Making the Grade: inside Coles Elementary

November 3, 2009 9:18:08 AM PST
At Coles Elementary School on Chicago's South Side, teachers and administrators are returning to their roots in hopes of making a difference. So often, the stories of Chicago Public Schools and students are about violence, gangs or failing test scores, but the district is full of success stories.

ABC7 is taking you inside four Chicago Public Schools to show you the challenges and achievements of students who are "making the grade."

Welcome to Edward Coles School in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood. There are 600 students there, pre-K through eighth grade, and most of the students are African-American. Principal Jeff Dase says his biggest challenge is holding on to these kids.

"They are with us a couple of years and they're gone. They make great progress while they're here," Dase said.

He says the over-riding problem for many is economic disadvantages.

"The economic issues about 'we can't pay rent' or 'we can't afford it' and they have to move out is something we can't control, but while they're here, we offer them everything that they need and that they desire to stay here and know that this is a caring place for them," Dase said.

That caring place starts with caring people, real role models like Elroy Estes, Dase's high school friend. He was brought here as assistant principal so young black men could have someone else to look up to apparently it works.

"It's just the people who're in it, they have the right personalities," said fourth grader Deveon Noel.

And that brings us to math teacher Loretha Brown, who's been at Coles for two years.

"I just wanted to give back to these children what was given to me," Brown said.

Ms. Brown went back to college late in life, inspired by a teacher she had at this age.

"Each day, to me, was like an adventure," Brown said.

And there is no denying these kids love Ms. Brown. She's tough, but tender, using games and interaction to supplement textbooks.

"We play games and we also learn. We don't know that we are even learning because we're playing games," said fourth grader Kyesha Harden.

Games like one aimed at testing the "one size fits all" concept, by using measurements and a classroom guest. Everybody gets a moment to shine.

"I like to build a relationship with that child on an individual base to gain some insight into their background. That's how you gain a relationship," Brown said.

"It seems like it's always the one class you want to be here, even if you hate math or love it, you always want to be in this classroom," Noel said.

As for Loretha Brown, she has one major goal, especially in dealing with children in this neighborhood.

"I think I want to leave them with hope," Brown said.

That's why she shares her own story of overcoming so many obstacles.

"Because I want them to feel that I can come out of my neighborhood and do something positive, too," Brown said.

Cole has a well respected foreign language program. Every student studies a foreign language. They also have a chess team and a math coach for extra support for students.

Before he was teaching, Principal Dase was about to go into the military, and at the last minute got a full scholarship and decided to get an education with Chicago State. Brown went back to school while raising a family and decided to stick with education because someone told her she couldn't do it.

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