I remember when I was a little girl and was excited about the first day of school. I was starting kindergarten, and the night before my grandmother had straightened my hair and put it into two ponytails. My mother allowed me to pick out my own clothes, and I remember feeling like a big girl.
In 1985, I was prepared for my first day at Robert Emmet Elementary School, in the Austin neighborhood on the city’s Far West Side. On Monday, Emmet did not open on the first day of school. It has been closed by the Chicago Public Schools board because of low attendance and test scores.
I used to play on Emmet’s playground. I remember seeing all types of children, my size and bigger. They were running, jumping and swinging on the swings. I wanted to let go of my mother’s hand, so I could go play with the rest of the kids. Now, the Emmet playground is empty. There are no children swinging on the swings, no little girls jumping rope, no little boys chasing after each other.
Emmet was a place where everyone knew each other. It was the core of the community. Parents would sit on the park bench, watch their kids play and talk to other parents about what was going on in the neighborhood.
The school also had a green-and-white field house where I would go after school to play pingpong, checkers and other board games. The adults used it, too. I remember tagging along to meetings there with my mother and Aunt Theresa, where the adults talked about the school and neighborhood.
I still live in Austin with my mother, not far from Emmet. It’s depressing not seeing kids dressed in their new shirts, pants and gym shoes, or seeing their little faces light up with excitement about their first day of school, as mine did.
When I read that Emmet was one of the 50 Chicago Public Schools slated for closing, I was at a loss for words. Emmet was a great school to attend; it is where I felt in love with learning.
It was where Mr. Jenkins taught us how to play dodge ball in gym class, Mrs. Acker taught us art, and Mrs. Brooks taught us how to read musical notes.
Now, Emmet sits abandoned on the corner of West Madison Street and North Pine Avenue, just another vacant building. There are no parents bringing their kids to school, no sound of giggling kids, or school bell ringing. Now, there’s just the sound of police sirens speeding down West Madison Street.
Latricia Polk is a proud product of the Chicago Public Schools and a 2013 graduate of Roosevelt University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is currently an intern at The Chicago Reporter.