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Alternative Schools Crop Up in Midst of School Strike

September 23, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ Alternative schools are springing up like oases in the nation’s third- largest school district, providing quiet havens where children can learn while their teachers are on strike.

Dozens of alternative schools can be found in YMCAs and churches, and some are in community centers and recreation areas. Most are being taught by public school teachers, who are on strike for the ninth time since 1969.

In a poor South Side neighborhood, a community center has been pressed into service to help promising black high school seniors prepare for college- admission tests.

At a Bhuddist temple on the North Side, second-grade students write compositions about the T-shirts they’re wearing.

Against a backdrop of failed negotiations and name-calling by the Board of Education and the 28,000-member Chicago Teachers Union, the alternative schools mean pocket change for a handful of teachers and a semblance of normalcy for hundreds of the 430,000 students affected by the walkout.

Negotiators began a new round of talks early Wednesday, the 12th day of the strike. About 1,000 parents and students, meanwhile, marched at City Hall to protest what they considered inactivity by the two sides and by Mayor Harold Washington.

Some students are dissatisfied as well.

″We really haven’t talked about it much, but they tend to find ways to let their feelings be known,″ said Susan, a reading specialist teaching at the Buddhist temple who asked not to be further identified.

″We work on sentences and they’ll write, ’I want to go back to school, NOW 3/8‴ she said, laughing. ″Quite honestly, I wonder how the rest of the kids in the city are dealing with this.″

She agreed to lead the second-grade class because one of the mothers who organized the alternative school was a friend. Susan asked that her last name not be used because many of the strikers take a more militant approach.

″I saw it coming,″ Phillips High counselor Laura Martin said of the strike. ″You walk a fine line between breaking the strike and taking care of your students. I take care of my students.″

Ms. Martin runs the Principal Scholars program at Phillips High, where nearly 70 percent of the students are impoverished, the dropout rate is 61 percent and seniors rank, on average, lower than about 80 percent of their counterparts nationwide on reading and math testing.

She refused to allow a strike to dash the hopes of the gifted few she has nurtured through four tough years.

Ms. Martin called her principal at Phillips and asked him to arrange for calls to ″all my scholars and get them over to Elliott Denholm Community Center. I’m settin up a tutoring program ... ″

Neither Susan nor theom.

″But it’s not exactly the same,″ said 7-year-old John Pick, who normally attends LaSalle Language Academy. ″I miss gym class.″

″I miss recess,″ Brian Blankstein chimed in.

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