At Schapiro Northwestern Academy, young people with big dreams

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ‘8 PM joined members of the community at Abbott Hall on the Northwestern Chicago campus to celebrate the grand opening of the Morton Schapiro Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools, which provided mentoring and college readiness resources to hundreds of CPS students.

The academy is a free, multi-year college access and enrichment program for academically motivated high school students from diverse backgrounds, including many first-generation and low-income students. Formerly known as Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools, it was recently endowed and renamed in honor of President Schapiro with a multi-million dollar donation from the Potocsnak family.

The August 10 event was a moving testimony to the transformative power of mentorship and education. All of the speakers addressed their own personal educational journeys in a sincere and thoughtful way. Speakers included Dan P. McAdams, acting dean of Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy; Cassandra Salgado, director of the academy; former CPS student and graduate of Ernest Willingham Academy; Mayor Lightfoot; President Schapiro; and John Potocsnak, a Chicago industrialist and program donor.

Good neighbor, initiative of the great university

The academy, which was established in 2013, is part of Northwestern’s larger Good Neighbor, Great University initiative. Salgado highlighted some of the resources the program provides for students, including college tours, test prep, help with college applications and financial aid programs, and other counseling and mentoring. Northwestern, she said, has become a leader among universities partnering with cities for educational programs in schools, thanks to donors like the Potocsnaks.

“This gift will have an impact for years to come,” Salgado said. “I can’t tell you how great it is to know that we’re going to go beyond just keeping the lights on. It is about expanding the margin of excellence for students as they continue to represent not only the academy as they enter colleges, but also their communities, high schools, and the city of Chicago.

For students, the program can have a transformative impact. Many are high achievers, but they often have limited resources and context when it comes to seizing opportunities beyond their immediate situation.

“I can honestly say that Northwestern Academy has changed my life,” said Willingham, who is currently an undergraduate student on the pre-medical track at Northeastern University in Boston, where he is a full-scholarship Torch Scholar. “The countless counseling sessions, mentoring, and amazing college tours have completely changed the trajectory of my college career.”

“I can honestly say that Northwestern Academy has changed my life. The countless counseling sessions, mentoring, and incredible college tours have completely changed the trajectory of my college career.”

– Ernest Willingham, Academy graduate

Last spring, Willingham, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side, testified before a US Senate committee on protecting children from gun violence, which affected him personally. He has already been accepted to medical school at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Lightfoot said Willingham’s story and dedication to making the world a better place was “positive proof of why this program is so important.” She then thanked President Schapiro, saying it was “moving” to speak not just about the academy, but more broadly of gratitude for his personal friendship, his leadership and his legacy as someone deeply committed to the students of Chicago and CPS.

“We need to encourage our young people to dream big,” Lightfoot said. “Because it makes a profound difference to the quality of their life, the quality of their family’s life, and ultimately the quality of our city.”

Over 300 students from 40 Chicago schools

Both Lightfoot and Schapiro highlighted the success of the program, which has already enrolled more than 300 students from about 40 high schools in the city. About 88% are first-generation students in their families and 96% identify as members of underrepresented groups. The average GPA of students in the program is 3.8.

On May 14, the academy honored its new class of graduates. Over the summer, the rising senior class also toured colleges ahead of the fall application period. The vast majority go on to pursue undergraduate degrees at various colleges and universities, including top private universities like Northwestern — which, Schapiro noted, has proven to be the most popular choice among academy graduates in the world. last cycle. Seven alumni of the academy plan to attend Northwestern, even though the program was not designed to bring students specifically to Northwestern, he said.

Schapiro, who announced in March 2021 that he would step down, said the academy was one of the things he was most proud of as Northwestern chairman. It was an example, he said, of his philosophy that big problems can be solved by changing the world one person at a time, and that making meaningful change isn’t just about admitting more students. underrepresented, but to give more of these students a chance. succeed early on, even before applying to college.

Schapiro said of the academy students: “They are brilliant people who just needed someone who would invest in them, tell them they were special and [encourage] that they look up to the sky and think about larger goals.

Benefactor John Potocsnak reflected on his own journey and the importance of education, and although he did not graduate from the North West, said the University under Schapiro had played an important role in his life.

“I’ve been asked why I do the things I do,” Potocsnak said. “[It’s] what I wish people had done for me… When I think about why I realized what I have, I think it has a lot to do with people like Morty.

Potocsnak said he was delighted to be able to support the students of the academy and would continue to join others in making a difference for as many students as possible. After a standing ovation for Potocsnak — one of the evening’s many speakers — the event concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception.

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