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Once troubled kids, now proud grads

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Updated: July 15, 2014 6:11AM



The 130 young Chicagoans who received high school diplomas Friday morning were not necessarily supposed to make it this far.

Some had been in jail.

Some got pregnant and had babies.

Many had had problems at home, lost a parent.

But each ended up in one of the high schools run by Prologue charter schools for students up to age 21 designed to pull them back into school and get them a diploma.

Girls in yellow caps and gowns, and boys in maroon, pinned on corsages backstage Friday.

“This is your day, it’s a big day, you have struggled for a long time and here we are,” Academic Chief Pa Joof told them.

Seventeen-year-old Kirsten Bray was practically failing out of sophomore year at a Chicago public high school, unable to focus and dealing with some “home issues,” as she put it. Now she’s bound for Spelman, the historically black college for women in Atlanta.

“I’m not dumb, I have a hard time functioning,” said Bray.

Her mother knew someone at Joshua Johnston Charter School for Fine Arts and Design, 1551 W. 95th.

“She knows I’m an artist, she knows I’m a poet,” explained Bray, who studied spoken word poetry, journalism and ceramics at Johnston. “They let me use my art as a form of expression and let me use that to develop my other skills.”

Johnston offers electronic music and painting, drawing and choir, all kinds of visual arts classes, too, said the principal, Joyce Bowden.

“The biggest thing is the familyhood we experience here. I know every student by name, not just the seniors,” Bowden said.

Chicago Public Schools says there is a need for more schools that pull dropouts back in and plans 2,500 additional places at seven new school campuses and expansions at four existing campuses. Prologue will add a campus in Roseland; it also operates Prologue Early College High School, 1135 N. Cleaver; Winnie Mandela High School, 7847 S Jeffery, and Charles Hamilton Houston Alternative High School, 4701 S. King Drive.

Its 130 graduates proceeded in rhythm to a drum-and-organ version of “Pomp and Circumstance,” played by classmates from Johnston, into the Third Baptist Church of Chicago.

They eschewed an outside commencement speaker, opting instead to choose from their classmates to represent them.

Juanita Pittman said Johnston gave her “a second chance of my success, a second chance at a future. They gave me my education.

“In my past, I’ve been kicked out of school and incarcerated.”

Then her teachers intervened.

“They are the reason I stand before you today,” she said.

Jasmine White of Houston Alternative High School advised her classmates to “never give up.”

“We are strong people,” continued the teen who lost the three people she loved most by the eighth grade: her grandparents and her mother, “and if the world hasn’t broke us yet, it never will.”

Nancy Jackson heads the charter chain, which claims a graduation rate of 85 percent of its senior classes with more than 70 percent of those students entering college.

“We want you to keep your head up, to be persistent, to be consistent, take care of your families, do the right thing. You may not get a second chance,” Jackson said. “Make good decisions.”

Email: lfitzpatrick@suntimes.com

Twitter: @bylaurenfitz



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