New charter school named for Carter WoodsonBy William Harms
The newest campus of the University Charter School is expected to open in autumn 2008 as a middle school and will be named for one of the University’s first African-American graduates, Carter Woodson.
Woodson was the founder of Black History Week, which later became Black History Month.
The Carter G. Woodson campus of the University Charter School will serve grades six through eight in a Chicago Public Schools facility at 4414 S. Evans Ave. It will be located in the Bronzeville neighborhood next to an existing Chicago Public School, the Carter G. Woodson Elementary School, which serves grades kindergarten through eight.
The opening of the school coincides with the 100th anniversary of Woodson’s graduation from the University with an A.B. and A.M. in history, and school leaders plan to recognize the centennial as part of the school’s opening festivities. Woodson, who died in 1950, was a son of former slaves and a one-time coal miner who went on to become an accomplished scholar and teacher. In 1926, he founded Black History Week, which 50 years later became Black History Month and is celebrated every February across the United States.
The new middle school builds on the success of the University’s first charter school, North Kenwood/Oakland, which opened in 1998 to serve grades pre-kindergarten through eight.
“It is our goal to develop a unique school focused specifically on preparing youth in early adolescence for the future—students who are highly literate and analytical, creative and innovative, and able to use media of all kinds to express their ideas,” said Timothy Knowles, Executive Director of the Center for Urban School Improvement, which operates the charter school’s campuses. “We want them to understand that effort is the best route to success and that they can become change agents in their schools and communities,” he added.
The new school, which is expected to serve 250 students during its first year of operation, will be composed of a mix of existing University Charter School students and new sixth-grade students from the neighborhood. North Kenwood/Oakland students who will advance into the sixth, seventh and eighth grades next fall will attend the new Carter G. Woodson campus. Joining them will be current fifth-graders at the University’s Donoghue campus, who will be sixth-graders in autumn 2008.
Additionally, 50 sixth-graders will be admitted to the school through a citywide lottery that gives preference to students in a neighborhood attendance boundary. A proposed attendance boundary will be presented to the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education for approval in January.
Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward Alderman, said, “I’m pleased that the young people in the 3rd Ward who reside in the Woodson attendance area will have another quality educational option. The University of Chicago Charter School is making an investment in the future of our children. I encourage all parents who reside in the attendance area to attend the open houses to learn more about the school and its various programs.”
LaTanya Grundy, a parent of two North Kenwood/Oakland students, said, “I think this new school is good because it provides a choice for parents. The charter school experience allows for creative learning and more autonomy. In exchange for more autonomy, the charter school is also held to a higher level of accountability.”
Like all University Charter Schools, the Carter G. Woodson campus will have a rigorous academic program to prepare students for success in four-year colleges. Woodson also will have a longer school day and school year than traditional Chicago public schools.
“We expect all University of Chicago Charter School students to attend four-year colleges,” Knowles said. “This new Carter G. Woodson middle school will be instrumental in achieving that goal.”
The new school also will offer one-on-one computing, a program that allows all University Charter School students in grades six through 12 to lease a laptop to support collaboration and learning. Students will own the laptop after three years.
Students also will be able to take part in several programs and projects that enrich their academic experiences. The after-school Digital Youth Network, a program developed by the Center for Urban School Improvement, encourages rigorous academic study through creative forms of self-expression using different kinds of digital media. Students compose original songs, publish books of poetry and compete in robotics competitions, among other activities.
“The new middle school will offer multiple opportunities for students to learn about themselves and who they can be,” said Jared Washington, the director of the North Kenwood/Oakland middle school campus who will head the Carter G. Woodson campus. “X-programming, for instance, will offer students a chance to explore photography, biking, painting, fitness, cooking and entrepreneurship.”
Signature projects will allow students to engage in long-term research projects that lead to a public presentation of their findings. Students also will get expanded help in dealing with the transition to high school, a major problem for Chicago Public Schools students identified in research by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and they will begin exploring their college options as well.
Besides continuing the academic and co-curricular opportunities available at the North Kenwood/Oakland middle school campus, the new school will offer space for expanded academic activities and outdoor recreation.
“We will be taking what we are doing now academically and ramping that up for more students. In our current building, we have space for only 162 students, but in Woodson, we’ll have room for up to 500,” said Washington. “At our current location, we don’t have any room for outdoor activity, but at Woodson, we have access to a whole city block that is a park with baseball diamonds and room for soccer and football,” he said.
Once the new Woodson campus is open, students will no longer use the North Kenwood/Oakland middle school campus at 1014 E. 47th St. in the St. Ambrose building. The nearby North Kenwood/Oakland elementary campus at 1119 E. 46th St. will continue serving children grades pre-kindergarten through five.