Submitted on Tue, 12/18/2007 – 17:09.
Story by Jason Porterfield
On Chicago’s Northwest side, high school freshmen are learning valuable leadership skills through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will provide students perceived as being in the academic middle learn the skills they need to navigate the college application process.
Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Albany Park neighborhood is in the second year of offering its Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) class to entering 9th graders. The school established the program with its share of a $16 million grant from the foundation in 2005 as an EXCELerator school. Only 10 other high schools in the country received the same honor. The 11 schools split the money. Roosevelt’s share came to about $1.1 million.
“That program is going extremely well,” said Dr. Alejandra Alvarez, the school’s principal. “We started in 2006 with 100 kids enrolled in AVID, and 96 of them are still active. In addition, we had 100 more kids enroll in the program for this fall, so there’s quite a lot of interest.”
Advancement Via Individual Determination was developed in San Diego in 1980 to motivate students in the academic middle to go to college. According to the nonprofit group’s Web site, more than 3,500 schools throughout the world currently use the program, which pairs high school students with students from local colleges.
Northeastern Illinois University is the partnering college for Roosevelt and students enrolled in the program attend daily study halls together, where they develop study schedules and keep journals detailing what they learn in other classes. Their assignments include readings and essays on topics such as responsibility and leadership. Students also meet with their mentors once a week.
The grant money from the Gates foundation also allows the school to improve its math and reading curriculum through a program called SpringBoard, offered by the College Board, the company that administers the SAT and other standardized tests used in college admissions. SpringBoard prepares students for taking Advanced Placement courses.
“Enrollment in the AP classes is up this year. We’ve seen a number of kids take the classes who might not have had the confidence before,” said Josephina Melendez, the school’s assistant principal. “As a confidence-builder, it’s definitely working.”
The program engages students by actively involving them in all aspects of schoolwork, said Alvarez. Students learn time management skills, how to take good notes and stay organized. At Theodore Roosevelt High School, they also learn how to brainstorm together and plan events, such as fundraisers and movie nights.
“A couple weeks ago, we had a movie night for students who had perfect attendance records for this term,” Alvarez said. “The kids planned the whole thing, down to suggesting that we buy a popcorn machine so that they could have free popcorn.”
Teachers at the school say both programs are making a difference.
“Five years ago, this school was barely involved in the community. It didn’t have a good academic reputation. We still have a lot of work to do, but these programs are helping,” said Randy Huebner, a music teacher at the school.
Since Alvarez took over as principal in 2003, the school has reintroduced its orchestra program after decades, as well as become involved with community theater through the Albany Park Theater Project, a local theater ensemble.
Laura Roman, a senior at Roosevelt and the student representative on the school council, says the programs are working well.
“The people I’ve talked to who are enrolled feel good about what they’re doing in the program, and the rest of the student body is supportive,” Roman said. “It’s definitely a good thing for the school.”
Northwest Side Public Schools & Education
albany park bill and melinda gates foundation northeastern illinois university theodore roosevelt high school