Parents, students worry about the toll of Chicago teacher strike: losing days in the classroom

As day four of a Chicago teachers strike loomed, parents scrambled to arrange child care and older students rallied to support their teachers, but adults and teens alike expressed concern about the lasting impact of losing several days of school.

Marwen, a nonprofit youth center near Cabrini-Green, put out word that it would expand services for students as young as second grade from its usual offerings for students in sixth grade and above. It has been partnering with local restaurants to feed children. Monday saw attendance at Marwen hit 48 students — double what it saw on Thursday.

“Beyond 50 students, we’ll have to figure out how to harness more resources, because we want to do this with high quality,” said Aurora King, director of education. “There’s certainly a need for this kind of a space.”

Related: Closed door or open negotiations: Should Chicago take bargaining public? 

Mom Julie Garner was relieved to find Marwen was offering free, interactive care for students. Her 11-year-old son, Deniro, has spent the past three weekdays sculpting, painting and making finger puppets at Marwen.

“I thought it would be more fun to be there than sitting in school all day when they’re not getting taught,” Garner said. “As a single mom, I always have to be creative about where I’m going to take him, and I knew because this was districtwide, there would be stuff available for the kids.”

Deniro recently switched schools from one near their Morgan Park home to Ogden-Jenner, because Garner felt it had more resources for him. The change meant a 45-minute commute to school every day, but Garner said it was worth it. Now, she fears the strike could set back her son’s education.

“It takes a month to get kids acclimated after summer break, and now we have to start all over,” Garner said. “And teachers are already cramming everything in as it is. Tomorrow is day four — that’s a lot of time when it comes to school.”

Older students voiced concerns Monday that their college applications, PSATs and graduation dates would be impacted by the ongoing strike. Students like 16-year-old Lario Arriaza participated in picket lines and protests of their own.

“There’s a need to change our schools,” said Arriaza, a Prosser High School junior who joined friends at a Voices of Youth in Chicago Education rally Monday morning before heading to Harold Washington Library to spend a few hours. “We’re standing with the teachers for however long it takes.”

Later in the day, the Raise Chicago Coalition gathered outside Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office in City Hall to demand a $15 minimum wage for youth labor. Student speakers spoke about the hardships of being homeless while in school — an issue that union negotiators demanded the district address — and needing to work to pay for things like student registration, mandatory music electives and AP classes.

Maria Bradley, 17, who attends King College Prep in Kenwood, worries about losing class time during the Chicago teachers strike. On Oct. 21, 2019, she said she’s spending the strike looking for jobs while not in school. (Ariel Cheung / Chalkbeat)

“My graduation fees don’t even include my cap and gown, which a generous teacher has offered to pay for so I can walk the stage,” said Jennifer Nava, a senior at Kelly High School in Brighton Park. “We aren’t demanding fair wages so we can go out and party — it’s so we can focus on what truly matters instead of the constant stress of making sure our parents can pay the next bill and keep our families off the streets.”

Maria Bradley, a 17-year-old student at King College Prep in Kenwood, said the strike has one silver lining — she’s able to look for jobs while not in class. Bradley and her father, a butcher who works limited hours due to illness, recently moved from Hyde Park to a home near 80th Street and are struggling to make ends meet.

Bradley has been staying up until the early morning as she juggles doing homework, searching for a job, applying to college, and auditioning for band scholarships.

As for the strike, “we’ve been out of school for more than three days, and we don’t have money, and now we’re missing out on our education,” Bradley said. “Either way it goes, we’re not winning at all.”