“We pledge that in four years we will be better than we are today.” That’s what the members of the Baker College Prep class of 2017 recently promised at their College Signing Day ceremony.
They are already better than they were four years ago, when they took a leap of faith and walked in the door as Baker’s founding class of students. “You did something that made no sense whatsoever,” Principal Vincent Gay reminded them. “You trusted us.”
Baker’s Class of 2017 spent their first few weeks of freshman year in a church. “We didn’t have a building,” Gay recalls. But he and the staff had a vision. “We promised you would go to a great college.” By the end of their first year, the class of ’17 was already making waves in their South Chicago neighborhood by offering solutions to problems from broken sidewalks to gun violence.
Now, three years later, almost every member of the class is committing to a great college that is just right for them. For example, senior honors student Ken Smith is heading to Bradley University, where he’ll be rooming with classmate and advisory (homeroom) buddy Tramell Lancaster.
Smith’s mom, LaTonya Darden, couldn’t be prouder. Or more relieved the decision process is over. “We’ve been all around the world,” she noted. “It was an adventure.” Most Baker seniors were accepted to eight or nine different colleges. They then had the tough job of comparing financial aid offers and listening to their inner wisdom to decide which of their many options felt most right.
Though Darden is a college graduate, helping her son navigate this complex journey felt like a whole new world. Her older daughter attended a local junior college, so that admissions process “wasn’t a big to-do, like when they’re going to go away and stuff.”
When I asked if Darden was worried about empty-nest syndrome, she didn’t hesitate. “Uh-uh, bye!” she teased. More seriously, she added, “He needs to go away and see how life is without me.”
But she is worried about money. “Start early for scholarships, especially if you’re sending them to a private college,” she advised. “Start discussing it the freshman year. Everything snuck up on me because I didn’t have to do all that for the first one.”
Staying with Grads for the Long Haul
While College Signing Day marks a huge milestone, it doesn’t signal the end of the graduates’ relationship with Baker and the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Baker doesn’t just help its grads get to college; it wants to help them through. “Now we’re going to help you graduate from that college. This is the beginning of the next level of support we’re going to give you,” Gay promised.
One of Noble’s distinguishing features as a charter network is its long-term support for its graduates. Noble hires alumni coordinators who stay connected with graduates as they enter college. Alumni coordinators help graduates and their families make sense of academic advising, financial aid and the challenges new college students face in an unfamiliar environment.
While the grads can rely on that external support as they meet new challenges, it’s the knowledge and drive they have built up over four years of experience at Baker that will power them forward. Their college pledge says it all:
We, the members of the Class of 2017, are committed to completing college. We will be driven in our pursuit of knowledge, steadfast in our quest for opportunity, and dedicated to earning our degrees. We will be resolute in our mission, focused on achievement, and strong in the face of challenge. We will be disciplined, honorable, and determined. We will not give up at the first sign of struggle.
We will not be too proud to ask for help. We will not let doubt creep into our psyches. We will expand our horizons. We will meet new people. We will work hard. We will explore. We will have fun. We will persist. We will graduate. We will succeed.
We pledge that in four years we will be better than we are today; we will have more opportunity than we do today; we will be poised to enter the workforce as college graduates; and we will be more enlightened citizens.
We are Baker College Prep scholars. We will be victorious!