While he was working in Chicago Public Schools for Teach For America, the nonprofit teacher recruitment organization, Jeremy Mann observed a reality that he’s been grappling with ever since.
“I noticed that there were a lot of families looking for other options and many schools were very homogenous,” Mann said during a recent interview. “They were either mostly black or mostly white; mostly poor or mostly high-income.”
Mann, who lives in Austin with his wife, Erin, and their two young children, said that he also grew increasingly agitated at a pattern among public school educators and administrators — they often don’t send their own children to the schools they’re responsible for running.
Mann’s solution to these stubborn societal challenges is The Field School, which Mann — who serves as the institution’s head of school — describes as a classical Christian school with a simple educational philosophy and that’s to “feed the hearts and minds of children through rigorous, classical education rooted in a Christ-centered environment.”
The Field School kicked off its inaugural academic year last Thursday inside of Oak Park’s Calvary Memorial Church, 931 Lake St., where Mann has worked as a pastor.
The school’s roughly 50 students, ranging from pre-K through 1st grade, hail from all over the city and suburbs — from Hyde Park and Back of the Yards to Berwyn and Bellwood. Most of the students, however, come from Oak Park and Austin, Mann said, adding that, despite the school’s Christian bent, he accepts students of any and all religious backgrounds.
“Chicago is one of the most geographically segregated cities in America,” he added. “We need to intentionally resist the systemic force that divides people. As Christians, we believe that the full expression of the kingdom of God depends on rich and diverse community.”
Mann explained that Field “takes its cues” from the methods of Charlotte Mason, a 20th Century British educator who emphasized attending to “the whole child” as part of the educational process.
“The Field School is deeply committed to healing and rebuilding relationships ruined by racism, anger, fear, bigotry, and poverty, especially in Chicago’s historically rich, occasionally troubled West Side neighborhoods like Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park,” Mann said.
African Americans make up 40 percent of the student population, while whites and multiracial individuals comprise 28 percent and 17 percent of students, respectively. Hispanics/Latinos and Asian Americans each comprise 8 percent of Field students.
More than 50 percent of the students come from low-income households, with roughly a quarter earning over $120,000 a year. Most families receive at least some financial aid, if not a full scholarship, Mann said.
“The vision for this school was to have very strong academics and to be very intentionally diverse,” said Mann, who said that when his two children get of school age, he’ll be enrolling them at The Field.
Maggie Rangel, of Bellwood, said that she found about The Field School through a private Facebook group that she had consulted for recommendations about where to send her young child to school.
“I couldn’t find good public schools to send my children to,” Rangel said. “I looked at a lot of public schools in the area where we live, but they weren’t good and moving to Oak Park wasn’t an option, because it isn’t affordable.”
Rangel said that she was also attracted to the fact that Field is a Christian school with “a multicultural atmosphere.” Most importantly, she said, her child’s tuition is covered.
Jasmine Lopez, of Maywood, said that she used to think that private schools were only for affluent families before she found out about Field.
“We’ve been a homeschooling family for the last three years and came to the realization that our kindergartener would thrive better in a classroom setting,” she said, adding that the faith-based learning and the school’s deliberate efforts to diversify were “exciting for us.”
Mann said that, currently, the school is funded through full tuition payments from high-income families and philanthropic donations. So far, he said, the school has raised $250,000 for operations — virtually all of it going to programming since most of the Field faculty and staff are working voluntarily.
“We don’t plan on doing this forever, but right now I don’t take a salary,” he said. “We have two deans and they don’t take salaries. Our instructional aids volunteer. So, personnel costs are far less than they’d be if all of us were taking a salary.”
Mann said that his ultimate goal is for the school to be located in Austin, where he’d originally intended to setup. He said that he scouted 25 different locations in the West Side neighborhood without securing a lease.
“We would really like to be in Austin in the long term,” he said.