Getting a chance

When they arrived at Whitney Young three years ago, Anthony Wiggins (left) and Jakori Lesure came from low-performing elementary schools and felt as though most of their classmates were a year ahead of them in terms of knowledge and skill.  [Photo by Joe Gallo]

Smart students from poor neighborhoods are less likely to test into gifted and classical elementary schools. Later, they are more likely to become disengaged and eventually drop out. A special initiative is giving some students a last-minute shot at elite programs.

Limited options

Jasmine Bennett, a sophomore at Bowen High School, works on a self-portrait titled “Bubbles.” It is one of two dozen projects she must include in her portfolio in order to get credit for Advanced Placement Art.  [Photo by Lucio Villa]

At small neighborhood high schools like Bowen, course offerings are meager compared with the bounty of classes offered at selective schools.

Closing the opportunity gap

Every year, a high-stakes gamble begins.Parents across Chicago take their children to be tested for selective elementary schools and programs, the first step in a potentially make-or-break scenario. The district has 16 schools and programs for gifted students starting as kindergarteners—plus 10 more for older elementary students—and these schools and programs send large numbers of students on to the district’s gems: the selective high schools that invariably score at the top of the heap on state achievement tests and offer students a broad array of rigorous courses, engaging electives and enriching after-school activities.

Not passing the test

Fernando Ramirez responds to a question in an Advanced Placement English language and composition course at Rickover Naval Academy. Rickover has had some success in preparing Latino students to pass AP exams. [Photo by Marc Monaghan]

More African American and Latino students are enrolling in Advanced Placement courses, but pass rates on AP exams---which could earn students college credit--are stagnant or on the decline. Schools have begun using a variety of strategies to help more students pass AP tests.

Teaching the art of the essay

Erin Leuschel, an Advanced Placement language and composition teacher at Rickover Naval Academy, guides a team of students as they prepare for a debate about fairness in the legal system. [Photo by Marc Monaghan]

Selective schools and military high schools (which also have selective admissions criteria) have some of the highest pass rates for students of color on Advanced Placement tests. One of those schools is Rickover Naval Academy, housed in the Senn High campus in Edgewater.