Belmont-Cragin Elementary Tries to get back on Top

Following their move last year to a different location, Belmont-Cragin Elementary dropped to a level 2 Chicago public school.

Staff and students had to relocate about seven blocks away from their previous building and the school suffered a 70% retention rate because of the change. Their new building, which they share with Northwest Middle School at 5252 W. Palmer St., is situated in a more crime-infested area, so it is difficult for students to walk to and from school, said Daniela Medrano, a technology instructor at the school.

“We have little kids,” Medrano said. “Sometimes it becomes an issue with parents for safety. The other school has fights and we don’t really see that at our school.”

However, Supplies for Dreams has been a constant during this time.

The non-profit organization—run mostly by Northwestern University undergrads—provides CPS students with supplies-stocked backpacks, takes students on field trips to Chicago museums and gives one-on-one mentoring to its partner school students, which includes Belmont-Cragin.

Ninety-five percent of Belmont-Cragin’s students are low-income, Medrano said. The elementary school also has 70 percent of its students as English language learners and 14 percent are special needs students, she said. Most families of the school are working class families. The school is also SFD’s second longest partnership and has worked with SFD for at least three years.

Medrano said that while the supplies help students’ families who suffer from financial distress, they also help the teachers.

“It’s such a relief for many teachers because sometimes at schools, I’ve had to buy pencils and paper myself for the students,” she said. “I think that’s a big, big part of it: the relief of many families in terms of having not to buy their students supplies.”

Supplies for Dreams also brings students to NU to give them tours of the campus and to do activities centered around college education.

Belmont-Cragin students, who came to NU on Nov. 22 for an event called Wildcat Workout, have grown accustom to these trips to campus and really benefit from them, Medrano said.

“You assume or think is this so fun for them- But it is. Every Time it’s a new experience and you have students saying, ‘Northwestern is my dream school,’” Medrano said. “I love that they have really become aware of these things, and I tell them all the time that I’ve never had these experiences at a Chicago Public School.”

SFD also recently took students on a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. Since there are not a lot of people of color in the math and science industries, it is important to expose them to learning in those fields, Medrano said. Students usually come back from the trips eager to tell classmates what they have learned, she said.

Marie Donaldson, SFD’s operations director, said, though, that the move has been one of the more difficult things Belmont-Cragin has had to deal with.

However, the staff members are passionate about the students and the work that they do, Donaldson said. At SFD’s annual gala last year, Belmont-Cragin Principal Stacy Stewart spoke. She delivered an “inspiring” speech, Donaldson said.

“[Stewart’s] impressive in the way she talks about the school and talks about her students,” Donaldson said. “No matter how things are for the students, the principal of their school really cares about them and is aware of their difficulties and is there to help them overcome them.”

Medrano said whatever the case and location of the school, she is proud to work there because of the staff and students.

“I wake up every morning knowing that I’m happy to go to work, whereas at other jobs, I haven’t really experienced that,” Medrano said.