to march in the city’s gay pride parade.” “We believe family means everybody,” the sign reads. Amy Goodman agrees with that. She’ll be in the parade at noon Sunday with her husband, towing their 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter in a wagon bedecked in rainbows. Brad Rossi agrees as well. He’ll be there with his partner and their 7-year-old daughter, along with more than 50 other families from Nettelhorst whose presence marks the latest expansion of a parade that began in the 1970s with drag queens and gay activists and has grown to reveal the full spectrum of the city’s diverse gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. In this, the 40th annual Pride Parade, there will be gay Democrats and gay Republicans, gay business people and gay artists, seniors and teens and Christians and veterans — and, as always, drag queens and activists. “We’ve never had a grammar school, or a school for that matter,” said Richard Pfeiffer, who has coordinated the parade since 1974. “The remarkable thing about the gay pride parade is that it’s the one day that you get that full cross-section of the GLBT community. We’re young, we’re old and a growing portion of our community now has children. And I think that has often gone unnoticed.” That’s why the Nettelhorst contingent will be near the front. “I love that my kids will understand that there are all different kinds of families,” Goodman said. “When it comes to any kind of differences, I think the only way to really realize how much we have in common is to celebrate and acknowledge our differences.” Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Monique Bond stressed that Nettelhorst was not “officially involved” with the decision to enter the parade. Parents, both gay and straight, organized the school’s entry, viewing it as an important statement to make in a community with a large GLBT population. “One of the fundamental tenets of being a community school is that you bring the community in,” said Jacqueline Edelberg, author of a book about Nettelhorst — “How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance” — and a straight mother of two Nettelhorst students. “This is our neighborhood and these are our families, and to the extent that this is our community, this seems like a real thoughtful response to me.” More than 500 students attend the elementary school. While there’s no official number, Rossi and other parents say they know of at least eight same-sex couples with children enrolled at the school, which suggests that most of the Nettelhorst people marching will be straight. “For the vast majority of parents who have come up to me, people have been really excited about it,” said Marcia Festen, a lesbian whose eldest daughter attends Nettelhorst. “I had one parent come up and say, ‘Oh my God, I don’t think the school should be doing this and it’s not a proper venue for kids.’ But it’s actually been a little shocking that the conversation has been so positive.” One conservative blogger from Rogers Park denounced the school’s parade plans, and a group of Baptist protesters set up one day outside the school. But many parents, both straight and gay, say the reaction has been surprisingly muted. Modesto Tico Valle, executive director of the Center on Halsted, a GLBT community center, said each year more and more of the gay and lesbian community has felt comfortable showing its face. Now seeing families from a public school join together as a single parade entry doesn’t surprise him. “It’s like a domino effect,” Valle said. “Once this parade had picked up some clout and became very large, the politicians decided, ‘Oh, maybe I need to pay attention to this constituency.’ Then we started having news stations involved. The more we advance in our movement, the more people wake up and say, ‘These are human beings just like you and I. Let’s give them some respect and attention.’ ” Rossi finds the support of other families from his child’s school heartening. Taking a break from painting parade banners this week, sitting not far from the fabric-covered fence at Nettelhorst, the 44-year-old thought back on his youth and how differently gays and lesbians were viewed. As much as things have changed, he still worries that his daughter, Maria, could get picked on because her family is different: “We can sit around and wait, and if something happens, we jump up and down and say, ‘This is an outrage.’ Or we can let people know we’re out here, so it eventually isn’t even a thing. “So Maria has two dads? Big deal.”

From June 15, the Chicago Sun Times:

East Lake View school’s straight parents line up with gays

Even in places where you’d least expect it, the kids of same-sex parents are being singled out. Nettelhorst, a public grammar school in Chicago’s East Lake View neighborhood, in the heart of Boystown, has a diverse student body, including at least five families with same-sex parents. Many families choose Nettelhorst for its reputation for inclusiveness, along with its strong academic record. Even so, a gay teacher and a few students with same-sex parents were bullied this year. One substitute teacher, who is also a Nettelhorst parent, was called a faggot. A first-grader was singled out by classmates — a group of 6-year-olds just couldn’t believe someone could have two dads. And one fifth-grader was so tired of being tormented that he refused to let his dad visit his classroom. Later the boy, in tears, explained why: “They think I’m gay because you’re gay, and they make fun of me, and I hate it.” Nettelhorst’s staff reacted to each incident swiftly, stressing that kind of behavior was not allowed. The parents were appreciative and tried not to overreact. The bullying wasn’t vicious, and, they reasoned, kids tease at every school — for all sorts of reasons. Still, they felt that wasn’t enough. So this spring, they decided to take action. “This is where my daughter goes to school all day; she needs to know it’s a safe, supportive place,” said Marcia Festen, a lesbian parent of two children. “I expect them to be teased, and it’s my job to make them strong. But I also think it’s the school’s job to make a supportive community.” In May, Festen and other parents collected hundreds of pieces of fabric — strips in the rainbow colors of the gay pride flag — and each Nettelhorst student tied a ribbon to the school’s fence, creating a beautiful rainbow mosaic. A sign accompanies it, saying: “Each Nettelhorst student has tied a piece of fabric to the fence as a tangible sign of his or her personal intention to create a better world.” They have also recruited families, mainly straight ones, to march in the Pride Parade later this month. Nettelhorst will be the only public school marching. And school administrators, who supported these efforts, agreed to start a parent diversity committee. They’ll be tasked with finding ways to reflect the school’s diversity in the curriculum and in the images in the school building. Their larger goals are ambitious but doable: to eliminate the stigma attached to kids from same-sex families, to normalize those families so there’s less to tease about. Their aim is a school culture in which everyone feels offended by teasing, not just the victims. Doable, we say, because this is about kids, not about politics or gay marriage. Whether you support gay marriage or not — and we do — these families are here, in our midst. They are our neighbors, our children’s classmates, our co-workers’ children. Once we acknowledge that, it’s not a stretch to want to treat them with respect. A few Nettelhorst parents balked at the parade and the fence project, and a group not affiliated with the school posted a hateful blog item. But the vast majority of Nettelhorst parents have embraced this effort. Straight parents helped with the fence project, signed up for the parade, volunteered for the diversity committee or simply offered an encouraging word. For the same-sex parents, this has been the most meaningful part. “Many people have said they’re so proud of their kids’ school,” said Brad Rossi, a gay parent. “It’s been really, really wonderful. We weren’t sure, to be honest, how they’d react.” The same-sex couples at Nettelhorst took a risk. And, so far, other parents and their school have lined up behind them. This is how we change the world — one family, one child at a time.

Windy City Times, July 17, 2009, by Wes Lawson

Nettelhorst Elementary pays tribute to diversity

Anyone who has passed by Nettlehorst Elementary, 3252 N. Broadway, is likely to notice the colorful rainbow fence surrounding the playground. And if you read the placard that is part of the display, you’ll learn that the school is the first public school to be marching in Chicago’s Pride Parade. (Photo by Robin Schachtel) The children of Nettlehorst have tied thousands of multicolored cloths around the fence to display, in the words of the placard, “ [ a ] tangible sign of his or her personal intention to create a better world … Here, the rainbow colors of gay pride are a visible sign of our respect for the neighborhood of which we are a part, and the diversity of families that we serve.” Brad Rossi, a gay parent of a first-grade girl, and Marcia Festen, a lesbian parent of two daughters, one of whom is in kindergarten, were both crucial in bringing the idea to the school. The two worked together in the 1980s, and Rossi says that the idea came from California. “My partner and I moved here from San Francisco last year with our daughter specifically for this school. We liked the school’s focus on arts and the Boystown location,” Rossi said. “We already knew Marcia, and we began looking around the school for other [ LGBT ] families, since we had come from a school with many [ LGBT ] families and we hoped that would be the case here.” Rossi said that in looking for other LGBT families in the community, the idea of marching in the parade, which he did at his daughter’s previous school in San Francisco, came about. “I started wondering if there was something we should be doing. This translated into improving the overall climate for the students at the school. We also asked ourselves, what do we do to make our presence known? Festen said that the idea came largely from Rossi, and that the idea stemmed from a desire for a school that was both safe and affirming. “In kindergarten, the kids say ‘It’s so cool that you have two moms!’ to our daughter. Our daughter knows are family is different. When she plays, she always uses a mom and a dad. [ But ] there was a kid that got teased for having two dads. Our kids will get teased. That’s a fact of life. My job as a parent, and the reason why I got involved, was to help my kids be resilient to teasing by building a support system around them,” said Festen. The project began with the fence, which has been an ongoing art project for several years. This is the first year in which it was specifically LGBT themed, and Rossi said that he was nervous at the outset of the project. “You never know if people will be silent, angry, or supportive. There are 450 kids that go to this school and I’ve only heard one negative comment, and that was just hearsay. For the LGBT families, this is cool because we didn’t know what to expect. There’s this idea that because we’re in Boystown, we’ll be light years ahead, but we’re not. We’re ripe to move forward and the pieces are in place.” Among the few dissenting voices in the community is Tom Mannis, a blogger for conservative blog RogersParkBench.blogspot.com.

“I was walking through the neighborhood, and I came across the school, and the display of very pretty multicolored cloths. I thought it would make a nice picture. When I read the placard [ that explains the display ] , all kinds of thoughts went through my head,” said Mannis. “I have nothing against gay people, I’m not a homophobe, and I have nothing against the parade. But I step back and say, ‘What is the gay pride parade as it happens here?’ Drunk men with their asses hanging out of tutus.” He added, “On the one hand, is it good for kids to be acceptant and nondiscriminatory? Yes. Should they be taught to understand the world around them? Yes. Should they be allowed to participate in a parade that has become a sex parade? No.” Festen was in charge of getting the fabric for the mural and was astonished at the community outpouring. “When we were thinking about this, we wanted to show our kids that we were part of the community,” she said. “We took fabric donations and got an overwhelming amount. There was a guy named Adam at CB2 [ at Clybourn and Halsted ] who went out of his way to get us fabric. Within two weeks he had gathered us two bags. We got donations from the Steppenwolf Costume Department, the fashion department at the Art Institute—it’s been amazing.” In spite of the blog comments, Festen says that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. She said, “A conversation has been started among the parents on the playground. Most people probably knew I was a lesbian mom, but now people are having a dialogue. There’s a supportive community ready to engage in these issues, and we want people to say “Hey, this is a great school for my kid!” Even Mannis wants to make it clear that he does not look disparagingly on Nettlehorst. “It seems like a very good school,” he said. “They’re doing great things for the kids. Although I was picking on them for that one issue. I’m not attacking the school as a whole. I may have overstated my case.” Rossi said that in the end, he wants this to be a stepping-off point for further dialogue. “There have been incidents at this school that made us say, ‘we’re going to either sit and wait around and react or we’ll become proactive. The question of ‘How do we make this school become a school we want to be a part of?’ prompted us to say, ‘We need to do this now, because we don’t want our kids to face some of the things we faced as LGBT kids,” Rossi said. T-shirts for the parade and the school are available through the school, and Rossi mentions that they have already sold over a hundred.

Arne Duncan visits NettelhorstIn April’s Chicago Magazine, Arne Duncan, Obama’s new Secretary of Education, said of Nettelhorst:

Q: One education pundit I talked to said we’ll know that CPS is working when middle-class families send their children to the system’s schools in numbers far greater than they do today. Your response? A: I think you’ve seen dramatically more middle-class children going to Chicago public schools. I can give you 30, 40, 50 neighborhood schools—Nettlehorst, Lincoln, Ogden, Alcott—there’s a whole series of schools. Q: But citywide CPS is still predominantly low-income. A: Poor. Yeah. The middle class has always gone to the magnet schools. What you see now is more middle-class kids going to neighborhood schools. And, you’re seeing public schools outcompete Lab and Latin and Parker for students.

For the complete interview: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/April-2009/What-Arne-Learned/

Terry Karpowicz's Solar NeedleAlso checkout his interview on Charlie Rose extolling Community Schools; Jane’s Place at Nettelhorst was Chicago’s first: http://www.youtube.com/user/communityschools

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