September’s Greenheart Beat
For Your Education on Education: Literacy in Chicago and Beyond
By: Melissa Trinley, CCI Greenheart Short-Term Programs Manager
On August 26th thousands of Chicago area students started a new school year. This school year has been fraught with controversy since this past May when the Chicago Public School Board voted to close 50 public schools in order to stem a rising budget deficit of nearly $1 billion. The Chicago Public School system is the third largest school system in the nation; more than 30,000 students experienced a very different first day of school this year either having to attend a new school or by welcoming new classmates. Although the school closings in Chicago are the largest to date, they are not the first. According to NPR, in 2010 twenty-six schools were closed in Kansas City, MO, while Cleveland closed sixteen and Detroit closed twenty-nine. Blamed for school closings are budget crises from the decline in property taxes and federal aid. According to the US Department of Education, 90% of students in the US attend a public school—an alarming statistic given the fact that funding for public education at the Federal and State levels is declining. Due to the sequestration of Federal Education programs, US education spending was cut by $3 billion this year alone. When compared to the amount of money the Federal Government spends on other programs, education is only a small fraction of the budget. In 2012 19% of the federal budget was spent on defense—2% was spent on education.
In comparison to other developed countries, the U.S. spends more per student however; the share of education funding that comes from private sources is much higher than any other nation. Additionally, “the U.S. is one of the few that invests in a regressive way. Children who need (public funding) the most get the least of it,” according to Andreas Schleicher an education policy adviser to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). At the K-12 level, many U.S. schools rely primarily on property taxes, so wealthier communities have far more to spend. Private colleges, of course, can access to wealthy donors and massive endowments to fund programs. Community colleges have been devastated by state budget cuts.
The foundation of education is the ability to read. When it comes to literacy, the United States has an impressive literacy rate of 99%; however rates vary drastically by city. In fact, Chicago ranks 28th on a list of literate cities behind Washington DC (1), Minneapolis (3), Boston (12), and NYC (26) and more than one half of Chicago 11th graders read below their grade level. In light of literacy being seen as a human right, and a means of personal and social development – it makes an essential contribution to wide variety of goals like maintaining peace, eradicating poverty and achieving gender equality—the United Nations choose the issue of literacy as one of the first ‘days’ declared by the organization in 1965. On September 8th the UN invites the world to recognize International Literacy Day. It is the day that seeks to focus public opinion on the major global problem of illiteracy. Sadly, we do not have to look far within our own community to meet someone who cannot read—consider these facts:
- Chicago has a literacy rate of just 53%
- Roughly 2 million people in Illinois cannot read above a fifth-grade level.
- 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read
- As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.
Chicago has many organizations that work with all age groups in many diverse neighborhoods that teach people how to read. Greenheart does its part to help combat literacy in Chicago by supporting Open Books a non-profit social venture in River North (just around the corner from Greenheart!) that operates a bookstore, provides community programs and mobilizes volunteers to promote literacy in Chicago. This past fall, Greenheart employees volunteered at Open Books at their Adventures in Creative writing workshops. Employees volunteered as writing coaches helping 7th graders learn about poetry and write their own slam poetry. Others worked with the 4th and 5th graders helping them learn to write descriptive stories about specific places.
Greenheart’s Jill Robinson is a longtime volunteer at Open Books and has this to say about volunteering:
“What drew me to the organization was initially the opportunity to be a reading buddy to a Chicago student, but the schedule interfered with my work hours. The other option I had was working in the bookstore, where all the proceeds go to funding their many programs…Not only have I met some amazing people and get to surround myself with books for a few hours, three times a month, I get to feel good about volunteering for a cause that is close to my heart. I get to see first-hand how someone like Stacy Ratner (Founder) decided to make a change and did it. It’s so inspiring to see the poems written by students, the book reviews left in the store by kids participating in their programs and to watch children and adults lose themselves in a story. That is a powerful testament to how one person can really make a difference when they put their mind to it.”
Greenheart Transforms’s most recent event—Envisioneers— invited Stacey Ratner the Founder of Open Books to speak about what her organization is doing to help Chicago youth learn to read. Envisioneers seeks topnotch Chicago change-makers to inspire and enlighten Chicagoans; as a true entrepreneur, Stacey started the organization out of her basement after hearing some astounding statistics about literacy in Chicago. The social enterprise receives 70% of its funding from second-hand book sales. Be sure to head over to Open Books to grab a book to read and to contribute to their cause—they are doing amazing Chicago outreach to promote literacy!
Greenheart Club participants volunteer for literacy as well. This summer season Sushania and Orville leading Work & Travel Greenheart Club members volunteered a lot of their time to local libraries. Did you know that volunteering at libraries is one of the top volunteer activities Greenheart Club members participate in?
While the facts on illiteracy may seem daunting to overcome remember, literacy is a learned skill and YOU can make a difference in any person’s life by sharing your skill of reading!
German Kindergarten Designed as a Cat
A school named “Kindergarten Die Katze” is a giant white cat of learning built in Wolfartsweier, Germany. Tomi Ungerer, an artist, collaborated with architect Ayla-Suzan Yöndel to design this playful, educational institution that provides the children a sense of joy when going to school. They enter the giant white cat through its mouth! Read more about the school and take a look at more pictures here.