What I Learned From Some Amazing 4th Graders

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Sometimes one encounters an awakening in the most unexpected places. Recently, for me, it came during a visit to a Chicago magnet school where I interacted with a class of 4th grade students.

Amazing 4th grade students, I must point out.

The Walt Disney Magnet School was a lot different than the grammar school I attended.

Here’s some background.

The Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood was planning a program to teach students about industries that would yield employment opportunities in the future. One 4th grade class was addressing the job outlook in the transportation industry. The instructor, Morgan Stumbras, reached out to me at the university where I work and inquired if someone would be free to speak to the students.

I received permission to visit and deliver a short presentation. A scholarly, schooled transportation guy, I’m not. But after some four years leading transportation technology transfer initiatives, I felt confident I could share some relevant and valuable insight.

One concern I shared with Ms. Stumbras: Would the class be able to comprehend much of what I had to say about the work done by our research staff, the value of transportation in modern society, and recent transportation developments in Chicago and around the nation? Rest assured, she said: These kids rank in the 98 percentile.

She was right.

Shortly after I launched my PowerPoint presentation, hands shot up and the boys and girls posed poignant and at times provocative questions. Frankly, I was stunned at their collective interest, knowledge and inquisitiveness. One kid even gave an accurate definition of the so-called “last mile” leg of commute, a challenge society certainly needs to address.

If you need help with identification, that’s me in the red sweater.

They politely inquired about autonomous vehicles, the Divvy bike share program, the difference between freight and transit, the future of hover boards and transportation challenges facing Chicago.

A recent mobility success, the new Chicago 606 trail was of particular interest, and that discussion led to further conversation on the impact The 606 has made on gentrification in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The students sparked when I noted that the transportation industry will always need professionals like engineers to help design transportation networks in the years to come. “My mother is an engineer!” one girl noted enthusiastically. After a comment on safety, another girl pointed out that her mother said she used to ride in the front seat of automobiles as a child, something not done today.

I even gave a shout out about my Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, stressing how it keeps me committed to learning about modern public relations practices.

So, how was I awakened by the 32 kids comprising Ms. Stumbras’ class?

In light of all the challenges — transportation and many others — we face as a society today, there’s a generation ready to meet those challenges head-on, and win.

The 4th grade class at the Disney Magnet School made that quiet clear.

 

 

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Public Relations Counsel to Chicago Public Schools Teachers This Labor Day 2016

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Ah, Labor Day 2016!

One can envision today as a glorious end to the summer season and the start of fall, and with it the onset of shorter days, cooler temperatures and football.

(Hopefully, fall of 2016 will also usher in the ultimate climax to a magical season for my beloved Chicago Cubs; but that pecpslogo@2xrspective is the subject of a post for an0ther day.)

And of course, Labor Day marks the return to school for many kids and young adults, including the approximately 400,000 students who attend Chicago Public Schools.

Classes start tomorrow, September 6. The question, however, is will this school year be marred by a strike.  An editorial from Crain’s Chicago Business provides a perspective on why members of the Chicago Teacher’s Union should not go on strike.

Please take a moment to read the commentary.

Done?

Now, here’s some thoughts from a public relations perspective related to thectu strike. Granted, I’m perhaps taking some liberties in offering a correlation between public relations practices and an action by organized labor. But stay with me.

I’ll start with interpreting what’s widely acknowledged as the first step in a strategic public relations plan: Identify ways to mitigate a threat or take advantage of an opportunity.

Teachers have threatened to walk off the job in mid October unless their salary and pension contribution demands are met. Striking would effectively: Exacerbate a threat to the position of the union members as caring professional educators and diminish their standing in the community; and, cast aside the opportunity to demonstrate commitment to the children they teach and their families, to themselves as educators and to Chicago taxpayers who fund schools.

To some Chicagoans, myself included, a strike next month by CTU members would be unwise and perceived as a betrayal. In common parlance, it would not result in “good public relations.”

And, I’ll make this disclosure now: I am a Chicago property owner and more than half of my annual property tax payments goes to CPS. Yes, I would not be pleased if teachers vote to strike, like they did in September of 2012.

Four years ago, the strike led to bitter discourse and kept students out of school for some seven days.  The organization I worked for then had offices around the corner from CPS headquarters; I observed the striking teachers and tried to understand their position.

What I remember were childish taunts and lambasts aimed at Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On this day, when we celebrate the rights of working people in this nation and around the world, I hope CTU and its leaders come to the realization that a strike will surely pose a serious threat to the reputation of Chicago teachers.

Reaching a compromise with the city would be the opportunity needed to mitigate that threat.

Hey CTU Members: Why The Planned April Fools Day Stunt?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

For the record, I am a strong proponent of learning. And, that’s not just because I work at a university and have committed to lifelong learning as a way to maintain my Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

Learning defines a person, shapes an identity, provides purpose to life.

This silly logo for the CTU's "Contract Action Team" is more akin to a comic book super hero.

This silly logo for the CTU’s “Contract Action Team” was developed by the adults charged with teaching Chicago kids.

That’s why I’m very disturbed by the planned and reportedly illegal strike tomorrow, April 1, by members of the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU).

Yes, the people who are paid through taxpayer funds to educate the children of Chicago are walking off the job on April Fool’s Day. Their goal, I suppose, is to build support for a better contract from a school district that already faces serious financial shortfalls.

But to me and many fellow Chicagoans — including some CTU members — this action is not a joke, practical or otherwise. It’s a travesty.

If you’ve followed Chicago and Illinois news the past few months, frankly the situation here is quite bleak. The state has gone nine months without a budget. The City has been embroiled in cases of alleged police misconduct. Violent crime has spiked to horrific levels. People have lost faith in the leaders elected to lead.

And, around eight hours from now, CTU members will prevent school kids from learning through a day-long protest built around threats to “shut down” the city. The CTU even posted this “schedule of events” page on its website, just in case those of us planning to work tomorrow want to participate.

Hopefully, some learning will take place in Chicago tomorrow.  By that I mean that the CTU will learn that walking off the job will not result in anything positive — for the teachers, for Chicago school children and for the taxpayers who fund public education.

 

Now, Thoughts from a Real Chicago Guy on CNN’s “Chicagoland” Series

By Edward M.  Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Those who get paid to comment have had their say.  Now, it’s my turn.

The topic: The controversial CNN series “Chicagoland,” an eight-part documentary of sorts about my home town.  Although with eight installments, “documentary” probably is a misnomer.  Perhaps “real-life urban mini-series” is more accurate.

chicagoland.twoIn the days before an after the debut episode March 6, the program generated the expected flurry of commentary.  After watching “Chicagoland” last week, I shut the TV off with these four thoughts in mind.

The Politics. Unquestionably, Chicago is known for politics, and with good reason. It’s well documented that for decades our elected officials have elevated politics to a high art.   From the onset, the first installment of “Chicagoland” centered on politics as it relates to two of our biggest problems:  Violent, often gang-driven crime in some neighborhoods and a financially strapped, under-performing public school system.  These two subjects were explored in footage featuring Mayor Rham Emanuel, Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy and a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Dozier, principal of Fenger High School.  There was high drama, and there were poignant moments last Thursday; but I seriously question why the initial episode of “Chicagoland” focused so heavily on two topics and three people.  This set a tone of helplessness and despair.

The Problems.  Problems, Chicago has them, certainly, as depicted in Episode 1.  Headline-grabbing crime and a broken education system assuredly rank way too high on the scale.  But there was no mention in the first episode of the kind of problems that don’t make for combustible television and commentary.  Underfunded pensions, soaring taxes, gridlock-at-times traffic, the continued erosion of some outlying neighborhoods, out-of-control open-air drug markets — these and other issues plague Chicago .  Perhaps these will be covered later in the series, as they should, along with what’s being done to make things right.cnn-logo

The Good Stuff.  Politics and problems aside, a lot of good is taking place in Chicago. There’s tangible, big-picture stuff like a flurry of new downtown developments and revitalization — okay, gentrification — of some neighborhoods.  A new manufacturing sector — driven by technology — has emerged.  Cultural amenities and restaurants — and some professional sports franchises — are world class.  Like the other problems the city faces, maybe the producers of “Chicagoland” will address these later.

The Name. Reportedly, the name “Chicagoland” was coined by the legendary Col. Robert McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago TribuneTo me, it’s a silly title.  This metropolitan region has a lot of entertaining and attractive attributes.  But let’s leave the “land” monikers to all things Disney.  Besides, I never heard anyone from Chicago refer to the city or the region as “Chicagoland,” except in TV commercials hawking carpeting.

Clearly, the 60 minutes of “Chicagoland” Episode 1 got me and a lot of other people to take notice.  I plan to watch tomorrow’s installment, and perhaps I’ll have four more thoughts.

Here are some other thoughts from the PRDude on Chicago and politics: