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In  search  of  an  education  

   
By  Diana  Sroka  Rickert  
Chicago  Tribune  |  Friday,  September  13,  2013  
   

 

6:30  a.m.    
         Jailyn  Baker  doesn't  think  of  herself  as  a  morning  person,  but  compared  with  most  teenagers  -­‐  and  
probably  many  adults  -­‐  she  is.  
         Her  alarm  went  off  90  minutes  ago.  She  is  showered  and  dressed  in  her  school  uniform  -­‐  gray  
pants,  white  top,  navy  sweatshirt.  Her  backpack,  which  looks  like  it  is  going  to  burst,  is  slung  over  her  
shoulders.  
         Jailyn  is  ready  to  go  to  school.  
         In  Chicago,  students  are  assigned  to  public  schools  within  a  few  miles  of  their  homes.  For  16-­‐year-­‐
old  Jailyn,  that's  Harlan  Community  Academy  High  School.  
Jailyn  doesn't  attend  Harlan;  she  and  her  mom,  Marcia,  didn't  think  it  was  the  right  fit.  
         Instead,  Jailyn  is  a  junior  at  Josephinum  Academy,  an  all-­‐girls  Catholic  high  school  15  miles  north  in  
Wicker  Park.  The  reason  she's  out  the  door  so  early  is  that  the  seven-­‐leg  trip  she  takes  to  school  lasts  
an  hour  and  a  half.  
         This  is  not  the  story  of  a  student  who  is  a  victim  of  Chicago  Public  Schools'  recent  mass  school  
closings.  Nor  is  it  the  story  of  a  stellar  student  who  attends  an  elite  private  high  school  because  she's  
on  her  way  to  Harvard.  Jailyn  is  an  average  student.  From  an  average  neighborhood  on  Chicago's  
South  Side.  She  wants  a  chance  at  being  better  than  average,  and  Chicago  Public  Schools  can't  do  
that  for  her.  
         The  average  student  at  Josephinum  graduates  and  attends  college;  the  average  student  at  Harlan  
does  not.  Jailyn's  90-­‐minute  trip  to  school  is  the  price  she  pays  for  a  chance  at  a  brighter  future.  This  
commute  is  Jailyn's  lifeline  out  of  a  failing  educational  system.  
         On  this  particular  morning,  Jailyn  is  already  waiting  outside  of  her  home.  A  few  minutes  later,  
Marcia  walks  out  the  door.  
         As  they  settle  into  the  car,  Marcia  checks  to  make  sure  Jailyn  didn't  forget  anything.  Phone?  Yes.  
ID?  Got  it.  Money?  No.  
         Marcia  opens  her  wallet  and  pulls  out  $10.  
         "Make  it  stretch,"  she  tells  Jailyn.  
   
6:40  a.m.    
         Normally,  Marcia  drives  Jailyn  to  the  95th  Street  Red  Line  stop,  but  because  of  the  CTA's  
multimillion-­‐dollar  construction  project,  they're  headed  to  the  shuttle  bus  parked  on  87th  and  State  
streets.  
         Marcia  and  Jailyn  first  heard  about  Josephinum  when  Jailyn  was  in  eighth  grade.  It  was  time  to  
choose  a  high  school,  but  Marcia,  who  is  raising  Jailyn  alone,  felt  their  options  were  limited.  
         "We  weren't  really  looking  at  the  neighborhood  school,"  says  Marcia,  50.  "We  looked  at  the  
charters.  I  really  wanted  her  to  go  to  a  Catholic  high  school,  but  I  knew  I  couldn't  afford  them."  
         For  students  in  Chicago  who  don't  want  to  attend  the  neighborhood  public  school,  the  list  of  
possibilities  shrinks  quickly.  
The  Illinois  State  Board  of  Education  pegs  the  number  of  nonpublic  high  schools  in  Chicago  at  around  
90.  Some  of  those  are  elite  private  schools  such  as  Francis  W.  Parker  in  Lincoln  Park,  where  sticker  
price  tuition  for  just  the  freshman  year  is  $30,780.  
         When  the  list  of  nonpublic  schools  is  narrowed  to  those  that  advertise  an  annual  tuition  rate  
below  $5,000,  it  contains  fewer  than  10  schools.  
Josephinum  is  one  of  those  schools.  
         "The  Jo,"  as  students  affectionately  call  it,  is  not  your  typical  college  prep  school.  The  average  

 

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 there  are  great  options.  and  Jailyn  is  among  the  74  percent  of  the  student  body  who  qualify  for  free   or  reduced-­‐cost  lunch.m.            Jailyn  says  she  doesn't  mind  the  patchwork  of  buses  and  trains  that  get  her  to  school  every  day.  The  average  ACT  score  at  Robeson  is  13.  "We  have  no  intention  of  becoming  an  affluent  school.  She  exits  the  train  and  walks   down  the  tunnel  to  the  Blue  Line  platform.  It   could  be  worse."  Marcia  says.            "We  want  to  push  the  boundaries  of  educational  opportunities  for  women."  says  Michael   Dougherty.  fewer  than  45  percent  of  the  students  graduate  within   five  years.   Chicago's  best  and  brightest  students  attend  -­‐  had  dropout  rates  lower  than  25  percent.  fewer  than  half  of  the  students  who  enter  as  freshmen  at  Harlan  graduate   within  five  years.  In  2012.            After  a  few  minutes."            But  what  if  your  child  isn't  smart  enough.  theoretically.              When  the  bus  arrives  at  the  Garfield  "L"  stop.            According  to  CPS.  more  than  five  points  below  what   ACT  considers  college-­‐ready.  She  doesn't  study   school  performance  statistics.  Jailyn  says  a  quick  goodbye  and   exits  the  car.   "(Otherwise)  it  seems  like  education  is  left  by  the  wayside.  Harlan.  Tuition  is  priced  at  $4.  or  isn't  lucky  enough?  Should  this  mean  your  only  option   is  a  failing  neighborhood  public  school?   In  a  city  that  will  spend  $5.000.            Today's  it's  the  Red  Line.  Jailyn  passes  about  15  other  public  high  schools  along  her  way  to  Josephinum.  Jailyn  joins  a  thick  crowd  climbing  the  steps  to  the   platform.       7:06  a.            "If  your  kid  is  really  smart  or  if  you  have  a  lot  of  money.  Marcia  pulls  up  behind  the  bus.m.  She  could  be  at  her  neighborhood  school.  she's   escaping  them.  CPS  reports  that  in  2012  nearly  6  of  10  students  who   started  as  freshmen  never  made  it  to  graduation.  a  train  arrives  and  Jailyn  continues  her  commute.  the  school's  average  ACT  score  was  15.  Josephinum's  president.8.  Jailyn  can  take  either  the  Red  or  Green  line.S.family  income  is  $32.58  billion  on  education  this  school  year.  Five.   She's  simply  passing  one  failing  school  after  another.  is  that  the  best  Chicago  can  do?            When  they  reach  87th  Street."  she  says.            "Whichever  gets  here  first.            At  Tilden  Career  Community  Academy  in  New  City.  Not  four  years.     2   .       7:28  a.            From  Garfield.  Marcia  doesn't  send  Jailyn  to  Josephinum  because  she   wants  to  protest  CPS.  She  has  never  even  heard  of  school  vouchers."            Most  Chicago  families  get  stuck  in  that  unfortunate  place  where  Marcia  first  found  herself  -­‐  feeling   like  they  have  no  choice  and  no  control  over  their  children's  futures.            Besides  Harlan.  And  95  percent  of  the  student  body  -­‐  including  Jailyn  -­‐   receives  additional  financial  aid.1.900  to  attract  students  who  otherwise  wouldn't  have   access  to  many  educational  opportunities.  rich  enough  to  afford  a  private  school  or  lucky  enough  to  win   the  charter  lottery.            Jailyn's  mother  is  not  an  education  activist.  or  make  some  sort  of  statement  against  public  schools.              When  the  Red  Line  reaches  its  Jackson  stop.   At  Paul  Robeson  High  School  in  Englewood.            Chicago  has  become  a  place  where  it  seems  the  only  way  to  get  a  good  education  is  to  be  smart   enough  to  get  into  a  magnet  school.  statistics  from  2012  show  that  2  of  3  students   who  walked  in  as  freshmen  never  walked  out  with  a  diploma.            At  Dyett  High  School  in  Washington  Park.   Not  even  the  six  selective-­‐enrollment  schools  along  Jailyn's  commute  -­‐  where.            Jailyn  isn't  just  passing  by  these  15  or  so  failing  schools  on  her  way  to  Josephinum  every  day.  This  puts  Harlan  students  in  the  15th  percentile  (from  the  bottom)  of  all   U.  Jailyn  has  to  transfer.  high  schoolers  who  take  the  college  entrance  exam.

      7:51  a.  the  story  is  very  different.  When.   In  fact.  "It's   definitely  going  to  be  a  stretch  to  do  everything  on  my  own  now.3  percent  of   Harlan's  freshmen  graduate  within  five  years.            It  doesn't  make  Jailyn  the  least  bit  squeamish.  Wis..          "Needless  to  say.  A   schoolwide  assembly  is  next.  and  it's   something  that  is  ingrained  in  the  culture  at  her  school.  private  or  public.   Jailyn  knows  that  a  scholarship  is  part  of  why  this  long  commute  to  the  Jo  is  even  possible."  says  Marcia.              As  the  Blue  Line  travels  northwest.            If  Jailyn  and  Marcia  lived  in  Hammond.  In  fact.  The  other   reason  is  her  mom's  sacrifice.            Thanks  to  a  law  passed  in  2011  and  upheld  by  the  Indiana  Supreme  Court  in  2013.  Jailyn  lives  just  10  miles  from  the  Indiana  border  -­‐  closer  than  she  does  to  Josephinum.            She  wouldn't  have  to  worry  so  much  if  Illinois  had  passed  the  school  voucher  bill  of  2010.            But  back  at  Jailyn's  neighborhood  school.  too."       7:38  a.m.  more  than  90  percent  of  students  graduate  on  time.  and  her  mother  died  this  winter.              When  the  Blue  Line  reaches  Damen  Avenue.  The  amount  of  money  that  goes  to  the  school  is  based  on  the  family's   income  and  the  amount  of  education  funding  the  local  public  school  district  normally  would  receive   from  the  state.   College  is  on  Jailyn's  horizon  because  it's  something  she  and  her  mom  are  working  toward.  They  exist  in  Indiana.  Jailyn  starts  mapping  out  her  school  day.  just  48.  and  moved  back  into  her  childhood  home  to  live  with  her  parents.   then  walks  a  few  blocks  to  the  No.  her  (Jailyn's)  education  came  first."  Marcia  says.            Not  if  she  goes  to  college.  "This  would  open  the   door  to  almost  every  high  school  except  the  most  expensive.  Ind.            At  Josephinum.  the  highlight  of  the  day  -­‐  dissecting  a   pig  in  biology  class.            "She  would  get  90  percent  of  what  the  state  would  have  spent  on  her  education.  72  bus  stop  on  North  Avenue.  president  and  CEO  at  the  Friedman  Foundation  for  Educational  Choice.  and  when  they  graduate.            But  Marcia's  father  passed  away  in  2001.  Josephinum  graduates  go  to  such  schools  as  the  University  of  Chicago  or   Kenyon  College.     3   .  followed  by  global  studies.  Living  with  her   parents  made  it  possible  for  Marcia  to  send  Jailyn  to  private  elementary  school.  the  school  is  on  probation  and  based  on   CPS'  performance  policy.  Then.  Jailyn  would  be  eligible  for  nearly  $6.  In  addition.  Indiana  is  home   to  one  of  the  most  liberating  school  voucher  programs  in  the  nation.  her  educational  experience  would  be  very  different."  says  Robert   Enlow.m.  which  is  considered  one  of  the  country's  premier  liberal  arts  schools.            When  parents  get  that  feeling  -­‐  for  whatever  the  reason  -­‐  why  doesn't  Chicago  have  avenues  for   them  to  act  on  it?            These  avenues  exist  in  Milwaukee  and  Racine.  Homeroom  is  first.  it's  probably  good  preparation  for  when  she   goes  to  college  because  she  wants  to  become  an  anesthesiologist.          The  reason  Marcia  sends  Jailyn  to  Josephinum  is  that  Marcia  believes  in  her  daughter.            Here's  how  it  works:  State  money  for  education  follows  an  individual  student  to  any  school  he  or   she  chooses.  So  Marcia  traded  rent  money  to   save  for  tuition.  She's  worried  about   how  she'll  be  able  to  afford  the  tuition  for  the  rest  of  Jailyn's  high  school  years  -­‐  and  college.   college  is  the  expectation.  Others  attend   DePaul  University  or  a  community  college."  She  exits.  If  only   Jailyn  lived  over  the  state  line.  In  2012.000  in  a  voucher   to  apply  toward  the  cost  of  attending  any  school  of  her  choice.   living  in  Chicago  would  be  a  lot  more  like  living  in  Milwaukee  or  Hammond.  She  says   something  inside  told  her  Jailyn's  future  would  be  brighter  if  she  attended  Josephinum.  Then.  Harlan  has  a  low  academic  performance  rating.            This  is  just  one  of  the  differences  between  what  Jailyn's  life  is  like  as  a  Josephinum  student  and   what  it  might  have  been  like  had  she  attended  Harlan.  it's  finally  time  for  Jailyn  to  get  off  the  "L.

 It  hasn't  seen  the   light  of  day  since.  Maybe  she  could  have   attended  a  private  school  closer  to  her  home.       ~~~       Josephinum  Academy  applauds  Jailyn's  commitment  to  receiving  the  best  possible  education.            This  was  a  bill  designed  for  students  like  Jailyn.  the  chance  to  have  a  brighter  future.            Maybe  she  wouldn't  have  needed  to  travel  90  minutes  to  get  to  school.m.  A  few   minutes  after  8  a.  and  all  of  our  students.  and  walks  into  school.       4   .m.  two  train  rides  and  two  brisk  walks.  Jailyn  finally  is  standing  at  the  front  door  of  Josephinum.            Jailyn's  trip  to  school  took  one  car  ride.  She  has  friends.  it's  finally  time  for  Jailyn  to  stop  getting  on  and  off  buses   and  trains.            It  passed  the  Illinois  Senate  with  bipartisan  support.  it  would  have  taken  effect  just  in  time  for  Jailyn  to   start  high  school.  two  bus  rides.  D-­‐Chicago.  James  Meeks.       7:57  a.  Maybe  all  the  other  Jailyns  in  Chicago  also  would  have   had  a  chance  at  a  better  future.  She  likes  her  teachers.            Jailyn  says  she  is  happy  attending  Josephinum.  She  exits  and  waits  to  cross  the  street.  then-­‐state  Sen.  She  swings  the  door   open.  Then  it  died  in  the  House.  But  if  only   the  school  voucher  bill  of  2010  had  become  law.  proposed  legislation  that  would  have   created  a  school  voucher  program  in  Illinois.  Parents  whose  children  were  assigned  to  the  lowest-­‐ performing  public  schools  in  Chicago  would  have  been  given  the  opportunity  to  send  their  children  to   a  private  school.          Three  years  ago.  We   are  honored  to  help  provide  Jailyn.              When  the  bus  reaches  Oakley  Boulevard.