*This post was written by my friend, Juanta Bennett Griffin, who grew up in Oak Park and is currently residing with her family in Oak Park. I am so grateful she shared her story and experiences with Oak Park schools. This piece is rich in experience that is rarely talked about, Black Oak Park’ers, who don’t send their children to the public school. I also have to share the cutest story ever! Juanta and her husband met in the 4th grade while attending the same Oak Park elementary school! And they are still together! 🙂
Thanks, Juanta, for sharing your story with ShaRhondaTribune.com!
Why I, an Oak Park Resident, did not send my Black Children to OPRF
By: Juanta Bennett Griffin
Like most of our Oak Park community, I’ve been reading a lot of posts about the pros and cons of the high school. As a life-long Oak Park resident, my husband and I met in the 4th grade at Longfellow Elementary, I fully planned on having our children follow in our footsteps.
However, after my eldest attended and struggled to graduate from OPRF, we have decided not to enroll our other children at the high school. Though my eldest did graduate, it was a very rocky road, complete with a hospitalization, suspension, and a lot of tears.
Not all of the problems are related solely to OPRF. My oldest son has special learning needs. I was afraid to move him because I feared he would not have the resources of D200. However, he fell into a questionable crowd and with my husband and I both working he had too much unsupervised free time and he needed more structure and activities.
My youngest child would have been a freshman at OPRFHS, but he was immature, in our opinion, for such a large school and we predicted there would be problems. Even more frightening, is that he is a very tall, Black, male child, 6’4 ½, and many white female teachers are intimidated by large, Black, outspoken young men. This is based on my experience and also research.
So my boys live in Oak Park but are attending Saint Patrick’s High School, all boys inner-city Catholic high school. It is not as racially diverse as OPRFHS but it is a better fit for our family. It is my husband’s alma mater, and he is a coach and teacher there. The boys have (Black?) ale teachers who call relate better to them. The benefits at St. Patrick’s outweigh the loss of racial diversity at OPRF. At St. Patrick’s my boys, have male teachers who aren’t afraid of them and call them out on their stuff, the school has smaller classes, and they have teachers who work with them before and after school, and a very strong school/parent/community network.
This was the school model that worked for my Black family.
My point in sharing this story is to encourage other Black parents to seek other options. I tell Black parents, don’t mess your kids up waiting for OPRFHS to change, because OPRF won’t change. If you have the opportunity to move your child to a smaller school, or a school that works better for your child, DO IT! Like me and my husband, I know Black Oak Park homeowners and pay high taxes, for things like the high school. But high school is a crucial time, it’s four years and a very important four years. My advice is don’t waste your time-fighting OPRF. There are other school options for Black children.
Sometimes I wish I could yell to Black parents with children struggling at OPRF, to “GET OUT! Don’t let D200 roll over your children!” It is a great place for some kids but not for all children. I have seen too many Black and Brown kids struggle at OPRF. When talking to other Black and Brown parents who have children don’t fit in at school, I hear tons of horror stories of how their children leave OPRF with a mental illness, on probation, an insufficiently dealt with learning disability, a drug problem, a baby, self-esteem issues.
Again, to those Black parents having problems at OPRF, I urge you, “GET YOUR CHILDREN OUT!”
Personally, I accomplished some great things while a student at OPRFHS. I had honors classes. However, I also had On Campus (OC) classes. OC classes are for kids who needed to be self-contained or had behavior issues so severe that the high school kept them on the 4th floor of the school. I was labeled Behavior Disorder Resource because I had behavior problems and had fights. I had 2 classes, group therapy, and resources in OC. But ultimately, I was suspended most of my junior year, and OPRFHS sent me to Hillside Academy for fighting. I am grateful to the few teachers that pulled me through that place because it would have been easy for me to become distracted there. Also, the reality was that OPRF was the only school option for me and my family.
I have since shed the negativity associated with “OC” label and instead transformed it as a motivator for me and for other Black children. I am proud that on December 15th at 3pm, I will be graduating from Concordia University with a Master’s Degree in Education. Further, I have already applied for a doctoral program in education.
I don’t blame my parents. Like many Black Oak Parkers then and now, my parents thought Oak Park-River Forest High School was a “good school.” They didn’t know what OPRF was really like for Black students. They thought it was a great school, and it was, for some students, just not a good school for many Black children. And even though I ultimately did graduate from OPRF, I believe I would have done so much better at another school.
My message to Black parents with children struggling at OPRF, we have other school options. I love my Oak Park Village and wouldn’t think of raising my kids anywhere else. I am just not in love with the high school.
Juanta Bennett Griffin is an Oak Park resident. Juanta is a mom and graduate student at Concordia University. She works at Hephzibah Children’s Association and graduated from OPRFHS in 1992.