It’s late on a Friday evening, but the cafeteria at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences is packed, filled with students chatting, eating pizza and prepping for their first debate tournament of the season.
“I was nervous for the first bit, but I think it was actually a really great experience for me,” said Williams, who just completed his first round with partner Moriah Warner. He was relieved to get this first round out of the way, but ready for more.
He and Warner, both freshmen at King College Prep, are two of more than 13,000 students who have competed in the Chicago Debate League since it began in 1997. Today, they claim to be the largest urban debate league in the country.
David Gregg has been working at Nicholas Senn High School for more than a decade, watching the “very diverse” school transform from academically struggling to a well-regarded neighborhood high school.
The Edgewater school is filled with students from all over the world, around 65 different nationalities, including large populations of African-American and Hispanic students alongside smaller groups of their white and Asian classmates, and those students can speak about 45 languages.
But even as the students improved academically, Gregg said the school faced new challenges.
“By broad district measures, we became a much higher-performing school,” Gregg said. “But when you dug down, you noticed that the achievement gap between students of color, and white students or Asian students was not only still there but actually exacerbated. And I think that actually coincided with the whitening of our teaching staff.”
If Chicago teachers walk, some parents will be right behind them. More than 50 parent and neighborhood organizations threw their support behind the Chicago Teachers Union Tuesday during a City Hall rally as the city prepares for a possible strike next week.
“I really feel like this is necessary because if we don’t push back now, the cuts will just keep happening,” said Sherise McDaniel, a CPS parent of an 11-year-old and 18-year-old attending North Side schools. “We already have libraries with no librarians to operate them. I mean prisons have libraries.”