Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closed 49 schools in May, 2013, the largest number of school closings by a single school district ever. The school closings represent loss in a multitude of ways. Children lost the constant that their school homes provided, neighborhoods lost their epicenters, and Chicago lost strength in public infrastructure.
The closings also represent a historical loss for the people that the schools were named for. While many new Chicago schools are named for the neighborhoods they reside in, or for the specialty curriculum they offer, school nomenclature in the past memorialized public figures of significance. Public education was so highly regarded, that school names were reserved for notable inventors, scientists, activists, elected officials and renowned athletes. And while the people that the schools were meant to eternalize were lost to the ages, their names found new meaning as the place where generations of Chicago youth aspired for better lives through education. The daily mention of the name ensured that some shred of legacy remained in the collective conscious. These names, like the school communities they came to represent, will be forgotten.
The goals of the So Close to Ghost (SCtG) project are to bear witness to the loss of the closed schools, to preserve the people that the schools were named for, and to give voice to the school communities that the names came to represent. SCtG focused on four schools in 2014: Louis Armstrong Elementary in the Austin neighborhood, Nathan Goldblatt Elementary in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, Anthony Overton Elementary in the Bronzeville/Grand Boulevard neighborhood, and Arna Bontemps Elementary in the West Englewood neighborhood.
The So Close to Ghost Project is proudly brought to you by the Visionaries program in the Youth Options Unlimited (YOU) department at Erie Neighborhood House, the History Department at the University of Illinois Chicago, and collaborators Riza Falk, Lara Leigh Kelland, and Oriana Erskine.
Visionaries, a multimedia apprenticeship for teens ages 14-18, is funded through After School Matters and run by the Erie YOU Digital Media Coordinator. Each fall, spring and summer, teen participants learn one or multiple aspects of digital media production, ranging from digital photography and documentary video to journalism and graphic design. The teens work on iMac computers in our youth digital media lab, and learn professional level computer programs like Photoshop, InDesign. Illustrator and Final Cut.
UIC Public History 300:
HIST 300 is a required class for history majors and is intended to prepare students for advanced coursework in the field and the completion of a senior thesis. Students had the opportunity to hone research and writing skills for academic audiences by producing a research paper, as well developing skills to present historical research for public audiences through the production of a digital exhibit. Working with several community partners, students researched and write short public biographical pieces on Chicago activists and community leaders as part of a larger commemorative project. The topical focus was the history of grassroots activism in Chicago.
Dr. Lara Kelland: Lara is an Assistant Professor of Public History at the University of Louisville, where she teaches courses on public history, oral history, digital history, historical methods, and the history of gender, race and sexuality in the US. During graduate school in Chicago, she worked on a variety of projects with high school students engaging oral history and digital media methods. During summer 2014, Lara taught a course on historical methods at UIC where her students researched and wrote the biographies used by the Visionaries teens.
Riza Falk: Riza is the Digital Media Coordinator in the Youth Options Unlimited department of Erie Neighborhood House where she runs the Visionaries and News Literacy programs and handles all things technological. A photojournalist by trade, Riza’s first began teaching photography to young people in 2008 when she co-taught an oral history program with Lara, and she hasn’t stopped since.
Oriana Erskine: Oriana works as a freelancer in a variety of capacities and has interests in youth media, youth activism and new media. She is especially interested in the intersection between public education and poverty. She likes ideas and likes to bring people together.Summer 2014 Visionaries Apprentices: Caitlin Butcher, Alexa Folgar, Janessa Garcia, Alexis Gomez, José Hernandez, Natalie Hernandez, Josh Lopez, Kimi Lopez, Anais Martinez, Diana Okamura, Alberto Piña, Hiram Rodriguez, Kalil Sims, Nancy Rodriguez, Evelyn Zarate
Summer 2014 Visionaries Interns: Chris Fletcher, Melanie Folgar, Roxana Osorio, Brenda Reyes, Cameron Ward
Summer 2014 Visionaries Assistant Instructor: Anelly Vazquez