Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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‘Yo soy Bessie Rhodes’: Parents demand District 65 keep K-8 bilingual school open

Edward Simon Cruz/The Daily Northwestern
Bessie Rhodes parent Andrea Martinez spoke to more than 125 parents and students protesting the potential closure of the K-8 school.

On a breezy Monday evening, Rebecca García-Sosa marched down Church Street alongside more than 125 other parents and students from the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies. 

García-Sosa held a sign reading “Yo soy Bessie Rhodes” as her daughter, a second grader at the school, rode along on a scooter. She said Evanston/Skokie School District 65 shouldn’t move forward with its plans to close Bessie Rhodes “until we have a better assessment of the future of the district.” 

The parents and students marched from Bessie Rhodes to the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, where many then attended the first of three public hearings on the school’s planned closure to speak before the District 65 school board members in defense of the school. 

On June 10, the board will vote on a resolution to close the school. 

Superintendent Angel Turner said that due to declining enrollment and budget deficits, the district needed to prioritize neighborhood schools over “underutilized buildings with significant capital needs.” 

Five other District 65 elementary schools offer Two-Way Immersion classrooms, placing English and Spanish learners together to receive instruction and eventually become fluent in both languages. However, Bessie Rhodes is the only District 65 school where all K-5 students receive TWI instruction.

García-Sosa told The Daily that Bessie Rhodes’ TWI program ensures all students are welcomed and included regardless of background. She said students at the march would learn about the value of activism as they joined their parents in calling for Bessie Rhodes to remain open. 

“They’ll learn a little bit about what activism is and (what) protesting is, which is also important in our culture and in our lives in the U.S. and in general,” she said. 

The board initially approved the planned closure of Bessie Rhodes in March 2022 alongside plans to build a school in the 5th Ward — the ward’s first neighborhood school since Foster School transitioned to a magnet school in 1967 before closing in 1979. These changes were part of an effort to create more walkable neighborhood schools throughout the district. 

The 5th Ward school was set to serve K-8 students — including those currently attending Bessie Rhodes — and offer TWI programming. However, after Turner announced in October that the planned school was $25 million over budget, the board approved a smaller K-5 building that does not allow for the proposed “school-within-a-school” model for Bessie Rhodes. 

While reading from an op-ed written by Bessie Rhodes parent Melissa Rosenzweig published in Evanston RoundTable on April 18, parent Rita Kendrick said Bessie Rhodes is “by leaps and bounds District 65’s most diverse school,” as the majority of its students are non-white and low-income. 

Bessie Rhodes parent Aidé Acosta said she and several other parents were initially prohibited from entering the education center. While speaking to the board, she added the obstruction was “not a coincidence.” 

“You are unfairly targeting us because you know that we’re not affluent white parents,” she said. “You are targeting us because you can — because in a society dominated by white supremacist culture, Latinos do not matter.” 

Multiple Bessie Rhodes parents read statistics from Rosenzweig’s op-ed identifying schools not planned to be closed with higher repair costs and steeper enrollment declines than Bessie Rhodes. 

Turner said the district remains committed to creating safe, supportive learning environments for all students. 

“We do care, and we take our responsibility seriously to have a strong, school-centered transition plan in place should the decision be made to close Bessie Rhodes after the 2025-26 school year,” she said during Monday’s hearing. 

On April 8, District 65 administrators announced plans to expand the district’s Dual Language program to encompass all middle schools by the 2029-30 school year. The district also outlined where Bessie Rhodes students would attend school starting in 2026-27 if the building closes that year.

Middle-school Dual Language classrooms will continue to have an equal balance of English and Spanish instruction. However, they will not contain an equal number of native English and Spanish speakers — unlike K-5 TWI classrooms — because many TWI students will be bilingual or nearly bilingual by middle school, according to Multilingual Coordinator Cecilia Romero.

Former board member Rebeca Mendoza voted to convert Bessie Rhodes into a wall-to-wall TWI school in December 2017. She said the district was giving up on ensuring the efficacy of this program. 

“If this decision is made, this is going to go down as another historic harm that District 65 has implemented on people of color,” Mendoza said. “I ask if you want to bear that burden, because the master’s tools are not going to tear down the master’s house.” 

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