Fifth Ward Needs a School

Illustration by Rose McRodain

Illustration by Rose McRodain

Meena Sharma, Staff Writer

If you grew up in Evanston, your school was likely a hop, skip and a jump away. Unfortunately, this is not true for students who live in the fifth ward. Despite historic efforts to change this issue, there are no schools located in this area of Evanston.

A major concern regarding this is the racial demographics of the fifth ward. It is the most black and brown ward in Evanston with 44.2% of the population identifying as people of color. Due to these demographics, this issue could be identified as institutional racism, a form of racism that is systemic and enforced through social institutions. If this issue were resolved, we would see more racial equity within our Evanston community. It’s time the North Shore focuses on issues like these.

This topic is a national trend. Several low income communities in our country have less access to resources that are easily provided to more privileged communities. The fifth ward situation also resembles desegregation, an effort to integrate U.S. schools by bringing black students to white schools. Despite school segregation being ruled unconstitutional in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education, integration didn’t occur until much later. This took place because neighborhoods were heavily segregated, making it difficult for black students to commute to white schools. Busing began in the 1970’s; however, the way that it was implemented was unfair to the black students, who often spent tiring hours in these buses. Obviously, fifth ward residents are not spending several hours on their commute; however, the situation is still inequitable. There has been great number of actions taken to solve this schooling issue for the students, but the fifth ward is still lacking a school.

“Having a school in the fifth ward would provide a public school option that is within a safe walking distance,” says Henry Wilkins, an advocate for opening a STEM school in the fifth ward. The current situation makes biking, walking and getting a ride require much more time for fifth ward students and their families than other families in different wards of Evanston.

The previous existing school in the fifth ward was Foster School. In 1967, the school was shut down and transitioned into a laboratory. Eventually, this laboratory moved locations. Generations of fifth ward residents have experienced the consequences of this, including longer routes of transportation and switching between different elementary and middle schools. 50 years is more than long enough for the ramifications of this issue to prevail.

Some Evanston residents may argue that the implementation of a school in the fifth ward would minimize diversity in Evanston schools. Many students of color are bused from the fifth ward. However, the fifth ward students are ultimately the ones affected. They are the ones who have to wake up earlier than other students every day and get home a little later. So one thing to ask ourselves is if we want the Evanston community to “look good” by fostering diversity or strive towards justice for the fifth ward students.

“Some people might think it’s just a building, but what the school does is it brings people together,” Wilkins comments. As North Shore residents, it is no secret that many resources such as schools are easily accessible and are imperative towards building a sense of community. However, there is still one area in Evanston without a school, that happens to be the most heavily black and brown. This aspect consequently makes our city look bad. The solution is simple: Collectively, it is our responsibility to take action towards pushing for a school being built in the fifth ward. This can be accomplished by contacting local officials, petitioning for a new school and bringing the issue to the attention of other Evanston residents.

“What helps is getting the community involved and energized in terms of pursuing what they can do to help,” Wilkins explains.

It’s about time we put an end to the matter, and ease the burden on the lives of students who also deserve the luxury of a nearby school.