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A Community That Can Teach the World: Roberto Clemente Community Academy Celebrates Forty-Years with an Educational Symposium

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“Let’s see if what Clemente has recently started will do justice to the students, to the teachers, to the parents, and to the community and hope that, in the future, it becomes the best school in Chicago.” – Oscar López Rivera

On Saturday, September 20, the Humboldt Park community celebrated forty-years of Roberto Clemente Community Academy’s (RCCA) founding in 1974. While there are those who may harp on the high school’s troubled history, the multiple events, including a symposium and gala at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, demonstrated the significance of RCCA as an educational gem for generations of residents. As discussed at the symposium, the school is set to nurture global problem-solvers, who will be prepared for the world’s innovations and rooted in their communities.

The symposium, held at the RCCA auditorium to nearly 100 attendees, was full of notable scholars of education, such as Nilda Flores-González, David Stovall, Steve Tozer, Jonathan Rosa, and Orlando Hernández. Other speakers included Principal Marcy Sorensen and the Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, José E. López, both of whom discussed the school’s renewed vision of fostering global citizens.

While the notion of schools as building the citizens of the future is nothing new and remains an obsession for mainstream media – especially in the context of an ascending China and India – the symposium offered a nuanced spin to the idea, embedded in the Americas and the history of struggle that characterizes the Puerto Rican experience in Humboldt Park.

“We’re celebrating not only forty-years of Clemente [high school], but Latino cultural citizenship… Latinos added a new dimension to the notion of citizenship – which is cultural citizenship – by demanding the rights of culture and language,” spoke López when discussing the origins and implications of the school’s founding.

López went on to connect the struggle to found and further improve RCCA as a new educational imagining to efforts by other marginalized groups, like the Zapatistas in Chiapas, México and Blacks in the U.S., to gain freedom, land, and resources.

Jonathan Rosa, a professor of linguistic anthropology, echoed this sentiment, stating that “public schools are suppose to build citizens of the future and therefore be ‘inclusive’ and ‘equal’, which are tenets of the ‘American Dream’, but Puerto Ricans are racialized like Blacks and illegalized like other Latinos.” He goes on to add that what’s happening at RCCA, under the ‘Community as a Campus’ model, serves to counter this historical marginalization, because it is a “community enacting new visions of societal relationships and borders.”

According to Marvin García, a director at the Alternative Schools Network of Chicago, in a special edition of Que Ondee Sola magazine for RCCA’s founding, “the Humboldt Park “Community as a Campus” (CAAC) initiative… is an organic community plan conceived in 2009 [that] will create an educational environment framed within the precepts of the International Baccalaureate academic standards, and transform all the schools within the designated area into ‘safe and inviting places to explore the world.’”

The CAAC plan is set to expand preschool and kindergarten to Humboldt Park’s children, and strengthen after-school engagement, parent education, and teacher training, among other innovative programs and projects. RCCA is the centerpiece of this community initiative as it prepares to be an official International Baccalaureate Academy – an educational model only found in the most elite of schools. However, according to the school’s principal, a revived Roberto Clemente Community Academy will not replicate what has historically been done to Puerto Ricans and other youth of color.

“Only by letting our students define citizenship for themselves, only then will they acquire citizenship,” spoke Sorensen, ending a symposium that showcased exciting developments that will benefit the residents of Humboldt Park, but can be a lesson for communities across the globe.

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