It was one glorious evening. Last night, South Loopers got to see the new and very gleaming and very impressive Jones College Prep, which opened its doors to us so we could see our South Loop TIF dollars at work. As well as the many dignitaries on hand.
Then the door banged shut again. Our TIF dollars or not. If you want to come back, test in! Compete with your fellow Chicagoans, South Loopers. Thousands upon thousands of them.
But enough of the old stuff. It’s over. The new Jones College Prep will open next Monday for business. And the South Loop still has no neighborhood high school. The neighborhood spoke out and saved the old school, which is adjacent to the new one. But it’s not going to be a neighborhood high school. It’s going to add more space to Jones College Prep, which is open to every student in the city, as long as they can pass a rigorous test. If you want to raise high schoolers in the South Loop, and your kids are not geniuses, you better have plenty of money to send them to a private school.
So here are some of the highlights. The school is sort of like a high school version of the East Bank Club. Dance studio–check! Huge gym–check! Huge swimming pool on the top floor–check! Fitness Center–check! Lots of locker rooms–check! And there are lots of beautiful outdoor terraces for eating and socializing and such, interspersed on the seven floors–the best one being the one on seven that has a vista down Balbo toward Lake Michigan that is breathtaking. Check!
Then there’s lots of stuff for mingling with the arts. Like big art studios, choral rooms, musical instrument rooms and the good sized Robin Bennett Theater–which is where the ribbon cutting was last night, and which rivals the world-famous Steppenwolf Theater on Halsted Street in terms of amenities.
The cafetaria ain’t too shabby, either. Nor is the enormous library. Or the computer labs, the science labs and last but not least, the actual classrooms which are sort of like afterthoughts. Many of the floors around the school are made of terrazzo. Some of concrete. And there are four elevators that go from one to seven that students can only use if they are unable to get up the stairs on their own.
Three personal memories of Jones came into my mind last night. (There has been a school called “Jones” on the site at Harrison, Plymouth and State since 1875.) My memories are all from the era when it was called Jones Commercial, which was housed in what is now considered the “old” building.
In 1972, I was a substitute teacher there. And I remember my students (mostly girls who were studying subjects such as typing, shorthand and bookkeeping that would enable them to work in business offices) were dressed beautifully; they all had downtown internships at some point during the day. They were incredibly personable and professional. I took pictures of them with my new Nikon, complete with tons of fresh Tri-X 400. And many years later, when I married my second husband–a journalist and photographer most of his life–he finally developed the contact sheets for me. And all the memories of the days spent with those lovely teenaged girls flooded back.
Shortly after I moved into my house at Roosevelt and State in 1994, the principal of Jones Commercial, who lived near me in Dearborn Park invited me over for a visit. It was fun to be back after 22 years. She begged me to be on the Jones LSC, which was a new concept back then. I didn’t want to disappoint her so I said OK. Another board in my life? So what….
Then she asked me to come introduce myself in a few weeks to the teachers. When I got there, I realized there was going to be a hard-fought and very contested election. And that was the last thing I was interested in. A lot of people really wanted to be on the LSC–so what’d she need me for? But I did stay and introduce myself and I told the story of my substitute teaching way back when–and the lovely girls I met in 1972. Although I had absolutely no interest in running for the LSC.
Last but not least, after I became a lawyer in 1993, I was asked to coach a trial team at Jones. CPS and the Cook County Circuit Court host a fierce competition among high schools; the students learn the basics of being prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges (not to mention victims and defendants). The students learn the skiils of direct and cross examination, opening statements, closing arguments and jury instructions in “Street Law” classes. (Why they call it this I can’t figure out.) In any case, my Jones team always did pretty well–and was never eliminated in the first round. They always placed. It was truly amazing to see how some kids were just naturals and how easy it was for them to pick up trial skills. (Maybe from watching a lot of law-related TV?) And many were great actors, too–playing witnesses who took the stand during the trial.
In any case, on the eve of the official opening of the new Jones College Prep building on Monday, these memories flooded my mind. Even though in this era Jones will only educate the cream of the crop in the city–students who will utilize all the health club amenities and educational opportunities at their disposal–it’s important to remember that there was school life on that land for the last 138 years. I hope one of those accidental classrooms at least pays lip service to the history beneath their feet.