PILSEN — Thousands of students at two high schools in Pilsen and Garfield Park were surprised with full rides to college Tuesday morning.
Students at Benito Juarez Community Academy, 2150 S. Laflin St., and Al Raby High School, 3545 W. Fulton Blvd., will get full scholarships thanks to Hope Chicago, a nonprofit that funds college scholarships for Chicago Public Schools students. A parent or guardian of each student will also get a scholarship, officials said.
The scholarship covers all costs — tuition, room and board, books and fees — at any of Hope Chicago’s 20 partner colleges and universities in Illinois. The list includes four-year public colleges in the state, two-year City Colleges of Chicago, some private colleges and trade schools.
Students also will receive a $750 stipend at the beginning of each school year to use for any expenses they choose.
Juarez and Raby are the first schools to receive this good news. Three other Chicago schools on the South, West or Southwest Sides will get the same surprise announcement throughout the rest of the week.
“As a life-long educator, I understand the barriers that college students face as they enter the higher education system,” Dr. Janice Jackson, CEO of Hope Chicago and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said in a statement. “Hope Chicago has a bold vision and an ambitious goal. With the help of the community, civic and business leaders, we have the opportunity to redefine the education landscape in our city.”
Juarez Principal Juan Carlos Ocon said he it was hard to keep the news a secret, but it was worth it to see the excitement from students and parents in the auditorium.
“It was earth-shattering, you could feel it throughout the entire campus,” Ocon said. “The auditorium was spilling over with hope and dreams and energy that I haven’t seen or felt from our school, from our students, ever.”
Ocon said the scholarship is particularly rewarding for undocumented students and their parents who aren’t eligible for some financial aid in higher education. Many Juarez parents and families are originally from Mexico, where they may have been professionals and certificate-holders but couldn’t continue in that field in the U.S., Ocon said.
“The number of parents who approached me today with tears running down their cheeks in disbelief, asking me to explain, wondering if this was truly real … it was so emotional,” he said. “I can just imagine the impact, the ripple effect this will have not only in our school community, but in Pilsen and the surrounding communities.”
See more photos and video of the surprise announcement below:
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: