Governor Rauner: After School MATTERS

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Dear Governor Rauner:

I get it that our state of Illinois is bankrupt. I get it that it is important to live within our means, as a state, but I am begging you, if that should be necessary, to leave the After School Matters program alone.

For those readers who are not familiar with the After School Matters program, it was 20 years in the making. The late Maggie Daley, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s wife, and Lois Weisberg, the former Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner recognized the need for cultural activities for the city’s teenagers. Its predecessor program, Gallery 37, morphed into a partnership with CPS to provide programming in schools. In 2000, funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation expanded the programs from art to technology, sports and communications. In 2006, funding from Abbott added science to the list of programs and After School Matters was born.

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It has become a nationally recognized model that other high school systems including Boston, Providence and New York, have emulated. These are hands-on project based programs that will prepare Chicago’s teens for careers and marketable jobs skills. Not every child can or should go to college. A Bachelor of Arts degree at a university no longer guarantees the graduate a lucrative job at the end of the day…not to mention the heavy burden of school loans debt that so many of our children now carry.

My 14 year old son with special needs is attending the After School Matters City Chefs 2 program at Lawrence Hall. It meets 3 times a week from 4pm – 7pm for 12 weeks. He is loving every minute of it and this is the first program he has attended where he is ready to go, and in the car on time. This is a kid for whom transitions is a very big problem, so the fact that he comes home from school and then an hour later has to leave to go to this program is a testimonial to how much he is enjoying it.

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My son attended the Chicago Park District Park Kids after school program until he aged out of it at 12 years old. He had always played sports in his free time from a very young age, but he lost interest. You can’t force a kid to do something he doesn’t want to do. He was spending every day after school playing shooter video games with his friends for hours and hours. After several months of this, I decided he NEEDED to do something else. I went through all the After School Matters programs that were fairly close by, since I am driving him back and forth and he chose the City Chefs program.

The food that they are making is really impressive since most days he brings home a “doggie bag.” So far he has made hamburgers, sweet and sour meatballs, Chicken Cordon Bleu….did you read that right? Chicken fucking Cordon Bleu! as well as empanadas, pasta Al Fredo, Jerk Chicken and mini Quiche Lorraine. Even though he loves sweets, he ALWAYS opts for the main event. Interesting, eh? He has to follow a recipe which is great for a kid with executive functioning problems, and he is able to recite the recipe back to me on our way home. They wear Chefs coats, hairnets, measure and weigh ingredients. This is the real deal, people. This could very well be what he ends up doing in life.

My son struggles with some of his school work, mostly math, although his teacher tells me he is really getting into geometry. As one who is spatially challenged, geometry was an absolute nightmare for me. I was lost from day 1…and it didn’t help that I had a terrible teacher. But, I digress. He has been in a therapeutic day school for most of his elementary school life. This means his classroom has 7-8 students with a teacher and an aide and he gets lots and lots of support. These are kids that couldn’t function in a mainstream classroom. He will be graduating from 8th grade at the end of this year and although his school goes through 12th grade, I would like him to go to a regular high school.

Miraculously, he took all the necessary standardized tests which meant getting to a site on the south side of the city (we live in Rogers Park) at 7:30am on a Saturday morning. I cannot tell you what a huge accomplishment this was for him. I applied to some selective enrollment schools, a Magnet school and a CTE school (Career and Technical Education). He was accepted at Roosevelt High School in their CTE Info Tech Gaming program and Von Steuben Science Magnet program.

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I never thought that university would be a good fit for my son; not because he is not bright enough, but that his anxiety disorder gets in the way of his performing to his potential. We accepted the spot at Roosevelt HS and I was overjoyed to learn that they also have a Culinary Arts Program, to which he could transfer. All of a sudden, we have gone from “will my son be able to function as an adult?” to his possibly finding a career path at age 14. This is all due to After School Matters.

Governor Rauner, I guarantee it will be less costly to keep the After School Matters programs than to have kids hanging around on street corners, selling drugs and ultimately ending up in the prison system. I hope I have made my case to keep this program funded!

Anybody else have children attending After School Matters? I’d love to hear your stories!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one even better…
10 Great Things That Happened After My Son’s Rampage

Or this one which got the most views, ever…
Just Another Day with My Son with an Invisible Disability

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