LITTLE VILLAGE — As Farragut Career Academy students trickled in to their auditorium Friday, excitement was in the air — and for good reason.
Farragut, 2345 S. Christiana Ave., was the last of five Chicago public schools this week to be surprised with full-ride college scholarships, courtesy of nonprofit Hope Chicago.
The scholarships will cover all costs — including tuition, room and board, books and fees — at 20 Illinois colleges, universities and trade schools that partner with the nonprofit. All Illinois state schools and City Colleges of Chicago work with Hope Chicago, spokesperson Julia Brun said.
One guardian per household is also eligible for a scholarship, and students will get a $750 stipend each year to cover expenses.
Farragut attendees are among 4,000 students across the district that received full scholarships from Hope this week. Hope also offered scholarships to all students at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Pilsen, Al Raby High School in Garfield Park, Morgan Park High School and Noble Prep in Englewood.
Friday’s assembly started with a performance by the school’s drumline, then WGCI radio personality Trey White recruited two teams of students from the crowd for a relay race to dress and undress in the classic graduation garb.
Attendees then watched a video in which students expressed the barriers they face in achieving their higher education goals, and in everyday life.
Hope’s CEO Dr. Janice Jackson brought the nonprofit’s co-founders Pete Kadens and Ted Koenig onto the stage to deliver the big announcement: all currently enrolled students at Farragut Academy, and one of their guardians, would go to college for free.
The crowd burst into cheers and tears as everyone processed what they’d just heard.
Gov. JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot stopped by to express their support for the future Hope Scholars.
“Farragut seniors, you are giving families all across Illinois a glimpse of what can be achieved when you have the opportunity to learn and to innovate and succeed and build a more prosperous and inclusive future,” Pritzker said.
More Chicago Public Schools students are graduating from high school than ever before, and 90 percent of surveyed 9th graders say they want to go to college, according to Hope Chicago. Yet only 63 percent enroll and just 27 percent graduate, according to a survey from Hope Chicago, and the rapidly rising cost of college means affordability is a major issue.
“The promise of college is not as clear to most of our students as it seems,” said Jackson, who stepped down as CPS leader last year.
Jackson said when she was a principal at Al Raby and Westinghouse College Prep, “there would be small things that prevented kids from going to college,” — from not knowing where to find support, to “being too embarrassed or shy to say ‘I need a bus ticket’ or explain their situation.”
Hope Chicago scholarships are granted regardless of GPA and citizenship, two factors which often disqualify students from other scholarships.
“It is a remarkable gift,” Lightfoot said, referencing her own experience with “the stress of worrying semester to semester whether or not [she] would be able to go back” to college.
“You now have the opportunity to not feel that burden or stress and just fulfill your passion,” she said. “This gives you the opportunity to dream big.”
She encouraged parents to take advantage of the scholarships as well.
“Parents, don’t think that you can’t do this,” Lightfoot said. “This gives you an opportunity to take advantage of the same thing you want for your kids.”
Hope Chicago explored census data, historical college enrollment and completion data, and a variety of other factors to identify priority neighborhoods and schools.
“I’m happy that we’re doing this at five schools,” Jackson said. “But, the reality is, we have 150 schools in CPS and a whole bunch of them need support like this.”
Established in 2021 by Kadens and Koenig and led by Jackson, Hope Chicago plans to raise and invest $1 billion in scholarships and other support over the next decade for Chicago students and their parents to attend college or trade school.
“We’re removing the biggest barrier, which is financial,” Jackson said. “Now it’s time for the whole team to step in and work in consultation and conjunction with CPS and the staff at these schools to really get our kids to take advantage of this.”
“While I’m on stage celebrating, I’m also thinking about the work,” she said.
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