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updated: 2/4/2013 6:12 PM

West Chicago parents scramble to keep kids busy during strike

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Parents of about 4,000 students in West Chicago Elementary District 33 had to find alternate plans to keep their youngsters busy Monday as teachers walked picket lines in a dispute with the school board over salaries and benefits.

Roughly 940 students in grades one through five were registered for the district's "alternative educational instruction" at Gary and Pioneer schools, said Dave Barclay, the school board's spokesman.

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Students were scheduled to explore "thematic units related to Dr. Seuss and his fictional characters" in language arts and math, according to a district letter to parents.

Classes were supervised by administrators, substitute teachers and support staff. Buses were running to bring students to and from the schools, where they also received breakfast and lunch.

No school district programs were being offered for students in grades six through eight, kindergarten or preschool, and there were no immediate plans to expand programming for grades one through five, Barclay said.

"Our plan would be to continue with what we have to help out families who have emergencies," he said.

Though district officials had said the alternate programming was going to be offered only to students who registered in advance, Barclay said they did allow some late registrations Monday morning.

Though the registration deadline has passed, the district is trying to accommodate as many students as possible, said Kristina Davis, assistant superintendent for learning.

West Chicago Park District had planned in January to host K-6 programming in the event of a strike, but those plans were shelved because many of those who would have staffed the programs -- college students -- went back to school, said Melissa Medeiros, the park district's board secretary and office manager.

She said the park district also was forced to cancel practices for about 60 children who participate in the travel basketball program because those practices take place at school gymnasiums, which District 33 officials said would not be available during the strike.

The park district doesn't have an indoor gym of its own -- at least not until its proposed recreation center is constructed. That project is tapped to begin later this year and be complete in 2014.

The park district's after-school program normally held at Wegner School was moved to Easton Park.

At the West Chicago Public Library, a special "Kid Zone" area for out-of-school students featured board and educational video games, crafts, movies, coloring and storytime.

About a dozen children had participated as of Monday afternoon, but officials were expecting a larger turnout should the strike continue, said Shelley Campbell, a library spokeswoman.

"Our goal is they not get bored," Campbell said. "We're willing to provide a service our patrons may need."

The programming is being offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Children younger than 9 must be accompanied by an adult.

One parent who stopped at the library with her children Monday was Silvinia Perez, who said the strike has forced her family to adjust their daily plans. But she was managing to keep her son and daughter occupied -- and still make sure they received a little education outside of school.

"We're making activities at home," she said. "I'm reading with the kids, doing coloring and math."

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