CHICAGO– Donavin Bailey, 18, who lives in the notorious Altgeld Gardens housing complex, says he is smart and can do anything if he puts his mind to it.
But he was kicked out of Olive Harvey Middle College High School, because he failed to show up for classes. Instead of going to school, Donavin, an expectant father, said he spent his days gambling, playing dice, because he needed money to take care of his future family. Dice became addictive. Since it was the only way he could earn money, he said it became more enticing than class.
Last Thursday, Donavin sat behind a workstation inside Ombudsman, a new school in Roseland, located at 10928 S. Halsted St. He joined fellow classmates, most of whom are former dropouts, preparing for math, English, history and other classes.
Donovin credits his mother for helping him get back on track.
“I went to orientation with my mom,” said Donavin, a charming, confident youth. “She basically put me back in school.”
Last Tuesday, Ombudsman Chicago, which operates a network of schools that are successful in educating students who have experienced trauma, those who have dropped out of high school, or those who have had a difficult time coping in traditional high school settings, opened a location in Roseland. The school, located on a busy thoroughfare, just south of Interstate 57, will accommodate up to 250 students.
Ombudsman officials said they selected Roseland, because Chicago Public School leaders saw a need in the area where there were no options schools to serve students seeking an alternative education and the special resources that Ombudsman provides. With no options, students considering returning to school might be deterred because of the distance and the dangers associated with going to a school in areas with heavy gang presence. Ombudsman has three other campuses in Chicago, one on the far Northwest Side, one on the West Side, and one on the South Side in Englewood.
“We are appreciative that CPS made a commitment to reinvest in this type of program after recognizing the need in the community,” said Sue Fila, vice president of center operations for Ombudsman Educational Services. “We know there is violence out there. We know there are mental health issues out there. This is a renewed approached, and we are honored to be a part of this work, and to be a part of the solution. It is the right step in the right direction as we are seeing graduation rates, especially for Black and Hispanic males, increase and dropout rates decrease.”
While Donavin was in class, India Hoover, 18, from Roseland, walked into Ombudsman Roseland to register for classes. India previously attended Morgan Park Academy and another alternative program, said she is one credit short of graduating and Ombudsman provides the flexibility she needs to go to school while also working in a nursing facility. She wants to become a nurse working with seniors. Since she was 16, she has been working with elderly patients, feeding them, clothing them, bathing them, giving them their medicine and inspiring them.
While completing the application for admission, Principal Robert Turner greeted India and a friend, who currently attends Morgan Park. After hearing her goals, Mr. Turner responded, “We have to figure out how to do a partnership with the establishment across the street. You can get experience there while you are taking classes here.”
He added, “If you have to, you can even attend your classes in scrubs.”
For now, Principal Turner said, “We just have to get you activated and successful. Sometimes, I am going to remind you of your future goal. I will say you remember when we sat down and discussed your plans. So, we will do that. You agree.”
India nodded in approval and Principal Turner smiled.
India and Donovin are typical of the students who have been walking through Ombudsman’s door since Tuesday.
“They are just kids looking for that second chance,” Principal Turner said as he tried to squeeze in a lunch at his desk, much later than planned. “These are kids who want their high school diploma, kids who want that opportunity and want to show they can get it done, and I am very hopeful from what I have seen over the last few days. This is a very good group of students who have been coming through the door.”
As for Ombudsman opening in Roseland, Principal Turner said, “I am excited about this opportunity. I am one who does not believe in labels. I believe in the community, and when I met my Roseland parents, they showed me I was moving into a great community.”
Ombudsman Chicago offers students who have dropped out of CPS or need a fresh start to get back on track another option to earn a high school diploma. Since opening as a member of the Chicago Options School Programs in 2013, more than 5,000 students have attended the four Ombudsman Chicago campuses. To learn more, visit www.chicagodiploma.com