(page 1 of 5)
ALAIN LOCKE CHARTER ACADEMY
3141 West Jackson Boulevard
In case you’re wondering, the squirming, giggling youngsters in the prekindergarten classrooms at Alain Locke Charter Academy in East Garfield Park will start college in the year 2023.
Outside the door of every classroom at this highly regarded ten-year-old charter school, a sign announces the year the students in that grade will start (or in later grades, complete) college. And if that doesn’t make the point that Locke and its teachers are grooming all its students—whose parents are largely low-income folks who did not attend college—for academic success, each classroom is named for an upper-tier college or university and a historically black school. For instance, the sixth-grade classroom is known as Harvard/Howard.
Is there an element of overkill here? Not according to Locke’s principal, Lennie Jones. “You have to kind of turbocharge it when you’re trying to counteract something that you know is really harming children,” she says. “We have to counterbalance the general lack of exposure in the family to the idea that there is a greater world out there and that these children can reach it if they work toward the goal.”
Locke, named for a pioneering African American scholar who died in 1954, has the hallmarks of a good charter school—high expectations, a rigorous academic program, and an extended school day and school year—and the high test scores that go with them. But the school also makes sure the kids receive a good look at the city and the world outside Garfield Park. “Experience-based learning” excursions have taken students to Ghana and England, and later this year students will visit Greece and Italy. (The trips are funded by philanthropic donations and fundraisers.) These are children, explains Gloria Woodson, Locke’s assistant principal, whose parents may venture no farther from their struggling neighborhood than when they travel to jobs in the Loop—and their circumstances have inscribed a small circle around their own aspirations. “Their children are getting a view of the larger world and they want a place in it,” Woodson says.
Locke’s founder, Pat Ryan Jr.—the son of the former Aon chief, who is now spearheading the city’s 2016 Olympics bid—grew up with all kinds of privileges, but he went on to become an inner-city teacher. “The people in this neighborhood want the same things for their kids that people of means want for ourselves,” he says, “but we’ve been given all the opportunities.”
STUDENTS PER TEACHER: 8 (Pre-K); 13 (K-4); 21 (5-8)
PERCENTAGE WHO MEET OR EXCEED STATE STANDARDS ON THE ILLINOIS STATE ACHIEVEMENT TEST (2007-08): 81.0
SNAPSHOT: Locke prepares low-income, inner-city kids for college by combining rigorous academics with a global outlook.