Northwestern Academy: Finding New Paths

Northwestern Academy: Finding New Paths

Madison JacksonMadison Jackson

Madison Jackson had just finished her first year of high school when her mother’s cancer took a turn for the worse.

In August 2014, after many months of chemotherapy, Wanda Jackson, 52, was discharged from the hospital to spend what time she had left at home with her family. When she died three weeks later, everything in 15-year-old Madison’s life came to a screeching halt.

Though she would continue to struggle with grief and anger, Jackson soon found herself thinking less about the injustice of losing a parent at such a vulnerable age and more about injustices suffered by African Americans, women and other minorities in the United States.

“Before she passed away, my mom told me she wasn’t worried because she had planted a seed in me that would eventually grow,” Jackson said recently from the Chicago home where her mother’s memory inhabits every room.

“My mom would be proud that I am getting ready to start college and focused on what I can do to bring about change,” she said. “I think she would tell me to ‘keep the flower blooming.’ ”

A resilient young woman with a supportive family, Jackson went on to excel in high school. She left her West Rogers Park home in the fall to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Jackson’s success is due in part to the Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools, a college preparation and enrichment program launched in 2013 for academically motivated students from non-selective-enrollment high schools who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.

She is among 48 CPS students headed to 23 prestigious institutions around the country — from Northwestern to Brown University to Colorado College (see the full list). They are Northwestern Academy’s first graduating cohort and a powerful indication of what’s to come. (See "Northwestern Academy Grads Heading to College.")

The goal of the Northwestern Academy, run by the School of Education and Social Policy, is to prepare Chicago high school students from limited financial means and first-generation college–bound backgrounds for highly selective colleges and universities. Preparation is provided through individualized and group experiences focused on academic enrichment, college counseling and leadership development. According to 2008 research on “undermatching” from Melissa Roderick at the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research, only one-third of CPS students gain acceptance to the most selective college possible, based on their high school qualifications.

Read the full story in Northwestern magazine. 

By Sean Hargadon, Erin Karter
Last Modified: 9/22/17