CPS Replaces ‘Cornerstone’ Arts Program, Upsetting Some Educators and Students | Chicago News

Chicago Public Schools is set to replace its longstanding and much-celebrated Advanced Arts program, a free magnet offering for high school students that fans praise both for its varied coursework and the opportunities it offers. it offers young people who find it difficult to integrate.

The program’s successor, RE:ALIZE, was announced to teachers and students last month.

In a statement to WTTW News, CPS officials said it “remains committed to developing strong and equitable artistic pathways early in college. The district is launching ‘RE:ALIZE’ to give juniors and seniors the greater access to a cohesive sequence of courses – or pathways – in dance, music, theater and visual arts.RE:ALIZE represents the next phase of CPS’s advanced arts program, retaining the original vision of a arts across the city, while making meaningful changes to provide more choice for students and increase access to the arts.

But critics say RE:ALIZE was developed without meaningful input from teachers, students or their families. An educator describes it as “a shadow” of current offerings.

The Advanced Arts Program (AAP) has been in existence for over 20 years. Before the pandemic, about 150 students were sent home from school in time to get to the Gallery 37 building for two hours of instruction each day. Smaller classes were led by both a CPS teacher and a field teaching artist. Diverse offerings range from jazz band to culinary arts, from photography to ceramics and from dance to animation.

“It was really beautiful,” said painter Assata Mason, who spent two years at AAP and just graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “It’s like a home for uneducated souls. It was a great place to find yourself, to find what you wanted to do.

Since the onset of COVID-19, the program has been offered remotely, in hybrid mode and entirely in person. Last year, AAP moved from its longtime downtown home. Teachers say After School Matters, with whom AAP shared Gallery 37, had been taking up more and more space in the building for years. For the 2021-2022 school year, the AAP moved to Wells Community Academy High School in Ashland and Augusta in West Town.

Staff members have expressed concerns about the move, noting that having a home downtown provides students with cultural opportunities like museums and galleries. And they noted that a central location was the best way to ensure that students from across the city wouldn’t have to travel long distances.

“Any arts program for CPS students that’s not in the loop, that’s an instant equity issue,” a former staffer said of the new program.

Teachers say the move itself was rushed and cumbersome, with problems with facilities like missing keys, locked bathrooms and missing air conditioning units. Educators called the move “very, very, very brutal” and “a pretty hard blow.” They also say the programs were axed mid-year and the hybrid model was unexpectedly switched to fully in-person, which disrupted student schedules.

In an email sent the day before the start of spring break last month, leaders of CPA’s arts education department informed teachers that the advanced arts program would become RE:ALIZE and invited them to apply. for a position in the new program.

Educators say the late word came as a surprise and came after months of unanswered questions about the upcoming school year.

“We’re all part-time instructors and artists living paycheck to paycheck,” said teaching artist Jason Betke. “It’s good to know in advance if we will have a job next year.”

The new program is expected to offer two years of training in dance, theater, visual arts or music, with dual-enrollment courses offering college credit. Students will split their time between Wells High School and City Colleges. For now, only the visual arts program is expected to be operational in time for the next school year, with the other three scheduled to start in 2023.

Instead of spending five days a week at a single site with classes taught by two instructors, students will spend two days at Wells and two days at City Colleges, with Friday being an optional open studio day. According to CPS, the partnership with City Colleges will make it easier for students in the city to access arts education.

“The district is thrilled to partner with City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) to provide students across the city with equitable access to participate in RE:ALIZE,” the district said in a statement. “RE:ALIZE students will earn 12 college credits in their arts disciplines through dual-enrollment courses, join an interdisciplinary studio at Wells Community Academy High School facilitated by an artist-in-residence, and complete community-based learning opportunities. work within their field. »

Among the reasons cited for the program change were student interest in college- and career-oriented programs, difficulty getting to Wells five days a week, and a drop in AAP enrollment.

Critics of the new program say the drop in enrollment is partly due to COVID-19 and the unexpected move to Wells, and that the change in course offerings and program structure is doing students a disservice.

“I think a lot of the dynamic things in the curriculum are flattening out,” said one teacher.

AAP supporters say it’s not just the move to Wells that has put the program’s future in a precarious position. They also describe a lack of support from the leadership of CPA’s arts education department.

“Time and time again, we would explain to new leaders the vision for this program,” said another former staffer.

This is the second time in recent years that the program has been on the chopping block. In 2016, WTTW News reported that teachers were told the program would be closed, a decision the district later reversed.

The backers organized a petition asking CPS CEO Pedro Martinez to reverse the decision. Former participants lamented the change to the program and expressed concerns about its successor.

“When I signed up for this program, it was the first time I was really introduced to other people my age who were playing, who had similar interests to me,” the former jazz program said. Jahari Stampley, a pianist who has worked with artists such as Jill Scott, Stanley Clark and Jacob Collier. “Being around teachers who had real-world guidance, who have really been in this industry…allowed me to chart my path in a realistic way.”

“We saw that… people believe in us to make these films,” said filmmaker Andres Aurelio. He and collaborator Salvador Salazar met at AAP and screened their work at the CineYouth showcase which is part of the Chicago International Film Festival. “I feel like if we hadn’t taken the leap to go to Advance Arts, we wouldn’t have seen it as a viable career.”

CPS says the new program will not only give students a chance to earn college credit, it will help them develop their skills for the future.

“The RE:ALIZE student learning experience will culminate in each student’s senior portfolio that will reflect a student’s sustained artistic pursuit and arts-rich post-secondary plan,” the district said in its statement.

“There is a real need for this program in Chicago public schools – not just for students who plan to get into the arts, but for students who need a place to belong,” said Gina. Szulkowksi, teacher at the AAP. “We don’t have a lot of those spaces at CPS, and this is that space. And it’s very powerful.

Contact Nick Blumberg: [email protected] | (773) 509-5434 | @ndblumberg


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