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CPS Opens S.O.A.R Center In Little Village To Lower High School Drop Out Rate

An instructor helps students with their projects during the student's two week workshop.
An instructor helps students with their projects during the student’s two week workshop.

Chicago Public Schools opened a Student Outreach and Re-engagement center for the Pilsen and Little Village Community, to promote education among the largely Hispanic community.

Michelle Murillo was transferred from Hubbard High School to Pathways alternative school because she was a senior who wasn’t going to graduate on time, she said.

In Chicago, 44,000 Hispanic youth, ages 16 to 24, are high school drop-outs, based on 2000 census data.

19-year-old Murillo was at risk of being a statistic.

“The staff sucked at Hubbard, they didn’t give a damn, they wouldn’t do much for you,” Murillo said. “what I like about pathway is that it doesn’t have the high school lifestyle, no packed hallways and they are strict on you and make sure you are doing okay.”

Murillo didn’t stop ditching school. Murillo’s brother died at age 27. Her mother found him in bed lifeless she said.

“My brother died from a heart attack,” Murillo said. Her brother’s death, along with partying too much with friends was one of the reasons why she wasn’t motivated to finish school.

After being out of school for more than 30 days, Pathways alternative school referred her to Re-engagement specialist.

Murillo a Re-engagement specialist told her it was a second opportunity to finish high school and she went to the Student Outreach And Re-engagement center the following week.

“What we are trying to do is locate the high school students who are out of school and help them get back by placing them into a program,” said Alice Martinez, program director. “Whether it is regular school, alternative or GED program.”

Martinez said the goal is to help the students graduate from high school and inspire them to pursue a college education.

“The goal is to help them finish whatever high school requirements they need,” She said. “Hopefully it inspires them to go on to college.”

In 2011 the Hispanic or Latino unemployment rate in Illinois was at 13.5 percent. Among minority youth, ages 16 to 19, the unemployment rate is 27.8 percent, according to the Bureau Labor Statistics on employment status.

Murillo is seeking her first job but is struggling to find employment.

[pullquote]“What really motivated me was thinking about my future,” Murillo said. “I want to be successful, someday I want to tell my kids of how I struggled, but it’s never too late to do something for yourself, so strive to be a success.”[/pullquote]

Martinez said youth ages 16 to 19 who are in between enrollment times can participate in the two week workshop. During the two week workshop students work on employability, they do resumes, mock interviews, and practice time management.

“We work with the students on identifying obstacles that didn’t let them succeed the first time,” she said. “So we can figure out how they can overcome them this time around.”

Murillo is on her second week of the workshop, she said so far her experience with the program has given her an opportunity to regain herself from past mistakes.

“This program has taught me what type of person I want to be in life and in the workforce one day,” she said. “In five to 10 years from now, I’m not going to be living with my mom, without a job, that’s not an option for me.”

Martinez said students can also participate in a service learning project to complete the necessary 40 service learning hours requirement to graduate high school.

Kathleen Goeing is a full-time certified English teacher who guides the students through the online English courses offered at the center.

“They can earn at least half credit,” she said. “So they can transfer on their transcripts and make their case stronger to transition over to which ever Chicago Public School is appropriate.”

Goeing said there are about 20 students enrolled in the current group so sometimes it’s hard to work with each student individually all the time but the online courses are designed to push the students to be self-starters.

“I have been really happy with how motivated they are to finish school, whether it is GED or going back to school,” she said. “It seems to be working really well.”

Osvaldo Rodriguez, re-engagement specialist, said the youth program helps determine if the student is ready to go back to school.

“We don’t want our youth to fail once again once we place them back in school,” he said. “By them going to the program we will get a good feel if they are truly ready.”

Martinez says the center has staff who not only works with students throughout the program but also check up on students on a bi-weekly basis to make sure everything is okay.

“Students who have been out of school usually have some personal problems,” she said. “We have a full-time social worker who meets with each student to offer any help the student and family might need in addition to school.”

Anyone who is over the age of 19 can participate in the center’s GED program, funded by the City Colleges of Chicago in collaboration with Daley College.

“We just started providing GED classes on March 12, our next session starts May 20,” Martinez said.

Michelle Guzman, age 19, is part of the youth program and has a twin sister who is in the GED program.

“At school they would pick at us just because we were twins, it was hard for me so I just stayed home,” she said. “I started cutting a lot and I just became lazy, nobody knew, I just kept it to myself.”

Guzman said she really wants to get a diploma because of her dad.

“My dad really wants me to graduate,” she said. “He came from Mexico with his family, they had nothing, not even a house, they lived in my uncle’s house and slept in the porch-on the floor, and he worked really hard for us and got us a good house.”

Sean Smith, the program manager for CPS Re-engagement center, knows the kids of Chicago are facing a lot of obstacles and without education they fall behind.

Smith was the principal of Vivian Summers alternative school in Roseland.

“I have always worked with at risk students,” Smith said. “It’s my passion; I understand their story, that’s what makes me want to help them.”

The Pilsen and Little Village Student Outreach and Re-engagement Center opened Jan. 2013; the center is located inside the Central States SER office on the 3900 block of West 26 Street. Chicago Public Schools re-engagement centers are implemented in communities with high drop-out rates.

Martinez said the center targets mainly youth from Little Village high schools, but they can work with anyone citywide.

“We are trying to see how we can work with the youth from Pilsen who are unable to travel to Little Village to get the services we have,” she said. “The other two centers are located at Roseland, and West Garfield community.”

The center’s youth program is funded through a Chicago Public School’s grant.


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