UChicago Charter School Graduate Vernon Fleming: A Tech "Geek" Thrives at Oberlin College
When Vernon Fleming arrived in ninth grade at the Woodlawn Campus of the University of Chicago Charter School he felt the college-going culture.
“Unlike most schools, [the Woodlawn Campus] really prepares you for college from the moment you walk through the door,” he said. “In fact, one of my teachers asked me right away what college I wanted to go to? I was in ninth grade. I had no idea. I didn’t even know any colleges. I knew Yale and Harvard from TV; that was about it. But, I learned fast! We were doing scholarship applications that very year.”
On June 11, 2012, Vernon joined his class of Woodlawn Warriors as they walked across the stage at Rockefeller Chapel. 100 percent of the class was accepted to colleges and universities. Collectively, the students were awarded over $1.5 million in scholarships.
Vernon is currently attending Oberlin College with a 4-year tuition scholarship from the Posse Foundation for his extraordinary academic and leadership potential (90 percent of Posse Scholars graduate from college).
Vernon knew Oberlin was the “perfect” college for him when he toured during Woodlawn Campus’ Annual College Week. “Oberlin appealed to me right way because they don’t restrict your learning. I can take a multitude of classes outside of my major. This means something to me because I don’t want to stick to one thing, I want to learn more!”
Vernon has been accustomed to not having his learning restricted. At the Woodlawn Campus, he was able to customize a number of his classes to fit his interests. A self-proclaimed “Tech Geek,” Vernon was able to stretch his brain in the areas of technology, computer science ,and engineering. As a result, he was able to create a technology/computer science class during his freshman year.
“That year, we learned how to build a Mac Book computer out of spare parts,” Vernon said. “The simple fact is that the Woodlawn Campus tries to organize around its students’ needs. If they don’t have something, they will try to build it. For example, last year, my friend Tevon asked about starting an engineering class. Our campus director Ms. Moore taught it herself and the whole class went to Detroit for an Engineering Expo.”
Last year, Vernon helped his teachers develop an in-depth computer science class for younger students. In it, students learned about mainframes and software development.
For someone who has built his own software at home, video games have a special place in Vernon’s heart. “Most non-gamers see video games as a distraction, something to do when you’re bored, but if you pay attention to the storylines they actually bring serious issues like politics and religion to the forefront.”
Politics and religion are topics that Vernon explored deeply as a member of the Woodlawn Campus Debate Team who completed their first year in the Varsity League towards the top of the pack debating political topics (outperforming all other schools, including selective enrollments, at one point in the season). Vernon and his friends began a “safe haven” group called Social Distortions in which they discussed issues of religion, sexuality, politics and music. Vernon also took philosophy classes at the University of Chicago through Splash. Other extracurricular activities included chess and theater.
Currently, Vernon is leveraging the analytical reasoning skills he developed at Woodlawn Campus as he works towards double majors in philosophy and computer science at Oberlin.
While Vernon is thriving in the present and looking forward to the future, he still reflects fondly on his four years at the UChicago Charter School. “I am grateful for my experience at the Woodlawn Campus. It really is a college-prep school, a safe haven with a tight community that does what its says. Everyone in the building wants to make sure you are really prepared, no matter where you go in college and in life.”
There is no doubt that where Vernon is going: far.