Education program gives students a boost

CARDS+ON+THE+TABLE.+Students+play+Uno+during+their+recreation+time+at+High+Jump%2C+a+supplemental+education+program+for+middle+schoolers%2C+on+Dec.+7.+Some+students+eventually+enroll+at+Lab%2C+and+other+U-High+students+volunteer+with+the+program.
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Education program gives students a boost

CARDS ON THE TABLE. Students play Uno during their recreation time at High Jump, a supplemental education program for middle schoolers, on Dec. 7. Some students eventually enroll at Lab, and other U-High students volunteer with the program.

CARDS ON THE TABLE. Students play Uno during their recreation time at High Jump, a supplemental education program for middle schoolers, on Dec. 7. Some students eventually enroll at Lab, and other U-High students volunteer with the program.

Malcolm Taylor

CARDS ON THE TABLE. Students play Uno during their recreation time at High Jump, a supplemental education program for middle schoolers, on Dec. 7. Some students eventually enroll at Lab, and other U-High students volunteer with the program.

Malcolm Taylor

Malcolm Taylor

CARDS ON THE TABLE. Students play Uno during their recreation time at High Jump, a supplemental education program for middle schoolers, on Dec. 7. Some students eventually enroll at Lab, and other U-High students volunteer with the program.

Nikhil Patel, Editor-In-Chief

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It’s Saturday morning, but Lab is far from empty. Instead, over 150 students are sitting in classrooms around the school and getting a jump start on their secondary education.

At a typical High Jump Saturday session, students take five classes a day, including math, science, writing, history, study hall and high-school prep classes. The classes are fairly small — some held only 10 kids, others had as many as 16. 

According to Isabella Espinoza Villasenor, a High Jump seventh grader, being around ambitious peers is invaluable. 

Niyelah Harper

“It offers so many great opportunities for us students, especially if you don’t have very much in your home school, and it just takes everything to a new level than it does in the home school,” Isabella said. “These students are above most other students in the classroom. High Jump — it gives you a challenge.”

The High Jump program has been supporting students across the Chicago-land area for 30 years — and Lab has partnered with them for 25 of those years. Lab is one of three private schools in the Chicago-land area that partners with this program. The program’s goals are to “equalize access to education” for ambitious students through Saturday meetings, where students can learn valuable lessons both about scholastic and other topics. 

At Lab, many students are or have been involved in the High Jump program through spending time volunteering and/or actually being involved in the program.

Destiney Williamson, a U-High junior, took part in the program throughout 7th and 8th grade. 

“High Jump is a summer school-type program, so we did all the regular school classes like math and English,” Destiney said. For Destiney, these sessions provided support both socially and academically, making Lab’s dynamic a bit less difficult to navigate.

Senior Niyelah Harper also attended High Jump programs for 7th and 8th grade, where she learned lifelong lessons.

High Jump really helped with the transition of keeping up with so much more work, especially at such a rigorous school like here, because we had to keep up with our regular school work from what they call their ‘home school,’ and also we had to do High Jump work all the time.”

— Niyelah Harper

“There’s a science class, with chemistry and biology,” Niyelah said. “And then there was a class where we, like, learned how to be organized and stay on top of our work and also, it was kind of about learning how to thrive in high school with the resources that we had.”

The program helps students prepare for the rigorous classwork of lab, but also the social environment of a high school.

“High Jump really helped with the transition of keeping up with so much more work, especially at such a rigorous school like here, because we had to keep up with our regular school work from what they call their ‘home school,’ and also we had to do High Jump work all the time,” Niyelah said. “It taught you how to balance workloads all the time.” 

Destiney also gained valuable lessons, both about her classwork and about advocating for herself.

“Most of the way I take notes is based on how I did in High Jump. But it mostly helped me education-wise only freshman year,” Destiney said. “It helped me be more confident and social.”

Senior Ananya Asthana’s interaction with the High Jump program was as a sophomore volunteer at the Lab campus. She said she volunteered because she wanted to tutor students, but also because she wanted to help support students. She quickly realized how important the program was for students in their 7th and 8th grade year.

“I think my favorite part was seeing the value of a holistic support system for the participants,” she said. “It wasn’t just ‘Saturday School,’ it was a way to equalize educational opportunities across Chicago, both through lesson plans and built-in support systems. The number of HJ success stories is amazing, and it’s nice to play a small role in that organization.”

Niyelah’s time in High Jump gave her a valuable perspective on the program when she went back to volunteer for a program that she felt had given her a lot.

“It was really cool seeing like kids in the same position I was in four years ago, “ Niyelah said. “I talked to them about how High Jump helped me grow a lot and how it got me ready for the future.” 

Nicky Edwards-Levin contributed additional reporting.