Former Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School students now attending Oak Park and River Forest High School returned to Brooks Monday to talk about their experiences there and making the transition to high school.
Brooks Middle School, 325 S. Kenilworth Ave., brought former students back for Institute Day as part of the school's diversity program. All of the schools in the district offered diversity programs as part of Teacher Institute Day on Monday.
Brooks' Diversity Committee sponsored Monday's forum. The committee chose the students at random. They were given questionnaires prior to coming that asked such things as defining what it means to be a success and making good decisions while in school.
The five students talked about making the transition from Brooks to high school and how they were prepared.
They were candid and articulate as they shared their thoughts with many of the former teachers.
"When it comes to homework, I don't think they prepared us," said OPRF freshman Joshua Brooks, 14. "Here you had a little homework every night. When you get to high school it was like way different. You're getting a lot of homework from teachers so you have to spend more time. I wasn't really ready to spend that much time."
Brooks recalled making some poor decisions while in middle school, and spoke about not letting others influence you.
"I remember one time after school when I had this conflict with one of my old friends, and everybody was around me talking me up to fight him, and I guess I let that get to me. So I did, and I missed out on a lot of stuff like the graduation and the ceremony. If I would have made a different decision I would have had better memories of the school."
Satirah Varner, 15, a sophomore at OPRF, noted that close friends can sometimes steer you wrong.
"In my freshman year, I'm not the type to judge friends so I kind of stuck by friends and whatever they were going through and that kind of dragged me into whatever they were doing, and it stopped me from achieving everything I wanted to achieve. But once I let them go I started to get back on that path."
When the discussion was opened for questions and answers, some of their former teachers asked if they sometimes felt they were treated unfairly because of their race. Culture and stereotypes with respect to student achievement of blacks especially is an issue facing both districts 97 and 200.
A few students said they've experienced the same at both levels.
"Even in my English class now, the teachers are good but sometimes they act like I'm not there, said Krystle Coleman, 17, a senior at OPRF. "Sometimes teachers need to be aware that there are other students in the class."
"I had the same experience in high school and junior high," said Hannah Bonecutter, a freshman at OPRF.
"It would seem like only certain people would get in trouble and then other people wouldn't," said the 14-year-old. "And everyone knew it but it seemed like the teacher wouldn't do anything to change it. And in high school it's kind of like the same. With one of my teachers, it seems like he's ignoring me and my friends."
Freshman Katya Reyna, 15, said from her experience at OPRF, she alleges that whites are also discriminated against.
"Some of my friends who are white would tell me how when they would get in trouble, and if there's any black kid that's involved, some administrators would concentrate so much on not being racist that they would sometimes forget about the other kids," she said. "There is a lot of racism in OPRF against white people; it totally goes both ways."
Brooks Principal Tom Sindelar said it was good for adults to hear from the students.
"I think it has some great merit," he said. "I think the students started to open up. I think an open and honest dialogue is meaningful and can be very enlightening."