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Teachers Picket Outside Schools Left Open For Alternative Programs

Kieran O' Brien

Kieran O’ Brien, 10, and his younger siblings are picketing with their father outside McPherson Elementary in the Ravenswood neighborhood. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 09/11/12 – 4:36 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Parents have been taking their kids to 144 “Children First” sites for alternative activities and meals, but picketing teachers are showing up at the sites too.

As CBS 2’s Courtney Gousman reports, at MacPherson Elementary School, 4728 N. Wolcott Ave., a line picketing teachers Tuesday morning ran from corner to corner, a block long.

Teachers have consolidated their picketing efforts, on day two, showing up only at the 144 schools apart of the CPS’ half day program set-up to keep students busy.

Kieran O’Brien, 10, was on the picket line himself Tuesday morning, for the second day in a row, with his father and two other siblings.

“I start walking at at least 7:25,” he said.

When asked if he missed being in school, Kieran said: “Kind of-ish. But I technically see them every day.”

Kieran’s father, Roger O’Brien, said the family has getting up bright and early to get a lesson in real life.

“I think they’re learning something, you know, fight for what you believe,” Roger O’Brien said.

For teachers, it’s been a difficult two days.

“I know it is the opinion among everyone out here,” said teacher Jeff Switzer. “We want to be back in school. We want to be back in school tomorrow, and I hope they get this done. Kids need us, and we need to be back in there.”

Just steps away, parents like Luisa Serna dropped her kids off for the second time at the elementary school for CPS’ half day program.

“My daughter said it was wonderful for her, my son said, ‘I want to stay home,’” she said. “They are not really learning. It’s hard, but we don’t really have another option.”

To keep kids busy, the “Children First” schools open their doors at 8:30 a.m. with breakfast, and close things down after lunch, at 12:30 p.m. Starting Thursday, the sites will extend their hours until 2:30 p.m.

Since instruction is now out of the equation until this teachers’ strike is over, both parents and students have some reservations.

“If it goes on for more than two weeks, it’s going to be bad,” said 5th grader Nasyaarabella Danso, “because then, you won’t learn anything, for like, almost, like, a really long time, and it’s going to affect your learning.”

“I’m supportive of that cause. However, I hope that it doesn’t last longer than a week,” said guardian John Harvey.

Churches, libraries, and city park district locations are also opening their doors to children.

CBS 2’s Jim Williams visited a large Park District site on the North Side that was picket-free on Tuesday.

For Qiana Donald, the Broadway Armory in Edgewater served as a haven for her 7-year-old daughter, Aniqa during the strike on Tuesday.

“I’m glad that they did open up the armory, because I was very uncertain as of what she was going to be doing while the teachers are out,” Donald said.

Not only was she concerned about what her daughter would do during the strike, she needed to be able to work as a freelance hair stylist – something she couldn’t do without someplace like the Armory to give her daughter safe activities during the strike.

The Broadway Armory is the Chicago Park District’s largest indoor recreational facility, and there were more kids there on Tuesday than Monday. Kids played various games and performed gymnastics.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said, “It’s been a phenomenal thing for our community.”

Osterman has been spreading the word that the Armory is open, even standing in front of the neighborhood schools to greet parents who didn’t realize there was a teachers’ strike.

Despite all the media coverage of the teachers strike on Sunday and Monday, Osterman said he still met parents on Tuesday who weren’t aware of the walkout.

“I think that there are a lot of families that are not connected to the news, a lot maybe not connected to the Internet,” he said.

Though Donald said she is grateful for the Broadway Armory she left no doubt what she really wants for her daughter.

“I would rather she be in school learning,” she said. “I want her learning.”

The Broadway Armory is open to all kids affected by the teachers strike. You don’t have to live in the Edgewater neighborhood to send your child there. It’s located at 5917 N. Broadway. Children do have to bring their own lunches.

WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, at one of the 59 churches set up to safeguard children during the strike, turnout has been low for the first two days of the walkout.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

On Monday, according to Geraldine Cooper, seven children showed up at the Liberation Christian Center on 68th Street and Ashland Avenue in the West Englewood neighborhood. On Tuesday, 13 children showed up.

Cooper said she “expected more than what I got,” but said she believes more children will show up each day the strike goes on. Cooper has been overseeing the children who receive breakfast and lunch, and have a couple of hours of activities between 8:30a and 2:30p.

Liberation Christian Center is one of 59 churches taking part in the school system’s alternative plan for children during the strike.

Cooper said the children have been playing Scrabble, doing puzzles, coloring and having fun outside on the basketball court. They also read. She said the options offered by the school system during the teachers’ strike will help keep kids off the street, and give them something to do.

Out of the CPS’ 357,000 students, about 18,000 took part in “Children First” program Monday. That number is expected to grow as the strike continues.