Northwestern Academy Students Star in Summer Showcase

Northwestern Academy Students Star in Summer Showcase

Northwestern Academy showcase

Lilliana Castillo spent her summer investigating the relationship between dropout rates and crime. Aleena Del Rosario, meanwhile, researched whether it’s possible to eliminate gangs.

The two teens were among 40 members of Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools who tackled the types of problems that still stymie adults. They presented their project findings at the recent Northwestern Academy Showcase held in newly renovated Abbot Hall in Chicago.

The showcase, one of two held over the summer, capped an intense period of activity for the students in the college access program. In addition to taking classes in critical reasoning, writing and literature, the Academy students toured scientific labs at Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern, attended improvisation classes, developed interviewing skills and more as they prepared for enrolling in a selective college or university.

Northwestern Academy students are all first-generation college-bound, come from a low-income family or are part of a group traditionally underrepresented in higher education. These are the highly motivated teenagers who qualified for, but aren’t enrolled in, selective enrollment high schools.

The Academy’s goal is to provide rigorous college-prep work and personal enrichment at no cost to ambitious students who may need a boost to enroll in selective four-year colleges.

Launched in 2013 by Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, the partnership with Chicago Public Schools involves year-round tutoring, leadership training, confidence building, counseling, family workshops and field trips to cultural institutions such as the Steppenwolf Theatre and The Adler Planetarium.

During the end-of-session summer showcase, the students gave formal group and individual presentations, explaining their work to peers and visitors, including School of Education and Social Policy Dean Penelope Peterson and Associate Dean Coleen Coleman.

 “I love learning, so of course it was interesting,” said Castillo, an incoming sophomore at Taft High School. “Statistics and other classes here aren’t like usual school. We do experiments so it’s fun.”

In one of the critical reasoning courses, for example, students sharpened their mathematical skills by reading Edgar Allen Poe’s classic short story “The Pit and the Pendulum” and then calculating whether a prisoner has time to execute an escape plan.

 “Nope,” said Castillo, explaining to a visitor how she came up with her answer of 71.53 seconds.

 Luciaro Rico, 15, who looked at the connection between crime and highly segregated areas, said he loved the reporting and learning about the issues.

 “Not all ethnic groups have the same access, and I want all kids to have the same opportunities,” said Rico, who hopes to study law.

 The students also reported on issues such as the effects of gentrification in Wicker Park and Pilsen, homelessness in Chicago, police brutality and racism on social media.

Near the end of the showcase, the students stood in a circle, reflecting on their summer experience.

When it was Del Rosario’s turn, she told the group she loved being around people with similar goals. “It made me feel like there was a reason to come,” said Del Rosario, who attends Von Steuben High School. “I wanted to be here, with people who want to be a success.”

Del Rosario also enjoyed the support and professional development. “I found out what kind of learner I am and how to act in class, something I struggled with before,” she said.

For the seven teachers on staff, the Academy offered the chance to teach a group of kids who were invested in learning.

“A cool thing happens when you get like-minded students who want to succeed,” said Kevin Trant, a Kennedy High School teacher and Northwestern Academy writing instructor. “They have so many unique insights and talents and are so open to pursuing goals and improving their lives.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 9/2/16