Chicago Jesuit Academy is a full scholarship lower and middle school for young men from modest economic backgrounds who could not otherwise access a well-resourced, faith-based college prep education in the Catholic tradition. CJA invites students to become persons for others who aspire to be open to growth, loving, intellectually competent, religious and committed to doing justice. CJA supports and advocates for both students and alumni as they progress to and through college prep high schools, post-secondary education and the transition to meaningful careers and citizenship.
The school has to address a number of issues specific to their student population like the need for health care, guidance counseling from professional social workers and for long-term support following graduation. About 20% are living in very tentative housing situations in which they may be sleeping at different locations on different days of the week (grandmother’s house, friend’s house) or at a homeless shelter. The homeless students use the on-site laundry to wash their uniforms.
CJA operates on a longer day, from 7:30 am through 5:00 pm and on an eleven-month school year. Co-curricular offerings such as sports, debate, robotics, jazz and drumline are interspersed with academics over the course of the day to keep students interested and motivated. The longer day keeps students safe during the time when regular schools dismiss students and when parents come home from work, a time that educational research has found especially dangerous for young people.
There is an extensive meal program including breakfast, lunch and evening snack. The breakfast is light, but highly nutritious; lunch is enough to constitute the main meal of the day. Lunch is served family style rather than cafeteria style. Lunch, like the music and sports programs, is intended to give students who are not as academically oriented something to look forward to each day and to keep them motivated to attend.
Grades five and six have a heavier orientation toward remedial education since many students come in with deficits in reading and math. Grades seven and eight are focused on readiness to attend a college prep high school. On average, CJA students make between six and seven years of grade-level progress over the course of four years of middle school. One hundred percent of the last graduating class was accepted at competitive college prep high schools. 94% of graduates have completed high school on time and enrolled in either two or four year higher education programs.
The College Persistence Program is an effort to assure that students sustain a positive path in high school and college. The staff team provides after school tutoring, summer job opportunities, summer college readiness and ACT preparation and visits to various colleges in the region. They help families with the various applications and forms and maintain personal contact with students through emails, letters, care packages and annual visits. CJA is currently tracking 105 of their graduates through high school and college.
CJA is working to change the trajectory of life for deeply disadvantaged students first through elementary education then by providing accompaniment and support as they progress toward a career.