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Pedro Albizu Campos High School
“At the age of 16 I didn’t have dreams. I didn’t have hopes.”
“Halfway through my sophomore year I got pregnant.”
“The people behind, they’re just going to leave them behind. And that was me. I was left behind.”
These are the comments of students in the predominately Puerto Rican Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago who had dropped out of school. They offered their recollections for a segment of the nationally broadcast KET series, Dropping Back In focusing on the mission of the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School. You can view the series online at droppingbackin.org.
Named in honor of the most prominent Puerto Rican political figure of the 20th Century, Campos High uses a cultural and community focus to help young dropouts return to school and graduate.
Matthew Rodriguez is the school’s principal. “In the traditional public education model, what the teachers and administrators were doing was saying ‘It’s clear to us that these young people don’t care about their education; it’s clear to us that they’re lazy, they don’t want to do their homework, they don’t want to do their assignments. It’s clear to us that their parents don’t really have education as a value. It’s clear to us that their community doesn’t care about education.’”
The school seeks to counter those perceptions by providing a quality educational experience “based on the philosophical foundation of self-determination, a methodology of self-actualization and an ethics of self-reliance,” according to its Mission Statement.
“Our young people have to face not having parents in the household,” noted Rodriguez. “Whether it’s because they’re incarcerated or because they’re in rehab or because they just are not there, we have young people who are in their homes and have to negotiate space because they have two and three and four families living in one household. It’s difficult to know where they’re going to be sleeping that night; where they’ll be getting their food in the morning; whether they’re going to be able to have clean clothes to go to school the next day.”
The school offers support services that address such issues. “Instead of saying ‘you’re absent, bad student, you need to be in school,’ we say ‘what’s going on? Why are you choosing to stay home,” said Judy Diaz, the Campos Dean of Student Affairs. “We listen and then we have what we need in order to prepare our interventions appropriately.”
There is an emphasis on preserving cultural history in order to ensure that it is passed on to future generations.
“For the first time we felt like we were the individuals in the books,” said Campos graduate Jessie Fuentes. “So the teachers lecturing to us, they’re lecturing about us.”
In addition to standardized testing, Campos maintains a Senior Portfolio Process “where the students have to defend their right to graduate,” said Diaz. “They can do that by showing grades; by showing progress in a class; by showing examples of work and they can do that by showing their involvement in community activities.”
Campos High boasts a retention rate of 73 percent. The rate for the Chicago public school system is 54 percent.