Knowledge Exchange Recap: Education Reform in Humboldt Park

Pictured above l-r: Marvin Garcia, Boricua College’s Dr. Raquel Ortiz, former BPI intern Militza Pagán, and Jose Lopez.


In August BPI hosted a Knowledge Exchange with Jose Lopez, Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Marvin Garcia, Director of the Alternative Schools Network of Chicago Praxis Project. They discussed the Community as a Campus (CAAC) initiative, a plan conceived by the community in 2009 and adopted by the Community Action Council of Humboldt Park Chicago.

The CAAC initiative is rooted in the work of Paulo Freire, who viewed education and community development as a transformative process. Mr. Lopez believes that education is not the transfer of knowledge from an expert to those who are less knowledgeable. Instead, education emanates from the knowledge and experiences of both students and community members, facilitates a critical analysis of the social, economic, and political structures that shape everyday experiences, and then applies that knowledge to take civic action.

Accordingly, the CAAC initiative has grown out of years of community organizing and development work by the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, faith based organizations, and community organizations. The CAAC has set out to rethink education in the 21st century by asking such questions as “What are we preparing young people for? How do we define educational success? What sort of citizens are we developing? How do prepare our community for the 21st century?”

The CAAC’s overarching goal is to create a coordinated and supportive educational ecosystem in Humboldt Park. Roberto Clemente High School will serve as the anchor institution connecting Humboldt Park Pre-K programs, elementary schools, charter high schools, alternative high schools, the City Colleges, and Northeastern University. Eventually, Mr. Lopez and Mr. Garcia hope to create an aligned, vertical curriculum that will ease the transitions between different levels of education (such as Pre-K to K) and provide an opportunity to introduce concepts and themes in early education that a student will develop as they progress through school. Community based organizations are also connected to this network to provide the supports needed to learn, such as access to health care or social services.

The CAAC is also working in partnership with Northeastern University to establish a lab school that will implement a team model of instruction in the classroom. Three adults—a master teacher, a teacher in training from the local community, and a social worker—will lead each class. In addition to the standard college prep curriculum, the lab school will help students prepare for various career pathways.

The CAAC’s philosophy is no exceptional child, just exceptional educational experiences. If a student comes to the school and is behind, he/she will be welcome, as long as the student’s parents are committed to being involved in the education experience. Central to the success of the CAAC is the extensive community engagement and three special CAAC institutes:

  • The Parent Popular Institute is the linchpin of the triad since parents directly influence school policy, governance and the students who attend them. Parents will take on roles of advocacy and leadership in the schools and in the lives of youth.
  • The Youth Leadership Institute works collaboratively with the parent group in building stronger schools and school-community bonds through self-advocacy, relationships with peers and with employers, educators, and post-secondary institutions.
  • The Teacher/Administrator Institute brings in educators and administrators as partners in creating an education pipeline framed by International Baccalaureate standards to take students from pre-school to post-secondary and into the workforce.

These institutes are described in detail in the Greater Humboldt Park Community as a Campus Executive Summary.

It is important to note that the CAAC represents the educational component of a much larger and more comprehensive plan for Humboldt Park. A range of community issues (education, housing, etc.) are intra-related and need to be addressed simultaneously.

Upcoming Events: To mark the 40th Anniversary of Roberto Clemente, there will be an open house on September 19th and a symposium on September 20th. More details to follow.

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