This post was written by our summer intern Megan, who is a MLIS student at Dominican University.

It’s August, which means that summer is coming to an end and school is almost in session. This week, we will hear Studs’ 1981 interview with three Chicago parents, Karen Grzybek, Barbara Tekiela, and Mark Smith, who chose to pull their children from their neighborhood schools and bus them to magnet schools around the city. In the process of doing so, they participated in “voluntary integration”. We will hear the stories of these parents, their children, and the advantages and disadvantages of sending children to magnet schools.

Studs asks Karen, Barbara, and Mark–three white, middle-class parents–to share their experiences of “school busing” and the reasons why they believed their children would be better off at magnet schools. Barbara explains that when her son was about to turn eight, the neighborhood public school lost teachers and ended up having to combine classes. No matter how hard the teachers worked, Barbara found that it was close to impossible for them to give their full attention to a split class. For this reason, Barbara decided to send her son to Owen Elementary Scholastic Academy, a magnet school in Chicago with a predominately black student population. Because Barbara believed her son could receive a better education at Owen, she decided to send him there, and he enjoyed it and received a great education.

Karen, who lives in Marquette Park, explained her reasoning for pulling her children from their neighborhood public school and sending them to Randolph Elementary School. Karen was dissatisfied with the school her children were attending in Marquette Park, and explains that there was a general lack of discipline and that her children hated school and would even skip it. When she received a letter in the mail notifying her of the opening of Randolph, a communications and arts school, she applied and ultimately decided to enroll her children in the school–which they love.

Finally, Mark Smith from Beverly describes his rationale for choosing to send his children to a magnet school. Mark explains that their neighborhood school wasn’t exciting, and he didn’t feel like his children were receiving the best education they could. When he heard of McDade Classical School, a predominately black school that offers a greater emphasis on art, music, and foreign language, he decided it would be a good fit for his children. It was indeed a good fit, and his children had great experiences at McDade Classical School.

After hearing the stories of these parents who chose to send their children to magnet schools, it seems there can be several significant advantages to busing students. Everyone at a magnet school has made a conscious decision to be there–from the principal, to the teachers, to the students who choose to attend. They also offer more varied curricula, offering courses that may not be available at traditional public schools. Finally, school busing offered a way to integrate children into more mixed student bodies. Neighborhood schools were often racially isolated, and reinforced neighborhood attitudes.

While magnet schools may possess several advantages over neighborhood schools, they had their disadvantages for these parents, too. Barbara, Karen, and Mark explain that their children faced some teasing from the neighborhood children, and it took a while to get the students situated in the magnet schools. Furthermore, it was often challenging for the children to play with their school friends outside of school, due to the often large distances between their homes.

After taking these advantages and disadvantages into consideration, Barbara, Karen, and Mark explain to Studs that magnet schools were a good decision for their children. Their children are learning more, enjoying their time at school, and interacting with a more diverse student population. Ultimately, this interview is about parents’ universal concern for their children, and their desire to give their children the best education they can. The Studs Terkel Radio Archive Blog wishes all students and parents the best for the upcoming school year.


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