From day one, Pedro Martinez, the new chief of Chicago Public Schools, said he planned to listen to students and families about what is needed in the district. So, high school journalists, working with Medill Media Teens at Northwestern University, decided to ask their peers what they would tell the district’s new CEO.

The journalists fanned out across the city — from North Park to Back of the Yards to West Garfield Park —and talked to high school students about the changes they’d like to see in Chicago schools. The teens they interviewed brought up a wide range of issues, from mental health services and lunch food quality to women’s sports and lack of toilet paper in bathrooms.

Here’s what students said:

A collage of the Chicago Public Schools students interviewed by journalists from Medill Media Teens. The students appear in the order of their quotes in the story, with only Mario Duenez and Sam Zajczenko not pictured. (Courtesy of Medill Media Teens)

Jerusalem Nineth Franco, 16 

Junior, Lincoln Park High School 

“Dear Mr. Martinez, it would help if you teach more truthful lessons in our classes. And it would help if you were to help all teachers to be more open-minded to individuals that aren’t cisgender or heterosexual or white.” 

Victoria Gianette Rivera, 16 

Junior, Back of the Yards College Preparatory  

“Dear Mr. Martinez, you should change the food. And the way you all treat students. And actually put tissue in the bathrooms.” 

Christopher Orozco, 16

Sophomore, Phoenix STEM Military Academy 

“Dear Mr. Martinez, I was wondering what you could do about the discipline at my school and other schools in CPS.”

Fernando Gomez, 16 

Junior, Back of the Yards College Preparatory 

“Dear Mr. Martinez, one change I would like to see in CPS schools is definitely better food because the food here is very unpleasant. Another thing I’d like to see here is therapy sessions for kids who are struggling with anxiety, depression, etc.” 

Brigid Hattel, 17

Junior, Jones College Prep

“Dear Mr. Martinez, I’m a diver at Jones College Prep and I think we need more funding for women’s sports in general at CPS and especially at Jones.”

Taya Brown, 16

Junior, Lane Tech

“Dear Mr. Martinez, You have to be able to see outside of yourself when you’re looking at our school. There are so many different types of people here that handling something one way may have a negative effect on somebody else.”

Isis Clark, 15

Sophomore, Disney ll Magnet school 

“Dear Mr. Martinez, CPS schools should do a better job at accommodating people’s mental and physical health during school.”

Malaisha Mullings, 16 

Junior, DRW College Prep

“Dear Mr. Martinez, please get us a better lunch and a more organized system. Everything is out of place, making it hard to concentrate and making it hard to know what’s going on with the schools. Also attempt to give students better opportunities to learn at their level. Some of us need extra help.”

Nona Boyd, 18 

Senior, Phoenix STEM Military Academy

“Dear Mr. Martinez, how can you increase funding to our schools and other CPS schools [so] we can get better school security?”

Jada Hamilton, 15

Sophomore, DRW College Prep

“Dear Mr. Martinez, many of us don’t have transportation to school so some of us can’t make it all the time. How can you make sure that all of the kids can show up to school prepared and on time — like a bus for school? I’ve been going to a CPS school my whole life so some students don’t eat CPS lunch because of how it looks, smells, and all of the above, so I’d rather eat at home. We are in school for eight hours so a decent lunch would be a good thing. Thank you.”

Ana Girma, 18

Senior, Northside College Prep 

“Dear Mr. Martinez, I’d really like it if CPS was more upfront about the guidelines for COVID and how students are supposed to uphold them. Sitting down at lunch with my friends and then being told that I have to move to another table because there are too many people, even though there’s only five people, is very disheartening.”

Jonah Pfeifer, 16

Junior, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School 

“Dear Mr. Martinez, Payton is a relatively small school compared to the other CPS selective enrollments and it’s not the most diverse school really.”

Denim Cole, 15

Sophomore, DRW College Prep

“Dear Mr. Martinez, you could help CPS schools by letting all of the schools have real lunches and have mascots for games to boost the players’ confidence. Thank you.”

Mario Duenez, 16

Junior, John Hancock College Prep

“Dear Mr Martinez, the change I would like to see at my school is improved school lunches, and a less strict policy on the dress code, seeing that the dress code is embedded in misogyny.”

London Sims, 15

Freshman, Phoenix STEM Military Academy  

“Dear Mr. Martinez, I want to know what you can do to encourage CPS schools to bring about summer programs for incoming freshmen, especially those of different geographic backgrounds.”

Isabella Valez, 16

Senior, Northside College Prep 

“Dear Mr. Martinez, please bring back asynchronous time [self-paced lessons students can complete on their own time]. Thank you.”

Sam Zajczenko, 16

Junior, John Hancock College Prep

“Dear Mr Martinez, I think you should address student concerns rather than what higher-up people like teachers and principals think should be addressed.”

This story was published in partnership with Medill Media Teens, a program of Teach for Chicago Journalism at Medill School at Northwestern University, which provides training, mentorship, and publication opportunities to Chicago Public School students.