Chicago Public Schools and the Importance of Programs Like IYWP

By IYWP intern Megan Wynn


I decided that I wanted to become a part of the Iowa Youth Writing Project because I understood the importance of writing for young people in order to find their voices. When I tell people about my internship with the IYWP and explain to them what IYWP is, I consistently get the same reactions. People never think about the importance of writing for youths and the impact writing has on the ability of young people to express themselves. They always see the importance of a program like the IYWP once I explain it, but I think many people in their own lives don’t truly recognize the power of the arts and the communication and expression that the skills of reading and writing provide. Only when it is not available to them do they notice its impact.

Upon becoming a part of IYWP I’ve heard so many pieces written by kids that are absolutely moving. It’s truly incredible what these kids have to share. I feel as though I could learn from their perspectives on the world. Kids are empowered when they are given the outlet to express their unique thoughts and creative ideas. Many youths don’t have an outlet for creative expression and sometimes never will. My sister Kate and I talked about this over break.

My sister is a twenty-two-year-old English and Social Studies middle school teacher in the Chicago Public School system. Her particular school is struggling to stay afloat.

Kate has dreamed of being a CPS teacher for as long as I can remember. From a very young age we would play “school” and she was always the teacher and my other sister and I were her students. Living in the suburbs of Chicago Kate discovered the unfair differences between the schooling of inner-city kids and her own education, and she became obsessed by the idea that she was going to make a difference as a teacher one day. Kate did some student teaching in Albany Park during college, but the school she has worked at now for a few months has changed her.

Over break she told me about the possibility of her school closing. She told me that the building itself was falling apart, kids were failing standardized tests, and her classes were huge with over thirty-five students. She told me that it was hard to keep all of the students motivated and that some would just put their heads on the desk and not speak to her. She has had to fail a few of her students. Teachers in the past wouldn’t know what to do so they would give them all As and this caused students to struggle even more later. “It sets them up for failure because it never gives them the chance to catch up to their peers.”

“One of the bigger problems is that all of my students are at different levels of learning.” Some of her eighth graders can hardly read, but most are at a fourth-grade level. “It makes it incredibly hard to choose what material to use or go over.” Another huge issue is that a lot of the students do not speak English. “A few of my kids are coming from different countries, most are Spanish speakers, but some speak Gujarati, and some of them are from Haiti. We don’t have the language support needed for many of our students. Plus, many of these countries do not encourage education so it’s really hard to gage where students are at.” She told me that CPS schools just don’t have the money to give students the individual resources they need.

So far, Kate’s experience with CPS schools has been very discouraging for her. Although, she told me that there are some movements towards change and the recognition of each individual student and their needs. There is after school tutoring available where all the teachers stay a few hours after school to help students with their homework, and they are implementing talking circles during the students’ advisory periods where students and teachers can take the time to discuss issues in the school. “It’s great in theory, but advisory periods are only fifteen minutes and the first thing in the morning so many students show up late and miss it or don’t really settle down until it’s over.” My sister finds the tutoring offered after school is the most beneficial. “I can sit down individually with students and help them with any problems they’re having.”

I told her about the IYWP here in Iowa City and how we aim to give kids that individual attention and encourage them to think creatively. She thought IYWP and programs like it would be helpful in giving these kids voices. “Some of them don’t have the best home environments so giving kids a time or place to learn how to read and write and express their creative ideas would be incredibly beneficial.” Programs like IYWP could give the individual attention kids need and cater to their reading and writing levels. Writing is a powerful tool in expressing oneself and because of the CPS system many students don’t ever get to attain the power to create. My sister worries about her students moving on to high school because for any of the better high schools, students have to apply. She knows that many of her students will be stuck at high schools that cannot provide for their needs and she fears that they will always be fighting to catch up and might not.

My sister struggles to make a difference at her school because the problems in CPS schools are way larger than she could ever imagine. “The CPS system is corrupt far beyond what I ever thought.” Students should not have to suffer from it, though. They should be able to depend on their public school system to be able to give them their education. Many CPS students are growing up in poverty and their education is what they have to pull themselves out of it.

IYWP has not only encouraged creative writing for the youths of Iowa City but has also impacted many lives of the community. I hope that IYWP and programs like it continue to grow and multiply in order to reach all of the kids that could really benefit from what they have to offer. It is so very important what the IYWP does and strives to do. Everyone deserves the ability to express themselves and to use writing as an outlet to do so.


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