Friday, September 13, 2013

The Jo in the news today!

I was so excited to read a huge editorial piece in the Trib's op-ed section today - all about a student at the small girls Catholic high school where I will begin working as a volunteer librarian in a few weeks. Josephinum Academy has only 200 students and they haven't been able to afford a degreed librarian for 7 years (is that Biblical or what?). I'm anxious to see what I can do for them, and what I know they will do for me.

I can't get a permanent link to the Trib story, so I'll just copy it here. Read on and rejoice for me!

In search of an education

1 car ride, 2 bus rides, 2 train rides and 2 brisk walks laterSeptember 13, 2013  

6:30 a.m. Jailyn Baker doesn't think of herself as a morning person, but compared with most teenagers — and probably many adults — she is. Her alarm went off 90 minutes ago. She is showered and dressed in her school uniform — gray pants, white top, navy sweatshirt. Her backpack, which looks like it is going to burst, is slung over her shoulders.Jailyn is ready to go to school. 

In Chicago, students are assigned to public schools within a few miles of their homes. For 16-year-old Jailyn, that's Harlan Community Academy High School. Jailyn doesn't attend Harlan; she and her mom, Marcia, didn't think it was the right fit.

Instead, Jailyn is a junior at Josephinum Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school 15 miles north in Wicker Park. The reason she's out the door so early is that the seven-leg trip she takes to school lasts an hour and a half.

This is not the story of a student who is a victim of Chicago Public Schools' recent mass school closings. Nor is it the story of a stellar student who attends an elite private high school because she's on her way to Harvard. Jailyn is an average student. From an average neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. She wants a chance at being better than average, and Chicago Public Schools can't do that for her.
The average student at Josephinum graduates and attends college; the average student at Harlan does not. Jailyn's 90-minute trip to school is the price she pays for a chance at a brighter future. This commute is Jailyn's lifeline out of a failing educational system.
On this particular morning, Jailyn is already waiting outside of her home. A few minutes later, Marcia walks out the door.
As they settle into the car, Marcia checks to make sure Jailyn didn't forget anything.
Phone? Yes. ID? Got it. Money? No.
Marcia opens her wallet and pulls out $10.
"Make it stretch," she tells Jailyn.
6:40 a.m. Normally, Marcia drives Jailyn to the 95th Street Red Line stop, but because of the CTA's multimillion-dollar construction project, they're headed to the shuttle bus parked on 87th and State streets.
Marcia and Jailyn first heard about Josephinum when Jailyn was in eighth grade. It was time to choose a high school, but Marcia, who is raising Jailyn alone, felt their options were limited.
"We weren't really looking at the neighborhood school," says Marcia, 50. "We looked at the charters. I really wanted her to go to a Catholic high school, but I knew I couldn't afford them."
For students in Chicago who don't want to attend the neighborhood public school, the list of possibilities shrinks quickly.
The Illinois State Board of Education pegs the number of nonpublic high schools in Chicago at around 90. Some of those are elite private schools such as Francis W. Parker in Lincoln Park, where sticker price tuition for just the freshman year is $30,780.
When the list of nonpublic schools is narrowed to those that advertise an annual tuition rate below $5,000, it contains fewer than 10 schools.
Josephinum is one of those schools.
"The Jo," as students affectionately call it, is not your typical college prep school. The average family income is $32,000, and Jailyn is among the 74 percent of the student body who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. Tuition is priced at $4,900 to attract students who otherwise wouldn't have access to many educational opportunities. And 95 percent of the student body — including Jailyn — receives additional financial aid.
"We want to push the boundaries of educational opportunities for women," says Michael Dougherty, Josephinum's president. "We have no intention of becoming an affluent school."
Most Chicago families get stuck in that unfortunate place where Marcia first found herself — feeling like they have no choice and no control over their children's futures.
Chicago has become a place where it seems the only way to get a good education is to be smart enough to get into a magnet school, rich enough to afford a private school or lucky enough to win the charter lottery.
"If your kid is really smart or if you have a lot of money, there are great options," Marcia says. "(Otherwise) it seems like education is left by the wayside."
But what if your child isn't smart enough, or isn't lucky enough? Should this mean your only option is a failing neighborhood public school?
In a city that will spend $5.58 billion on education this school year, is that the best Chicago can do?
When they reach 87th Street, Marcia pulls up behind the bus. Jailyn says a quick goodbye and exits the car.
7:06 a.m. When the bus arrives at the Garfield "L" stop, Jailyn joins a thick crowd climbing the steps to the platform.
From Garfield, Jailyn can take either the Red or Green line.
"Whichever gets here first," she says.
Today's it's the Red Line.
Jailyn says she doesn't mind the patchwork of buses and trains that get her to school every day. It could be worse. She could be at her neighborhood school, Harlan.
According to CPS, fewer than half of the students who enter as freshmen at Harlan graduate within five years. In 2012, the school's average ACT score was 15.1, more than five points below what ACT considers college-ready. This puts Harlan students in the 15th percentile (from the bottom) of all U.S. high schoolers who take the college entrance exam.
Besides Harlan, Jailyn passes about 15 other public high schools along her way to Josephinum. She's simply passing one failing school after another.
At Paul Robeson High School in Englewood, CPS reports that in 2012 nearly 6 of 10 students who started as freshmen never made it to graduation. The average ACT score at Robeson is 13.8.
At Dyett High School in Washington Park, fewer than 45 percent of the students graduate within five years. Not four years. Five.
At Tilden Career Community Academy in New City, statistics from 2012 show that 2 of 3 students who walked in as freshmen never walked out with a diploma.
Not even the six selective-enrollment schools along Jailyn's commute — where, theoretically, Chicago's best and brightest students attend — had dropout rates lower than 25 percent.
Jailyn isn't just passing by these 15 or so failing schools on her way to Josephinum every day; she's escaping them.
7:28 a.m. When the Red Line reaches its Jackson stop, Jailyn has to transfer. She exits the train and walks down the tunnel to the Blue Line platform.
After a few minutes, a train arrives and Jailyn continues her commute.
Jailyn's mother is not an education activist. Marcia doesn't send Jailyn to Josephinum because she wants to protest CPS, or make some sort of statement against public schools. She doesn't study school performance statistics. She has never even heard of school vouchers.
The reason Marcia sends Jailyn to Josephinum is that Marcia believes in her daughter. She says something inside told her Jailyn's future would be brighter if she attended Josephinum.
When parents get that feeling — for whatever the reason — why doesn't Chicago have avenues for them to act on it?
These avenues exist in Milwaukee and Racine, Wis. They exist in Indiana, too.
In fact, Jailyn lives just 10 miles from the Indiana border — closer than she does to Josephinum. If only Jailyn lived over the state line, her educational experience would be very different.
Thanks to a law passed in 2011 and upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2013, Indiana is home to one of the most liberating school voucher programs in the nation.
Here's how it works: State money for education follows an individual student to any school he or she chooses, private or public. The amount of money that goes to the school is based on the family's income and the amount of education funding the local public school district normally would receive from the state.
If Jailyn and Marcia lived in Hammond, Ind., Jailyn would be eligible for nearly $6,000 in a voucher to apply toward the cost of attending any school of her choice.
"She would get 90 percent of what the state would have spent on her education," says Robert Enlow, president and CEO at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. "This would open the door to almost every high school except the most expensive."
7:38 a.m. As the Blue Line travels northwest, Jailyn starts mapping out her school day. Homeroom is first. A schoolwide assembly is next, followed by global studies. Then, the highlight of the day — dissecting a pig in biology class.
It doesn't make Jailyn the least bit squeamish. In fact, it's probably good preparation for when she goes to college because she wants to become an anesthesiologist.
Not if she goes to college. When.
This is just one of the differences between what Jailyn's life is like as a Josephinum student and what it might have been like had she attended Harlan.
College is on Jailyn's horizon because it's something she and her mom are working toward, and it's something that is ingrained in the culture at her school.
At Josephinum, more than 90 percent of students graduate on time, and when they graduate, college is the expectation. Josephinum graduates go to such schools as the University of Chicago or Kenyon College, which is considered one of the country's premier liberal arts schools. Others attend DePaul University or a community college.
But back at Jailyn's neighborhood school, the story is very different. In 2012, just 48.3 percent of Harlan's freshmen graduate within five years. In addition, the school is on probation and based on CPS' performance policy, Harlan has a low academic performance rating.
7:51 a.m. When the Blue Line reaches Damen Avenue, it's finally time for Jailyn to get off the "L." She exits, then walks a few blocks to the No. 72 bus stop on North Avenue.
Jailyn knows that a scholarship is part of why this long commute to the Jo is even possible. The other reason is her mom's sacrifice.
"Needless to say, her (Jailyn's) education came first," says Marcia. So Marcia traded rent money to save for tuition, and moved back into her childhood home to live with her parents. Living with her parents made it possible for Marcia to send Jailyn to private elementary school.
But Marcia's father passed away in 2001, and her mother died this winter. She's worried about how she'll be able to afford the tuition for the rest of Jailyn's high school years — and college. "It's definitely going to be a stretch to do everything on my own now," Marcia says.
She wouldn't have to worry so much if Illinois had passed the school voucher bill of 2010. Then, living in Chicago would be a lot more like living in Milwaukee or Hammond.
Three years ago, then-state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, proposed legislation that would have created a school voucher program in Illinois. Parents whose children were assigned to the lowest-performing public schools in Chicago would have been given the opportunity to send their children to a private school.
This was a bill designed for students like Jailyn.
It passed the Illinois Senate with bipartisan support. Then it died in the House. It hasn't seen the light of day since.
Jailyn says she is happy attending Josephinum. She likes her teachers. She has friends. But if only the school voucher bill of 2010 had become law, it would have taken effect just in time for Jailyn to start high school.
Maybe she wouldn't have needed to travel 90 minutes to get to school. Maybe she could have attended a private school closer to her home. Maybe all the other Jailyns in Chicago also would have had a chance at a better future.
7:57 a.m. When the bus reaches Oakley Boulevard, it's finally time for Jailyn to stop getting on and off buses and trains. She exits and waits to cross the street.
Jailyn's trip to school took one car ride, two bus rides, two train rides and two brisk walks. A few minutes after 8 a.m. Jailyn finally is standing at the front door of Josephinum. She swings the door open, and walks into school.
Diana Sroka Rickert is a writer with the Illinois Policy Institute.


  1. Wonderful post, Susan! Chicago is a world-class city, but Indiana does better than Illinois on educating its kids??

  2. what happened to my other comment?


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