Michelle Garcia, a current Foreman College and Career Academy senior, stood before a room of members of the Northwestern community and asked the audience to raise their hands if they related to the following: “had a good high school experience,” “went through a struggle, but persevered,” “had a friend to go to” during a hard time or felt like they “had an adult mentor” to go to. Most hands stayed up in the audience.
Then Garcia asked, “How many of you were CPS students?” and so many hands went down that someone in the audience just said, “Wow.”
NUDM co-chairs announced Wednesday night that Community in Schools of Chicago (CIS of Chicago), the Chicago branch of the largest network of independently operating dropout prevention organizations in the U.S., will be the organization’s primary beneficiary for 2019.
CIS of Chicago executive director Jane Mentzinger offered statistics on the state of dropout rates, calling for the need to shift what has become the dominant narrative.
“Almost 25 percent of our kids who start ninth grade will not graduate from high school, and that is simply unacceptable. We cannot let that stand. We are moving to change that every single day,” Mentzinger said.
Weinberg juniors Justin Savin and CJ Patel, both executive co-chairs for NUDM 2019, expressed support for CIS, saying that it was the support-based foundation of the organization that led them to choose the group.
“We fell in love with this organization because it aims to address the opportunity gap in education and works to surround every single student it serves with a community of support to prepare them for success after graduation,” Patel said.
CIS of Chicago board chair Greg Stoklosa stressed that the partnership with NUDM would not just impact CIS, but also the lives of thousands of CPS students.
“On behalf of the full board of directors, our entire staff, and importantly the thousands of Chicago Public School students we serve every year, thank you so much for making us the primary beneficiary of the 2019 Northwestern University Dance Marathon,” Stoklosa said.
Greg Miller, a Northwestern professor who co-leads a research team at the Northwestern Foundations of Health Research Center and studies the interaction between stress and health, emphasized the effects that inequality has on health income. Despite prevailing inequality, Miller stressed that inequality is not “an inevitable part of the way our society is structured” or that “there will always be winners and losers.”
“Inequality begins in the earliest years of life, and there is a lot that we can do, as individuals, as a society, as institutions to close that opportunity gap and give kids the chances they need to be equal in all of these spheres of life,” Miller said. “All of these things differ in our country, but they don’t have to,” Miller said.
The event also featured a panel of four CPS students who utilize CIS of Chicago resources, all of whom go to Foreman College and Career Academy. Garcia spoke to how she rises above stereotypes people have of CPS students, motivated by the chance to prove them wrong.
“Since my freshman year, I applied myself because I wanted to prove everyone wrong, just because I’m a Chicago student, and especially because I go to Foreman, I didn’t want to fall into the stereotype of dropping out or not being what other people wanted me to be. I wanted to be a better person for myself, and I didn’t want to fall into that percentage of individuals I would be labeled as,” Garcia said.
Garcia said that a lack of resources has contributed to a shortage of counselors, which has affected her experience at Foreman. Despite this lack of resources, however, Garcia is grateful for the support that CIS of Chicago’s student supports manager Brianne Daubenspeck has provided.
“We went from having four counselors to only two, and we have about 700 students at our school, so doing the math, they’ll get about 200 students. That’s a lot of students for two counselors to manage,” Garcia said. “Having those mentors… check up on us and keep us intact, that means the world.”