Steinmetz HS to get new athletic field by next year
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
The aging football field, the dirt and gravel running track and baseball and softball diamonds that have lost their shape over the years will be replaced by next year at Steinmetz Prep High School, 3030 N. Mobile Ave., Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools have announced recently.
Emanuel said that as part of the city’s efforts to modernize city high schools, Steinmetz has entered into partnership with Robert Morris University to bolster post-secondary success and construction of a new state-of-the-art athletic field would enhance recreation at the school and in the community, according to a news release.
"The investments at Steinmetz are crucial in ensuring students and families have access to high quality programs that will increase college and career readiness for our graduates," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "This is yet another example of how we can work together to invest in Chicago’s future and provide students with the resources necessary for a brighter future."
Work on the athletic field is scheduled to break ground this year and it will be installed by summer of 2018 and cost $4.5 million, funded by proceeds from the capital improvement tax, according to the release. The tax was approved by the City Council in 2015 and can only be used for capital projects.
However, Steinmetz principal Stephen Ngo said that the genesis of this "Field of Dreams" began much earlier in the year. He said that Steinmetz has raised $175,000 for this project inclusive of 36th Ward and 30th Ward menu funds and grants from the LISC/Chicago Cubs Charities and the Northwest Side Housing Center.
"I want Steinmetz to be a community school and I want the school to be a big part of the community. I want the community to use that new field," Ngo said.
Ngo said that the aging field was "in bad shape when I got there in 1997" and that it needed to be updated. "The track has grass growing all over it," Ngo said.
The field will replace the school’s existing field and include a football and soccer field made of artificial turf, an 8-lane running track with a high-performance overlay and baseball and softball fields.
Alderman Gilbert Villegas’ (36th) director of policy Justin Heath said that the baseball and softball fields would have natural grass, that the track would be an asphalt track with a rubberized surface, and that there would be athletic field fencing, seating and equipment.
Also, Heath said that the field would have a public address system and electronic scoreboards, ADA improvements, earthwork and sodded lawn, field drainage infrastructure, bleachers with a press box, drinking fountains, safety and security improvements and the removal of furnishings, playground and utilities.
"I’ve worked a lot on this project (with the alderman) and what I don’t like is that this is being characterized in some articles that this is a way of bringing Steinmetz back. Steinmetz has been on its way back for a while and I think that this is rewarding success and making safety improvements to the community rather than because Steinmetz is going down," Heath said.
Ngo said that enrollment has bee declining at the school. He said that 1,355 students were enrolled at the end of this school year and he was forced to layoff staff, including a librarian. "About 5 years ago there were 1,700 students so there is no question that were are losing enrollment. However, there are a lot of good things happening at the school and the metrics are up."
Ngo said that he doesn’t know the reasons for the decline in enrollment. "There is no gang problem at Steinmetz. Are there students that might have gang affiliations, sure, but there are no gangs issues here," he said.
"The biggest problem we do have is social media stuff. Someone posts something on social media and it’s he said she said and they come back Monday morning and there are problems," Ngo said. "It’s harder to say something to someone’s face and social media creates an opportunity and makes it easier to criticize. I think the students need to learn that that can cause problems in real life."
The partnership between Robert Morris University and Steinmetz began earlier this year. The partnership provides college credit and higher education experiences for students to ensure that Steinmetz students, their families and students from participating elementary schools have a strong foundation for academic and post-secondary readiness.
"I’ve always wanted for Steinmetz to offer programs that improve the students’ post-secondary education. One of our goals is to prepare students for post-secondary education," Ngo said
The partnership provides opportunities to earn college credit though dual credit and dual enrollment courses as well as hands-on college readiness experiences to expose students to college life through campus visits, seminars and mentorship programs, according to the news release.
The partnership has involved more than 650 junior and senior students in various activities. Over the course of the school year, students also met with university alumni, explored athletic and performing arts opportunities and were assisted in the college application process.
"As we work toward a future in which every CPS student has a plan for post-secondary success, CPS is committed to leveraging key partnership that will help us provide students the tools needed to pursue their dreams," said CPS chief executive officer Forrest Claypool. "Through this unique partnership with Robert Morris University, families, educators and the entire school community are coming together to effectively support students as they prepare for a lifetime of success."
PS chief education officer Dr. Janice Jackson said that preparing students for college should be a community effort.
"From seminars at elementary schools, to college visits, to Parent U courses on financial aid, this groundbreaking partnership is paving the way for the future. Supportive families and communities lead to better outcomes for our children, and we will continue to find innovative ways to bolster opportunities for our students," Jackson said.
As part of the partnership, 66 students participated in dual enrollment or dual credit courses, 150 juniors and seniors participated in an "on-campus" seminar designed to give students a hands-on understanding of college life, 120 elementary school students from Camras, Locke, Lyon schools participated in a "College Awareness Day," 150 parents participated in courses at Parent University, 24 students were awarded scholarships totaling $502,000 to attend Robert Morris University and nine student-athletes have signed letters of intent to participate in athletics at RMU this fall.
Ngo said that the school has seen its share of ups and downs. "We go from the opposite ends of the spectrum here. Recently a student was shot. He is fine. But it’s things like that. Last week the mayor came over with his big announcement," he said.
Ngo said that a number of note worthy events have happened at the school in recent years. He said that when the school’s newspaper, the Steinmetz Star, was having financial trouble, Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner donated funding to keep the newspaper operating and even attended the high school as part of a ceremony with his entourage. Hefner graduated from Steinmetz.
Ngo said that comedian and actor Hannibal Buress, who graduated from Steinmetz, spoke at the graduation ceremony last year after seniors in that graduating class had asked him if he would be the keynote speaker. Buress agreed. Ngo said that media were not allowed at the ceremony because "he was there for the students and the cameras would be there for him. And it was their day."
Ngo said that Chance the Rapper has donated $10,000 for an arts program at the school this year, one of a handful of schools that he has donated money to this year.
"There is a lot of good opportunity here," Ngo said. "A staff member once said that ‘In order to have good neighborhoods you need to have good schools and to have good schools you need to have good neighborhoods.’ It’s an exciting time."
The new field at Steinmetz follows the recent opening of the PCC Community Wellness Center at the school. In September 2016, Steinmetz partnered with PCC Community Wellness Center to open its first school-based community health center. The facility provides access to comprehensive primary care and behavioral health services to residents of the Belmont-Cragin, Dunning and Montclare communities as well as Steinmetz high school students.