Chicago Catholic Schools -- Stake a Claim to Neighborhoods

This summer, the Chicago media has been running a wrap-up of the number of individuals shot each day. I fear that the rote summary of these events, day after day, will immunize us to their tragedy. For most of us, though, the horror is still palpable and allowing this to become just another part of our city's every-day life is unthinkable.

Still I worry.

I worry that the fiscal challenges facing our city and state will lead to cuts in important programs delivered by community-based organizations. I am worried that parents who want to raise their children safely will leave the city. I am worried that one more child will be affected by senseless violence, leaving their parents' dreams for them unrealized and bringing down a crushing reality to those that love them.

There are many things being done to bring calm to the city and I applaud, in particular, the work of our Mayor and Police Superintendent.

One other thing Chicago can do about the terrible violence it is facing: support the inner-city, Catholic schools -- the 93 Big Shoulders Fund schools. Stake a claim to them.

A series of research articles by University of Notre Dame Professors Margaret Brinig and Nicole Garnet have laid out the case. In a paper summarizing their findings, "Catholic Schools, Urban Neighborhoods, and Education Reform" Brinig and Garnet used three decades of data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods to evaluate the effect of a Catholic school closure on its neighborhood. They found -- even after controlling for other demographic variables that might predict decline -- that neighborhood social cohesion decreases and disorder increases in neighborhoods that have had a Catholic elementary school close. Last month an article about Brinig and Garnet's research, "Catholic Schools and Broken Windows," was published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. This research demonstrated that during a time of overall decline in crime, Catholic school closures slowed the rate of decline of crime as compared to beats without a Catholic school closure.

There remain many questions not answered by this research as to why inner-city Catholic schools might have this effect. However, the authors conclude that "...Catholic school closures are strongly linked with increased disorder, reduced neighborhood social cohesion, and eventually, serious crime."

The Big Shoulders Fund schools -- 93 inner-city, Catholic schools -- do an amazing job of providing for our students' safety and outreach to parents. They are open long hours, and have a positive community presence during the week days and on the weekends. In Englewood, a neighborhood that has struggled with violence, there's a Big Shoulders Fund school where the nuns often remark about a vibrant mural that has gone untagged for over a decade. This has to be a reflection of both the community's respect of their work but also their ownership.

I am not saying Catholic schools are THE answer to the outbreaks of violence seen in our most challenged communities. However, we know that they, along with others, are important community based organizations that when gone leave a tremendous void.

While I am worried right now for our city, I see hope in the Big Shoulders Fund schools that just opened last week welcoming nearly 24,000 children -- 80 percent minority and nearly 65 percent living in poverty. Over the last two years, our elementary schools have experienced a modest increase in enrollment which stands in contrast to the declining Catholic school enrollment nationwide. We are working hard to realize an increase again this year.

Here at Big Shoulders Fund, we are working to ensure students of all religious and socio-economic backgrounds have access to a quality, education in all neighborhoods of the city from Uptown to Roseland, from Austin to South Shore. In so doing, we also hope to keep children safe and communities strong.