If there’s a cuter event than the Ravenswood Elementary Walkathon, held last week, we’ve yet to come across it. Picture five-, six- and seven-year-olds scampering around a playground track for the better part of an hour, holding hands in the unselfconscious way that children have and dancing and laughing with far too much energy for 9 a.m., sans caffeine boost.
Oh, and they raised $14,000 while they were at it.
“It’s really heartwarming to know there’s this investment,” said Ravenswood Principal Heather Connolly, referring both to the children’s commitment and the donors who supported their efforts.
Funds from this year’s Walkathon have been earmarked for Ravenswood’s arts programs, but money from previous efforts has gone toward improvements such as an upgrade to the school’s ground-level flooring. “The kids are getting to see the fruits of their labor,” said Connolly, who also has two children enrolled at the school. “Every day they come in and see the floor progressing.”
“They get really proud, it builds empowerment,” added Tara Arnaud, a Ravenswood parent. “They know they can contribute; they feel responsible and they talk about it.”
Given the way that CPS bankrolls schools – the poorer the surrounding community, the more resources a school receives, and vice versa – continual fundraising has become the new normal at Ravenswood, 4332 N. Paulina St., and its North Side counterparts, even among students.
“Obviously nobody loves it but we realize it’s a given,” said Arnaud. “I think we all try to do what we can. If you can’t give money, give of your time, give of your experience.”
Jim Barrios, a newly-elected parent representative on Ravenswood’s Local School Council, gave of his time all right, and it paid off in a big way. Barrios spent hours setting up the website that for the first time allowed people to donate to the Walkathon online. Many credit the website with pushing donations toward the $15,000 goal (checks and cash are still being tallied), up from $6,000 in 2011.
“We were able to reach across the country,” said Barrios, citing contributions from 30 states and as far away as Ireland. “Aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas could donate.”
For parents such as Barrios and Arnaud, the environment at Ravenswood is worth any additional obligations on their part.
“I’m fully invested in my kids’ future all the way around,” Barrios said. “My son has just flourished with reading and math.”
Arnaud, who lives out of district in Rogers Park, said Ravenswood was her first choice of an elementary school for her daughter. (In 2011, the school received 700 out-of-boundary applications.) “What’s so great about Ravenswood is that the kids don’t feel any judgment. It fosters creativity and is really supportive,” she said. “It’s a community. People help raise all the kids here. They’re happy kids here.”
Happy and, after an hour of walking, tuckered out.
“You walk through the building the rest of the day and it’s silent,” said Connolly. “The kids are exhausted.”
Photos and video by Sarah Tilotta