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.

Wrap-Up: Lake View and Amundsen Community Gardens Event

GROWCommunity, along with students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members, planted more than 1,500 spring bulbs on Saturday, October 21, at Amundsen and Lake View high schools. Come spring, watch for red tulips and yellow daffodils in front of Lake View, on Ashland, and on the south side of Amundsen, surrounding the vegetable garden.

PLanting at Lake View.

PLanting at Lake View.

PLanting at Amundsen.

PLanting at Amundsen.

While some of us were working, others were playing! Kids enjoyed face painting, gigantic bubbles and sidewalk chalk led by Amundsen and Lake View students.


Work or play, it was a gorgeous fall day to be on the Amundsen and Lake View campuses! Thank you to everyone who joined us and supported the launch of these community gardens at our neighborhood high schools.

A special thank you to Congressman Mike Quigley for joining us at both gardens, stopping by Lake View in the morning and Amundsen in the afternoon.

Congressman quigley at lake View.

Congressman quigley at lake View.

Congressman quigley at Amundsen.

Congressman quigley at Amundsen.

Also doing double-duty at both schools were volunteers hailing from Erie Family Health Center, which has school-based health centers at both Amundsen and Lake View, and from AmeriCorps.


Funding for the gardens and this event was provided by The Chicago Community Trust in partnership with Goodcity, as part of the Acting Up awards. Thank you for this generous support!


Thank you to the following local businesses for generously donating delicious refreshments for the attendees!


Coffee Chat with New Freshmen Parents, Andrea Jacobs and Beneen Prendiville

Beneen Prendiville (left) and Andrea Jacobs (right) are new Amundsen and Lake View parents.

Beneen Prendiville (left) and Andrea Jacobs (right) are new Amundsen and Lake View parents.

By Lauren DeJulio Bell

For a lot of us in Chicago, back-to-school time means stocking up on school supplies, getting back into routines, and final jaunts to the beach. It can also mean practical bedtimes, seeing school friends, and wondering who our kiddos’ teachers will be.

For Andrea Jacobs and Beneen Prendiville, September 5 brought extra excitement and anticipation: their daughters started high school! Andrea’s daughter, Haley, is a freshman at Lake View. Beneen’s daughter, Yasmine, is a freshman at Amundsen. We sat down with Andrea and Beneen on a recent September morning to find out how everything is going so far and what tips they might have for future Wildcat and Viking parents.

Becoming a Wildcat and a Viking

Since families in Chicago have the opportunity to choose which high schools their children attend, we asked Andrea and Beneen how their daughters came to choose their neighborhood schools, Lake View and Amundsen. Both moms said they immersed themselves and their children in the process early on to ensure the best decisions for their family.

In Andrea’s case, she and her husband spent a tremendous amount of time investigating the school-choice process. It was important to them to be a part of their community and make a difference—in schools, and outside of it.

“In sixth grade, we started to get involved in Lake View. We’re here, we have two kids, and it’s our neighborhood,” Andrea shared. Andrea’s husband, Larry Jacobs, heads up Lake View High School Partners, which is in the process of changing its name to Friends of Lake View. During Haley’s seventh grade year, Andrea explained, “We worked with groups from different elementary schools in the evening…to do community outreach. We had several small group sessions at Lake View; teachers would take the kids to do experiments and they would have an ice cream social afterwards, and the parents would meet.” Andrea found that this really helped show parents what the school is all about while simultaneously allowing kids to experience the school and its staff members firsthand.

According to Andrea, Haley considered the investment she and her parents made in Lake View when engaging in high school research activities at Nettelhorst. Haley brought up Lake View in class discussion as a viable choice—not just for herself, but also for her peers. Haley, Andrea explained, realized from her research and experiences with Lake View that the school “had things that fit her interests and picture of high school best.” And when Lake View built its new maker space last year, that sealed the deal.

Beneen’s daughter, Yasmine, made a similar choice about Amundsen. Beneen’s experience as a former Chicago Public Schools teacher shaped her own views about neighborhood schools, as well as her children’s. “I knew that Chicago had great neighborhood gems, and that families had a lot to do with it.” 

Beneen’s daughters attended Coonley Elementary and began taking swim lessons at Amundsen. She explained, “I really believe in the neighborhood school concept. So I enrolled the girls in swimming lessons through Winnemac Park, because I knew it was hosted at Amundsen.” The swim lessons gave Beneen and her daughters a chance to experience Amundsen firsthand, long before freshman year came around. “I was like, ‘I like this school, it feels good, it has good energy, the kids seem really nice,’ and I thought, ‘Alright, we’re Vikings.’ So I started telling the girls, ‘Yeah, you girls are Vikings, you’re Vikings, you’re Vikings.’ I really started getting them excited…this was their school, and giving them ownership at a young age.”

Beneen also joined the board of Friends of Amundsen to get more involved in the school and its community, and she is currently Friends of Amundsen president. Yasmine, an artist, began to get more excited about Amundsen as well. However, Yasmine felt pressured by others outside her family to attend a selective arts school, which was a challenging experience.

Beneen saw this, and made it a point to help her daughter navigate those challenges. “Seventh grade was a lot of discussions that focused on personal growth…and leadership, and being the first to do something, and sort of being that pioneer, you know?” Yasmine related to this idea, and reaffirmed her selection of Amundsen as the school that could best meet her needs.

Off to a Great Start

Now that the school year has begun, we wondered: how’s it going? How are Haley and Yasmine feeling as high school freshmen, and how do Andrea and Beneen feel as freshmen parents?

Haley is loving her time at Lake View—she’s already joined the Debate Team. And Andrea is also enjoying the experience: “The teachers get to know these kids…this is about how can we push your child and discover their interests?” Andrea appreciates that her daughter can take honors courses, music, and art in addition to core classes, and has the option to change her plans as her high school career progresses. She can figure out what she wants for herself without tremendous pressure to decide now, at the young age of 14.

Beneen agrees. “It’s going well. [Yasmine] did about a week and a half of Freshmen Connection over the summer, and she joined swim team about two weeks before school started. So, she was in the building and making friends, and that was a huge deal for her comfort level.”

The transition to high school, for any student, is exhausting and anxiety-ridden. It’s also exciting. And Andrea and Beneen notice.

“[Yasmine’s] happy,” Beneen shared. “She’s been to a football game already. She’s enjoying making new friends.” Beneen feels good about her daughter’s transition, in that it’s allowed her to feel a part of a larger community.

Haley’s immersed herself in Lake View’s school community, too. “In the freshmen orientation,” Andrea explained, “they really did get to know each other. I feel like both [Lake View and Amundsen], from what I understand, did a great job of facilitating just time for the kids to spend with each other and using upper classmen as mentors…so, I think the kids went in knowing people.”

Andrea added, “The fact that they are taking such good care of the freshmen, it is allowing them to make friends. So that’s making [Haley] very happy.”

Academics–and More!

What both moms agree about most is this: the sense of community, the bringing together of kids and parents and staff and community members, and the challenging educational atmosphere all make a significant difference. Students and families feel welcome, they know one another, and they embrace the neighborhood—in and outside of the school building. Both schools held back-to-school parent mixers in September, and at the Lake View event, Andrea was able to meet the parents of one of Haley’s new friends. She is pleased that the opportunity to connect with other parents is continuing into high school.

Andrea and Beneen also agreed on the importance of community outreach. Helping families understand how many options they have within the neighborhood schools is key, according to both moms. They like the idea of student “ambassadors” from the high schools who can help students and their parents learn more about the programs offered.

As Andrea pointed out, at Lake View, an Early College STEM School, "there are honors classes, there are AP classes, there are dual-credit classes." Amundsen has similarly diverse academic offerings, including International Baccalaureate and Career and Technical Education programs.

And it’s not just what’s going on inside the buildings, but outside of them. Beneen believes this helps build community, too, which is a large focus of Friends of Amundsen. “This year, I’m really excited that we are starting committees, and I am opening it up to anyone—parents, community members, business people…Right now, we have a Homecoming Committee that is on fire.” (Amundsen’s homecoming football game is Friday, October 13, 3:45pm, at Jorndt Stadium; Lake View’s is Wednesday, October 18, 4pm, at Lane Stadium.)

At Lake View, Andrea shared, they’re also on track to get the community even more involved.

As she meets younger elementary school families, they tell her, “How cool! I am so excited to see what’s going on. Thank you for what you’re doing. I’m excited for when my child gets to that stage.”

Andrea and Beneen agree that student happiness, school culture, parental involvement, and community building are what make Lake View and Amundsen true neighborhood gems. For them, and many others, this is just the beginning. It sounds like a success so far!

Cheers to a great school year…Go Vikings! Go Wildcats!

Lauren DeJulio Bell is a writer, educator, community activist and mother of four living in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Lauren loves living near Winnemac Park and Amundsen High School.