When Newsweek published its rankings of the nation’s best public high schools this spring, only one from Illinois made the top 50: Northside College Preparatory High School. (CPS’s best-performing selective enrollment high school, it was No. 28.) To get a sense of how Northside builds on the academic strength of its 1,100 students, just look around the campus: There’s a solar-heated swimming pool, an organic garden, and kids playing Quidditch on the school’s sports field—all part of Northside’s colloquium program.
The program, which is spreading to other CPS high schools, gives students an opportunity to study something outside the rigorous curriculum one day a week. Whether collecting water samples on Lake Michigan with EPA scientists or producing radio segments, the kids are “part of creating their own knowledge,” says Barry Rodgers, Northside’s principal. The idea? To ignite these academic high achievers, who, like other teenagers, can get bored with school. Says Rodgers: “Inspiration is what takes them to the next level.”
Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp