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CPS Chatter Blog: "Let’s Move!" Disaster

by Leah Putnam - 5th Grade Teacher  |  03/03/2013

From the CPS Chatter Blog:

If you are a parent, imagine that you take your child on a trip and they are very excited.  Now imagine they have to wait on a bus and stand in straight lines for three hours straight.  Then imagine after one hour of “fun” that they have to sit around and wait for three more hours that bus to pick them up.  Oh, did I mention that are not allowed to have a morsel of food the entire time?  Now, multiply that by 25 to 35.  Sounds fun right?!  That’s a little bit what the day was like for CPS students, parents and teachers at the Let’s Move! Campaign. 

Mayor Emanuel at the Let's Move event

When offered the chance to participate in the Let’s Move! campaign, I thought it would be a lot of fun and jumped at the chance.  After all, my students have been working very hard to prepare for next week’s ISAT test and deserved a to let loose a little.  Had I known what this event entailed, I would have definitely taken a pass. 

The day began with the buses picking us up from our school.  As we arrived at McCormick Place, we passed bus after bus after bus, full of students.  Our bus took its place at the end of that line, and we waited for over 45 minutes to reach our destination.  I thought the 90 total minutes in a school bus full of children would be the extent of my stress, but I was a bit naive at this point. 

As we entered McCormick place we were ushered immediately to metal detectors and our bags were searched. We didn’t bring food or drink as was requested, so the security check went by flawlessly.  Then we waited in another line, this time for t-shirts.  When my 10 year old students received their XL men’s t-shirts, I did my best to tell them with a straight face that the shirts would shrink and the girls could maybe wear them as a dress. 

We were moved to a location in a large concrete room with thousands of children.  We were told to keep our students in three straight quiet lines. The students stood there for almost an hour.  Then, the students were ushered into a giant room with a stage and told they had to be very quiet, that there was a “surprise in there for them.”  6,000 kids quiet?  Good luck guy.  As the students went into the room, they were all assigned to stand in different areas. The students framed the stage on three sides and the media was seated on the four side of the rectangular square. As the commercial, I mean event, began each athlete was introduced.  They all had a 1-2 minute motivational speech that was so cheesy that none of the athletes really seemed to connect with the students and the messages did not resonate.  It seemed like one giant Nike advertisement.  Finally, the first lady came out.  Although she was stunning and her message was powerful, her back was to the children.  She was facing the media.  I couldn’t help wondering, who is this event really for?  Then I realized my students were just a backdrop to this campaign/commercial.

Finally, the exercise program began.  I enjoyed watching Bo Jackson trying to keep up with the squat twists and Rahm Emanuel’s teeny tiny t-shirt.  My students were not enjoying it at all.  Not because they are not fit, because it was 1 pm (2 hours past their usual lunch time).  They were dropping like flies, most of my students were sitting on the ground by the time Jordin Sparks started singing. 

Around 1:30 pm the concert was over, everyone was corralled back into the very large room we started in and went back to where we were originally waiting.  They began calling buses, starting with 1-10.  Imagine my thinking when I looked down at my wrist band and saw “bus 291.”   The next two and a half hours broke my heart as my students continually came up to me to tell me that they were hungry and ask why this was happening.  We teachers feel responsible for our students and there was nothing we could do but wait.  We were at the mercy of this poorly run event.  Some students entertained themselves by making their t-shirts into a ball and throwing them around, some laid down on the ground miserably.  My pregnant coworker was dehydrated and hadn’t eaten in 10 hours.  It was mentally and physically exhausting for every teacher, parent and student stuck at McCormick Place.  Many of the parent chaperones had to make various arrangements for their younger students that they could no longer pick up from school.  Many of our students are responsible for their younger siblings and our school had to make arrangements for these children.  Some of those parents had worked the night before, and had to go back to work when we returned.  The after school programs we teach were either cancelled or taken over by other teachers.

At 3:52 we finally departed from McCormick Place, exhausted, deflated, and hungry.  This event was clearly not about the children, because their needs were not put first.  Politics and big business before children; was this event an eerie foreshadowing of what is to come for education in Chicago?

By Leah Putnam
5th Grade Teacher
Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Teachers Union