Bright, delicious colors take up every inch of space at Nettelhorst Elementary School.
Exposed brick walls; donated museum-quality artwork; themed hallways showcasing everything from Africa to outer space; and a disco ball make Nettelhorst less than typical as far as schools go, public or private. As the first-period bell rings, little boots thump up and down the hallways, scurrying to class.
Nettelhorst, located at 3252 N. Broadway, gives and gets the support of the LGBT community, making the school relevant to its neighbors in Boystown.
The three-story school, nestled in a residential street, can blend in with the other brick buildings surrounding it. Upon entering, though, students are welcomed into a school that is overflowing with life.
All of this has been done by volunteers, many from the Boystown area. Jacqueline Edelberg, who was one of two parents to start the revitalization in 2002, was quick to note that every spot of color in the building was done by volunteers. Before the community stepped up to help, the building was painted in shades of dismal grayleftover paint from World War II, Edelberg said.
Currently, parents involved with the Nettelhorst Community Group are trying to win a $100,000 contest sponsored by U.S. Cellular. They want to use the funds to upgrade the school's science department. In the massive amount of work that volunteers have done, the science department is one of the few areas still in dire need.
"This is 21st-century science? Are you kidding?" said Edelberg as she toured the area. An ancient, dented metal counter, which looks like it came from a 1950's kitchen, is where the sink is nested.
"Our science room is crappy," a student in science class said as Edelberg toured the room.
The community group is encouraging anyone in Chicago to walk into a U.S. Cellular store and pick up a voting card. To vote, go to the U.S. Cellular Web site ( www.uscc.com ) , click on the "Calling all Communities" button, enter the voting code and Nettelhorst's zip code, 60657, and choose Louis Nettelhorst School as the recipient.
The school is presently in the top 20. To win, they must be in the top 10. Voting ends Jan. 15, 2010.
Parents are hoping that the school's strong ties with its surrounding community, Boystown, will help it to garner votes, said David Neubecker, a gay man with children at Nettelhorst.
The school is particularly attuned to its neighborhood. Gay and lesbian parents are common at Nettelhorst. They are respected members of the school and, in many cases, are leaders as well. A large group of gay and lesbian families and many straight allies marched in Chicago's most recent gay pride parade.
They have also celebrated diversity in other ways, such as decorating the fence that surrounds the playground with fabric in the pattern of a rainbow. The decorations actively reprimand homophobic remarks or other negative language, and promote an open outlook on family.
"At Nettelhorst, we believe family is everything," said Edelberg.