Lessons learned from visit to UIC College Prep

University of Illinois President Robert Easter (back, right), visits a UIC College Prep classroom Feb. 6 with Lon Kaufman, UIC vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost. Photo: Joshua Clark

After he graduated from high school in a small Texas border town, University of Illinois President Robert Easter said, “I was in no way prepared to go to a four-year institution.”

The contrast was striking Feb. 6 as Easter toured UIC College Prep, where 100 percent of graduates are accepted into four-year schools.

His visit started in a conference room where he asked the principal, Tressie McDonough, “Tell me about your students and their backgrounds.”

UIC College Prep, which opened in 2008, is one of the Noble network of charter schools, begun by two high school teachers in 1999 and now numbering 15 campuses, she said.

Her students’ ACT scores rank first among non-selective high schools in Chicago, McDonough said.

UIC College Prep’s mainly low-income student body is 67 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African American, 4 percent Asian, 3 percent white and 3 percent multicultural.

“Are there any particular career paths that you encourage?”, Easter asked.

“All students take four years of health sciences,” McDonough said.

With the aim of pursuing careers in the field, they take rotations on UIC’s campus in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, public health, nursing and applied health sciences.

Easter was accompanied by UIC vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost Lon Kaufman, and McDonough by her dean of operations, Maritza Torres.

Also present were Caryn Bills, associate chancellor, and James Lynn, deputy director of high school development.

The group next dropped in on a chemistry lab taught by Travis Grubbs. In this and other classes, nearly all students wore a dark blue or maroon UIC College Prep sweatshirt or polo shirt.

In Matt Karlan’s algebra class, the group was met by student Luis Diaz, a junior. By comparison to other high schools, he said, UIC College Prep “has a better culture, with very little favoritism, and the teachers are very engaged.”

The group also looked in on Kate Meixner’s health science class and listened a few minutes as Steve Sanders conducted members of honors band in practice.

Easter wrapped up his visit with a few more questions, such as, “Do you have a sports field?”

“No,” Torres replied, “but we use the PEB and have the gym.”

He also asked about drama.

“We have an acting club, and the music teacher puts on a full-blown musical every year,” Torres said.


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