Tech Immersion

Chicago Tech Academy Launches Second Annual Real World Learning Program

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Katrice White, a 2015 graduate of Chicago Tech Academy, at tech company Modest.

Chicago Tech Academy (ChiTech), a nonprofit charter high school in the University Village neighborhood of Chicago and the only entire-school, project-based learning high school in the city, has launched its second annual corporate immersion program in partnership with Chicago’s technology community.

In the Real World Learning Program, ChiTech gives all its senior class the opportunity to spend an entire month of their final school year to obtain real workplace experience as paid interns at local organizations in Chicago. This is a rare learning opportunity to a student body made of 96 percent people of color, and whose family incomes fall at or below the poverty line, a news release said.

The school leadership team of ChiTech decided to bring back internships as part of its Real World Learning Program after it proved to be an effective model in giving students hands-on experience needed to succeed post-graduation. This year, the program spans from Jan. 30 to the end of February, and partnerships include DDB Chicago, TechNexus, Actualize, Black Tech Mecca, The Tie Bar, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis’ office and various companies at startup incubator, 1871.

Students in the program participate in website design, coding, graphic design and other real-world activities, a spokeswoman said. The program encourages students to define their interests before being assigned to a partner organization, according to a news release. For example, many of the students assigned to DDB Chicago voiced interest in developing their creative design skills, which they will put to practice by helping to produce a recruiting brochure for the school.

“This offsite learning program with the professional experience and connections it gives them, in tandem with our project-based learning curriculum and weekly guest speaker sessions that share their experiences from working in the local tech community, has allowed (students) to paint this picture in their minds, to dream bigger about what the future can hold for them post-graduation,” said Linnea Garrett, school director at ChiTech, in a statement.

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Raymon Young, a senior at Chi Tech Academy, does a mock interview offsite as part of the Real World Learning program.

One success story is that of 2016 graduate, Brian Jones. After he participated in the internship program last year, impressing his internship supervisors at CNA Insurance with his work dedication and attention to detail, he has since been invited and recommended for a college internship with CNA while he pursues a degree at Northeastern University.

“Project-based learning is very core to our staff’s ability to prepare our students for success post-graduation,” said TJ Pavlov, real world learning manager and social science teacher at ChiTech, in a statement. “We offer learning beyond our school walls, instead of putting subjects into separate boxes. For example, we combine math and science, or music and math. It’s a common occurrence to see a student walk the halls with a drill in hand to build (his/her) next project. Every day is a project or a presentation, because that’s what’s assigned in an actual workplace.”

All 76 of the school’s seniors have been placed this year at Chicago companies and organizations, a spokeswoman said. The four-year high school comprises about 300 students total.

ChiTech was founded in 2009 with a vision of bringing technology to Chicago youth. Every student takes a technology or entrepreneurship class every day during their four years at ChiTech, and students will have more than 1,000 hours of coding experience by the time they graduate. To learn more about the school, visit chitech.org.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at rchang@1105media.com.

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