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Zhiyu Wang/MEDILL

Lia Miller, a senior in Kenwood Academy High School, is filling out scholarship application forms.

Kenwood paves way for its students to attend college

by Zhiyu Wang
June 06, 2013

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Zhiyu Wang/MEDILL

A student reviews material at the college lab at Kenwood.


Zhiyu Wang/MEDILL

Lindsey Hunter, the college and career coach at Kenwood, is talking to a senior.

Lia Miller, senior of Kenwood Academy High School was sitting in the college lab at school, busy filling out forms for her application for a scholarship granted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In less than two weeks, Miller will find out whether she will be granted the $2,000 scholarship.

This year, seniors at Kenwood have earned an average of $78,000 in scholarships per person, a sharp increase from approximately $36,000 in 2009, said principal Gregory Jones.

Financial support is all the more important for a school like Kenwood where 70 percent of its students come from low-income families, according to the CPS website.

Challenges facing low-income students include unfamiliarity with the requirements of going to college, such as required high school courses, college entrance exams, uncertainty about the costs of attending college and the availability of financial assistance, said Eric Grodsky, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

To ensure that students don’t get encumbered by unpayable college debts, Lindsey Hunter, the college and career coach at Kenwood, and her colleagues spent numerous days in the college lab helping students identify scholarships that fit them. Students can visit the college lab to inquire about academic opportunites and scholarship applications, such as writing and interview skills.

“We really push students to do scholarships and also apply to schools that they will be able to get some type of financial aid other than just the government debt,” said Hunter, who has been running the college lab for two years. “They can get scholarships, grants and other things so that their families aren’t taxed with as much financial burden when trying to get them through the four years.”

Hunter’s effort yields results. Minhua Wu, a daughter of Chinese immigrants who run a restaurant in Chicago, is heading to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So far Wu is able to land three scholarships adding up to $7,000. She is planning on using the money to purchase a computer and some books.

“When I was applying for the [Gates Millenium Scholarship], I was staying all day at the computer lab,” Wu said. “Ms. Hunter was here helping us till 7 or 8 o’clock, revising our essays. Even though I didn’t get the scholarship, all the help was useful for me when I was applying for other scholarships.”

The support for the seniors continues throughout the summer until they actually begin their college lives, Hunter said.

“If something happens in summer, say they want to change their plans, they can come in and we can work with them to make sure that their financial aids are in line, everything is together,” Hunter said. “And also, I call them over the summer to check in a couple of times.”

Grodsky said to enable low-income students to succeed, schools should hold high behavioral and academic expectations for their students and should do their best to provide students with the instructional resources in the form of excellent teachers.

“They hold us to certain standards. Especially being an African-American school, a lot of us come from not the best communities,” Miller said, adding that she has many friends who are from neighborhoods prevalent with gun and gang violence.  “We succeed because they believe in us.

"You need stuff like that especially when you come from places that aren’t that great. You need people to believe in you.”

“A lot of students would probably consider teachers like parents,” said Miller, who has been accepted at Columbia College. “Our teachers are there not just for our education, but also if we have anything that we want to talk about.”

“As a local school, we are impacting poverty by providing access to quality universities, and the key is ensure that they are college ready,” said Kenwood principal Jones at a forum at DePaul University in May.

Kenwood’s college enrollment rate has increased from 74.7 percent in 2009 to 86 percent in 2012, Jones said. Even though CPS reports Kenwood’s college enrollment rate in 2012 to be 83 percent, it is still the highest among all neighborhood schools in Chicago and even higher than some selective admissions schools such as Lane Tech College Prep High School, according to the CPS’s reports.

“I think Kenwood is a wonderful representation of what Chicago neighborhood schools can be,” said Kenwood English teacher Danielle Sales, who student taught at Kenwood during college and joined the Hyde Park high school a year later.

“The neighborhood school really provides for you the slice of life that you see in the neighborhood,” Sales said.

Having been teaching at Kenwood for more than 10 years, Sales admitted poverty continues to place Kenwood students at a disadvantage. She still has quite a few students who do not have reliable access to the Internet. Sales said she constantly has to purchase items such as flash drives for her students to fill in the gap when they don’t have supplies.

“I developed good personal relationships with my students,” Sales said. “so they don’t feel embarrassed about letting me know if they need something.”

Sales said she never allowed poverty to become an obstacle for her students in their pursuit of college.

“Even if you have economic hardships, we will help you find money so that you can go to college,” said Sales, emphasizing that Kenwood explicitly tells its students that college is possible.