CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of Chicago Public Schools students will pop on a cap and gown this month and say sayonara to high school after a year of mostly remote learning. Some are off to the military, others to the trades.
CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us inside one graduating class of students that are all headed to the same place: college.
Inside Chicago Collegiate Charter School, teachers and student volunteers packed twin extra-large sheets and shower caddies. You know where this is headed (a university).
For a while, Mariah Jones didn’t know. The graduating senior was unsure which college she’d tote the essentials to.
“I went a month or two without getting any more letters. So at that point, I was just worried. Am I gonna get my second letter?” said Jones.
Then came the flood: a “yes” from 15 schools.
“All of them just started coming in at once. Every day I was getting a new acceptance letter,” said Jones who will head to Illinois State University to study nursing this fall.
Her classmate, Latonya House, got into 18 schools, ultimately choosing Indiana University South Bend.
The girls are part of the 26 graduating seniors at Chicago Collegiate Charter School who received almost 200 college acceptance letters total this year. That’s seven schools on average.
“Start strong, end strong. That was my focus, my main goal when I started my senior year,” said House, who hopes to study psychology.
It’s a work ethic instilled in students since 5th grade. House and Jones were in the charter school’s inaugural class.
“It’s stricter than what I was used to,” said Jones, reminiscing on her first days at the school. “I had rules. I actually had to do work.”
“Our school was founded so that we could prove to everyone else what we in our community already knew was possible for our kids [100% college acceptance rate],” said Quiana McNeal, the school’s principal.
Achieving that 100% acceptance rate wasn’t easy.
In 2019, the school was on the Chicago Public Schools charter school warning list. The district even considered closing Chicago Collegiate, because of “poor academic performance in the lower grades.” CPS ultimately determined the school could “make changes to the grades it offers rather than closure.”
McNeal called it growing pains, and said the administration has learned from its mistakes.
“Even our remediation team has acknowledged the great strides we’ve made,” she said.
What better proof than packing for every senior’s college adventure? An essentials bundle will be gifted to seniors at graduation this weekend.
“195 acceptances, and over $3.5 million dollars in merit scholarships, and over $5 million dollars in total aid. So our seniors really have exceeded everything we hoped for them, and we hope they’ll continue to do so,” said McNeal, who added that each senior will be paired with a Chicago Collegiate mentor through their first year of college.
CPS didn’t provide CBS2 a status update on Chicago Collegiate, only pointing us to a 2019 press release that announced the district was requiring the school to make a “grade structure adjustment” rather than forcing it to close.
“Because the school is meeting the district’s academic standards in the higher grades and serves a need in the community, the district is requiring the school make changes to the grades it offers rather than a closure. The specific grade structure adjustment is in the process of being determined and will be brought to the Board as part of the annual charter application amendment process later this school year,” the district said in that release.