It is 7:30 a.m.
Nikeal McCoy, a sixth-grader at St. Malachy School on the West Side, is ready and waiting inside his family’s car parked out back. His mother and two younger siblings are still inside, frantically finishing up their morning routine before heading out the door.
The scene unfolding at the McCoy’s North Lawndale home happens in households across Chicago. Teachers say the closing and relocation of 50 Chicago public schools will make getting to school more difficult. This change is forcing teachers and parents to think about how home life can affect school life.
Nikkitta McCoy, a single mother of four, starts her day at 5 a.m. The next three hours are spent keeping her four children on track so they can leave the house in time for school.
Her middle son, Nikeal, is the most efficient, getting prepared before anyone else. He helps McCoy complete household tasks such as ironing and folding clothes while the other children get ready.
“Nolan is always the worst at getting ready,” McCoy said of her third-grade son, who even when he does make it in the car, can’t stop yawning during their 15-minute ride.
“It’s easy to tell when the kids are tired,” said Lauren Solarski, a kindergarten teacher at St. Malachy. “Even a bad night’s sleep can affect what we are able get done in the classroom.”
Arguments and conflicts at home can also affect how students function at school.
Tiffany Lewis, a special education teacher at a Montessori school in Englewood sees a clear link between home life and student behavior.
“My students don’t realize their behavior is often a direct reflection of what’s happening at home,” Lewis said. “Something small that happened on their way to school could even be a factor.”
Lewis works one-on-one with students with behavioral issues. But instead of simply punishing them for their behavior, she believes it’s important to look at the source.
“These kids are dealing with a lot at home, and as educators, it’s important for us to consider that,” Lewis said.
Last month, the Chicago Public Schools announced its official and final list of school closings, which topped 50 across the city, including four in the Austin neighborhood —May, Key, Armstrong and Emmet. Next fall, the Montessori School of Englewood is scheduled to move into a new building a mile away from its current location.
“We’re working with our families to make sure that all our students can move with us,” said Tameka Walton, director of family and community engagement at the Englewood school.
“A number of our families walk to school, so moving a mile away is a struggle for them,” she added: Walton has been helping families become part of the school’s community since it open in August.
Chicago Public Schools has identified families that need special support, and a specialist will meet with the families to smooth the transition. In addition, the Montessori school will partner with a day care to use a van to shuttle neighborhood students to the new school.
“With us being a charter, we have the flexibility in our budget to offer things like that,” Walton said. “Not all other public schools can do that.”
For families who use their own transportation, experts say routines such as McCoy’s can help make the morning more structured.
“They know what they’re supposed to do,” McCoy said. “How quickly they do it, that’s a different story.”
Experts recommend creating a checklist or preparing clothes and bags the night before. Solarski said she’s just grateful when all her kids are on time for class. And with just minutes to spare, McCoy’s three younger children — Nolan, Nariah and Nikeal — pile out of her car and walk into St. Malachy.
“No matter what, it’s a little crazy, but we do make it,” McCoy said.