High Jump program provides Chicago middle schoolers with tuition-free academic resources

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Life is like a roller coaster: There are twists and turns and surprise loops that put you in places you don't always expect.

"I'm already smart, but this program is making me smarter," 8th grader Kayla Walker said.

Walker got a letter from the High Jump program a couple of years ago. Back then she wasn't sure what the program was or how it would soon change the trajectory of her academic career.

"At first I was like, 'No I don't want to go. It's during summer, I worked all school year and I want my break,'" Walker said.

But the more she learned about the program, the more she wanted to be involved with it.

So, what is it?

"High Jump is a program that gives academic enrichment, social-emotional learning to motivated middle school students in Chicago who have limited economic means," Executive Director Nate Pietrini said. "One of the easiest ways to think about it as it works as a second school for students."

For many, including 12-year-old Leilani Rivera, the program gives students access to educational tools they don't usually have.

"My home school doesn't have the resources that we need and with High Jump, it really pushed me to challenge myself more," Rivera said.

The average High Jump student comes from a family of four that earns $33,000 a year.

"We're focusing on students who may not have resources to get out of school time enrichment that other students might have," Pietrini added.

Students come from all parts of the city and vary in ethnic background. Almost 95 percent of them go to Chicago Public Schools.

Over the past 30 years, High Jump has helped more than 2,000 students excel academically and has even given them the tools to apply to rigorous high schools in the area and around the country.

"We prep students in different ways that allow them to decide or open up these opportunities for them in the future to get out of these neighborhoods or become successful in many different ways," High Jump alumna Jenifer Nuñez said.

Nuñez joined the program five years ago. Now, she's a Teacher's Assistant at High Jump and is headed to The University of Pennsylvania in the fall. She's just one of the several High Jump alumni who come back and help teach the new wave of High Jump students.

"I feel grateful because High Jump's program transitions me into this kind of person. I'm grateful because other students don't get this opportunity... and I do," Walker said.
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