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Photo by Kaitlynn Scannell. No issue has mobilized the Pilsen community more than education. Through demonstrations, sit-ins, and the hard, daily work of educators and activists, the Pilsen community continues to challenge city officials and one another to create the opportunities and support systems all children deserve.
Only approximately 40 percent of adults in the neighborhood had completed high school. Today, nearly 65 percent of adults in Pilsen have high school diplomas, and at the local high school, Benito Juarez Community Academy , the graduation rate for the school year was The gains are in no small part due to the myriad programs, services, and creative outlets fought for and hard won by local educators and activists. It was the beginning of a movement. Soon after, parents joined them and, frustrated with inaction, their demands grew.
In , dozens of students and parents staged a sit-in at Chicago Board of Education offices to demand a community high school. And, eventually, they won. A young child holds a sign in protest. They created options. In , a group of activists — including Danny Solis, who would later become alderman — opened an alternative, community-based high school.
That spirit of community collaboration and resistance has continued into the present day and made national news. In , community activists and parents spent 43 days occupying a fieldhouse on the grounds of Whittier Elementary School , which they had been using as a makeshift library, to demand that Chicago Public Schools create a library at their school.
They faced down police and threats of deportation, as many of them were undocumented, but eventually they won. In , parents successfully organized en masse to stop the closure of two local schools, Pilsen Community Academy and Joseph Jungman Elementary, after CPS officials targeted them for closure to cut costs. They managed to keep those schools open with a series of raucous mobilizations. But these parents, they came out. We did it. Today they struggle to keep neighborhood schools funded as the community demographics shift.