Forest Park has a unique problem most communities don’t have to face. For decades, there’s been a disconnection between our elementary schools and our local high schools. Unlike most American towns, our kids do not transition in lockstep from eighth grade to freshman year.
Forest Park is unique in another way: Childhood friendships often survive these separations.
For example, Fiona O’Connor and Maura Flanagan have kept up their close friendship, despite attending very different high schools. Fiona went to PMSA, a co-ed public school, while Maura studied at Trinity High School, a private all-girls school. This fall, they will be further separated when Fiona goes off to U. of I. in Champaign and Maura stays home to attend DePaul. Fortunately, their friendship has a strong enough foundation to endure these absences.
Maura and Fiona have been BFF’s since they turned 2. Geography played a part. They are across-the-street neighbors on a quiet street in the south end of town. As soon as they were old enough, they hung out at the park at 16th & Circle. They spent their days at the playground: swaying on the swings or sitting quietly on the monkey bars.
They didn’t pass through a “Barbie phase.” They weren’t big on sports either. They played “imaginary games,” role-playing from the books they devoured, like the “Harry Potter” series. They played “Ghost in the Graveyard,” “Hide ‘N’ Seek” and “Blind Man’s Bluff” with their neighborhood friends. They had throwback childhoods, playing outside, while their parents hung out.
Spending their days outdoors, it helped to have a store they could walk to. Fiona and Maura became frequent customers at the Walgreens on Roosevelt Road. The pair shopped there so often, the employees assumed they were sisters although they look nothing alike. To keep up their energy, they ate cream cheese and jelly sandwiches.
They walked together to Betsy Ross School until second grade, when they made the slightly longer trek to Field-Stevenson. They were good students, earning A’s and B’s. Fiona’s favorite classes were Science and History, while Maura preferred English and History.
Both qualified to attend PMSA but Maura chose her mother’s alma mater, Trinity. At their new high schools, they found only a few people they knew. Maura took International Baccalaureate classes, while Fiona took AP courses at PMSA. They tried doing their homework together but were too busy talking to get anything done.
They went to homecomings together and attended proms with groups of friends. It was difficult, though, to connect with their high school friends. Most of Maura’s classmates lived outside Forest Park and Fiona’s PMSA friends were spread across Proviso Township. Getting their driver’s licenses helped. Both learned to drive by practicing in our cemeteries.
Driving improved their social lives but Fiona found that PMSA’s lack of sports programs made it difficult to build school spirit. She did her part, though, by joining the student council and planning activities for Spirit Week. In her senior year, she was elected class vice president.
Now she’s off to Champaign to take pre-med courses, while Maura is commuting to Lincoln Park to focus on film. They plan on visiting each other at college. Like BFF’s everywhere, they instantly re-connect following long absences. Attending separate schools never fazed them.
Forest Park students may not have to face this challenge in the future. Thanks to improved leadership, an increasing number of kids are going on to District 209 schools. Others will find themselves on different campuses but will continue to hang out. This is Forest Park, where homies can be far apart but still stay close!
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com