Newest charter school empowers students to believe in their intellectBy William Harms
Parents, students and members of the community will join President Zimmer and the leaders of the Urban Education Institute on Wednesday, Oct. 29, to celebrate the opening of the newest campus of the University of Chicago Charter School—Carter G. Woodson Middle School, 4444 S. Evans Ave.
“The Carter G. Woodson campus is a state-of-the art middle school that provides a rich set of academic opportunities that allow students to experience themselves as intelligent, capable and powerful,” said School Director Jared Washington.
Joining Washington as speakers at the opening event will be 3rdWard Alderman Pat Dowell, charter school governing board member Andre Rice, Zimmer and students enrolled in the Carter G. Woodson Middle School.
“I’m pleased that the young people in the 3rd Ward who reside in the Woodson attendance area have another quality educational option,” Dowell said. “The University of Chicago Charter School is making an investment in the future of our children.”
Equipped with 21st-century technology, the school is named for the 20th-century historian, who was one of the first African Americans to graduate from the University. The school’s curriculum goals reflect Woodson’s active pursuit of education throughout his lifetime.
“Our program includes a rigorous core curriculum focused on literacy, math, science, social studies and multiple exploratory opportunities through weekly ‘X Block’ classes in cooking, quilting, swimming, fashion design and healthy living,” said Washington. Students at Carter G. Woodson also will have the opportunity to participate in the ‘X Cursions’ program, which provides access to local, regional, national and international learning expeditions to museums, historical sites and cultural points of interest, Washington said.
Carter G. Woodson Middle School is 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 new middle school is organized into pods of five classrooms clustered together to serve as the home base for middle school teaching teams in literacy, mathematics, science and social studies, as well as academic support.
“The pod design is especially appropriate for middle school students, as it cuts down the space they need to navigate and allows them to be more organized,” Washington said. The classrooms have been upgraded with flat-screen monitors and “Smartboards” in the mathematics classrooms to add multimedia flexibility.
In addition, the school has projection screens to create flexible workspaces for students and teachers, and newly installed glass walls in the interior pods increase the amount of natural light in the hallways.
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. Woodson, the son of former slaves, was 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 in February across the United States. He died in 1950.
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, the Lewis Sebring Director of the Urban Education Institute, 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 student body of the new Carter G. Woodson Middle School comprises 250 students from existing University Charter Schools and new sixth-grade students who are neighborhood residents. It will grow to serve 450 students over the next three years.
Students enrolled in the University’s North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School, who are advancing into the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, will attend Carter G. Woodson Middle School. Also members of the student body are sixth-graders who have been admitted through a citywide lottery, which gives preference to students living in a neighborhood attendance boundary.
Like all University Charter Schools, the Carter G. Woodson Middle School provides a rigorous academic program to prepare students for success in four-year colleges. It also has 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. “The Carter G. Woodson Middle School will be instrumental in achieving that goal.”
Several programs and projects that enrich students’ academic experiences will be available to them. The after-school Digital Youth Network, developed by Nichole Pinkard at the Urban Education Institute, 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.
In addition to beginning early exploration into college options, students also receive expanded help in making the transition from middle school to high school. In its studies, the Consortium on Chicago School Research has identified a lack of support for students in Chicago Public Schools during this transition as a major obstacle to continued academic success.
The consortium is part of the University’s Urban Education Institute, which was established to create new knowledge and educational models that demonstrate how to produce reliable, excellent schooling for children growing up in urban America.
UEI supports and sustains four charter schools, operates the Consortium on Chicago School Research, oversees teacher preparation programs dedicated to training outstanding urban educators and creates innovative approaches to urban schooling, such as the Digital Youth Network.
The institute draws together the intellectual resources of the University with expert practitioners who work daily with children to better clarify the practices, supports, tools and research necessary to ensure all children engage in ambitious, intellectual work.