A hybrid of tradition and vanguard

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Community Links High

Jason Reblando

Community Links High

Community Links in Little Village is a blend of established reform—such as small class size and block scheduling—and more experimental strategies to improve high schools.

While its fundamental coursework adheres to CPS’ traditional format, Community Links delays the start of its school day for sleep-deprived adolescents, and Principal Carlos Azcoitia promises students they will graduate in three years and be accepted into college.

Last year, 30 freshmen started their day at 11 a.m. with an hour of gym and Junior ROTC leadership training. They spent the next two and a half hours earning service learning credit and pocket change working as classroom aides at Spry Elementary, where Community Links is housed. From 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., they attended academic classes in core subjects, organized on a block schedule so that English and algebra alternated daily with science and social studies.

For students to graduate a year early, they must attend three years of summer school to earn the necessary credits in art, foreign languages and other required electives. “They don’t have time to fail,” Azcoitia says. Those who do will have to spend an extra year to make up the work.

That’s fine with the students. “We can go to college right away,” says sophomore Edgar Ortiz, who is looking at another decade of school to realize his goal of becoming a doctor.

Students say Community Links’ small size was a big draw. “There’re no outsiders here,” says freshman Crystal Avila. “We’re all in it together.”

The late start time didn’t hurt. “It’s a big advantage,” says Avila, noting that she has extra time to rest and meet with teachers before class to get extra help.

To contact Maureen Kelleher, call (312) 673-3882 or send an e-mail to kelleher@catalyst-chicago.org.