UChicago Charter School's First College Week Kickoff Celebrates Student Success in College and in Life
Posted 02/18/2013 09:00AM
This past fall the University of Chicago Charter School held its first annual College Week Kickoff, celebrating and strengthening a college-going culture that has flourished since the Woodlawn secondary campus first opened in 2006. Featuring performances by the Central State University Percussion Band, student dance groups, and a professional theater troupe, the kickoff sent students in grades 6 through 12 off on a week of cross-country college tours filled with the excitement of envisioning—and realizing—success far beyond high school.
“The College Week Kickoff is new this year and it’s a phenomenal addition to the College Week tradition,” said Ahava Silkey, director of the fine arts department and a dance instructor at the UChicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus (UCW). “The energy in there this morning was incredible! All of this is about developing a culture where students say, ‘Hey, what school are you going to?!’ not, ‘Oh, are you going to school?’ and I think that UCW has done an excellent job of creating, maintaining, and improving that culture.”
Starting as a few, informal college tours organized by dedicated UCW counselors, momentum for a fully-fledged program quickly grew as experience confirmed how critical college exposure was for students growing up in urban Chicago.
“What we learned with our first graduating class, the Class of 2010, was that the schools that many of our students applied to were schools that we actually took them to visit,” explained Robert Lane, director of the middle school at UCW. “Many students made a good college match but in some cases, students were under-evaluating their ability to be accepted to some of the more prestigious colleges and universities.”
A 2008 report and 2011 follow-up study from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research confirmed Lane’s experience at UCW: students at Chicago Public Schools with strong college-going cultures were 12 to 17 percent more likely to enroll in a match or overmatch college than peers with similar qualifications at schools weak in emphasizing post-secondary success. With the urgency of data and the generous support of the Vance Foundation, McGowan Foundation, and anonymous others, the UChicago Charter School held its first official College Week for all middle and high school students in 2010.
“The whole concept of College Week is for our young people to see that there’s a place for them wherever they want to be, but to also have them recognize that it takes a lot of hard work,” said Lane, explaining the expectations that go hand-in-hand with the opportunities. “College Week is about exposure but also recognizing that you do have to have a sense of urgency to make it to these schools, because we don’t want our young people to be spectators, we don’t want them to be window shoppers, we want them to be enrolled students at very prestigious universities around the country. That’s what we want for them.”
Priscilla Agbeo, a UChicago Charter School student in the Class of 2014, plans to work internationally as a doctor or activist and credits UCW for helping her find the tools and the drive to succeed.
“If it wasn’t for this school, I wouldn’t be able to think the way I do or want what I want in life,” she said. “UCW focuses on not just college-readiness but college graduation, and success after graduation from college—with that motivation, with that influence, I’ve been able to aspire for more than I could have ever imagined.”
100% of the University of Chicago Charter School Class of 2012 was accepted to college. As the school works to continue this success for all its students, Director Shayne Evans emphasized that this figure should not surprise anyone.
“We believe in fact that it is not only possible but that it is probable that our young people will do amazing things,” said Evans. “Because once they start working hard, believing in themselves, and doing what they need to do, they will demonstrate and develop their supreme, innate intelligence. That we then make sure we work them, challenge them, and hold them to high expectations is important not just for our young people, but for the South Side of Chicago—maybe even for the nation. We are creating the counter narrative. We are showing what young people from any part of the city of Chicago can achieve.”
When College Week isn’t building excitement for students to aspire and achieve, the students of UCW recite their creed and embrace a college-going, college-graduating culture every day:
I will imagine and explore the endless possibilities of my future. I understand that there are many paths to my destiny
For I am a scholar, who is college bound, and I am a leader, committed to making the world a better place for all.