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West Side Groups Relaunch Plans To Open STEAM Academy— This Time Without Merging 3 Neighborhood Schools

Educators have tried to create a school with specialized science, tech, engineering art and math programs in Lawndale for years.

The STEAM Partnership Academy is being developed in North Lawndale.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — West Side educators have renewed their efforts to build a state-of-the-art public academy for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in North Lawndale after a yearlong hiatus.

Revised plans for the North Lawndale STEAM Partnership Academy submitted to the district will not require three neighborhood schools to be consolidated. The consolidation was a major sticking point with some parents and teachers in 2020, which led the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and the neighborhood’s Community Action Committee to withdraw the plan they submitted to Chicago Public Schools.

Instead of pitching a STEAM neighborhood school to replace Crown Academy, Sumner Elementary and North Lawndale Community Academy, the new plan would create the STEAM Partnership Academy as a magnet school at the old Henson Elementary, a school that closed years ago at 1326 S. Avers Ave. Eighty percent of the STEAM school’s students would come from the Lawndale neighborhood, while 20 percent could come from other parts of the city, organizers said.

“We’re not asking for any schools to merge. We’re just asking for a new school,” said Betty Allen Green, head of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s education committee.

Now, the district will consider the school proposal, with the Chicago Board of Education making the final determination.

Local educators have planned the STEAM school for years as part of the neighborhood’s 2018 Quality-Of-Life Plan, a resident-driven blueprint for improving things like housing, education and public safety. The STEAM Partnership Academy was planned to prepare students for careers in science and technology and prevent families from leaving from Lawndale in search of better educational opportunities for their kids.

Several schools in Lawndale have closed in recent years, including Frazier Charter School. At least five schools in the neighborhood have also been targeted by the district as “turnaround schools.”

Struggling local schools have prompted many to flee the neighborhood or send students across the city to schools with more programs and resources, said Leonard Moore, chair of the neighborhood’s Community Action Committee. At least 600 students living in Lawndale go to schools in other neighborhoods, according to the group’s research.

“We are trying to provide additional educational opportunity and options for the kids who are presently leaving,” Moore said. “We think this is a great opportunity to have a state-of-the-art school here in North Lawndale and prepare them for the educational challenges of the future.”

The STEAM Partnership Academy would be a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school with facilities designed to serve curriculums oriented toward technology and creative learning. The school would be designed to support diverse learners and would have a focus on social-emotional learning as well as restorative justice practices.

The curriculum would emphasize design processes, industrial experiences and activities, collaboration and awareness of careers in tech. The school would have “hands-on and project-based programs” as well as robust offerings in visual and performance arts, Green said.

At least 22 corporate, nonprofit and university partners have committed to supporting the programs and curricula at the school, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, Cinespace Film Studios, the Museum of Science and Industry and People’s Gas. Those partnerships will give students a pipeline into careers in science, technology and the arts by exposing them to mentorship opportunities and real-world applications for the topics they are studying.

“Our kids have access to people who are working in these fields already to serve as a mentor,” said Rodney Brown, head of the North Lawndale Chamber of Commerce and a co-founder of North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council.

The benefits of the STEAM Partnership Academy would reach beyond just the students enrolled, Green said. The academy would serve as STEAM hub for North Lawndale so other schools could model their curriculum and build out their own tech programs. Neighborhood schools would also be able to take advantage of any programs, mentorships and resources offered by industry partners, Green said.

“They have committed to being not only in the new schools but also the other schools in North Lawndale that are interested in being part of the STEAM hub,” Green said.

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