Chicago has had its share of educational drama. From the closing of 50 schools this year, educational budget cuts, an extended school day followed by the Teacher’s Union Strike, there’s no question as to why there’s a lot of frustration when it comes to education systems. The focal point should be proper education, adequate teachers and resources for students.
How can we encourage them to stay motivated in school and climb to their full potential when their voices are being lost in political battles?
In the 2008-2009 school year Illinois endured a high school dropout rate of 11.5 percent, according to findthedata.org. In the December 2012 release of the 2011 Annual Statistical Report of the Illinois State Board of Education, between African Americans and Hispanics there was a total dropout rate of 8.93 percent with combined enrollment totaling in at 260, 059 students statewide.
Yes, there was a decrease, however we must still see issue and zone in on the cause of students dropping out of high school altogether.
And it’s not to point fingers and spew out blame, because in all honesty the way society is today, there are more than fundamental issues affecting education. Today, students are skipping teenage years and heading straight into adulthood – which in a lot of cases, causes them to put traditional school systems on the back-burner – doing just enough to get by or dropout.
“Believe it or not, they’re not all fundamentally flawed at their academic work. A girl might have become pregnant, a young man got in trouble one day and didn’t go back to school. You have kids that have dropped out for a number of reasons,” states Will Polite, VP of Development for the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy.
For some, life gets in the way and causes disruption in focus. In other cases there’s this misconception that kids who dropout are causes or victims of street life activity. Polite informs, “Most of the kids that we come across are good kids that just got lost in the shuffle of the traditional school system.”
Hence the importance of bringing in alternative school structures that embrace the students struggles and caters to student learning styles while mapping out a plan of educational execution and forward-movement. This is what the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy is all about.
Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy is a student-centered, blended learning community – integrated dropout prevention and recovery program. The Academy offers free tuition and is designed to provide students ages 13-21 who have dropped out of school or are at risk of dropping out with the opportunity to earn a high school diploma.
With 17 current sites stretched across the country, Magic Johnson, Will Polite and their national team has added two Chicago locations in the South Shore and Lawndale communities. Enrollment is currently open with seats filling up quickly. The school start date is August 26th.
“We don’t just look at the academics,” states Polite. “We take a holistic approach filling in all those other gaps that might be a part of a students life outside of his/her academics. Our program provides a Chicago Public School diploma, not a GED.”
Analysis from the Chicago Public Schools’ Alternative Schools Network, the Family and Community Engagement Office, along with the alternative seat gap analysis have shown that there is a gap of 1201-1600 alternative seats in the South Shore neighborhood and an 801-1200 gap in North Lawndale. In addition, there are an estimated 34,000 out of school youth and 12,500 in school youth that are off-track for graduation.
Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies strive to bridge those gaps and create safe environments focused on improving attendance and achievement.
Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy Model:
The mission behind the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy is to provide students with a second chance at receiving their high school diploma. It’s an alternative option for them to reach their goals and ultimately graduate.
As previously mentioned, most students get lost in the shuffle and feel as if they’re just a number in the system. What this educational model provides is student-focused programming with an outlined path and graduation planning system designed specifically for individual success.
“We capture kids before they fall any further,” states Will. They take all of their classes on-line but students have the option and sometimes they’re mandated (depending on learning needs) for one-on-one tutoring or small study groups. It’s what we call blended learning.”
Following recruitment and enrollment, there is an evaluation where goals are identified and transcripts are reviewed. The program then escalates to the individual graduation plan where progress is tracked. The next steps dig into the blended learning curriculum, post-secondary reading that embraces life skills coaching and workforce readiness. Finally, if everything is on track and needed credits are earned, students receive their high school diploma.
An added plus within the program are the offered scholarships through the Magic Johnson Foundation.
“You’re talking about kids who at one point dropped out of school and are now eligible to earn scholarships through the program once they receive their high school diploma,” adds Will. “We’re making sure we connect kids to whatever their dream might be.”
Another focus is retaining students and making sure that they do not dropout a second time. “That’s been a challenge and lesson that we’ve learned in the field. You have to have the community involved with your program and that becomes your secret sauce to really keeping kids involved and engaged in school.”
When you’re in the business of saving young minds, as the Bridgescape Academy plans to do and which stands as a strong testament for Will, community plays a major role. As the VP of Development, part of Will’s job is to build and secure genuine partnerships with businesses and organizations that are passionate in their said work and mission.
“We’re partnering with the faith-based community, social agencies, grass root community groups, businesses in the city [to] really help those students with all those other pieces that might be missing. So that bridge part is a major thing that we do in regards to bridging those gaps.”
“We look for, not [only] those that just have the credentials to teach but who have a passion for this group of students that we’re really seeking to serve. If they’re just looking for a paycheck then they won’t last very long anyway. It’s those people who have the heart for it,” affirms Will.”
The ‘Magic’ in Magic:
Progression begins with individuals who genuinely care and want to see others succeed. Educators, in all forms, are those who get joy from seeing youth thrive. It starts with showing interest and love. Bringing forth that fearlessness and providing resources and opportunities that enable students to embrace a relationship with successful thinking and purposeful movement.
Though, we – the everyday working folk, can introduce this mentality to our youth, sometimes it takes that extra high-profiled person to boost motivation and enhance the process.
“And that’s what we call the magic of Magic,” Will smiles. “He has a way of drawing people and he’s just an encouraging and uplifting gentleman who brings hope to urban communities across the country. Having him as the foundation of the program, that makes kids say, ‘ hey, if Magic says I should come back to school, I’m going to at least listen and come back.’”
Will can attest to the fact that Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, does not put his name to anything that he doesn’t believe is a winner. But this is more than just a name-booster and profitable venture for Johnson. For both Magic and Will, this is a personal, heartfelt investment.
Will shared that Johnson, a product of an education-oriented family, had been wanting to do something about the dropout issue for the past four – five years and sought out learning programs that focused on dropout recovery and prevention, ultimately partnering with EdisonLearning, an organization that specializes in providing educational solutions.
Will’s interest derives from a personal testimony. “I’m a product of the 80s and 90s and urban America. My mother raised 10 of us and it was eight boys. Out of the eight boys, six have spent time in federal, state, and local jails and penitentiaries across the country and I know where it all started.”
“I was just blessed that God kept his arms around me and allowed me to end up at Morehouse College when everyone else was ending up in jails and early graves.”
The passion has to come across when working with youth and in education. If they see you’re just in it for payday, any chance of them giving their all, committing and believing in themselves, is almost guaranteed an early dismissal. They need to feel that you’re dedicated, that you care and are willing to do the work. Put your heart in it.
“We look at this as a movement, not just a school [and] not just a program. [We] literally work to recapture some of these lost children that are out here, not just in Chicago but across the country, so it ‘s more than just another school. It’s not a charter school but we look at it more as being a movement.”
Lawndale Office: 2177 S. Millard Ave. | Contact – 773.552.1398| Office Hours: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm
South Shore Office: 1750 E. 71st Street, Suite 204 | Contact 773.363.1324 | Office Hours: 9:30 am- 6pm.
To find out more information and for enrollment, visit www.magicjohnsonbridgesape.com.