Published by the Chicago Sun Times at:
By Adeshina Emmanuel Staff Reporter
October 16, 2011
Maintain a 3.0 GPA, score a 20 on the ACT college entrance exam — and get a free ride to college.
That was the challenge Roosevelt University issued to Social Justice High School students a year after the school opened in 2005 in North Lawndale.
“Our goal is to provide these students with an opportunity they might not otherwise have to earn a college degree and at the same time continue to be involved in social justice issues,” Roosevelt University President Chuck Middleton later said about the scholarship promise.
Five years later, officials with both SJHS and Roosevelt believe the program has been a success: 15 students from the classes of 2009 and 2010 accepted the scholarships and enrolled at Roosevelt.
Recipients include newly elected Roosevelt student government president Channing Redditt, who officials say is perhaps the best example of the program’s impact.
Redditt, 20, was a standout student, according to SJHS officials. Yet, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to college — and he was sure he couldn’t afford it. His father, Cecil, had lost his job at Home Depot in February 2009, shortly before Redditt got his diploma.
“What am I going to do?” Redditt remembers asking himself upon hearing the news. Redditt was also tired of going to school.
But the free ride — worth more than $90,000 — convinced him that he should go.
“If I’m being given this opportunity, then it’s something I’m not going to let go to waste,” Redditt recalled thinking at the time.
He doesn’t regret his decision. A third-year mathematics and secondary education major, Redditt is on track to graduate in 2013.
As 2011-2012 student government president, Redditt is working on a proposal to open a student health center for the school’s downtown Chicago campus, attended by about 4,500 students. The proposal should be done next month, Redditt said.
He is also pushing the administration to create gender-neutral student housing.
And Redditt is the founder and musical director of Roosevelt’s award-winning gospel choir, Proclaim.
“Not that I like power, but I like being in a leadership role,” said Redditt. “I can get a lot of people on board with me to work and do good things.”
Redditt hopes to eventually teach math at his old high school and return to North Lawndale — where the poverty rate tops 40 percent and where the murder rate is fourth worst of any police district in the city.
About 99 percent of SJHS’s student body comes from low-income households. The school is 30 percent black and 70 percent Latino, serving predominately black North Lawndale and adjacent Little Village, a largely Latino community.
“I just think that they need to see more of the people who were born and raised from their community and see them in a different type of setting than a drug dealer or a rapper,” Redditt said. “Let them see the successes they can have if they finish school.”
Redditt’s long-term goal? Become SJHS’s principal someday.
Current SJHS principal Chad Weiden doesn’t view that as a threat to his job security.
Redditt would make “an amazing principal,” Weiden said, and it would bring Roosevelt’s investment in the community “full circle.
“I would love dearly for Channing to be principal of Social Justice High School,” he said.
Holly Stradler, dean of Roosevelt’s College of Education, oversees the school’s partnership with SJHS and said the program was created to provide an opportunity for students from diverse and low-income backgrounds. That Redditt now plans to return to help others in his community also helps Roosevelt meet its own commitment to social justice.
Roosevelt is comfortable with the scholarship program’s success even though more students didn’t take advantage of it and five scholarship recipients left the university because of personal reasons, Stradler said.
She noted that many of the recipients were the first in their families to go to college — an achievement in itself.
“We really are about creating opportunities for students who may not have seen college and a real successful future for themselves,” Stradler said.
“The more that we involve a diverse group of students in higher education, the broader their voices will be in the greater society. We’re sending out leaders with different perspectives, different voices to bring to the table when important decisions are made in society.”
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