by Jackie Reid-Dettloff, photograph by Vince Bushell
This is a story about a circle anda straight line.
The straight line is the pathbetween the 2900 block of NorthFratney Street and the public schoolbuilding three blocks directly north.The story begins fifty years ago whenCarmie Ciofani walked her sonPatrick to kindergarten at FratneySt. School on the opening day ofclasses in September, 1956. Everyday she would take him to school inthe morning and pick him up whenschool let out. Through autumn leavesand falling snow, on sidewalks wherehe splashed in puddles and slid on ice,Carmie took her son to school. Shewalked past St. Mary CzestochowaChurch when it was brand new.
She remembers when there was aneighborhood grocery store at thecorner where the West Bank Cafénow stands. She remembers whenPat graduated from eighth grade atFratney.
Years passed. Pat went to high schoolat Riverside, then to college at UWM.He earned a degree in history. Hemarried Therese Deshotels and theybought a house in Whitefish Bay.Carmies husband Dominic died in1992. Her first grandchild, Judy, wasborn in 1984.
As for Fratney School, it wasscheduled to close in 1988.Neighborhood students were urgedto enroll at Gaenslen, which hadjust expanded into a state-of-the-artfacility. Then, inspired by a vision of atwo-way bilingual school for Englishand Spanish speaking children, agroup of Riverwest activists collectedsignatures from neighbors andpressured the MPS School Board intoapproving Milwaukees first two-waybilingual program in the Fratneybuilding. In keeping with its emphasison Spanish, the school was renamedLa Escuela Fratney.
The year was 1988, which happenedto be when Carmie Ciofanis fouryearold granddaughter was ready tostart school. Therese came up withan imaginative plan for her firstbornchild. She had a sister marriedto a Spaniard and living in Madridand she wanted her own children tobe able to communicate with theirSpanish cousins. There were goodschools in Whitefish Bay, but nonethat offered instruction in Spanishthe way Fratney did. Besides, Thereseliked the idea that Judy, and later herson Sal and daughter Annemarie,could attend their fathers old almamater. So she and Pat arranged toenroll their children in the Chapter220 Program, which provides federalfunding for urban children to bebussed to suburban schools and forsuburban children to be bussed tocity schools.
So in September of 1988, Judy Ciofanibegan kindergarten at the newlylaunched Escuela Fratney. She arrivedin a little yellow bus in the mornings.At the end of the day, it was Carmiewho walked the familiar two blocksto pick her up. Carmie Ciofanicontinued picking up children atFratney School until 1996. She saysshe cant begin to count the numberof times she walked that route straightnorth across Burleigh and over thetrain tracks at Auer to the Fratneyschoolyard. Judy remembers how sheand her brother used to look for coinsthat had dropped on the sidewalkas they walked home with theirgrandmother, and how they liked tostop at the candy store that stood atthe northeast corner of Fratney andBurleigh.
Fast forward to 2006. On Mothers Daylast month, Judy Ciofani graduatedwith high honors from the Universityof Minnesota in Minneapolis. Witha major in sociology and a minor inSpanish, she beams when she talksabout her prospects for the fall.She has been accepted in Teach forAmerica, a prestigious program thatprepares bright college graduates fora career in teaching.
And where will she be assigned inSeptember? In a bilingual school inNew York City. The language skills thatJudy acquired at Fratney will serveher well as she begins her professionalwork with Spanish-speaking children.You ask Carmie Ciofani about hergranddaughter and you will see onevery proud Riverwest grandmother.She is proud that Judy worked so hardat her studies, proud that she is fluentin two languages, and proud that Judyhas chosen to serve urban children ina school much like the one that sheherself attended.
This is where the circle comes round.
Riverwest Currents online edition – June, 2006