In Chicago, A Village Takes Over the Education of the Puerto Rican Community

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In May 2013, the Chicago Board of Education decided to close more than 50 under-enrolled and underperforming Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Four of the schools closed were located in Humboldt Park, a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. Many of the families affected felt blindsided; they did not know what the closures meant for their children and for the buildings that now were going to sit vacant for years to come.

Two years later, they had a chance to act on their concerns. On March 27, 2015 CPS announced its decision to sell the school buildings it had closed in 2013, including the one that housed both the Alexander Von Humboldt and the Roque De Duprey schools, located at 2620 West Hirsch St. which is in Humboldt Park, Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. The announcement opened up the opportunity for the community to organize and decide what they were going to do with the buildings.

Members of the Community As A Campus (CAAC), an organization born from the Puerto Rican Agenda, took action. During one of their ongoing weekly meetings, they decided to turn the Alexander Von Humboldt building into a teacher’s village. In June of 2015 CAAC’s proposal was accepted by the CPS Public Building Commission of Chicago over several other proposals. This proved a great victory for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (the lead agency) and the CAAC, which had the support of the local Alderman, Joe Moreno, and the community at large.

Photos of site to become teacher's vilage.

Jose Lopez, Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and the primary spokesperson for both CAAC and the teacher’s village communicated his vision in an interview, “The only way for us to make educational changes is by taking a holistic approach to educational practice; where we can harness the social capital of the community by bringing all the agencies and organizations to claim a stake in our educational experience. The idea is to create a Community As A Campus, where we value the community as a critical space for intellectual engagement. The teacher’s village is part of that broader vision.”

The teacher’s village proposal re-imagines a public asset as a community space that includes the CAAC offices coffee shop and community rooms open to the general public. Beyond that, the village would be a 27-unit residential complex which will include 5 studios, 17 one-bedroom and 5 two-bedroom apartments. Activists plan to dedicate a part of the building into a teaching lab school academy, which is a university/school available for students to learn how to teach with the help of a certified teacher. The village will make housing affordable to teachers dedicated to the community. This seemed like an ideal way to give teachers “a better understanding of our students and parents lived experiences.” As Jessica Fuentes, Roberto Clemente High School‘s Community Representative, shared, “Teachers and families will be able to form a bond; “growing our own” will truly be possible.”

In the end, building housing for teachers and Humboldt Park residents who have been displaced will help the Puerto Rican community stay strong in the rapidly changing neighborhood Humboldt Park. Similar models of community activism and planning, such as Villa Victoria in Boston's South End, have successfully maintained the fabric and culture of Puerto Rican communities in the United States. Humboldt Park teacher’s village has the potential to provide another model that can serve other Puerto Rican communities in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Newark experiencing issues of school closures—including the island of Puerto Rico where more than 100 schools are expected to close in the next few years.

© Ivis García Zambrana. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 22 January 2016.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.