Don V. Villar is secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor and a member of Old St. Patrick's parish in Chicago.
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Chicago Teachers Strike to Uplift Their Students
BEFORE SUNRISE, the Chicago Federation of Labor team hit the city streets in an SUV packed with fresh donuts and hot coffee. We were bringing encouragement to picketing Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Local 1 and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 members. A cold front swept through on the first day of the Chicago public schools strike, which launched tens of thousands of public school teachers and school support staff into the streets in October, but it could not chill the fire for justice in the union members. They wanted something better not just for themselves but for the children they taught and cared for and the communities they came from.
Our first stop was Pulaski International School in Logan Square, home to nearly 900 students. The teachers and support staff were already on the sidewalks—wearing red for CTU and purple for SEIU 73. The teachers and staff at Pulaski identified class sizes and more prep time as key challenges.
We drove south to East Garfield Park, stopping at Westinghouse and Marshall high schools. Several NBA and NFL stars and other notable Chicagoans graduated from these schools. Sadly, during the strike, gunfire claimed the life of a Marshall student. Teachers and staff said more counselors and nurses were needed. Cardenas and Castellanos elementary schools also needed counselors. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have traumatized many of the children, who have seen relatives and classmates disappear.
One of the last schools we visited was Ida B. Wells Elementary in Bronzeville, where poverty is the school’s biggest challenge. Dozens of students showed up at the closed school because they had nowhere else to go and nothing to eat.