Meet Amundsen Special Education Teacher Benjamin Craig

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Amundsen and Lake View high schools.

Q: What’s something few people know about you?

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A: Amundsen was not my first teaching position. I taught in Tallahassee, Florida; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Marathon, Florida; and Ft. Myers, Florida, before returning to Chicago with my wife. 

Q: What brought you to your current position? What do you like best about it?

A: I’m currently a special education teacher for Amundsen’s cluster program. What I like best about teaching in the cluster program is the incredible students I get to work with every day. We have the opportunity to focus on community-based instruction, and this allows us to explore Chicago with our students. 

Q: What was your own high school like? How was it similar or different to the school where you work?

A: I attended Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. It is a small public high school with a college preparatory focus and wonderful sports programs. It is similar to Amundsen in that it has incredible teachers who are invested in their students’ successes.

Q: What’s one thing you wish people know about your school?

A: Amundsen has one of the best and most dedicated staffs I’ve ever worked with. I’ve had the opportunity to work in seven different high schools throughout my career, and Amundsen is unique because of the support of your fellow teachers. We are a family here.

Q: Please share one of the best moments you’ve had working at this school. 

A: One of the best moments I’ve had at Amundsen is getting involved with Special Olympics. The students, coaches, parents, and families that support the program at Amundsen are amazing. Starting in 2014, the program has grown every year and constantly reminds me of our remarkable students.   

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting out at your school?

A: High school is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Start out strong, stay organized, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

-Ferris Bueller


Coffee Chat with GROW High School Parents Amy Smolensky and Lauren DeJulio Bell

Coffee Chat with GROW High School Parents Amy Smolensky and Lauren DeJulio Bell

By Brady K. Jones

I am the mother of two very young children—two and four. As I commute to work or push them around our neighborhood in our huge double stroller, I often run into high school students from Lake View and Amundsen hanging out in parks, eating at restaurants, or walking to and from class. I am always curious about what the schools and students are like, and I know our own high school decisions will come more quickly than I can believe. I was thrilled, then, to have the opportunity to sit down recently with Amy Smolensky, a communications consultant, and Lauren DeJulio Bell, an instructor at UIC, to talk about their children’s experiences at our two GROW high schools.

The Journey to GROW Schools

 Lake View parent Amy Smolensky

Lake View parent Amy Smolensky

Amy is the mother of Nathan and Leo, both Lake View students. Lauren is a mother of four, and her oldest son, Matthew, just started as a freshman at Amundsen. I asked the two to describe how their children chose these schools—what their journeys to Lake View and Amundsen were like.

Both parents explained that the choice to attend a GROW high school was a combination of parental guidance and their sons’ preferences. Both Amy and Lauren have experience in and commitment to neighborhood schools as well as hesitations about selective enrollment high schools. They shared these values in conversations with their kids—then they both stepped back. They gave their children a chance to visit high schools they were interested in, encouraged their children to consider what they wanted out of their high school experience, and let them make their own decisions.

They are thrilled with the choices Nathan, Leo, and Matthew have made. Both of Amy’s children chose Lake View, while Matthew opted for Amundsen. Amy and Lauren tout the warm, familial atmospheres of the schools, the emphasis on social/emotional growth, the experienced teachers, and the extra time their sons have with family and friends because they chose a neighborhood high school rather than one across the city.

“My boys aren’t spending hours commuting to and from school, which gives them more time in their day to spend with friends and family, get homework done, and to simply relax,” says Amy. “With practices and extracurriculars after school, I have much more peace of mind knowing they are only 10 minutes away and can be home by 5:30 or 6 p.m. instead of on a bus or train at 8 or 9.”

The two mothers also share a strong belief that neighborhood high schools can be top options. For both families, these neighborhood high schools were their first choice, not a Plan B. Amy explains, “CPS Elementary schools used to be considered subpar, but then parents started getting involved and the schools flourished. I’m a big believer that that didn’t happen by accident. We’re sort of at a time now where that’s bubbling up to high schools. Selective enrollment has become a really stressful process. It became an expectation that everyone had to go, and people didn’t feel like there were any alternatives. But we have really good alternatives. Most schools have really good things about them and downsides about them. But in general, high school is high school. I’ve always told my children, wherever you go, it’s what you make of it.”

 Amundsen parent Lauren DeJulio Bell

Amundsen parent Lauren DeJulio Bell

Lauren adds that it is her strong belief that when parents invest in their neighborhood schools, they give their families a deep sense of community. She recounts, “My son could’ve gone to selective enrollment, but it was ultimately his decision to go to Amundsen. I asked him to think about what was important to him in high school, aside from academics and extracurricular activities, and he said he really wanted to make good friends. He said it was a family feel when he walked into Amundsen. He likes that it’s diverse in terms of abilities and in terms of cultures. I think it comes down to where your own child feels best.”

The School Year So Far

Amy and Lauren’s freshmen sons are adjusting quickly to their new schools. Amy’s son Leo has the benefit of an older brother already at Lake View as well as a “critical mass” of friends from his elementary school. And Lauren describes Matthew’s transition as “seamless.” He attended Amundsen’s orientation as well as its Freshman Connection Program, which allowed him to start meeting teachers and students and connected him early with potential extracurricular programs. He was even offered a midsummer spot playing on Amundsen’s baseball team and started cross country practice before the school year officially began. Amy’s sons are also involved in sports, and last year Nathan participated in Innovation Academy, a club focused on problem solving and technology. When I spoke to Amy and Lauren, the boys were preparing to participate in Homecoming.

Final Words of Wisdom

I asked Amy and Lauren to share any final words of wisdom with parents anticipating the high school decision-making process. Again, the two moms were likeminded.

“No matter what everybody says,” Lauren advised, “make the decision that’s best for you and your family. You’ll get a lot of feedback and suggestions from others, but go with what you feel is best. And go and see what’s happening in the schools. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Have the kids do the shadow days and see what’s happening. And talk to teachers in the different buildings. Talk to staff members. Talk to students. That’ll give you a true sense of what it’s like. You can’t just assume good or bad things without this interaction.”

Amy agreed, and added, “Don’t discount your neighborhood school. I think for a large population of people, it’s not even on their radar. Just go there. Do a shadow day. Having your kid spend some time in the school as an 8th grader is a great opportunity. It teaches them what high school is like, not just Lake View or Amundsen. And don’t make the decision life or death. It’s high school. Wherever your kid goes, they’re going to find their place. And wherever they go isn’t going to determine their lot in life. It’s going to help them develop as people no matter what.”

Brady K. Jones is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at The University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. She lives in Ravenswood with her husband, two children and exuberant dog. Brady loves traveling, reading, movies, coffee and the city of Chicago.


Wrap-Up: GROWCommunity High School Fair 2018

The GROWCommunity High School Fair was Thursday, October 11, at Amundsen High School. Here's a sampling of the sights with Lake View and Amundsen!

Thank you to everyone who attended, participated and helped organize the fair!

Meet Lake View English Teacher Karen Krausen-Ferrer

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

Karen Krausen-Ferrer LVHS English Teacher.jpeg

What college did you attend?

A: I took the long route through college. I started at Clark University in Massachusetts and after two years dropped out. I moved back to my home of Los Angeles, where I attended a couple of community colleges before transferring to University of California Los Angeles, UCLA. After I finished college I attended grad school twice, at Long Island University Brooklyn in New York and at California State University Dominguez Hills in California. 

What did you study?

A: At UCLA, I was a Women's Studies major with a concentration in LGBT Studies. At Long Island University Brooklyn, I received a M.S. in Adolescent Special Education, and finally at California State Dominguez Hills, I got my M.A. in Educational Administration. 

Why did you choose teaching?

A: I chose teaching because at a time in my life when I was trying on many different careers, a good friend suggested I could be good at teaching. She set me up with a day at her school to visit multiple classes. I had a really meaningful experience, and it was during that time that I decided to be a teacher. I had never considered it before, and I am grateful for having had that opportunity. 

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View High School?

A: I teach English I, II, and IV; they are for grades 9, 10, and 12.

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? 

A: I sponsor SAGA, the Sexualities and Genders Alliance. It is a space where all students are welcome and everyone is accepted for who they are. Recently, in honor of World AIDS Day, we had a presenter come from Lurie Children's Hospital to give a lesson on the history of AIDS activism, education, and prevention. The young people were really excited and turned the event into a Health Education Service Learning Project.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: It can feel very different because of technology, but also feels just the same. With social media, everything just happens so fast! When I was in high school it would take a minute for rumors to spread; now it takes like a nano second. Aside from the technology, though, I will say, it feels the same because both to me in high school and to a typical high school student today, what's most important are friends, friends, friends! I cared about school and college, but mostly I just wanted to be with my friends.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View?

A: I really like the students the most. They are a really fun group of young people; they make me laugh all the time. I also really enjoy working with the other teachers. Everyone is so dedicated to their students and the school. It's great to work in a community like Lake View.

Q: What are Lake View's greatest strengths?

A: Our greatest strengths at Lake View are the students. They work hard and are caring and compassionate.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View?

A: A great moment I had as a teacher this year was when we were discussing the main character from Flight, a novel by Sherman Alexie. The students were debating if the character was real or magical, and listening to them discuss the novel, I realized I had never thought about the character in the same way. I was blown away by their analysis of him and by their constant referencing of the text to debate one another. The students are really the center of my classroom, and on that day (like many days), they taught me something new.

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Lake View? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: My advice would be to keep an open mind and get involved with what the school has to offer. There are a variety of clubs, sports, great music, and art programs, and there are annual international trips over breaks. I would also say, remember that high school is different, it takes a while to adjust to the expectations. There is a lot more independence and responsibility.


Meet Lake View Teacher Katherine Thiele

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

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A: I attended Illinois Wesleyan University and majored in English and Secondary Education. Three years into teaching, I began my Masters in Reading at Northeastern University and am a Reading Specialist. I also taught the AVID program my third year of teaching, which has shaped my teaching style. My fifth-year teaching, I became National Board Certified in English. My ninth year of teaching, I received my Health and Physical Education endorsements. This is my 14th year teaching and 11th year at Lake View.

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View?

A: I used to teach senior Honors English IV and junior Reading Language Arts, but now I teach freshmen Health and senior honors Senior Leaders, and a senior Physical Education class. I love talking about books and helping students become better writers for college, but wearing sweatpants to work every day is pretty great too.

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: I coach cross country and track and field, basically year-round. When I was training for my first Ironman triathlon, the track coach approached me about assistant coaching the distance runners, and I became hooked. Coaching provides a whole new dynamic with the students and improves my rapport with all of my kids. Highlights include seeing my seniors on the team go off to 4-year colleges. My most committed athletes are usually my most academically driven.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: I was a high school athlete, balancing honors classes, work, and practice. I see my kids balancing homework with sports, and I relate to my own high school experience in that way.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View?

A: I like how joyous and charismatic students are at Lake View. They have been though many challenges, and I value supporting students in any way possible. Having been at Lake View for a while now, I love having younger siblings in classes years later. It is fun to meet different kids from the same family. I also love when students come back to visit and hearing about all the amazing things they are doing.

Q: What are Lake View's greatest strengths?

A: Lake View's greatest strength is its students. They are very diverse and from almost every area of Chicago. Students take the CTA from near and far, and their various backgrounds provide the school with a wonderful group of kids from everywhere.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View?

A: I cannot give one great moment, because the greatest moments have happened with multiple students, multiple times. My great moments in teaching usually stem from kids coming from difficult backgrounds but overcoming the odds through hard work and support. Lake View has an amazing CARE team who targets struggling students with the idea that all students can be successful when provided the proper supports. Being a small part of a homeless student's journey to college, helping a student be the first in their family to be a senior in high school, or writing a recommendation letter for a student so they can be accepted to the university of their dreams makes for pretty fulfilling days.

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Lake View? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: The way to get the most out of Lake View or any high school is to be involved and connected. Whether it is a club or a sport, the more students join, the more connection and motivation they feel in their day. Clubs and sports teach character and time management. They expand students' networks and provide a larger safety net of support, so no matter what challenges they are facing in their lives, they have a large group of people that care about getting them back on track. 

Meet Lake View Math Teacher Matt Rosenberg

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

Quick questions:

  • What college did you attend? University of Michigan
  • What did you study? Mathematics and Philosophy
  • Why did you choose teaching? Love of Mathematics and working with students.

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View? 

A: Sophomore Geometry

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: I sponsor the Lake View Math Team, which competes against schools across the city in monthly math competitions. We have a team of extremely bright students that love learning about advanced math topics. Our Geometry team is currently ranked 2nd place out of 19 in our division.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: I think the largest difference is size. I was in a much smaller high school and as a result didn't have access to as many amazing teachers, after school clubs or sports. Lake View has so much to offer students that it can be hard to keep track of everything!

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View? 

A: I love that I get a chance to work with an awesome group of students that come from all over the city.

Q: What are Lake View's greatest strengths? 

A: I would have to say that our dedicated staff and our amazing students are our greatest strengths. Staff members push themselves everyday to bring top notch lessons to our students and are constantly seeking out learning opportunities and resources to enrich their classrooms. Every day I find myself learning new things from colleagues about how to best approach a new lesson or how to improve an instructional practice of mine.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View? 

A: I have many fond memories of teaching at Lake View, but it always makes me most proud when students return to Lake View after graduating to share their amazing accomplishments. Just the other day, a student visited who will be graduating this spring with an engineering degree from U of I. It was awesome to hear that he went on to use the Math he learned at Lake View to find his passion.

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Lake View? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: Reach out to your teachers if you need any help. They are here to help you learn and grow. Never be afraid to ask a question when you need extra help.

Get involved in a club or a sport! There are a ton of great opportunities at Lake View that will help you grow as an individual, meet new friends and become part of the Lake View community.

Stay on top of your work! The transition to high school can be difficult with so much new stuff; keep up to date on your work so you don't get overwhelmed!


Meet Amundsen Director of Orchestras Sean Reidy

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Amundsen and Lake View high schools.

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Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far? What college did you attend? What did you study?

A: I attended the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University for my bachelor's in music performance, MMED Vandercook after that. I was a jazz performance major (upright bass) for my bachelor's. We basically played all day; it was amazing. For my master's degree, I studied all things music, attaining K-12 certification in Band, Chorus and Orchestra. I recently quit bartending after 12 years and was a full-time carpenter for the six years between my degrees. The reason I mention that is because it taught me the discipline and patience I needed to become a teacher.

Q: Why did you choose teaching?

A: Why teaching? I've always had a chip on my shoulder; I remember as a performance major in college, the education major students were often scoffed at...the famous Woody Allen quote (those who, those who can't...teach...those who can't teach...teach gym). I always thought that was elitist, because my mom was a teacher for 20 years. CPS wasn't my "second choice"; I got my master's on the south side and immediately felt a connection to the system. 

Q: What classes do you teach at Amundsen?

A: I teach beginning orchestra, IB orchestra and advanced orchestra. Literally on my feet all day.

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: I run a service learning project that mentors students at Chappell Elementary every Wednesday. My advanced players become "Viking Buddies" with Chappell students and help them. The program is called the Amundsen String Ambassadors. This year I sponsored (and won) a grant via CPS Ingenuity and the Negaunee Music Institute of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The grant purchased over $10,000 in instruments for Chappell and enabled them to begin a full-time orchestra for all 4th graders. My goal is to utilize community high schools as a neighborhood "beacon" in order to replicate similar programs throughout the system. This replicates the suburban model, where access to a quality and complete music education begins at the 4th grade. For me that entails a robust, full-time offering of Band, Orchestra and Chorus.

Recent highlights: Starting a permanent orchestra is one of my proudest accomplishments ever. The grant also brought the CSO to perform at Amundsen last week and Civic Orchestra members (10 of them) will be mentoring our advanced players for a co-concert (Amundsen, Chappell and Civic Orchestra) on May 30. 

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: Most of my students come to me with very little formal music training. We start from the very beginning.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Amundsen?

A: It's very challenging, the kids keep me young, my co-workers are amazing. I really feel like I'm making a difference in the lives of these job really has nothing to do with music actually.

Q: What are Amundsen's greatest strengths?

A: Amundsen's greatest strength: Our diversity...the chip on our shoulder.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Amundsen?

A: Too many!

Q: What advice would you give to students just choosing Amundsen? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: Take advantage of all the collaborations, clubs and sports offered; this staff works very hard to provide incredible opportunities and experiences for students.   

An Evening with Amundsen and Lake View at Coonley Elementary, April 4, 2018

By Joe Alter

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Last week’s gathering at Coonley, one of the 17 GROWCommunity elementary schools, was a powerful testament to the demand for high-quality neighborhood high school options, not just in GROW’s community, but across the city.

On a brisk April school night evening, more than 375 prospective students and their parents, representing more than 30 public and private elementary schools, streamed into Coonley’s gym and multipurpose room eager to learn more about the first-class programming and offerings at GROW’s two anchor high schools, Amundsen and Lake View. Guests were welcomed by a team of volunteers decked out in blue GROWCommunity t-shirts.

Busloads — literally — of students and staff from Lake View and Amundsen set up a pop-up GROWCommunity neighborhood high school fair along the perimeter of Coonley’s gym and multipurpose room with informational tables, musical performances, robotic demonstrations, crafting stations and more.

In the gym, Lake View Principal Paul J. Karafiol touted the school’s college and career readiness metrics and his school’s comprehensive, school-wide commitment to STEM instruction and learning frameworks across all grades, subject areas and student abilities. In the multipurpose room, Amundsen Principal Anna Pavichevich explained the newly announced expansion of the school’s IB programme to make Amundsen a Wall-to-Wall IB school, benefiting the entire school community with a unified pedagogical approach grounded in inquiry, research and citizenship.

The buzz around both schools was palpable as the curious guests gathered around tables staffed by engaged and enthusiastic high school students, instructors and counselors. As I made my way around both sessions, I was able to speak with some parents and students, all of whom seemed impressed by what they saw.

Many families reported hearing about the event from their child’s elementary school. Others, like Ana Atanasio, a parent of a 7th grader at Pierce Elementary, found out through GROWCommunity’s Facebook page. Her daughter is interested in architecture and was eager to find out more about high school engineering opportunities.

Many parents shared that while they researched and considered a range of high schools, their kids just felt more comfortable at their neighborhood schools, and they were simultaneously confident in the academic rigor and depth of programming. Surveying the audience during her introductory remarks, Principal Pavichevich reflected on how much this embrace of neighborhood high schools means not just to Amundsen and Lake View, but to rising neighborhood schools across the city and the communities they serve.

The pictures say it all: a full house of inspiration, warmth, commitment and community investment in our dynamic neighborhood schools.

Joe Alter is a social work student, a research assistant at the Metropolitan Planning Council and a longtime GROWCommunity groupie. He lives in Rogers Park with his wife and son who is a second grader at New Field Elementary School.


Meet Amundsen Dean of Students and Athletic Director Demetrio Javier

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Amundsen and Lake View high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far? What college did you attend? What did you study? Why did you choose to work in K-12 education? What is your role at Amundsen?

Demetrio Javier AHS.JPG

A: So I started in CPS in 2004, I believe it was, shortly after getting out of the Marines. After several years, I made the decision to enroll in college to become a teacher. I started off at City Colleges of Chicago, then transferred to Northeastern where I went into a non-traditional degree program, because they credited me for my military service. This changed my teaching trajectory, as I ended up becoming a dean of discipline for a high school in the neighborhood I grew up in. I was there for a year before being asked to transition to Amundsen to become dean here. I managed to obtain my Masters in Educational Leadership online while here at Amundsen, and I am still working as Dean of Students while also now serving as the Athletic Director for three years. This is my sixth year here at Amundsen. 

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports? If so, please share a recent highlight.

A: While I don't coach any sports currently, I did coach girls bowling last school year. It was a great experience for me. The girls went undefeated for the season, won conference champs, and I was actually given a Coach of the Year award that season. I also was the Sociology Club sponsor for two years. This was also a great experience, as I was able to work with some amazing students that were very socially aware and wanted others to be as well. It was very enlightening.   

Q: What do you like best about working at Amundsen? What are Amundsen's greatest strengths?

A: I really enjoy the work I do. I feel as though my life's experiences have really allowed me to connect with students in ways that others are not always able to. The relationships that are established here at Amundsen are something that I feel is unique. Our staff as a whole is very nurturing and caring, allowing for students to feel connected and comfortable speaking to an adult about any issue. This is definitely something that I never had in my high school experience, and what I feel may be our biggest strength. We have an amazing school in so many ways, but when you have the supportive environment we have here, it really makes for a great high school experience for the kids and a great working environment for the adults. There is just so much to do here – so much to get involved in and be a part of. There is something for everyone. It's great. 

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had at Amundsen?

A; We have come a long way here at Amundsen. Six and a half years ago, when I arrived here, this was a school that had been on probation for many years. Things have definitely turned around, to where we are now a Level 1+ school. That is amazing and perhaps the greatest moment for me at this school. It was validation of the hard work and dedication that our staff and students had been working towards. We knew we were always great and had a great environment for teachers to teach and students to learn, but now we had the recognition for it.

In my pitch to prospective parents and students over the years, I would always say, "We are a hidden gem here...a diamond in the rough." We are no longer either. We are confident in what we have built here, and we are still working tirelessly on how we could make things even better.

Meet Lake View French Teacher Valerie Wadycki

This is part of a continuing series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far? What college did you attend? What did you study? Why did you choose teaching?

Valerie Wadycki LVHS.jpg

A: I attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where I studied French. During my time at U of I, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Paris. In addition to my classes at the Sorbonne, I held a part-time job teaching English in a French high school. This early experience in the classroom left an impression on me and reinforced my desire to teach. I’d be remiss not to mention that teaching is in my DNA as my mother was a CPS elementary school teacher and my father a professor at UIC.

Q: What classes do you teach at Lake View High School?

A: I currently teach French 2 and French 3/4, which is a split class. However, our World Language program is growing so we are looking to offer a full level 4 class next year, which is exciting.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: I graduated from Von Steuben so there are definite similarities I notice in my students’ experiences when thinking of my own. I ran in the same Cross Country meets at Horner Park in which my students now compete. Students still get excited over pizza parties or school dances and pep rallies. That has not changed. However, what really differs from my experience is the role of technology. No longer do students pass notes during class, as notes are now digital.

One story I always share with my students was the circumstance which led me to become a French teacher. When I was in high school, I signed up to take Spanish and got placed in French. My students have sometimes experienced this same scenario. The moral of the story, however, is to always keep an open mind. I ended up loving the language, the class and my teacher, so you never know what life will bring you when you are open to it.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View High School?

A: It’s really difficult to pinpoint which aspect of teaching at Lake View is the best. I wake up every morning happy to come to work. I look forward to working with our students who never cease to impress me. On an academic level, I am proud when I see my students taking risks and getting out of their comfort zone using French. On a personal level, my students shine as they are respectful, thoughtful and fun to be around. I must also acknowledge my colleagues, as I work with a wonderful team of teachers who embrace collaboration and are extremely supportive. Not everyone gets to work with their friends, and it’s a real perk.

Q: What are Lake View High School's greatest strengths?

A: I think the leadership at Lake View is one of our greatest strengths. As a teacher I feel both supported and challenged to push my practice further. Our administration has implemented so many positive initiatives like the STEM program and the Innovation Academy. They are leading the way in expanding Advanced Placement and Dual Credit course offerings. Finally, they’ve forged partnerships with universities, corporations and our local community.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View High School?

A: One particularly great moment I’ve had as a Lake View teacher was when one of my students arrived to class beaming ear to ear with a letter in his hand. He handed me the letter and (with his permission) I read it to the class as they burst into applause. It announced that he was receiving scholarship money to continue his French studies in college.

Meet Lake View Social Studies Teacher Kristin Erickson Hu

This is the first in a series of Q&A interviews with the people of Lake View and Amundsen high schools.


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

A: After college, I taught for two years in Iowa, and then moved to Hong Kong for four years and taught at American International School. Since returning to the States I have taught World Studies, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Political Science, Civics and AP Psychology at Lake View High School. I am also a National Board Certified Teacher.

Quick questions:

  • What college did you attend? Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa
  • What did you study? History and Secondary Education
  • What classes do you teach at Lake View? Honors Civics and AP Psychology

Q: Why did you choose teaching? 

A: I'm a 4th generation teacher! Teaching is in my blood. I love seeing students grow in their understanding of the world.

Q: Do you sponsor or coach any clubs or sports?

A:  I am involved with Club RISE, which is dedicated to raising awareness about immigration issues at Lake View. We are soon hosting an immigration lawyer who will meet with students to talk about why she chose to be a lawyer and how she advocates for immigrants on a daily basis.

Q: How do you see your students' high school experiences as similar to or different from your own?

A: I grew up in the suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin. My peers were almost all white. Students at Lake View are lucky to interact with people from all ethnic backgrounds and develop a view of the world that is informed by this diversity.

Q: What do you like best about teaching at Lake View? 

A: I love LVHS students. Recently, at an assembly, a speaker from DePaul was sharing his personal story with the whole school. At one point the speaker became overcome by emotion and a student behind me shouted, “You're doing great!” and began applauding. The whole school clapped to encourage him to continue. I am continuously impressed by the kindness and empathy of our Lake View students. 

Q: What are Lake View's greatest strengths? 

A: Lake View provides an excellent education in a diverse environment. Lake View students are also exceptionally kind, empathetic and welcoming. At Lake View, we have a strong offering of AP courses through which students can earn college credit. Classroom and extracurricular activities connect them to opportunities outside of school to make a difference in this world.

Q: Can you describe one particularly great moment you've had as a teacher at Lake View? 

A: We hosted a survivor of the Rwandan genocide to speak with our Holocaust and Genocide Studies classes. Students actively engaged with him to understand his experience and to learn how Rwanda is facilitating reconciliation after the genocide. We also have taken field trips to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie and the Cambodian Genocide Memorial on Lawrence Avenue.

Q: What advice would you give to students choosing Lake View? How can they get the most out of their high school years there?

A: Get involved with clubs, sports and activities and work hard to do well in your classes. You will treasure the friendships you make here and grow in your understanding of Chicago, the United States and the world. 



Spotlight On: Amundsen Girls Into Engineering Dyson Club

By Brady K. Jones

It’s a Thursday in early February, and members of Amundsen High School’s Girls Into Engineering Dyson Club are building cardboard chairs, marble runs and geodesic domes in preparation for the upcoming Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, sponsored by the James Dyson Foundation, an Amundsen partner.


Two weeks later, the high school is abuzz with activity. Mayor Rahm Emanuel kicks off a press conference celebrating the day, joined by Amundsen students, 40th Ward Alderman Patrick O’Connor, CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade and representatives from Dyson and other Amundsen partners. In the gym, club members huddle over tables and wrestle with cardboard boxes, designing, planning and building alongside 5th-, 6th- and 7th-grade students from Gray Elementary and GROWCommunity elementary schools Budlong and Coonley. They talk them through each project: “What are you stumbling on?” one Amundsen student asks a young girl, and they both squint in concentration. The mother of another elementary school student observes her daughter engrossed in her work and whispers, “She’s going to remember this.”


The activities of the Girls Into Engineering Dyson Club are wide-ranging. In recent months, club members have built prototypes of devices like automatic pet feeders and watches that remind the elderly when to take their medication. They’ve visited the Museum of Science and Industry for inspiration. They judged a science fair at Coonley. They’ve competed in a bridge-building competition and fixed broken items by applying principles of reverse engineering.


The students work in a Maker Lab equipped with anything they might need, from toothpicks and tape to 3D printers. The walls are covered in posters with titles like “Manufacture it,” “Thinking on paper,” and “Build it, Break it.” It’s all supervised by Eman Sarhan, an 18-year veteran teacher who instructs physics and astronomy courses at Amundsen. Smiling, she stands in the back of the room, watching the girls in action.

The club’s evolution was “organic,” Sarhan explains. Back in 2015, Mayor Emanuel picked Amundsen to partner with the James Dyson Foundation—of vacuum cleaner fame—to develop a cutting-edge STEM curriculum. The resulting program includes a 4-year Design and Technology sequence, the Maker Lab, a classroom space, and $100,000 worth of engineering equipment for student use. A few freshmen girls taking Sarhan’s class became curious about the Dyson program and approached Sarhan about starting a club where they could complete the same projects as the upper-level engineering students.


Sarhan immediately said yes, and the new club began by meeting at lunch. As interest expanded beyond the first, core group of girls, Sarhan began to hold regular after-school sessions.

The students find new, exciting engineering challenges to pursue at every turn. For example, two teams from the club are currently participating in the Dyson Global Make-a-Thon. This project asks them to think of moments in life that are difficult or frustrating. Each Make-a-Thon team picks one such problem to share with collaborating students in Bath, England. The Amundsen teams’ problems become the Bath teams’ design challenges, and vice versa. The student engineers Skype regularly with their British counterparts, sharing progress, checking in and making product revisions.

“I don’t create the agenda,” Sarhan explains. “I’m there to help, but I let them lead. I want it to be what the girls want it to be.” In other words, rather than prescribing club activities, she simply gives the club time, space and resources to pursue their interests. “They just melt into the work. It’s very genuine. They really like it.” Club members echo this sentiment. One student said the concept of the design and engineering process “was new to me…I was really interested in it. Ms. S. made [me and my friend] admins of the club. We took leadership right away.”

Following students’ interests has resulted in a group of students with genuine enthusiasm for their work. One member reports, “I’m just really excited about this whole club. Now, this year I’m taking a computer science class, and everything’s kind of linking together. I’m just excited.” Another says she loves engineering because of the “challenge” it poses coupled with the chance to spend time with people she cares about in a supportive environment.


The club has already racked up some impressive successes. Members have placed in city-wide bridge-building competitions and state-wide science fairs. An upper-level student was recently accepted to a competitive chemical engineering program at University of Illinois at Chicago. Even when they don’t place, club members find these competitive experiences valuable. One student reports that at a recent competition, “The groups all socialized, and there wasn’t any tension. We all just felt like one team, even though we were working to win.”

The Girls Into Engineering Dyson Club is a classic example of the opportunities available at a high school big enough to offer a wealth of resources and small enough that a committed teacher can let students create something interesting, important and uniquely theirs.            

It also provides students the opportunity to design to make a real impact in their communities at a young age. As one club member put it: “You take an idea, and you get to shape it yourself. You think ‘this would make my life easier,’ and then you make it. That’s what technology is; it makes people’s lives easier.”

For more information on the Dyson program at Amundsen, see:

Brady K. Jones is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at The University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. She lives in Ravenswood with her husband, two children and exuberant dog. Brady loves traveling, reading, movies, coffee and the city of Chicago.

Spotlight On: Lake View Debate Team

By Brady K. Jones

On a gray December afternoon, the members of the Lake View High School Debate Team aren’t hurrying home or dreaming about the upcoming winter break. They’re gathered in Coach Daniel Bender’s cheerful classroom, passing around peanut butter cookies and discussing strategy for an upcoming competition.


The team’s practice is alive with conversation. Freshmen and seniors alike quiz, challenge and talk over each other. They toss around words like “hegemony,” “solvency,” “counterargument,” “neoliberalism,” “institutional racism” and “nihilist” and nimbly discuss current events and specific state and federal policies.

Coach Bender, a first-year teacher, started the team at the beginning of this school year and heads it up along with Coach August Wissmath. Both have backgrounds in debate and mock trial and felt Lake View students would benefit from the activity. This year, the team will compete in at least five tournaments, preparing for a single event called “Policy Debate.” This challenging event requires competitors to understand, in detail, both affirmative and negative arguments for a particular policy proposal. In competitions, students speak in 5-to-8-minute increments about the topic, alternating with their opponent, and endure a cross-examination of their arguments. The structure of the event necessitates that they speak extemporaneously and at length, exploring their topic from all angles and responding to their competitors in real time.

The new club is already making its mark. Bender reports, “It's been a wild ride, but we are very much proud of where we've come in such a short time and where we feel LVHS Debate can go in the future.”

At an early tournament, the team placed eighth out of a field of about 25. At another competition, one of their particularly dedicated freshmen won the “speaker award,” placing first in a field of about 60. And at their most recent debate, two of the Lake View debaters placed in the top 16 in individual speaker awards and as a pair came in third overall out of 30 teams.

Bender and Wissmath coach students to understand, inside and out, the core concepts they are asked to discuss—no rote memorization of talking points for this team. At one practice, for example, Wissmath worked with students to prepare them for a debate on a proposal to devote more funding to vocational training programs. He quizzed each student on federalism, asking for a definition, for details on specific aspects of the philosophy and for reflections on how it would play out in specific circumstances.


In moments like these, team members are asked to think on their feet, to be prepared for any question at any time. When they falter, they’re corrected, encouraged and helped along by the others. The coaches and students alike also puzzle out difficult concepts and approaches together, as equals, tackling the tasks of building knowledge and deciding on a strategy. There’s a feeling in the room that everyone has both something to contribute and some way in which they can improve.

Bender, describing his students’ experiences on the new team, explains, “Students are incredibly observant of the world around them, and often very opinionated. Our debate team helps them to focus their ideas into logically concise statements and then anticipate their opponents' responses, thus turning argumentation into an exciting verbal chess match. Some of our students joined Debate skeptical of its value, only to genuinely relish the thrill of going toe-to-toe against other debaters at judged tournaments.”

The students themselves point to a variety of reasons for joining the team. Many feel that Debate Team prepares them for college and career. Understanding current events and politics, thinking on one’s feet, quickly and accurately identifying the most important points a speaker is making, and expressing oneself articulately under pressure are all skills honed at each practice and every competition.

At the same time, they express a deep enjoyment of the activity, and their investment in the team is obvious. One student explained how she squeezes in Debate Team among a full schedule of after-school activities, including track and field and martial arts. Others specialize in Debate, throwing all of their extracurricular weight behind it.

Whatever their other commitments, no one at practice is in a hurry to leave, and the team is absorbed in its work. The students stride around the room. They write ideas on the blackboard, work together to untangle difficult concepts and refine their phrasing. They propose extra practices and nudge a busy student, making sure she plans to attend the upcoming tournament. Bender pulls out a relevant newspaper article, and they huddle around, teasing out its meaning and implications. When the coaches end practice, no one leaves the room; they all hang out, chatting and joking. “We’re like family here,” one team member tells me.


The Lake View Debate Team exemplifies the wide-ranging benefits of high school extracurricular activities. It’s one where intellectual curiosity and social awareness are valued. Where demands are high but members can struggle and make mistakes and improve in a warm and encouraging environment. Where students push each other, but have fun. Where a serious conversation about racism is lightened by a wadded-up piece of paper lobbed alley-oop style to the trash can. And where coaches skillfully guide students to consider how high-level societal debates play out on the ground-level, for young people like them. It’s the kind of place we all wish we had in high school – where students build relationships with each other, develop the skills that will serve them as they move into adulthood and have the space and guidance they need to think through the big, important ideas that will shape the world they live in.

Brady K. Jones is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at The University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. She lives in Ravenswood with her husband, two children and exuberant dog. Brady loves traveling, reading, movies, coffee and the city of Chicago.

GROW Year in Review 2017

GROW Yard Signs Collage.jpg

The season's the reason...

As we look back on this past year, we're reminded how GROW parents and neighbors, GROW partners, GROW school leaders, GROW teachers, and of course our inspiring GROW students reached for the stars and set an example for families and educators across the city to embrace their neighborhood schools.

There were so many exciting developments for GROW and our community of schools in 2017.

Here are just some of the highlights!


 Lake View Principal, Paul J. Karafiol

Lake View Principal, Paul J. Karafiol

We began the year welcoming Paul J. Karafiol as Lake View High School's new contract principal, a vote of confidence in his effective leadership as the school’s interim principal. 


We took GROW on the road and hosted “An Evening with Amundsen and Lake View High Schools" on March 7 at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy. We had around 300 students and parents from more than 25 different public and private elementary schools, and attendees spanned the grades, from 8th grade down.

GROWCommunity joined a growing chorus of educators and researchers advocating for strong neighborhood schools. We participated in an event hosted by Generation All called "Perceptions V. Reality: What To Consider When Choosing a CPS High School.” University of Chicago Consortium on School Research director Elaine Allensworth shared the Consortium finding that high-achieving non-selective high schools (including neighborhood high schools) are on par with selective high schools when it comes to "taking Honors/AP classes, time on homework, attendance, sense of belonging at the school, standardized test scores, graduation rates, college enrollment, college persistence." We’ll continue to take that message out into the community. Check out Generation All’s recap of the evening.

Injecting fun into fundraising, Friends of Amundsen’s Celebrity Bar Night fundraiser was a huge showing of support for Amundsen sports and clubs at Rojo Gusano Restaurant.


April saw the launch of the GROWCommunity Ambassador Program, a new initiative to help facilitate our work with GROW's 17 elementary schools and two neighborhood high schools, Amundsen and Lake View. Thank you, GROW Ambassadors!


GROWCommunity, along with Amundsen and Lake View Local School Council community representatives, co-hosted an On the Table dinner in the Amundsen library. This event brought together a mix of GROW community members, parents and educators for an insightful and productive conversation about our neighborhood schools, which culminated in an Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust for our GROWCommunity Gardens

 GROW On the Table event held at Amundsen High School

GROW On the Table event held at Amundsen High School


June brought the fantastic news of renewed and increased support for GROWCommunity from A Better Chicago, a venture philanthropy organization that supports high-performing local education nonprofits. A Better Chicago’s commitment has allowed us to launch a range of first-time outreach activities bridging our elementary and high school communities, to deepen our partnership with UChicago Impact at the University of Chicago to provide professional learning for school improvement, to establish the organizational building blocks for a strong community-driven nonprofit, and much more.

 Lake VIew weight room

Lake VIew weight room

GROW schools continue to attract and nurture enriching partnerships: Lake View High School announced a new partnership with Northwestern University and debuted a renovated weight room, thanks to support from Cubs Charities, and a new maker space with support from Friends of Lake View.

 amundsen engineering lab

amundsen engineering lab


Amundsen's partnership with The James Dyson Foundation expanded to include a new engineering lab and engineering curriculum. Read an article about the partnership, and watch the video.


 Trivia winners!

Trivia winners!


We hosted GROWCommunity Trivia Night at A. J. Hudson's Public House.

GROW high schools in the news:

  • Both Amundsen and Lake View were featured in articles on social-emotional learning in CPS: Amundsen in The Christian Science Monitor and Lake View in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
  • Lake View's valedictorian shared her inspiring story on NBC 5 Chicago. Also check out the DNAinfo article about her story and this Instagram post by a local journalist.
  • Lake View's Social Justice Club created Facing the Divide, an outreach program including an exchange with a high school in rural Blanchardville, WI. The program was featured on WBEZ.
  • ICYMI: Check out the WBEZ story featuring Amundsen and Lake View and the swell of community support for our outstanding neighborhood high schools.


All Saints' Episcopal Church included GROWCommunity in its September back-to-school education panel, part of its annual Backpack Blessing. GROWCommunity executive director, Sarah Makela, moderated the discussion with a panel of CPS arts educators. 


 Grow/northcenter high school fair at Lake View

Grow/northcenter high school fair at Lake View

We kicked off October with a successful GROW/Northcenter High School Fair at Lake View organized by GROW elementary counselors. More than 300 middle-school students and parents had an opportunity to visit with Lake View, Amundsen and other exhibiting high schools and to hear from Lake View principal PJ Karafiol and Amundsen principal Anna Pavichevich. There were also presentations about the new GoCPS high school application and the GROWCommunity Enrollment Policy -- that eighth grade students from any of the GROW elementary schools who apply to Amundsen or Lake View through GoCPS will be guaranteed admission, regardless of where they live.


Amundsen celebrated earning the highest CPS rating of Level 1+. "This isn't something neighborhood schools don't or can't do," Amundsen Principal Anna Pavichevich told DNAinfo. "It shows we're competitive, it shows our students are capable of achieving at the highest level." 

Wrapping up October, GROWCommunity, along with students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members, planted more than 1,500 spring bulbs at Amundsen and Lake View high schools as part of our Community Gardens Event.

 Gardening at Lake View

Gardening at Lake View

 Gardening at Amundsen

Gardening at Amundsen


GROWCommunity hosted a webinar about the GROWCommunity Enrollment Policy for GROW 8th grade families to learn more about applying through GoCPS.


In a galaxy (not so) far far away…Friends of Lake View launched its first fundraising initiative, partnering with the Davis Theater for exclusive opening-weekend showings of Star Wars: The Last Jedi to benefit Lake View High School. Chicago Cubs Charities generously matched $25,000 raised at this event. Don't miss the hilarious Lake View student-produced video teaser here.

Here’s to keeping GROW growing in 2018!

And as we look forward to the new year, there’s still so much we can do. And we can’t do it alone. GROW is fueled by your passion and creativity for developing a seamless K-12 system of public neighborhood schools that are the top educational choices for families in our community. Stay involved. Donate a few bucks. Share your ideas. Grab a lawn sign or two. Recruit your neighbors. Share this year in review!

Learn More: GROW Enrollment Policy Webinar

GROW Webinar Screen Shot.png

GROWCommunity is working to support a seamless K-12 system in our community anchored around Amundsen High School and Lake View High School, neighborhood high schools that offer exceptional educational opportunities for students. Eighth grade students from any of the GROW elementary schools who apply to Amundsen or Lake View through GoCPS will be guaranteed admission, regardless of where they live.

On November 6, Hamilton Elementary Counselor, Lynda Gardner, and GROWCommunity Executive Director, Sarah Makela, hosted a webinar walking prospective 8th grade GROW families through the process of accessing Lake View and Amundsen seats through the GoCPS application. Reminder: The GoCPS application deadline is December 22, 2017.

A recording of this webinar is now available for anyone to watch at their convenience. The webinar provides an overview of the GROW enrollment policy, GoCPS basics, GoCPS information specific to the GROW enrollment policy, and resources for more information. A written resource is available here.

We are excited that all students graduating from the GROW elementary schools have the opportunity to attend Amundsen or Lake View, two great options from which to choose.

Take a Look at Us Now!

Amundsen and Lake View alumni thank their neighborhood high schools for providing the tools to succeed in college

By Peggy Herrington

As Chicago eighth-graders navigate the new GoCPS site this fall to apply for high school, GROWCommunity wanted to remind Northside families about the unique benefits and strengths of their neighborhood high school options. We also wanted to inform families that, during the college admissions process, graduates of neighborhood high schools have similar opportunities as graduates of selective enrollment high schools. We reached out to Dr. Andrew Borst, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to help make our point.

"When making admissions decisions we consider multiple factors, including grades in available high school classes, test scores, class rank, essays that demonstrate an understanding of the major to which the student is applying, involvement in related activities, any extenuating circumstances, and the socioeconomic context of a student’s background,” explains Dr. Borst. “All things equal, a graduate from one of Chicago's selective enrollment high schools does not receive extra consideration in the admissions process, than a graduate from one of Chicago's neighborhood high schools… In fact, during annual trainings with admission readers, we put an emphasis on understanding students succeeding academically within the context of their neighborhoods and high schools. We host expert presenters who talk about differences across high schools in the city, in the suburbs, and downstate."

GROWCommunity also enlisted a few Amundsen and Lake View High School alumni to describe how their high school experiences helped prepare them for success in college.

Amina Hadzic, Amundsen High School, Class of 2015

Amina Hadzic graduated from Amundsen High School in 2015 as valedictorian, and is currently a junior at DePaul University, majoring in psychology.

When deciding where to attend college, Amina worked closely with Amundsen’s college counseling services team. “They were great! My counselor always made sure the seniors were on top of their college game by reminding students to apply for FAFSA, scholarships, and colleges. They helped us review resumes, college essays and applications,” explains Amina. “They also made sure students were informed of tutoring and mentoring programs such as Launch U, that helped increase college readiness.” Amina credits her counselors for helping her obtain scholarships and financial aid.


Four years earlier, when deciding where to attend high school, Amina was clear on her goals: “I wanted to choose a high school program that would best prepare me, personally, for college… rather than following the pack,” states Amina. “I was interested in many aspects of Amundsen, but I was most impressed by what I heard about the rigorous IB program.” 

Amina explains how Amundsen’s International Baccalaureate (IB)* program had a huge impact on her college readiness. “My IB theory of knowledge class was one of my favorites,” explains Amina. “We discussed many topics in this high school class that relate to my current college courses. The class was an eye-opening experience that led to a greater awareness of my own ideological assumptions and cultural perspectives.”

Another IB class Amina enjoyed was U.S. history. “I had many favorite teachers at Amundsen, and all of them were amazing in their own ways, but I had a special connection with Ms. Ross, my sophomore IB U.S. history teacher. She was the perfect person to talk to about school-related issues, and she always gave helpful advice,” adds Amina.

“Amundsen’s IB program taught me important academic skills -- such as effective study methods, the ability to read college-level textbooks, and the ability to write college-level papers,” explains Amina. “Teachers in the IB program provided us the necessary tools to succeed in college.”

Aside from academics, Amina believes that participating in high school clubs taught her leadership and prioritization skills that helped her become a more well-rounded college student.

In addition to learning organizational skills as the sophomore ambassador for the ASPIRE book drive, which involved sending books to schools in Afghanistan, Amina sharpened her time management skills as a member of Academic Decathlon. “Preparing for AcaDec required a lot of reading, which was often challenging when added to my regular schoolwork,” she admits.

“I was also a member of Student Activities Council, which helped me learn how to work on a team. We planned many events, such as homecoming, and members did not always see eye to eye. I learned how to compromise by trying to incorporate everyone’s ideas and opinions.”

Teachers in the IB program provided us the necessary tools to succeed in college.
— Amina Hadzic, Junior, DePaul University

Amina added that Book Club helped her learn how to cope with stress, “by getting lost in a good book!”

As president of the National Honor Society, Amina was responsible for running meetings, coordinating service projects, and keeping track of service projects. “I learned a lot about what it takes to be a good and effective leader,” she explains.

Amina appreciates the personal attention she received at Amundsen. “Unlike selective enrollment high schools, or schools that have a large student body, Amundsen High School is the kind of school that is able to cater to your needs. The teachers and staff at Amundsen are constantly hustling and doing everything in their power to help students succeed at achieving their goals,” notes Amina. “What I love most about Amundsen is they always put the students first, and they are devoted to ensuring students receive the best education possible.”

Diana Silvas, Lake View High School, Class of 2016

Diana Silvas is currently a sophomore at Illinois Institute of Technology, studying information technology and management.

She credits Lake View High School’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)** program for landing her where she is today. “When I was young my dream was to become a nurse, but as I got older I just wasn’t sure. However, everything changed after I took my first STEM course,” Diana explains. “As a freshman I learned the basics of HTML and CSS, and I learned how to create a website! I was hooked.”

Being part of the STEM program opened many doors for me.
— Diana Silvas, Sophomore, IIT

Diana explains how she decided to attend IIT: “I knew I wanted to stay in Chicago and continue taking IT classes,” Diana says, adding how Lake View’s college counselors helped her achieve her goals. “They were amazing. They kept me on track with application deadlines, and Mrs. Kitson helped send my transcript and ACT scores to colleges. Thanks to her dedication and guidance, I was able to obtain two full scholarships from UIC and IIT. IIT offered the classes I wanted.”

According to Diana, “Lake View has some of the most dedicated teachers. One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Cram. I took honors chemistry with him sophomore year, and AP chemistry with him senior year. He taught his class with so much passion and dedication, and he helped me understand things on a different level. He was always available after school to help us prepare for exams or to review topics we didn’t understand.”

Diana also recalls her high school STEM teacher, Mr. Starzyk, who selected her to participate in several STEM competitions. “Freshman year, our team took first place against other STEM schools in a technology, robotics and problem-solving competition. Sophomore year, we also took first place in a robotics, problem-solving and networking competition,” Diana explains.

“Being part of the STEM program opened many doors for me. As a high school sophomore, my STEM involvement allowed me to take information systems at Truman College, for which I earned free college credit. Taking that early college course helped me feel more confident when I actually started college.” Diana adds, “As a junior, STEM helped me get an internship with CPS at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy.”

Along with her STEM classes, Diana asserts, “My experience with Lake View clubs gave me the drive to challenge myself in college. I’ve learned how to manage my time, and how to be a more involved student.”

She continues, “Being a part of my high school’s Student Council and National Honor Society helped develop my leadership skills and allowed me the experience of hosting various events. I am currently a Chicago Scholars and, as part of the program, we are given amazing opportunities to become leaders on our campus. I’ve also joined a club at IIT called Union Board, in which we host events for students. This semester I will be hosting Homecoming Week and Carnival at IIT.”

“My freshman year at IIT, I applied to be the Spring Formal programmer; I’m certain all my STEM skills in programming and problem solving helped me clinch the position.”

As an upperclassman, Diana also served as a mentor in Lake View’s Freshman Family & Mentoring program (FFAM), which involved teaching seven freshmen girls about school resources and events. “My experience in FFAM led me to become a mentor to incoming freshmen at IIT,” adds Diana.

Aside from clubs, Diana appreciates the field trips that Lake View provided. “When I was younger, I never imagined being given the opportunity to visit actual Microsoft offices,” says Diana. “It was a very educational experience.” Lake View also partners with DePaul and Northwestern, and high school students currently participate in field trips to each of these partners’ locations as well as Microsoft.

Overall, Diana believes the STEM program had the biggest impact on her high school experience. “The material we covered gave me a head start on my college courses,” states Diana. “The STEM department has an amazing staff that builds confidence and encourages students to never give up.” 

Jesi Rojo, Amundsen High School, Class of 2016


Jesi Rojo is a sophomore at Northwestern University, studying social policy. After spending a month visiting other colleges at which she was accepted, “I chose Northwestern because it felt right… It was the right size, it was close to home and it had become my biggest dream,” she explains. 

Jesi was awarded the Jorndt Foundation’s “Joy of Learning” scholarship, which awarded her a $10,000 scholarship her senior year plus $5,000 for each year of college she completes, with certain restrictions. “This scholarship meant everything for me,” says Jesi. “I’m very thankful for Amundsen’s committed community of alumni, such as the Jorndt family.”

Just as she did when selecting a college, Jesi considered her options carefully four years earlier -- when selecting which high school to attend. Though she was accepted into almost every selective enrollment high school in the area, Jesi ultimately chose Amundsen “because of the IB program,” she explains. “Also, Amundsen was my neighborhood school, my older sister was a student there, and it was important to me that it was close enough to home that I could easily get there -- which stopped me from going to the selective enrollment schools. Also, when I shadowed at Amundsen, I enjoyed the experience and even made a friend.”

Jesi knew the IB program would offer her something special and unique. “IB was the best choice I made while in eighth grade. It prepared me for working on a deadline, but also allowed me to find passion in the papers I was writing. The extended essay was my first opportunity to write about something I found interesting and meaningful -- I did significant research, and wrote about the effects of gender and sexuality on men in Hemingway texts. To some extent, my IB projects influenced me to work in research,” explains Jesi, who is currently a researcher under Northwestern University education researcher Cynthia Coburn.

(My IB world studies teacher) really helped develop me into the person I am today, providing rigorous classes and challenging me to do my best.
— Jesi Rojo, Sophomore, Northwestern University

Jesi was inspired by many teachers at Amundsen, but she found one instructor the most influential. “Ms. Murray taught my freshman IB world studies class and my senior IB history of Europe class. She really helped develop me into the person I am today, providing rigorous classes and challenging me to do my best. Ms. Murray was my coach, mentor, confidant and best friend,” explains Jesi. “I called her my teacher mom!”

During her time at Amundsen, Jesi was involved in a variety of clubs in and out of school, including the Albany Park Theater Project, the Mikva Challenge, the Rembrandt Art Society, the Gay Straight Alliance and the National Honor Society. “I was very busy, but I learned how to develop a sense of time management that allowed me to keep up with all those clubs,” adds Jesi. “While at Amundsen, I learned how to manage my time very carefully, and that skill is the most important ever.”

Jesi reflects fondly on her high school years. “I still stay in touch with a couple teachers, and I visit Amundsen every time I come home for a break. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Amundsen, because there wasn’t anything Amundsen wouldn’t have done for me.”

*International Baccalaureate Program

The International Baccalaureate Programs consist of the Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program, and Diploma Program. These programs are recognized worldwide and are offered under the auspices of the International Baccalaureate Organization, headquartered in Switzerland.

The IB Middle Years Program (MYP) provides an accelerated curriculum that focuses on a world language, English, mathematics, humanities, sciences, arts, physical education and technology. The program is offered for students in grades 6, 7, and 8, and continues to prepare 9th and 10th grade students in International Baccalaureate MYP Partner High Schools.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program is designed for students in grades 11 and 12 and offers courses for the IB Diploma, a prestigious secondary school credential recognized worldwide by institutions of higher learning.

**STEM Program

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real world lessons as students apply STEM disciplines in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise.

Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools use technology training, college degree credit and a well-rounded high school education to prepare students for the technology jobs of the future.

"Chicago is home to the largest International Baccalaureate program in North America and an ever-expanding number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools and programs. These proven programs are helping more students graduate, with 83.2 percent of students at wall-to-wall IB schools earning a diploma and 85.7 percent at STEM schools.”
–Chicago Sun-Times; Top 10 biggest hits by Chicago school kids; September 6, 2017; Opinion; Forrest Claypool and Janice Jackson.

Questions about neighborhood high schools? We have answers:

Erin Kitson, Lake View High School

Irwin Lim, Amundsen High School

Peggy Herrington is a writer, community volunteer, LSC chair at Lake View High School and mother of three living in the Lakeview neighborhood. Peggy enjoys traveling and following the Cubs.