Saturday, February 28, 2009

St. Matthias hopes new pre-kindergarten classes will keep school solvent

Third beat report. You have no idea how happy I was to file yesterday, I've been having such a hard time keeping up with the assignments and learning how to go out and find a "news" story. I was at my lowest Thursday when a story that took me weeks to confirm contacts was deemed not newsworthy. But, I dusted my shoulders off, pulled it together Friday, and turned in this story and got leads on three others.

Courtesy of State of the School Report and 2009-2010 Tuition Information.

St. Matthias Transfiguration School in Lincoln Square sees increase in enrollment despite overall decline in Catholic schools.

St. Matthias Transfiguration Elementary School in Lincoln Square is moving to secure its financial future by adding a new pre-kindergarten class next school year.

As other area Roman Catholic schools scramble to address stagnant or declining admission numbers and an unsure future, the addition of a new class continues a trend of increasing enrollment at St. Matthias.

“We weren’t able to admit any more people,” said Deborah Bukovy, marketing and admissions director at St. Matthias. “So that’s why we decided to open another class so that we could admit people [within and outside of the St. Matthias] community”

St. Matthias will add a new pre-kindergarten class for three- and four-year-old students for the 2009-2010 academic year, doubling its pre-kindergarten program: two PreK for three year olds (PreK 3) and two PreK classes for four year olds (PreK 4).

The idea to add another class first arose in October as families in the school applied for the following school year. St. Matthias had only one PreK 3 class and 20 children from existing families applied, taking up all the available space.

With the new additions St. Matthias will have two classes instead of one per grade up until 2013, when the school projects it will run out of room. “We’ll either look at doing a capital campaign or we’ll cut back the number of children that we enroll so we can use the space we have in the building,” Bukovy said.

The influx of students, which Bukovy attributed to gentrification in the neighborhood, will put the school on “a more stable economic footing,” she said.

“Since we’re one of the only private schools in our immediate neighborhood, they choose us,” Bukovy said. “What we’re seeing is … young people who have children are staying here longer instead of moving out into the suburbs.”

Parents with children in private schools are facing tough decisions during the recession, with some opting to move their children to less expensive Catholic or public schools. Catholic schools require families to raise $100-$500 for the school on top of tuition and fees, which can reach upwards of $8,550 at Gordon Tech High School, on the city’s Northwest Side.

“Everybody makes a sacrifice when they send their child to private schools,” Bukovy said.

Marie Neis, principal of St. Genevieve School in the Belmont-Cragin community, said financial aid needs have increased in the last three years as parents’ incomes are cut because of “reduction in hours and jobs being cut.”

While Neis said St. Genevieve is “very supportive and [tries] to work with families,” she said she is aware of the possibility her school will close if the Archdiocese of Chicago or donations did not continue to cover operating costs.

“We certainly [wouldn’t] be the only school in that situation if that were to happen,” Neis said.

Despite stagnant enrollments at schools like St. Genevieve, St. Matthias’ has grown considerably: Enrollment has increased 25 percent in the last five years, Bukovy said.

By securing students at a young age, the school is looking to retain students and keep its doors open.

“We want to keep them happy and satisfied,” Bukovy said, “and hope they stick with us through the duration of their elementary [schooling].”

St. Matthias Transfiguration School is committed to providing a well-rounded Catholic educational experience that emphasizes academic achievement and fosters spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical development among its students, thus enabling them to contribute effectively in a constantly changing world where faith in God, respect for self and others, and hope for the future are essential.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Estelle and Solange Rock Chicago


I went to Estelle and Solange's concert Wednesday evening at the House of Blues for Honey Magazine. Read my review on my Honey Magazine blog here.

And here's a video I got from Estelle's set before security kindly asked me to put away my camera...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Logan Square ELL parents address ISAT worries

My third beat report story.


A mother takes notes on reading comprehension for English Language Learners in preparation for the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). (Photo credit: Anthonia A./MEDILL)

Parents at seven Logan Square schools gathered Friday morning to voice concern with the upcoming Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) testing of English Language Learners, saying it places unrealistic expectations on students still learning how to speak, read and write in English.

Over 80 parents, teachers, volunteers and administrators came to the meeting at James Monroe Elementary School to learn more about the test, which is now in its second year for ELL students.

Parents and teachers said students were visibly nervous with the test just a week away.

“They think that [taking the ISAT] is [punishment for] something they did bad so they have to retake it,” said Maria Marquez, a teacher at McAuliffe Elementary. “They’re nervous about not passing [and] going up to the fourth grade.”

Silvia Gonz├ílez, resource and parent-mentor coordinator at McAuliffe Elementary School, added: “I see how they struggle, I see their frustration. My heart [breaks] for some of these kids.”

Students in the third to eighth grade will be taking the ISAT between March 2 and March 13. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the ISAT “measures individual student achievement relative to the Illinois Learning Standards,” testing students in reading, mathematics, science and writing. The scores are used to determine a school’s performance and if a student will be promoted to the next grade level. High schools look at a 7th grader’s ISAT scores to determine the student’s chances at enrollment.

Until March of last year, ELL students took the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English (IMAGE) test and the ACCESS for ELLs to judge their comprehension of the English language in social and educational contexts. ISBE stopped administering IMAGE after the U.S. Department of Education decided in November that the test did not meet No Child Left Behind standards. It was not immediately clear why the ISAT did not meet the standards.

ELL students taking the ISAT are eligible for accommodations such as having directions read to them in their native language and having more time to answer questions.

The change came as a total surprise to parents in the community, said Leticia Barrera, an education organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA).

“We were receiving phone calls from parents asking us if we [knew what was happening],” Barrera said. She said the ISBE and CPS avoided answering parents’ questions; information of accommodations for ELL students trickled in, but not with the urgency or accuracy LSNA said parents needed.

“We have students here,” Barrera said. “We are in the community and they are over there … implementing all these things without our input.”

Last year LSNA brought the community together to teach parents about the ISAT as ELL students took the test for the first time. This year the meeting was comprised of two seminars led by Reading First reading teachers Maureen Hajduke and Carrie Busse, with volunteers translating for Spanish-speaking parents.

Hajduke and a volunteer translator went over the basics of the ISAT in Monroe’s auditorium, teaching parents how to navigate the Illinois State Board of Education’s Web site, what students will be tested on based on grade level, what the test will look like and how to help students prepare for the two-week long exam.

The importance of parent preparedness was stressed.

“Don’t wait for anyone to tell you [what to do],” Hajduke said. “Prepare them yourself.

During the meeting’s second seminar Busse taught parents how to stop students from “regurgitating” information without processing it. Parents took notes Friday and simulated how they would work with their children in groups, using charts, markers and Post-it notes.

“No matter if they’re an ELL learner or a monolingual student, if they’re not exposed to it, they cannot connect to the text,” Busse said.

Organizers said they felt parents left with a better understanding of the ISAT and their children’s concerns.

“At times parents don’t know the stress that the children are going through,” said Gonz├ílez, McAuliffe Elementary School’s resource and parent-mentor coordinator. “They think ‘Oh, it’s just a test.’”

“They were given an idea of how to work with the children and how to help them prepare for this test,” Gonzalez said. “Some of these parents left with a lot of questions being answered.”

Monica Espinoza, a parent-teacher mentor at McAuliffe Elementary, said her son is excited to take the test after being transitioned from ELL to monolingual classes this year.

“He’s like, ‘Mommy, I’m very excited because I know I’m going to do well,’” Espinoza said. “And I’m like, ‘I know you’re going to do well.’ But in the back of my mind I have that concern. [I’m just] trying to help him as much as I can.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Am Chicagoist

My first article for is up. Chicagoist is a very popular local website that covers every nook and cranny of Chicago. I'm honored the editor accepted my submissions. Right now I'm a weekend writer because of my schedule, so check me out every Saturday and Sunday.

New Site Helps Those Jobless In Chicago

Friday, February 13, 2009

That Loving Feeling

My boyfriend and I have been together for close to 5 years. He was my handsome, but awkward, next door neighbor my first year of college. We didn't really talk to each other until a chance meeting a year later at a school event. We've been dating pretty much from that moment on.

We've lived together for almost three years now, and while we have our differences, I still say we make a pretty good pair. In lieu of flowers he sends me cute viral videos because he knows my weakness for all things cute (i.e. children, kittens, hedgehogs). He's really funny, smart and just about the most patient and sympathetic person I've ever met.

With all that said, sometimes I wish I could go back to when we were first getting to know each other. When every discovery about him seemed new, exciting and proof positive that we were in fact made for each other ("Wait, you like Ren & Stimpy? I like Ren & Stimpy!"). When you're in the throes of your first relationship, it's easy to make wide sweeping, Sweet Valley High-backed comments like that.

This song by Lykke Li transports me to that time when we weren't living together, when seeing each other involved planning and walking to and from dorms, and, more specifically, my not wanting to say "I love you" first.

Now the excitement is in the comfort I feel in still knowing those facts I learned while eating Harold's Chicken on his twin-XL bed in Pierce and watching DVDs. But oh, those first weeks before we became the Ottitundes.

Editor's Note: The video is kinda odd, but the song itself is sweet. If the gyrating of Swedes is too much for you, you can scroll down and follow the lyrics or read other entries :)

Lykke Li - "Little bit"
by tkf

hands down
i'm too proud for love
but with eyes shut
it's you i'm thinking of
but how we move from A to B?
it can't be up to me
'cause you don't know
eye to eye
thigh to thigh
i let go

i think i'm..

a little bit, a little bit
a little bit in love with you
but only if you're
a little but, a little bit, a little bit
in lo-lo-lo-lo-love with me


and for you i keep my legs apart
and forget about my tainted heart
and i will never ever be the first
to say it
but still I,
yes you know I..I..I..
i would do it,
push a button
pull a trigger,
climb a mountain
jump off a cliff,
'cause you know baby
i love you love you a little bit
i would do it, i would say it
i would mean it, we could do it
it was you and i and if only i..

i think i'm
a little bit, a little bit
a little bit in love with you
but only if you're
a little but, a little bit, little bit
in lo-lo-lo-lo-love with me

come here, stay with me
stroke me by the hair
'cause i would give anything, anything
to have you as my man (2X)

a little bit, a little bit
a little bit in love with you
but only if you're
a little but, a little bit, little bit
in lo-lo-lo-lo-love with me

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Olympic Hopes

I love Chicago. I love how the nation's eyes have turned towards the city still bathing in a post-Obama election glow (notice how I choose to dismiss Blagojevich just like the Illinois Senate did, hey-o!). I'm not quite sure how I feel about its run for the 2016 Olympics, especially considering the budgetary straits Chicago is in now and the expected costs to get the city Olympics ready.

Still, watching this video got me a little excited about our fair city hosting an event of such global interest.

Friday, February 6, 2009



I have been so swamped with life, school, and learning time management (which has never been my strong suit) that I've fallen behind on updating my blog. What can I say about journalism school, now that I've been at it for five weeks? It's been equal parts exciting and disappointing, for reasons I'll explain on a one--one, not over the internet where teachers/fellow students can read, basis. But here's a quick run down of what I've been up to:

  • I've been assigned the education beat in my newswriting class turned newsroom. Right now I feel like I have to do so much research to even begin to understand the beast that is Chicago Public Schools and their programs, but I have a couple of stories lined up already and I think I'll learn a lot during the next five weeks. After they've run on our interschool website (and if I pitch them to a newspaper/magazine), I'll post them on my blog.
  • I've changed direction. Going into the program I was positive I wanted to get on the magazine journalism track, create a magazine prototype (the main reason I loved Medill's program), and take the optional fifth quarter to study abroad either in Paris or Lagos, Nigeria. Now I'm 90% sure I'm going to switch my major to Interactive Storytelling, which would focus on using text and multimedia to tell stories, skills I think will be invaluable no matter which direction journalism heads. I would still take a class in long-form narrative writing and non-fiction to get a solid foundation in writing, but my interests are definitely taking me toward multimedia. Also, since the optional 5th quarter has a mandatory extra tuition payment, I'll graduate in four quarters. Still deciding what my last project will be: DC, magazine prototype, or Interactive Innovation.
  • I'm a writer for Honey Magazine online! I have a blog on the website that once I get my act together will feature profiles, events, and issues targeted at a multicultural, mostly African American female audience. I'll post a link on here when I put something up.