Urban Reflexive Benito Juarez Community Academy

I have looked forward to this trip to Pilsen since I learned my section of TCH was chosen to go. Being from the Northwest suburbs, I have visited Chicago several times before this. I have posed in front of the Bean, walked through Millennium Park, and seen the Tiffany Dome in the Chicago Cultural Center. No one can deny their beauty, but they do not express the beauty that each Chicago neighborhood has to share.

My first CPS field trip was to Little Village Academy in South Lawndale last spring. I bounced around from classroom to classroom with a couple classmates to experience a wide range of students, teachers, and courses. I saw classrooms with noisy students who could not care less what the teacher tried to tell them, and that was what I thought all Chicago Public Schools were like at the time. I continued on to witness classrooms nothing like what I expected, classrooms with students who were quiet, respectful, and interested in the class activities. Those students helped me realize that CPS are wrongfully written off as "bad" students. After observing Little Village Academy, my class was given a tour of the neighborhood, including a look into some of the inmate community programs at Cook County Jail. The tour concluded at the infamous El Milagro, where I experienced authentic Mexican cuisine while speaking to our tour guide and other locals. Since then, I grew to appreciate CPS and the communities they reside in. This appreciation led to my excitement to visit Benito Juarez and experience another community and its culture.

The first thing I noticed about Benito Juarez Community Academy was the size and the layout of the building. It is a beautiful school with a large outdoor space, an sun-filled indoor bridge connecting the old building with the new, and incredible artwork that covered every wall. I met with my cooperating teacher, Mr. James Klock, and sat in my first class. The second thing I noticed was how well behaved Klock's students were. They were seniors preparing for the International Baccalaureate (IB), a non-profit college preparation exam. Almost every student paid attention and followed along going through a sample exam. Those who did not pay full attention were quiet enough when they were distracted to not disrupt the class. This continued into his next couple classes, both also preparing for the IB. Despite my new view of CPS, I was still amazed to see Klock have almost no issues with his students. This may be due to how he handled his students.

It was clear to see Klock's students respected him and enjoyed to have him as a teacher. I saw this not only in the whole class participations, but also the one-on-one interactions. Students told jokes, asked specific questions, and shared their days with him; they had a great connection to him. After the first class, Klock had some free time, which I took advantage to talk to him and ask him about being a teacher in CPS. He told me about the lack of student resources, due to lack of funds, and explained how that led him to purchasing a classroom's supply of laptops and calculators for his students to use. He gave me details on the IB and explained what it was for, when the students take it, and what subjects it covers. While Benito Juarez requires every student to take the IB, Klock reminds his students to prioritize what will help them and their specific future. In the class before, I noticed he told a student to work on her project "like we discussed before", and he explained to me that she's applying to the Art Institute and used class time to work on her portfolio. He recognized that this portfolio would help her more than a high IB score would. This is an educational philosophy I hold, to help students reach their best future regardless of curricula and standards. It was both comforting and inspirational to meet a teacher who shares that view of education.

Pilsen is home to a great amount of culture throughout its streets and buildings, including the National Museum of Mexican Art. There, one can look at the artwork and see the depth of culture behind it. One section is only made up of art pieces depicting pain, tragedy, and the hardships endured by Mexicans. This background picture depicts a women with two men behind her. What is most interesting is every aspect of this picture is made up of people and guns. I took this to symbolize the role violence has in everyday life, so much as becoming a part of the ordinary person's identity. This is a view put on many people of Chicago, regardless on if it is true or not. In order to change this view, more people like Klock are needed both in CPS and out to encourage and share the true identity of Chicago neighborhoods and its habitants.

The people who will help these communities are already there. They are the students who observe and learn about the communities. The students who take the experience back home and learn how to better themselves from it. We are the future of these communities, whether we make the direct effort of teaching in CPS or we work with other CPS teachers, community members, and lawmakers to aid CPS get the funds and resources needed for every student to succeed, referencing my educational philosophy, in their best future.

Created By
Mina Ljubijankic
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