Thinking about Their Future in a Different Way: Roosevelt University Partners with a Local High School and Promises Its Students Full Financial Support If Admitted

By Stewart, Pearl | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Thinking about Their Future in a Different Way: Roosevelt University Partners with a Local High School and Promises Its Students Full Financial Support If Admitted


Stewart, Pearl, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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This is the motto of Chicago's Social Justice High School, one of four small, autonomous schools on one campus, Little Village Lawndale High School Campus.

LVLHS was the result of a 19-day hunger strike in May 2001 by 14 community residents demanding that funds allocated for a new high school be used for that purpose. Officials had reneged on promises to build the school, instead diverting the funds to other priorities.

The high-profile community protest was a lesson in social justice. And the success of that struggle spawned the four-school complex, which opened in fall 2005 on the West Side of Chicago. The campus contains Multicultural Arts High School, World Language High School, Social Justice High School and Infinity: Math, Science and Technology High School. The separate schools share the library, sports facilities and auditoriums.

Adding to its unique origin, SoJo, as Social Justice High is called, is now part of an educational experiment initiated by Roosevelt University president Dr. Chuck Middleton. Middleton, impressed by SoJo students during a school program a few years ago, acted on impulse.

"Students were doing end-of-the-year reports and final presentations, all ninth-graders, and I listened to them as they did a really interesting project on migration from Central America, South America and Mexico to the United States," Middleton recalls. "And it occurred to me that these were students coming from families where very few have been to college before. They were clearly bright, talented kids, but needed something to dream about so that they could think of their future in a different way."

So on the spot, Middleton made a decision--and an offer to the students and Social Justice Highs principal, Rito Martinez.

"It seemed like a natural thing to do at the moment," Middleton says. He pledged that the students in the first two graduating classes who qualified academically for admission to Roosevelt would be admitted, and their families would not have to come up with the money.

"Then I came back to my office and said, 'now we have to raise the money.'" That part, Middleton says, has been challenging but not impossible. "We will begin working a year in advance. We'll take a team of financial aid officers and work with the families to take advantage of state and federal aid that they qualify for. We will make up the rest with institutional resources," Middleton explains.

Those resources are relatively limited. The university's endowment is $76 million, but Middleton says corporate and individual donations are making the pledge to Social Justice High viable. But the fundraising is ardent. "Next year is the big push for the final part of it," he says.

Named for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the university was founded in 1945 (originally as Thomas Jefferson College) to admit students regardless of social or economic class, racial or ethnic origin, gender or age.

"It was done because it was the right and ethical thing to do," Middleton says, explaining that social justice and civil liberties also were a part of the school's mission. Like SoJo, Roosevelt has its own motto: "Dedicated to the enlightenment of the human spirit. …

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