Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools Starts 2nd Year

Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools Starts 2nd Year

College preparation program for Chicago public high school students welcomes new class of students

With a second new cohort of 67 students, Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools is poised to begin a successful second year. A welcome event and team-building course kicked off the summer activities for this SESP program to prepare Chicago high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds for selective colleges and universities.

Summer activities
Northwestern Academy provides students with academic enrichment, college counseling and leadership development throughout the academic year and the summer. This summer, Northwestern Academy is focusing on exploring art, science, writing, literature, philosophy and critical reasoning through a variety of experiences. For example, students will participate in excursions to Chicago-area museums and organizations to explore academic interests and career possibilities.

To build writing skills this summer, the Academy will introduce students to college-level research and the use of that research in several kinds of writing, as well as reflecting on their experiences in writing. In science, students will analyze data, write evidence-based scientific explanations, collaborate on solutions and prepare presentations of their findings. In the arts area, students will be investigating art in a cultural context and investigating how artists innovate to create impacts.

Summer activities are designed to allow students to “explore more than one type of learning” and be able to pursue topics in depth, says Northwestern Academy director Cassandra Geiger. Arts and science activities emphasize areas where students may lack access.

2015 launch events
The Northwestern Academy welcome event on June 11 for new students and their families featured talks by recent Northwestern graduates as well as the leaders of the program. Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, SESP Dean Penelope Peterson and Geiger delivered remarks, and SESP professor Larry Hedges explained the evaluation of the program. Recent graduates Sarah Watson from SESP and Daniel Flores from Kellogg School of Management talked to the students about their experiences and insights as students at Northwestern.

The kick-off event for all new students in the Academy at the Outdoor Wisconsin Leadership School in Wisconsin on June 20 and 23 featured ropes courses to foster team building and activities for getting acquainted. Northwestern Academy students come from more than 20 schools across the city.

What's new
With the new cohort of rising sophomores, Northwestern Academy has doubled its student body. Eighty-four percent of the new students are first-generation college-bound students, and 97 percent come from low-income households. Among the new class of students, 25 percent identify as African American, 22 percent as Asian and 48 percent as Latino or Latina. All of the students are academically high-achieving and motivated to pursue rigorous course work, according to Geiger.

In the coming year, students in their second year of the Academy will be delving into the college research process, which will include college campus visits to different kinds of schools around the country. Exploration of interests through the Northwestern community and Chicago will continue. This concrete “college knowledge” is important to make college real for the students, Geiger says, adding, “You have to put them in context.” Students also will complete ACT test preparation before junior year begins.

Also coming in 2016 is a home location for Northwestern Academy.  The headquarters, which will include office space, classrooms and a student study lounge, are being developed in Abbott Hall on Northwestern’s Chicago campus. Northwestern Academy students have been part of the design process with the architecture firm Holabird & Root.

Looking back
Reviewing the past year, Geiger says she is content with the progress that the program is making and reported that students are “doing well.” She adds that the staff continues to reflect on each program and how to make it better.

For students, one of the highlights of the Academy’s first year in 2014-15 was improvisational training “to work on managing situations and thinking on their feet,” Geiger says. Other highlights were completing a writing seminar that introduced college-level writing, working on presentation skills and participating in TedXNorthwesternU 2015.

The Academy experience
Academy experiences are strategically planned to emphasize areas of need or areas where students lack access. “We want to make sure that we’re enriching the skills that they’re going to need to be successful in college. … Writing and critical reasoning are what we’ve seen needs to be worked on,” Geiger comments. “They have to be ready to hit the ground running, and it also builds confidence if they have this preparation.”

Overall, Geiger describes the Academy as “an individualized experience.” Although all the Academy students have the same type of programming, workshops and classes run on different timelines and structures.

In addition to Geiger, the Northwestern Academy staff includes two advisers for personal development and college advising, delivering programs, and facilitating college preparation workshops. The Academy brings on additional expert staff and teachers to provide high-quality programming year-round.

The goal of Northwestern Academy is to increase access and successful matriculation of underrepresented and talented Chicago public high school students to top-tier colleges and universities.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/16/15