On a summer day in the South Side of Chicago, you may find a group of students cleaning and cultivating an old construction zone so that it can be used again by the community. Partnering with local business Omni Ecosystems, families are simultaneously learning about photosynthesis, horticulture, and the eco-friendly detoxing process, while making a tangible difference for Bronzeville residents. What had once been an abandoned, hazardous lot is now being transformed into a new, safe gathering space for all.
This project is just one of the many ways that Bronzeville Classical Elementary School contributes to its neighborhood. When Principal Nicole Spicer founded Bronzeville Classical, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) selective enrollment school, she knew she couldn’t offer every neighborhood child a place in her classrooms. As such, she made it part of the school’s mission to give back to its community.
Those familiar with the Bronzeville neighborhood will recognize the necessity in strengthening its historic legacy. As Nicole pointed out, the area is the famed birthplace of the Chicago Bee Branch newspaper, a publication that offered Black migrants information and networks to help them settle in a burgeoning Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century.
Bronzeville bloomed into a cradle of Black culture and influence, becoming home to iconic and powerful figures such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Louis Armstrong, and other mid-century titans of art and entertainment. Nicole herself has many early memories of the neighborhood; long summer days playing in the streets and visiting shops.
“I found my forever home there,” Nicole said. “I realized that I had to seize the moment and really take advantage of this opportunity to revitalize a community that was so instrumental in my formative years as a school-aged child.”
Nicole has always had a deeply community-oriented mindset. In 1997, she graduated from St. Ignatius College Prep, where she was part of a community tutoring program and taught at neighboring elementary schools. That experience inspired her to pursue a career in education.
Nicole began her career in CPS in 2009 on Chicago’s Southeast Side. After a year serving as an instructional coach for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, she became an assistant principal (AP) at Wendell Smith Elementary School. After a short tenure as an AP, Nicole prioritized time with her family and served as a gifted teacher, coordinator, and reading coach at Ralph Metcalfe Community Academy for a few years. There, she was recommended and accepted to New Leaders, a Fund-seeded principal preparation program that is part of the Chicago Leadership Collaborative. Following a year-long principal residency at DeVry Advantage Academy High School, Nicole became the AP at Skinner North Classical School.
Since starting Bronzeville Classical six years ago, Nicole’s efforts have consistently focused on improving the local standard of education and ensuring the entire community benefits from the school’s presence and programs. Since then, Nicole has also seen the myriad of ways the community supports and gives back to Bronzeville Classical.
During the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, subjects like music were difficult to transition to an online format. Without access to actual instruments, students had no way to hone their long cultivated talents. Nicole relied on the generosity of teachers, parents, and community members to raise funds to provide each student with at least one instrument. It was not only a bold show of camaraderie and local action during a time of great hardship, but also a testament to the hearts and homes that Bronzeville Classical has touched.
Nicole is a member of The Fund’s Educator Advisory Committee.