One city, united in support of our neighborhood public high schools.
That was the bold vision animating the crowd at the Ukrainian Cultural Center, as Generation All celebrated the launch of their Action Plan for the future of education in Chicago.
Hundreds of teachers, students, parents and education leaders gathered on April 13 to learn about the roadmap to a future where neighborhood public high schools function as charging stations, to power up young people and entire communities.
“Healthy neighborhood public high schools are critical to the vitality and the prosperity of our city,” said Generation All executive director Beatriz Ponce de Leon.
“We want to begin to mobilize people to take action on behalf of Chicago Public Schools and their students. Everyone in our city has a role to play.”
At the launch event for the Generation All Action Plan, guests dove into the plan’s recommendations for supporting neighborhood public high schools in delivering a quality education for every student.
Generation All was founded as a partnership of The Chicago Community Trust, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, with generous support from the Ford Foundation.
Today, 42.5% of CPS high school students attend neighborhood high schools. Generation All aims to unite Chicagoans around revitalizing those schools in order to support the academic and personal development of students, both in and outside the classroom.
Their Action Plan began in 2014 with the convening of a steering committee, who helped create solutions informed by the latest research on what works in classrooms and education systems worldwide.
At the event, interactive stations around the room introduced key recommendations from the plan. Guests were encouraged to learn about and discuss the recommended solutions, which fall into three areas for action:
Practice solutions: Make neighborhood public high schools safe supportive and exciting places to learn. The Practice section recommends specific actions that will make neighborhood public high schools more vibrant, innovative and effective places of learning where all students graduate prepared for the future.
Policy solutions: Provide neighborhood public high schools with dedicated financial resources and thoughtful, long-term planning. The Policy section focuses on strategies for equitable, consistent school funding and transparent planning that don’t force schools into competition with one another for students, teachers and resources.
Public engagement solutions: Generate public and political support for neighborhood high schools. The Public Engagement portion focuses on initiatives that encourage families, elected officials, local business leaders and other community stakeholders to learn about all that is happening at neighborhood high schools, and advocate for their success.
The City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union have committed to work with Generation All in pursuing the implementation of the plan.
Chicago Public Schools chief education officer Dr. Janice Jackson, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and Generation All executive director Beatriz Ponce de Leon in conversation. The City, CPS and the CTU have all committed to work with Generation All in pursuing the implementation of the plan.
The event was alive with color and music thanks to displays of student sculpture and visual art, as well as a vocal performance by the Bowen High School choir. Interactive stations encouraged guests to discover more often-overlooked successes of neighborhood public high schools:
The computer programming lab at Bowen High School shared student creations ranging from a translation app, to a game where players establish and stock their own trading post during the “zombie apocalypse.”
Schurz High School’s Food Science Lab displayed its “smart farm food computer,” created in collaboration with MIT, and shared some of the hydroponic produce that the school grows for its cafeteria meals.
The Communities United initiative at Steinmetz College Prep and Foreman High School shared techniques from its work to build student engagement and equity.
Convergence Academies and Tilden High School, partners in the Digital Atelier, demonstrated how they help students prepare for active participation in today’s globally connected world, through exploring and creating with digital media.
The Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, working at Kelly High School, introduced some of the mentors who support more than 200 at-risk students through the transition from 8th to 9th grade, boosting their high school success.
Students from Kelly High School explain the mentoring program that supports at-risk students through the transition from 8th into 9th grade. The Action Plan includes a set of recommendations for building public engagement, so that all community members are aware of, and can advocate for, successes like these in their neighborhood schools.
In her opening remarks, Karen Lewis—president of the Chicago Teachers Union and a founding member of the Generation All Advisory Council—shared her experience teaching high school chemistry for more than 20 years.
“We should have safe spaces for every child in this city to learn,” said Lewis.
Rayshaune Burns, a student at Foreman High School, spoke from the heart about the opportunities that his school has provided him.
Burns had grown up expecting to attend nearby Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy. But plans changed when his family relocated to the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood—too far to travel to the selective enrollment school.
Instead, he enrolled at the neighborhood Foreman High School, where he connected with civic leadership programs like Mikva Challenge. Burns discovered the challenges, and rewards, of “being able to work with other people and learn that my opinion isn’t always right.”
He was also exposed for the first time to a diverse student body. “When I got to Foreman, I got to be around Hispanic people for the first time,” Burns recalled. “Now I know a lot more about other cultures—cultures that are different from mine.”
But the student also described a school suffering the effects of years of underfunding and disinvestment: a building in disrepair, ceiling tiles crumbling, no sports field to hold team practices or host games.
“It’s unfair,” Burns said. “Because students that go to Foreman are not worth any less than students who go to the selective enrollment schools.”
At interactive stations around the event, guests were encouraged to read the Action Plan’s highlights and share their own recommendations for building student success. As Ponce de Leon explained, “Everyone in our city has a role to play.”
Ponce de Leon explained that the plan’s guiding value is building excellence through equity, not equality—providing an experience that is not identical for all, but fair for all.
“Regardless of the ZIP code they live in, regardless of the test scores they have, they should have access to high-quality education in their neighborhood schools,” she said.
“This is our opportunity to fulfill the promise of public education.”
You can explore the Action Plan summary of recommendations or download the complete plan at genallplan.org.