Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Last Saturday, Farragut High School in Little Village achieved another milestone in its slow evolution from a school of last resort to a true community resource. The school played host to the second annual Little Village Youth Forum: Building Community, Fighting Violence. Between 75 and 100 current Farragut students and graduates served as volunteers at the event; many had been involved in the planning from the very beginning. "Everything was smooth; everybody worked together," said Farragut senior Janet Soberantis. And as you can see in the photo above, everybody got lunch.
Holding this year's youth forum at Farragut sent an important signal to the neighborhood that the school has become a welcoming place. Both persuading the administration to host the event and bringing in turnout from all parts of the neighborhood and beyond were important organizing victories for SITY Ollin, the youth arm of the Telpochcalli Community Education Project, main sponsor of the event. "The administration were very open to new ideas about working with youth," said lead organizer Henry Cervantes, a Farragut alum.
"I'm really happy we had so many people, especially considering the challenge we had convincing people that it was safe to come here," said SITY Ollin organizer Paulina Camacho, who is based at Little Village High School. A number of people I spoke with said this was the first time they had set foot inside Farragut.
For decades, Farragut was the Chicago Public Schools equivalent of Fort Apache, both the army outpost featured in a John Wayne 40s Western and the South Bronx police station depicted in a 1981 movie starring Paul Newman. To those who worked at Farragut, it had the feel of a lonely army outpost in foreign territory, like the original Fort Apache. To those who lived in the neighborhood, and often, to its own students, Farragut was a forbidding place full of incompetent and possibly corrupt staff who didn't understand the community, like the precinct station in the South Bronx film.
Farragut students come from both the Little Village and North Lawndale neighborhoods, and the racial and gang tensions between them have often surfaced at school. To this day, Latino and African American students leave school through separate doors to prevent fights at dismissal.
As early as 2003, Catalyst Chicago was writing about positive changes at Farragut. Violence is down, graduation is up, and academics are improving, though not as rapidly as one would hope. What has really moved forward in the last five years is the strength of student organizing, thanks especially to SITY Ollin and the Mikva Challenge. Though Farragut, like neighborhood high schools across the city, still faces tough challenges, it has come a long way.