Central Standard follows five students in communities around Chicago. Click on a photo to learn more about them.
Gina attends Marquette School of Excellence in the south-side community of Chicago Lawn.
Marquette was on probation within CPS, performing within the lowest 3% of schools, and in 2012 along with nine other elementary schools underwent emergency restructuring. The controversial CPS process known as “turnaround” replaced the entire staff of the school, and gave a six-year charter for Marquette to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).
In Gina’s experience, violence has disappeared inside the school, and the quality of teaching has greatly improved since the turnaround, though the long-term effect of the new model on the school’s low test scores remains to be seen.
Gina’s parents emigrated from Mexico. Her father works long hours at multiple jobs. Her mother cares for Gina and her four siblings, who live together with other extended family in a small apartment.
While Gina is an excellent student and spends her afternoons studying at the public library, because of schedule circumstances, devoting time and resources to the complicated high school application process is a challenge for Gina and her family.
Kyle attends Walt Disney Magnet School on Chicago’s Uptown lakefront, and lives in nearby Roscoe Village, both in prospering areas of the city’s north side.
The first Chicago Public Schools magnet school, Disney draws students from across the city through an annual lottery, but admission has become increasingly competitive. Disney’s teachers emphasize independent thinking, and the well-resourced school offers many extracurricular activities.
Kyle is the only child of two financial professionals, for whom navigating the CPS system has been a long but so far successful ordeal. Kyle worries about high school entrance but is also concerned with following his intellectual curiosities, volunteering, exploring the city, and developing peer relationships.
Natalia attends UNO Esmerelda Santiago charter school in Humboldt Park, Chicago’s historically Puerto Rican west-side neighborhood. The school is a member of one of the city’s oldest charter networks, which emerged from the grassroots Latino activist United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), and is widely perceived as a major force in the school-choice movement in Chicago today.
Natalia is third-generation Mexican-American, and lives in a building owned by her parents, who espouse traditional family values from both Mexican and American culture. The family has enrolled multiple children at Esmeralda Santiago, and appreciates the UNO network’s intense requirements for parental involvement in education.
Natalia’s father, a TSA employee at O’Hare airport, attended the neighborhood high school himself and does not want his daughter go there. Natalia strives to attend a selective enrollment high school, but with worry about admission and explores charter school options.
Robert attends the District 149 S.T.E.M. Academy in south-suburban Calumet City, and lives in neighboring Dolton. The region has seen a major influx of former south-side public housing residents, including Robert’s family, who did not want him to attend school in the Altgeld Gardens project where he was born, just across the river on Chicago’s southern edge.
The District 149 S.T.E.M. Academy, currently in its second year, is the product of a radical restructuring of the local junior high system, consistently one of the lowest-performing in the state. The 1,200-student Dirksen school was split in three, and instituted a heavy career focus throughout its curriculum.
This suburban region has provided families fleeing the city with increased safety and quality of life, but not with better-performing public schools, so Robert’s family has decided to continue his school search as they would in the city, though he lives 30 miles from downtown.
While his family believes he can gain entry to a Chicago selective enrollment school or financial aid to attend a Catholic school, intense competition make the poor-performing neighborhood high school a possibility. Robert’s passion is basketball, which he struggles to figure out how he will use to his advantage in the search.
Wilmette Jr. High
Emma attends Wilmette Jr. High in the affluent north-shore suburb of Wilmette. The school feeds into New Trier Township High School, which is considered by many to be one of if not the best high school in the region, claiming many famous alumni such as Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
Emma placed 6th in the Midwest region for all-around gymnastics in the spring of 2013, and practices at least four hours a day, four days a week after school. In spite of her performance, she has already come to terms with not having a shot at the Olympics. Her acceptance to New Trier follows automatically from her Wilmette residence, but Emma sees in gymnastics a necessary way to distinguish herself amongst other ultra-high-performing students in preparation for college.
Emma was adopted from China shortly after birth by her single mother, who analyzed housing costs against educational opportunities in bringing her daughter to Wilmette, by way of the city and another suburb. Emma jokingly refers to her mother as her chauffeur, as she travels to and from gymnastics, flute lessons, and other extracurricular activities.