Front the front line

“I’m getting to know my counselor, but how she supposed to write about me when she don’t know me?” I received this text message this weekend, and it reminds me of the other side of school turnaround – what’s actually happening to the students. I’m working to help a group of Chicago Public Schools high school seniors apply to leading colleges & universities across the country. Many of the students attend magnet or charter schools in the city, but some go to the traditional public high schools, and experience all the cons of a school in (or, in need of) turnaround. This particular student attends one of the (historically) worst high schools in the city that is in year-1 of a turnaround effort.

Over the summer, athletic fields were improved, facilities were updated, and much of the staff changed. This student now needs a recommendation from a teacher and a guidance counselor to complete her college applications. Luckily, she is close to her debate coach, but the guidance counselor is brand new. Due to this program’s deadlines, college applications are due this Saturday. That gives a guidance counselor less than three weeks from the start of the school year to meet and get to know all students affiliated with this program – while also dealing with all of the other responsibilities of a counselor during the first few weeks of school.

This student has endured and survived one of the toughest schools in the city and she wants to go to college. This program will help her access colleges, universities, and potential scholarships, but she still needs the support of her teachers and counselors. When teachers are hired/fired/moved, students are shifted into small schools, and an administration is changed over the summer, how does this effect the students? In the long-run, students will likely receive better educations and opportunities, but what about the seniors? These students are so close to graduating (with or without the skills they should have), but what is the transition plan when all these changes take place over the summer? How do these changes negatively impact the opportunities for the students that are so close to making it out of the system (and succeeding despite the system)?

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