Charter provides escape route

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Arturo Gaytan

Photo by Jason Reblando

Arturo Gaytan

Born in Mexico, Arturo was enrolled in a bilingual program through the end of 4th grade. In 8th grade at Northwest Middle School, he missed the standardized reading score needed to enter high school and had no choice but to enroll in an achievement academy. A resident of Belmont Cragin, he was automatically assigned to Senn Achievement Academy in Edgewater.

The news made him angry, since he had planned to attend nearby Foreman High. Senn, an hour from home on public transportation, was a large high school that he viewed as dangerous. “Guys would come up to me and try to start a fight,” he says. “They thought because I was Latino, I was from a gang.”

Arturo says his teachers were helpful. But he struggled the first year, barely passing the first-semester courses needed to earn his 8th-grade diploma.

By sophomore year, the commute and continuing harassment still weighed on him. Figuring that better grades on his transcript might make it easier to transfer, Arturo says that he began to turn in homework. By the end of the first semester, he had raised his grades to B’s and C’s, he reports. “I just tried my best to get out of that school.”

Although some exceptions are made for higher-performing students, academy students are not permitted to transfer into a regular high school before the end of the two-year program. Arturo was not one of those exceptions.

But charter high schools are not subject to the same policy and in February Arturo was accepted as a mid-year transfer to Mirta Ramirez Computer Science Charter in Logan Square, 25 minutes away from his home and with only 270 students. Ramirez is run by the social service agency ASPIRA Inc. of Illinois.

In the smaller school, Arturo says he feels less distracted by conflicts and learns more. He also gets personal attention. But under the more demanding workload, his grades have slipped to mostly C’s and D’s, he reports. Last semester he failed reading.

Arturo dreams of attending culinary school and becoming a chef, but knows he needs to make it through high school first. “Junior year is pretty hard,” he says.