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CPS ‘Welcoming School’ Does Its Homework As First Day Nears

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(CBS) – One of the city’s “welcoming schools” got a dry run of sorts Friday as educators met some of their new students and parents.

Johnson School of Excellence in the North Lawndale neighborhood is welcoming 60 new students from a school that is among the 50 being shuttered by Chicago Public Schools and the Emanuel administration.

There’s a lot riding on welcoming schools. Staff members at Johnson say they’re ready and not nervous, because they’ve done this before. Friday, teachers and staff even rehearsed the first day of school.

But it’s the families making the transition that have their worries.

Meghan Freeman already knows a good night’s sleep Sunday evening will be a distant dream. She’ll be sending her sons to Johnson School of Excellence for the first time; their school was closed.

The mother says her biggest worry is how safe the CPS’s “Safe Passage” routes will really be amid the gang activity in North Lawndale.

“If they’re clashing, and my kids are going to school — what if?” she says.

Freeman’s oldest son, Eddie, is headed to eighth grade, with other concerns.

“It’s going to be hard, too, because I don’t know if they’re going to pick on me or not,” he says.

Parents of returning students are nervous, too, about things like class sizes. To help ease some of those fears and first-day jitters, teachers hosted a barbecue for students and parents.

“This is our second year of being a welcoming school so we’ve learned a lot from our first year, and this year will be even better,” teacher Dominique Morris says.

The staff members, dressed for the occasion, were armed with weeks of training to prepare them for Monday’s challenges.

“We are here to serve and make sure their children get the best of everything,” Principal Alice Henry says.

There were a number of improvements to get ready for the first day of class: upgrades in lighting, new technology, and lots of training for the staff.

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