Trekking to better high schools

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More than half of CPS high school students do not attend their neighborhood schools. Among those, about 10,000 travel six miles or more to school. Charters enroll 16 percent of these long-distance commuters, up 10 percentage points since 2002. Another 56 percent attend selective or magnet schools; most of the remaining 28 percent attend regular schools that have special programs. Students make the long trek for a variety of reasons, from the pull of strong academic programs to the appeals of diversity and safety.

Commuter Map

Note: Shaded areas are those in which more than 10% of students attending high schools in these communities commute six miles or more

Zuriel Gallo relies on two alarms—one at 5 a.m., the second at 5:30—to rouse him for the trip from Hermosa to Washington Park, where he attends ACE Tech Charter. He opted against his neighborhood high school, Schurz, because of safety concerns. Gallo loves working with his hands, and ACE Tech, which focuses on the building trades, has helped him hone skills and prepare for a career as an electrician. His family drove around Washington Park and consulted with a friend in law enforcement to allay fears about safety in the area around ACE.

Alexis Contreras gets up every morning at 4:30 a.m. and travels 90 minutes by bus and then an el train from Back of the Yards to Edgewater, where she is a senior at Rickover Naval Academy. She chose Rickover over her neighborhood high school, Richards, because “the teachers there don’t care,” she says. Rickover, in contrast, offers plenty of one-on-one time with her teachers, who have helped prepare her well for college, Contreras says.

Brian Curtis takes a Metra train from West Pullman to the Loop, to avoid what he believes to be a violent neighborhood school, Fenger, right across West Pullman’s borders in Roseland. “I didn’t want to go there and get hurt. I’m not a fighter,” Curtis says. He also likes Jones’ central location and academic offerings.

Andrew McAskill lives in Calumet Heights near the Bowen campus, which houses four small schools that are open to students in the area, although applications are required. But McAskill says the schools’ reputations aren’t great, so he opted instead for Jones College Prep, a 45-minute bus trip away in the Loop. Jones, a selective-admissions school, offers something he wanted: a better academic reputation and diversity. “If you’re going to be in business or something like that you need to be around all races and not just your own race,” says McAskill, who is African American.