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.

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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
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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

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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.