At first sight, Barb Chidley, is a “typical” middle class white woman. She owns as she put it, “a large house.” And, she lives on the East Side. A High School English Teacher at Auburn High School who is also a single mother, raising two children. Maybe you wouldn’t know all of this on first sight, but if you took the time to know her and understand her challenges, you eventually would.
Understanding challenges is what Barb is all about. As an AP English teacher she decided to create a class curriculum around a project called “Project Rockford.” A project designed to help her students feel proud to be from Rockford. In this project her students will be evaluating portions of Rockford in need of improvement. Based on these evaluations they will make improvement recommendations. She wants them to understand that they play a significant part in making that change.
Barb’s determination to understand challenges makes her an epitome of I am Rockford, whether it be inside her classroom or in the community around her.
Understanding Her Class
Barb has had many students throughout the years. Every student has their own story and every student is different, but they are all special to her. Her students have experienced sad and happy moments throughout her career.
“I spend a lot of my time at school having to help kids that are having struggles personally… sometimes the student is struggling because home life can be very challenging for them,” Barb said.
As example… One day, a student left class rather quickly. Barb pursued her to the next class. Barb came to understand that this teenage girl was acting as the mother of her younger siblings, because their mother was working as much as she could to help her family. This student was making dinner, helping her siblings with homework or putting them to bed before doing her own homework. The girl didn’t have the time “to be a teen.”
“What amazes me so much is how positive they remain in spite of the circumstances,” she said.
“It’s a complex emotional rollercoaster, but it is a privilege to work with these kids. At the end of every day I usually have 10 to 12 students in my classroom that don’t want to go home so they linger every night. But I always leave feeling like I had an incredible purposeful rewarding day,” Barb stated.
The Public Transportation Experiment
As part of her AP class’s “Project Rockford,” Barb decided she was going to ride the bus for 30 days. Living on the East Side, about a mile and a half from the river she figured it would be similar compared to what those living on the West Side would experience to get to work coming from the West. The most convenient bus for her was the 6:30 a.m.; overall it took 45 minutes for her to get to Auburn compared to 15 if she were to drive.
For Barb the mornings weren’t bad. She enjoyed the short walk in the morning. She looked forward to her interactions with the bus drivers and the regular riders. However, the real dilemma came when she had to pick up her son from his school and get home. All said and done, the ride took an hour and fifty minutes to get home at the end of the day.
“I don’t know how people can survive like that,” Barb says, “how a person tries to hold down a full time job in the professional realm, they may have to take work home and have children to take care of.”
Barb had blogged about her experience so people could read a documented account of what it was like to be in this position. It helped play a role in her class project since her class will be making recommendations on improvements in Rockford; she hoped it would inspire her students to make their evaluations authentic.
You can find Barb’s blog here: http://ameansoftransport.edublogs.org/
“My favorite part about the bus was the bus drivers. The bus drivers really care about their riders. They would wait for them if they knew of a frequent rider who may be running late, or even tell riders that a substitute driver would be driving the next day, so times may change,” Barb recalled.
Barb has three wishes for the Rockford community. She wants people to look at each other with love and not judgement, for people to not let fear overcome logical thinking and for people to understand that the West Side citizens are not scary but are some of the most incredible people you will ever meet. She added a fourth wish too, that her students never have to fear or suffer but know that they are loved by this community.
“I think the most important thing that the community needs to do is get to know its people and get to know those people they do not communicate with on a daily basis,” Barb said.