Latin School of Chicago

Latin Magazine Winter 2020

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For Elaine Rojas-Castillo '08, the High Jump program seemed like a great idea, even though it meant giving up her summer vacations and Saturdays during the school year. Rojas-Castillo, now a news anchor at WIFR-TV, a CBS affiliate in Rockford, IL, loved learning and didn't feel challenged at her elementary school. During the program, she recalled having to do a book report about a novel she disliked, Enders Game by Orson Scott Card. She was eager to please the English teacher, Mrs. Panzer, whom she respected. Rojas-Castillo thought Mrs. Panzer would get upset, but instead, she insisted it was perfectly normal that Rojas-Castillo didn't like the book. "She was one of the first teachers that made me feel like my writing mattered. She challenged me, but in a warm and loving way. Mrs. Panzer is the reason I'm a journalist," Rojas-Castillo said. Early Days High Jump became a nonprofit in 2001, but back in 1989 it was an idea for social outreach. The program was the brainchild of Eleanor Nicholson, a former upper school director at Latin. Nicholson noticed that Latin's students of color, some of whom were on financial aid, were having a tough time adjusting. "These students were overwhelmed by both the social and academic expectations," she said. Nicholson realized that it was imperative to reach these students in middle school. She began talking to her colleague, John Cotton, who was the head of school at nearby Francis W. Parker School. Her idea was to create an academic program for seventh and eighth grade students from families of limited financial means to help them prepare for selective high schools. "John and I decided to see if we could get some money for this project," Nicholson said. In the summer of 1988, she applied to the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, asking for just $20,000. When the grant was awarded, she and Cotton got to work. The first cohort of 16 students met for classes in the summer of 1989 as a joint venture between Latin and Parker, with Latin serving as the host school. Asked what the biggest challenge was those first few years, Nicholson remarked that it was difficult to get enough kids to apply for the program. "We had so little resources for advertising and marketing, it was a miracle we had 16 kids in that first group," she said with a laugh. Dr. Nate Pietrini, High Jump's current executive director, is proud to cite statistics that attest to the effectiveness of the program. "For every year in High Jump, a student will make a two-year gain in math and reading," he said. He noted that 79 percent of High Jump students go on to complete college, compared to 20 percent of Chicago Public School students. Eighty-four percent are first-generation college students. The effect on the city of Chicago is significant, with more than 2,000 students educated from 48 Chicago zip codes. "The impact on the city is incredible," said Pietrini. "The program has created upward economic mobility for its students and given careers [to students] that they otherwise wouldn't have had." And these careers? Pietrini pointed out that of the four alumni who currently sit on High Jump's board of directors, one is the director at ComEd, one is vice president of the nonprofit EverThrive Illinois, and two are lawyers at large law firms. LATIN MAGAZINE ยป WINTER 2020 27

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