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published December 13, 2011

High School Acceptance

(Part 1 of 2) Eighth Graders Compete For The Best Choices

This fall, four eighth grade students who participate in Breakthrough’s Nettie Bailey Student Achievement Program began the process of applying to the high schools of their choice. By the end of December, the application deadlines will have passed, and students will wait until next spring to find out whether or not they have been given choices about where to attend high school.

Families with children in East Garfield Park and in many areas of Chicago face a daunting task when it comes to education. While all students are eligible to attend high school near their own neighborhood or community, the educational opportunities in each school widely vary. Too often, schools in high-poverty neighborhoods struggle the most, and families, wanting better, choose to apply to other schools. As detailed in the award-winning documentary, Waiting For Superman, the opportunity for a good education and future weighs heavily on the minds of those who have extra barriers to overcome.

The process that Deangelo, Shayna, Javion and Jade and will go through is somewhat similar to that in the movie. In Chicago, the application and acceptance process is dizzying and forces every family into making complex decisions. Complexity that involves balancing public transportation, start time, academic quality, extra-curricular activities, location and safety during travel.  It is further challenging for those who experience the negative impacts of poverty on a daily basis, since many factors that help determine a student’s path are rooted in opportunity, or lack thereof.

To which kind of high schools will they apply? >

Deangelo is the second to youngest of the nine children in his family. His favorite subject in school, at local Beidler Elementary, is math. He has been involved at Breakthrough since the 3rd or 4th grade. Staff members describe Deangelo as a reliable and trustworthy young man who is also a good student and an excellent athlete. “I’d like to play football in high school,” he says, adding that the high school application process has been exciting so far. “I’m looking for a great school that’s close by, but I have applied to several that are a little farther away.”

Shayna is the oldest of three siblings. She has also grown up in East Garfield Park and has been involved at Breakthrough since preschool, where she was in the Breakthrough Beginners program. Her favorite subject is language arts, and she has attended Chicago Westside Christian for elementary school. “It’s been exciting to tour the schools. It has helped me narrow my favorite choices a little bit. One of the schools I was most excited about seemed really big and overwhelming once I got there. Now, I’m giving some of the other schools a second look,” she says. Shayna has applied to all three types of high schools. She is described as a natural leader, with great verbal and written skills. Shayna is the president of the Vending McQueens (the student-led vending machine business at Breakthrough.)

Javion has three siblings and has been involved at Breakthrough since the first grade. According to staff, he has had perfect attendance there for the past three years. Math is his favorite subject at Beidler. While he will apply to several schools, Javion hopes to get into Westinghouse and study business there. Besides the programs, he likes that the school is close. Javion admits that he has mixed emotions about the application process, but he is excited. “I am excited about the essays, where you get to tell your story,” he says. “I want to be an entrepreneur and own my own business someday.”

Jade has two older sisters. She has been involved at Breakthrough since the fifth grade, and she attends Beidler, where reading is her favorite subject. She would like to be a teacher someday, and staff members say she already uses her natural gifts and intelligence to help others. Jade is applying to several schools. “Part of me feels like I should meet new people by going to a school that is outside my neighborhood,” she says. “I’m looking most at the schools that meet my standards…where I feel like I will be challenged.”
According to Director of Youth & Family Services, Marcie Curry, Breakthrough assists eighth graders in several important ways throughout the process. “We meet with students and their parents to explain the admission process and discuss application deadlines, and we also facilitate meetings for parents and children to openly talk about their high school expectations,” she says. “We host a high school fair, with over 20 high schools present, where families can interact with admissions counselors, and we’re available to attend open houses with students, if need be.”

Marcie and other staff members are available to point students in the right direction, although the work is up to them. “We ask students to research high schools and make up their ‘top 10 list,’” she says. “They write their own essays, and we help them proofread and edit, if necessary.”

Next Spring: High School Acceptance, Part 2