ChiArts’ School Building Has An Important History

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An outside shot of the current ChiArts school building. The school was formerly Lafayette Academy. Image via Google maps.

by Maria-Isabel Allen-Cardona

As far as schools are concerned, The Chicago High School of the Arts (ChiArts) is a baby. It has only been a school since 2009, and it’s only been in its current location since 2014. But the building it occupies is hardly new.

ChiArts, which is located at 2714 W. Augusta Boulevard, now holds its classes in a historic school building, with lots of bygone stories and an interesting past life. Until May of 2014, the building was home to Lafayette Elementary School — and not everyone was happy about the transition.

During the later years of Lafayette, the school faced a major decline in students, academic success, and test scores.

In 2014 the school closed its doors and hundreds of students were forced to leave and attend other schools. Some were able to do this in the area, but others were forced to go farther away.

Lafayette originally opened in 1968 on Augusta Boulevard and Washtenaw Avenue in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. It was home to the city’s first bilingual education program the city opened for Spanish-speaking students.

It sparked a number of dual language programs all over the city, and paved the way for bilingual inclusivity.

During the 1970s and ’80s Lafayette was a thriving school; students participated in programs while benefiting from the bilingual program granted to them.

But around 2007, (the time of the economic recession) the school faced a major drop in test scores and student enrollment.

The percentage of students achieving proficiency in math was 32 percent. This is drastically less than the amount required for the state, which is 58 percent.

With the school dropping in enrollment — 2012 was its lowest with 470 students — Chicago Public Schools (CPS) started making plans to include Lafayette as one of the 50 schools that would be required to close down by 2014.

The announcement caused a public outcry and families flocked to the building to stage a four-hour sit-in as protest.

Although the closure of the school left dozens of families heartbroken, the building opened an opportunity for a new set of students the following year.

Students from ChiArts were able to begin their training in becoming professional musicians, dancers, actors, singers, and writers.

The building makes space for music rooms, acting rooms, creative writing spaces, dance studios, a black black box and an auditorium.

Students have the new spaces to practice and perfect their craft with enough space to do so.

1 COMMENT

  1. Good work writing about this Maria-Isabel! Worthwhile to keep the history of our school building preserved and alive. I may send this to some of the individuals we read about in SNS 2.

    One important question: I think the building was shuttered in 2013 (as part of the larger city-wide shut down of CPS schools), then the building sat vacant for a year, and then ChiArts started classes there in Sept 2014.

    I remember that summer of transition. While CPS was finishing it’s work getting the building ready for us, ChiArts administration and support staff worked out of some corner spaces at Talcott School down the street a few miles. We did summer placement testing there. So many memories!

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