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Haley Elementary overcomes obstacles after merger

(Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers)

By Amanda Bonafiglia

West Pullman Elementary School faculty and staff were filled with concern the months leading up to the first day of the 2013-2014 school year, as they anticipated tension between students. However, the first weeks of class have been operating smoothly for the newly merged school.

Haley Elementary, a school situated on the Far South Side of Chicago, was designated a receiving school for the former West Pullman Elementary School students as a result of the 47 school closures approved by the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education in June.

The school is situated between two rival gang territories, “The Nine” and “The Ville,” as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Faculty prepared for what they thought could be a difficult year dealing with the complications of blending of students from both schools.

“At the very worst we talked about gang crossing lines at school,” said Tim Vail, an art instructor at Haley. “We hired more security outside school for dismissal and in the morning. For day-to-day situations in the classroom and the social and emotional needs for students, we talked through certain situations, bullying or name calling, based on grade level. We also made up lessons so we could make pretend situations.”

Like many other schools in the district, Haley hosted several summer events to encourage old and new parents and students to build relationships that would make the school environment safe and happy for the students. However, the lack of attendance by West Pullman families was discouraging for the administration and faculty, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Prior to opening day, the administration received reports that students from Haley and West Pullman had exchanged threats, according to the Chicago Tribune. West Pullman students were concerned about the long walk they would face to get to school each morning and home each afternoon.

Pullman students were angry about being displaced from the school that some had been attending for several years, while Haley students felt the new students were impeding on their territory. Despite these concerns, some say the 2013-2014 school year at Haley has been business as usual.

“In my classroom there haven’t been any specific bullying incidents between West Pullman students and Haley students,” Vail said. “A couple typical bullying instances occurred for each grade level, but the same things happened last year.”

The Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS), a program that’s purpose is to improve students’ sense of safety by combating bullying has been practiced at Haley for several years.

The program has proven to be successful in Illinois, according to a report published by the Illinois PBIS network. Illinois schools that have implemented the system have experienced the lowest number of bullying-related office visits among all PBIS schools, and they have experienced a reduction of about 10 percent since the program’s inception.

However, with the possibility of rival gang activity and the influx of new students to Haley, the staff decided to implement some of their own systems as well.

Haley is working to combat bullying at the student level before problems evolve. They hope appointing student leaders trained to deal with bullying situations and encourage positive relationships through school activities will produce promising relationships.

Haley faculty also is changing their routines by having teachers from both Haley and West Pullman interacts with all students to achieve a comfort level.

“We wanted to make sure we had several interactions with students at the beginning of the year,” Vail said.

He attributes this to the fact that Haley’s students have had to deal with several changes in demographics throughout the year due to changes in family situation, school issues or simple relocation.

“Honestly, most Haley students experienced transitioning in past years anyway,” Vail said. “I see students from every grade level and I didn’t have one class where I didn’t have a student leaving my class or coming in. Students are used to having new students coming in and leaving once or twice a year.”

Although it’s only the first month of school and some teachers are still skeptical, faculty members are hopeful that the relationships between Haley and West Pullman students will continue to grow and that the merger of the students will be successful.

“I hope it stays on the same course,” Vail said. “ As a staff we are prepared for what is to come.”


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