Published on June 30, 2016 at captialresearch.org. Read the original article here.
By Melodie J. Bowler
This article is part of Doing Good: Effective Alternatives to the Welfare State, June 2016.
Summary: The Midtown Educational Foundation has been helping low-income students in Chicago graduate from high school and enter college since 1965 through a series of summer and after-school programs. Last year, the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary and 16th consecutive year of 100 percent high school graduation and college acceptance for its students. Character education and parental involvement are the keys to its success.
The January 1998 edition of Philanthropy, Culture, & Society—a publication the Capital Research Center no longer produces—was dedicated entirely to the Midtown Achievement Program (MAP). Justin Torres, the author of the piece and a former MAP advisor, called his summer there “one of the most striking experiences of my life.” MAP is one of many programs run by the Midtown Educational Foundation (MEF), whose mission is to “[guide] low-income urban youth in Chicago along pathways of success.”
MEF splits it operations between the Midtown Center for boys and the Metro Achievement Center for girls. Midtown and Metro both cater to youths from the 4th to 12th grades, with summer and school-year programs that include character development, sports, electives, field trips, and tutoring. The Centers serve not only at-risk students but also their parents. The Parent Program focuses on the other side of youth education—the parents as educators. The goal of the program is to “help parents understand that they are the primary educators of their children.”
In 2015, MEF celebrated 50 years in operation, and 16 consecutive years of 100 percent high school graduation and college acceptance for its seniors. In sharp contrast, only 66 percent of Chicago public school students graduated in 2014. To learn more about why this organization has been so successful in helping Chicago’s at-risk youths to reach their potential, I spoke with MEF’s Executive Director Glenn Wilke.
Midtown Educational Foundation History
Members of Opus Dei—a Catholic Church group that emphasizes holiness in ordinary daily life—along with other colleagues, founded Midtown Center for boys out of social concern in 1965. While MEF’s programs serve local citizens without regard to denominational background, “they’re inspired by the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church, and the culture of Opus Dei, reflecting a mutual concern for those in need,” Mr. Wilke told me.
The Center was located in “an Italian neighborhood originally, on the west side of Chicago,” he continued. “It’s changed a lot; now there are doctors and nurses, a lot of schools for dentistry, doctors, and so forth in the area, so we’ve gone farther toward the south and toward the west, to the areas where you hear about all the crime and murders in the city of Chicago. That’s where we attract the kids. They’re low-income, academically average kids.”
A Little Extra Help
Right after saying “academically average,” Wilke paused, and said, “when I say academically average, I have to preface that, because a lot of them are average when they come to us—C minus, C plus, B minus—they’re in the middle, so they only need that little extra help, and they blossom.”
That “little extra help” is the difference that MEF makes in the lives of these students. MEF does not cater to the academically outstanding. As Wilke put it, “We want those in the middle, who could fall through the cracks, as we say.”
Justin Torres, as a MAP advisor, found that “many of these boys have no conception of a life that does not include bullets, gangs, and readily-available drugs. . . . the idea of attending college thousands of miles from home, as I did, was foreign to them.” By showing these kids the opportunities that they have in life at a young age, Midtown and Metro get them on track to achieve their dreams.
Starting at a Young Age: Walgreens One-on-One Program
The youngest of Midtown’s and Metro’s students, 4th to 6th graders, are in the Walgreens One-on-One Program. For the girls, this includes academic classes (math, science, and English), a field trip, sports, and electives (dance, music, or art) for three weeks in the summer. Then the program continues during the school year, with one three-hour meeting each week, that includes an elective, character education, goal-setting, and one-on-one tutoring. The program is designed to “give young girls the tools they need to be successful students and confident young women.”
For the boys at Midtown, the summer program is five weeks long, including academic classes (math, science, and reading), sports, weekly field trips, and character education. During the school year, the boys attend one three-hour meeting each week, which includes sports, character education, goal-setting, and one-on-one tutoring. The goal of the year-round program is to create “an early foundation of good study habits, along with organizational and goal-setting skills that support future academic success.”
Preparing for High School: Midtown and Metro Achievement Programs
After getting through the basics in the One-on-One Program, 7th and 8th graders participate in the Midtown and Metro Achievement Programs (MAP). The programs run for six weeks during the summer, then throughout the school year. In the summertime, Metro’s girls participate in classes (math, science, social studies, fitness, and English), character development, field trips, electives (innovation, music, cooking, leadership, art, and drama), and individual mentoring. During the school year, the girls attend Metro once each week for supplementary instruction in math and English, enrichment clubs (including cooking, health and wellness, and leadership), character education, test preparation, and individual mentoring.
MAP for boys is similar, starting with six weeks of classes (math, science, and English), sports, character development, field trips, individual mentoring, and career presentations in the summer. When the school year starts, boys attend Midtown twice each week for supplementary classes, sports, enrichment clubs, character education, test preparation, and one-on-one mentoring.
College Preparatory High Schools
According to MEF’s website, MAP “supports middle school students in their goal of enrolling in college preparatory high schools.” So I had to ask, what is a college preparatory high school? I had heard of technical schools before, but where I’m from (Howard County, Maryland), all high schools prepare students for college. In Chicago, that’s not the case, Wilke explained:
While carefully avoiding saying anything negative about Chicago’s public schools, Wilke touched on the heart of the problem nonetheless: Many public high schools in Chicago are not preparing students to go to college. Many youths in Chicago won’t even be graduated from high school, so college is a far-off dream enjoyed only by other, more privileged children. MEF is changing that.
Preparing for College: College Orientation Program
For 9th to 12th graders at Metro and Midtown, the College Orientation Program (COP) “helps students navigate the college matching and acceptance process through a combination of skill-building, academic enrichment, career and professional exploration, college-readiness activities, individual advising, individual tutoring, summer apprenticeships, service projects and more.” Like MEF’s other programs, COP starts in the summer and continues through the school year. During the summer, there is the Freshman Program (for incoming 9th graders), apprenticeships (for incoming 10th to 12th graders), and internships (for incoming 12th graders only). During the school year, students focus on supplementary classes, test preparation, character education, and college seminars.
Apprenticeships at MEF
The high school apprenticeships offered through Midtown and Metro truly set the organization apart from other summer programs. When I asked what changes have been made to MEF over the past 50 years to make the organization more effective, Wilke told me about the apprenticeship program:
I think so too.
Character Education: Making the Difference
The piece that ties together all of the programs at MEF is character education. While not typically taught in public schools today, character education is truly what changes the lives of these students. As Justin Torres put it several years ago, MEF “takes the position—at once trendy and time-tested—that character is at the heart of education, and that classroom learning cannot be divorced from good moral habits.” The character development classes, part of both the summer and school-year MEF curricula, feature “basic, nondenominational moral instruction: responsibility, perseverance, honesty, service, and living out duty to faith, family, and community,” according to Torres.
Starting at a young age, MEF’s students are taught to be honest and responsible—for the youngest, this means doing their chores, completing homework, and not lying to their parents. In the sports sessions, kids are taught to win and lose graciously. It’s starting at a young age that makes the biggest difference. I asked, “Is character education what sets Midtown and Metro apart from other groups?” And Wilke responded:
That’s it, but it’s over a long period of time. Many of the kids that start with us, they’re 3rd graders entering 4th grade, have stayed all the way through senior year of high school. When you have that long-lasting impact with great trained advisors, tutors, mentors, and staff who emulate everything we try to do, it changes lives. Integrity, honesty, being a person of responsibility, a person that cares about others—that’s what we instill in these kids.
The Parent Program
As important as the programs for Midtown’s and Metro’s students is the program for their parents. As Wilke put it:
The Parent Centers at Midtown and Metro have opportunities for parents to get involved throughout the year. At Metro, they host parent nights each semester, “conversation and coffee” while their daughters are attending programs, parent-student celebrations, and family days. At Midtown, the Parent Center holds monthly parent meetings, “while-you-wait” meetings during their kids’ sessions, father and son nights, and private orientation meetings. Together, Midtown and Metro’s Parent Centers host the Annual Parent Conference, an informational conference that focuses on the role of each parent in education.
The Parent Program is an indispensable part of MEF’s success. As one parent put it, “Not only does Metro serve our children by providing academic and character support and development, they also support parents in raising our children.” So I asked Wilke, “How big of a difference do you think it makes when parents come to every parenting session versus just one or none at all?” Simply put, “It’s huge,” he said.
Why Isn’t MEF in Every City?
With MEF’s proven programs and years of success, I was wondering: why isn’t there a similar program in every major city in the U.S.? So I asked Wilke, “What advice or guidance would you give to somebody who wants to start a similar program in a different city?”
With the right people, the Midtown Educational Foundation has made a difference in thousands of lives—for students, parents, and volunteers. Wilke admits, “I wish there wasn’t a need for any of us because then I could go do something else—I worked in the corporate world for 20 years—but there’s such a great need, especially in the city of Chicago to help these young people.” For as long as that need exists, MEF will be there to give students and parents the opportunity to change their lives.
Melodie J. Bowler is the Director of Publications at the Capital Research Center and the editor of Doing Good: Effective Alternatives to the Welfare State. For more information on the Midtown Educational Foundation, visit www.midtown-metro.org.