Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Channing Reddit, Social Justice Class of 09, One of Eight to Win Roosevelt Scholarship

Yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times reported that eight students from The School of Social Justice, one of four small schools within Little Village Lawndale High School, had been awarded full four-year scholarships worth $80,000 to Roosevelt University. Channing Reddit, singing a duet in the photo above as part of a play honoring Black History Month, was among them. Channing, an accomplished singer and pianist, told me he plans to major in music education. He has already spent a fair amount of time at Roosevelt, from orientation when he first arrived as a freshman to a writing course he took on campus last summer, staying overnight.

As an 8th-grader at Mason Elementary in North Lawndale, Channing originally thought he would apply to Curie High School. Having sung and played piano in church since he was very young, he liked Curie's music program and strong academic reputation. But when he heard there was a new high school opening nearby, he was so intrigued he changed his mind. “It was brand-new. I wanted to be in the history of the school as one of the first graduates,” he said.

Channing's 8th-grade dream came true last Friday night. When he and his classmates crossed the stage, they made history as members of the first graduating class of Little Village Lawndale High School. Hunger striker Manuelita Garcia, who helped push the Chicago Board of Education to make good on their promise to build a new high school in Little Village, spoke during their commencement ceremony.

Students coming to Little Village Lawndale choose which of the four small schools they wish to attend: Social Justice, MAS (Multicultural Arts School), Infinity Math & Science Academy, or World Language Academy. Soon after Channing chose Social Justice, he discovered that Roosevelt University had pledged to award scholarships covering tuition, room and board to any student in Social Justice's first two graduating classes with at least a 3.0 GPA and an ACT score of 20. “From the very beginning I knew I was going to do that." Always an honors student, ”I knew it would be easy for me to meet the requirement," he said. He graduated with a 4.0 and earned the 20 after just one retake.

Though Channing says it was easy for him, statistics say it's generally pretty tough for young African-American men like him to make it through both high school and college. Recent research shows that for every 100 African American boys who start ninth grade in Chicago's public high schools, only about 11 will hold a bachelor's degree ten years later.

Not only has Channing made huge strides in beating those odds, he's helped his peers along the way. He has a circle of friends who, like him, are African American young men on track to graduate from high school, some of whom joined him for lunch or stopped by his table while I interviewed him earlier this year. “I'm always helping all of them when they need help with their work.”

Channing added that Social Justice has made a big difference in his friends' likelihood of graduating. If they had gone to a different school, he said, it was unlikely they would all have made it with him. “Other schools seem like they don't care about their students that much. This one does.”

UPDATED 6/10: I received word from Katherine Hogan, English department chair at Social Justice, that of the original 85 students who entered as freshmen, 66 graduated last Friday night, and 50 of them have been accepted to postsecondary programs. Hogan says six more students are expected to graduate in August.

Full disclosure: I taught briefly at Social Justice High School back in 2006 and had the privilege of meeting Channing when he was in my advisory (homeroom). We had not kept in touch until I talked with him this spring about his postgraduate plans.

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