After-school program kicks off new year

October 1, 2013
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Exelon, ComEd and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago’s Stay in School Initiative kicked off the new school year Saturday at the Museum of Science and Industry.

But Austin students – involved since the program’s inception seven years ago – were noticeably absent.

The program works with about 2,000 students a year in Humboldt Park, West Town, Chinatown, Bridgeport, Cicero, Grand Crossing and Austin.

One Saturday a month, 60 students spend the day listening to a speaker, playing games and learning job skills with mentors who work at Exelon and ComEd. Near the end of the school year the students compete for 15 paid internships.

This year, the program grew from two community partners to six because of the success of the program, said Fidel Marquez, a senior vice president at ComEd.

Despite recent success, there was confusion Saturday as to who was working with Austin students.

Youth Guidance representatives, who worked with 10 to 15 students from Frederick Douglass Academy High School the past few years, said they decided to turn their attention to Humboldt Park and West Town since BUILD relocated its offices to Austin last year.

But BUILD representatives said although they are based in Austin, they would be working primarily with Humboldt Park students since Youth Guidance worked with Austin students.

After the mix-up came to light, the manager of youth development services for BUILD, Alexis Hardy, said the organization is indeed in charge of Austin students going forward.

They have only recruited one student so far, but Hardy said BUILD is being intentional about getting more Austin youth involved.

“We can’t be housed in Austin and not serve them, so we’ve expanded our program,” she said.

One of her students, Lavell Rogers, was at Saturday’s event.

The junior at Frederick Douglass Academy High School already participates in three after-school programs, but he said he’s excited about the Stay in School Initiative.

“I loved today. It was awesome having the opportunity to meet different people from different areas,” said Rogers, who wants to be a social worker when he grows up.

The biggest thing he’s excited about is the possibility of an internship, he said.

Rob Elgas, a reporter for NBC Chicago, was the keynote speaker, and a representative from United Way presented highlights from the last school year.

Students who participated last year had a 92 percent graduation rate versus a 65 percent graduation rate for Chicago Public Schools, according to the program’s “report card” compiled by United Way.

And 85 percent of students in the Stay in School Initiative moved to the next grade on time, according to the same report.

Austin native Laura Randle-Smith has been an Exelon mentor for five years.

Having come from the community, she sees working with the high school students as a privilege, she said.

“The end of the program, when you see some of the kids win the internship – seeing their faces light up – is the most rewarding part,” said Randle-Smith.

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