Postcard from North Chicago: District builds momentum to college and career readiness

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series as Advance Illinois travels the state during its 10th anniversary year.


By Bob Dolgan
Communications Director
Advance Illinois

As part of a project for a high school STEM competition, Kaisha Johnson saw that cancer patients often felt isolated when going through treatment.

“Most of the time families can’t relate to the patient as much as other cancer patients can,” Kaisha said.

To solve that problem, Kaisha and her classmates developed a social media app that helps cancer patients connect with each other and identify where support groups are available. Kaisha’s app won the top prize as part of the Illinois Science and Technology Institute STEM Challenge at AbbVie headquarters last year.

“The idea is for patients to communicate with one another and explain their issues and the appointments they need,” Kaisha said.

North Chicago 12th graders Kaisha Johnson, left, and LeNeijha Coleman participate in the school’s IT career pathway.

Kaisha will be among the first graduates of North Chicago Community High School’s IT “pathway” this spring. She’s been accepted to the University of Illinois at Springfield, where she plans to major in computer science. Pathways programs emphasize coursework related to a profession and extracurricular opportunities like the Challenge, and North Chicago is helping Kaisha and 41 other students prepare to achieve success in college and their careers. In total, 150 North Chicago students are enrolled in pathway programs across IT, healthcare and manufacturing and take career-specific coursework as well as traditional high school classes.

“The pathway programs were developed because we realized we had to do more to connect the education students were receiving to postsecondary opportunities,” said Jeff Hollenstein, Lead Teacher for North Chicago’s Career Pathways Program. “The program gives students the opportunity to do career exploration, learn important skills, and connect knowledge in industries with job opportunities.”

Advance Illinois has been working with schools and other partners in North Chicago since 2013 to develop and support career pathways. Philanthropists and corporations like AbbVie are investing in those efforts. AbbVie provided funding last year to build a health clinic in the high school, an idea conceived of by healthcare pathway students.

“Since we began as a new company in 2013, AbbVie’s philanthropic efforts have included a focus on building strong communities and improving access to education,” said Melissa Walsh, Vice President of AbbVie Foundation. “We started in our own backyard, working to improve student success in North Chicago in partnership with the school district and our nonprofit partners. This community, which inspires us on so many levels, is our community, too. Many of our employees either grew up or currently live in or around North Chicago.”

In 2012, North Chicago School District 187 came under state control due to financial management issues. The district is working closely with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to serve as a model for staffing and financial planning. That work combined with the pathways program and promise of more dollars via the state’s new formula has led to a renewed sense of momentum.

“We’re at an inflection point,” said John Price, superintendent of North Chicago School District 187. “We’re bringing together our strategic work with ISBE, and we’re developing pathways that deepen our connections with business, the military and the community. We’re providing students with the opportunity to build a powerful self-identity and to see their best selves in the future.”

Support Advance Illinois’ efforts to prepare students to achieve success in college, career and civic life.

Learn more about the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, which Advance Illinois helped enact in 2016.

Contact Bob Dolgan at bdolgan@advanceillinois.org or 312-734-1446.

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