Throughout the summer, residents in the South Shore community witnessed the transformation Art In Motion (AIM) Charter School campus at 74th Place and East End, catering to students with interest in performing and visual arts. The school is part of the Distinctive Charter School Network, which has several schools under their helm throughout the country.

What makes this school different from other non-public operated schools? AIM is the only school in the city that has partnered with two dynamic men and their organizations– Grammy and Oscar award-winning artist and actor, Common and mega-church pastor, John Hannah of New Life Covenant Southeast Church.

AIM Director, Kara May is part of the leadership team and has been instrumental in making this undertaking a reality. Over the years, she has worked with the Common Ground Foundation and an educational advocate of integrating academics with the arts. The school opened its doors in September to excited students and parents with a kick-off celebration with Common on hand to encourage them in stride.

May explains how she became a part of the strategy of AIM. “It was a destiny thing. I knew one of Common’s people who worked with the Lynn Group. We talked about how this can happen. We talked about arts and integration, and I became a thought partner. They were in the final phase of getting the charter approved. I talked to them through various ideas. The conversations got longer and bigger, and then it became a ‘no-brainer.’ is where you’re supposed to be.”

As an educator in the Missouri school system, Mays taught French to fourth and fifth-grade students for nearly 20 years. Helping to contribute to the curriculum in the arts was a no-brainer for her.

Smiling, “I’ve been singing since I was two. My family says I was singing before I could talk. My background also included singing in plays and musicals growing up. Of course, I sang in church. I was a music minor in college, gave private voice lessons. That part of my life was a perfect intersection for my academic self,” May says. “I’ve always had a heart for people and children. My cousin calls me a ‘retired teenager,’ I think the voices of young people are so important and overlooked in our society.”

In describing AIM, May and the school’s faculty is determined to be more than a traditional outlet of pushing students through the system without resources and opportunities.

The Perception of Charter Schools

Over the past decade, the country has witnessed an increase of privatized education with charter schools as an alternative option for parents and students. The concerns from unions such as CTU stressed some of the fears decreased student enrollment, which has affected school closings and resulting in lost jobs. May says this myth is not accurate, and residents should not be worried about AIM subtracting from community resources but adding a great deal to a child’s growth.

“There’s a perception that charter schools come and take away the money from the public schools — that basic understanding of state foundation level money and how it follows the students. When you think about where funds are and how funding happens for kids in the schools, if my kid goes to school A, then my kid gets the money for that student, which is not nearly enough to educate that student,” she says.

May presses that charter schools must still adhere to Chicago Public Schools curriculum guidelines and academic policy.

“If you take all of the expenses for facility, books, staff, curriculum, and programming and you divide that by every student– it’s not enough money. It’s a different story. It’s important to bust those kinds of myths; there’s always going to be pro-charter people versus anti-charter based on their personal experience with charter or based on rumors they’ve heard about charter school networks.

Building A Solid Support System

Common greeting the first class at AIM orientation festivities.

Currently, the schoolhouse a campus for 200 kids, where they have on-staff a social worker; a restorative justice dean; an assistant dean/security. May says, “We have security, but our goal for our security officer is to be one not to police the students but to support the students emotionally.”

As entering 7th and 8th graders discover all the wonders of AIM, they will find where the interest lies with the school’s arts programming from the literary arts in spoken word, visual and creative media, dance, and vocal classes. When they enter their Junior year, it determines which major of choice will be a student’s directive.

Having a dedicated mentor outreach program, May says, “There are layers of support that we’re attempting to provide, and I know that our system will only grow because we’re able to tap into some resources that other folks can’t tap into.”