Based on such statistics as state test scores and graduation rate, one South Side public high school with a predominately Black student population is among the best performing in Chicago.
Based on such statistics as state test scores and graduation rate, one South Side public high school with a predominately Black student population is among the best performing in Chicago. That honor goes to Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy High School, 250 E. 111th St., in the Roseland community. Brooks is one of nine selective enrollment high schools within Chicago Public Schools, the only selective enrollment school on the far South Side and the only selective school where students wear uniforms. Creating a family atmosphere for students is important Brooks Principal Dushon Brown told the Defender. So every Friday the staff wears “Brooks” clothing – something with the school’s colors (blue and white) or something with the school’s name on it. On the day the Chicago Defender visited Brooks Brown was meeting with a parent and her freshman son at the entrance door. The student wanted to transfer to a suburban school so he could be reunited with his elementary school friends. Brown went as far as to offer the student two tickets to the recent Chicago Football Classic game at Soldier Field to change his mind but the student declined. And after thinking about it over a weekend the student returned to school the following week and said he decided to stay. “I told him what a great opportunity he had to attend Brooks and that he should not take that lightly,” Brown said. One element Brooks focuses on to ensure students as a whole do well is making sure freshmen successfully complete their first year. “Freshmen set the tone for the school. If they start off failing then the school, long-term, will fail,” freshman English teacher Christina Lufrano, told the Defender. Students said safety in and outside the school is not a factor. Freshmen and sophomores begin their school day at 8:35 a.m. and end at 3:40 p.m. while juniors and seniors start at 7:50 a.m. and end at 2:46 p.m. “I cannot recall when there was a major incident at Brooks or after school. People in the neighborhood pretty much mind their business and do not bother us,” said Raven Wells, 17, a senior with a 4.1 grade point average. Education expert Bonita Carr said Brooks students are held to a higher standard and that has helped the school become one of the best in the state. “Brooks high school is successful academically because they have high expectations for all of their students that ultimately translate in a meaningful way to the course offerings that are extended to their student body,” Carr, executive director of PUSH/Excel, a Chicago educational organization, told the Defender. “At Brooks high school all of the courses are honors or advanced placement courses. This is significant because it prepares a student to test better on standardized tests.” Brooks senior Nichi Hoskins, 17, agrees. “High expectations are placed on Brooks students because we are one of the best high schools in Chicago,” said Hoskins, who is captain of the debate club and whose older brother is a Brooks alumnus. “A lot of students will be the first in their family to go to college and that’s an honor most Brooks students are proud to achieve.” Carr added that if Brooks can achieve such success then so should every CPS high school. “I would love to see honor classes and advanced courses at all of the Chicago Public Schools. The absence of honors courses and advanced placement course offerings set our students up for failure when they graduate,” she explained. “In fact, research has shown that most of these students have to take remedial courses before they can take regular college courses.” Another reason Brooks has been so successful when it comes to graduating and preparing so many Blacks for college is parent involvement. “There is a different class of parents at selective enrollment high schools. At Brooks we the parents do not sit back and wait for the school to tell us what is going on at the school. We are there regularly to find out ourselves,” said Anthony Beale, who has two sons at Brooks and also serves as the school’s volunteer baseball coach. The school is in the alderman’s 9th Ward and he says he was instrumental in securing $65 million in funding from CPS “to finish building the school out.” Construction is currently taking place on the 40-acre campus to build a new auditorium, gymnasium, an indoor swimming pool and more classroom space. The school was founded in 1998 as South Side College Preparatory High School but was renamed in 2001 in memory of the late poet Gwendolyn Brooks, a Chicago native, who also taught English at Chicago State University. Previously, the Brooks campus had been occupied for more than 40 years by two different Catholic high schools operated by the Archdiocese of Chicago. According to the 2009 Illinois School Report Card, total enrollment at Brooks is 745 and Blacks account for 84.6 percent, although Brown said it is now closer to 95 percent. Brown also puts its graduation rate at 95 percent although the state’s School Report Card lists it at 86 percent with 89 percent of freshmen on track to graduate. And students at Brooks averaged a composite score of 21 out of 36 on the American College Test. The average district high school scored 17 and the state averaged 20. And despite 87 percent of Brooks students coming from low-income households, 72 percent of students either met or exceeded state standards in reading, math and science, according to the 2009 School Report Card, while the average district school averaged 60 percent and the state 75 percent. Brooks counselor Gale Williams knows firsthand the desire students have to get accepted to a four-year college or university. She is one of four counselors that work in the school’s Career and Resource Center advising students about colleges and careers. “We have alumni at some of top colleges and universities in the country,” added Williams. “We have students attending Stanford University, Spelman College and Morehouse College.” “I am ready thanks to Brooks High School,” said Vincent Brooks, 16, a junior. “The classes we are required to take at Brooks covers a whole spectrum of curriculum so no mater what career path we chose we will be ready.” Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender