Eye-Opening Opportunities in the Windy City

Garfield Boulevard is notorious as the major artery that cuts through some of Chicago’s most violent gang territory. Garfield Boulevard also runs right by the Dewey School of Excellence, a Pre-K to 8th-grade school. As a commuter school, most parents pick up their kids by car, or ride the bus home, with a quick stop at a gas station or convenience store to grab dinner. Few students walk if they can help it. For a student wanting to avoid the gang members posted on the surrounding streets in the Englewood neighborhood that Garfield Blvd. cuts through, stepping outside the school doors can be fraught. In fact, Dewey was under consideration for closure for underperformance, but Chicago Public Schools feared that closing it would force students into neighboring schools, where the local gangs would either make trouble for the influx of Dewey kids or recruit and initiate them.

Instead, in 2013, CPS turned over Dewey to AUSL (Academy for Urban School Leadership), a Chicago nonprofit school management organization that creates schools of excellence by developing highly effective teachers and transforming educational outcomes for students in the lowest-performing schools.

As part of the turnaround process, AUSL invited ASAS to join their team at Dewey in 2015. There were two things of paramount importance that the new school leadership asked for help with 1) keeping kids safe and 2) bringing more STEM opportunities to the kids.

Parents were overjoyed to find out that the program was starting up. In fact, the 120 slots were quickly snapped up, and a wait list of over 70 kids developed. With 370 kids at Dewey, there was a great need to ensure that as many kids as possible could benefit. To give all the kids the chance to participate, the ASAS staff and school leadership developed a lottery system that enabled students to attend for one semester at a time. Cooking, drumline, robotics, yoga, physical education, social-emotional learning, financial literacy and career exploration classes quickly filled up.

One student, Melissa, was particularly excited about the push for more STEM programming. Melissa joined the afterschool robotics class and her participation in the class fueled her appetite and aptitude for more STEM learning. Her afterschool program helped develop her STEM skills to such a degree that she began leading some of the activities in the robotics with her peers. The benefits also spilled over and had helped her excel in her core day science classes. She recently designed a robot that allows individuals who are visually impaired. For the past two years, Melissa has excelled in the ASAS STEM programming. After learning to code and building robots, Melissa hopes to become a computer programmer.

The benefits of the AUSL partnership aren’t just limited to what students experience on campus. They have had the opportunity to visit diverse businesses across the city, opening their eyes to the careers and opportunities outside their neighborhood. Field trips that take students throughout greater Chicago have been critical, enabling students to understand that their world need not be limited to the dangerous streets they currently call home. They can envision a career at Microsoft, the Big Ten Networks or MetroPCS after immersive and informative visits to each company.

For Dewey’s students, Garfield Boulevard doesn’t define them. Instead, it’s driving them to go far beyond the bounds of what they previously thought was possible and to create a long-term vision for themselves and their community.