Things are really growing at a special Chicago high school, and not just test scores. What’s working at this CPS campus is everybody!
“We're the last working farm in the city of Chicago,” Principal Bill Hook said.
The Chicago High School for Agricultural Science does work its students like farmers - raising chickens, cows and crops. But they're no country bumpkins.
“Our students run our own farm stand,” Hook said. “They also learn again, about the commodities, learn the basics of accounting, marketing, economics and they can go on to careers in business or careers in agricultural business.
At Chi-AG, as they call it, what looks like play, is hands-on learning.
These girls gave the dog a workout so they can track his heart rate.
"In biology, right now, we're learning the same thing in Animal Science with biology, we're doing the same thing so it's two in one,” junior Carly Trinley said.
“I think it does because in your AG classes you have to be very focused to understand and retain everything, so that teaches you to be focused in the rest of your classes too,” junior Kelsey Smith said.
All the same curriculum requirements of a regular CPS high school apply here - and though the science and biology connections are obvious on a working farm, the "working" part may be the best teacher.
“We have one young lady,” Hook said. “Who's currently a junior here, she bought her own cow!
“It's a lot of responsibility,” junior Katie McMahon said. “I have to come in every day even on Christmas morning, on Easter Sunday I have to come in and make sure she's okay.”
Other students are raising honeybees and they will sell the honey. If they're taking care of the chickens, they will sell the eggs. Those growing poinsettia plants in the greenhouse will sell those at Christmas time.
Over at the tilapia farm, the fish is sold to local retailers and restaurants. It's aqua- ponics.
The fruits and vegetables they grow may be turned into prepared foods in the school's commercial kitchen, or sold fresh. You can bet people here on the far southwest side don't complain about having a farm stand in the neighborhood.
“The money we get in the farm stand goes back into the program,” Hook said. “The money we make at the booth at the flower and garden show, we go down to Navy Pier every year and the money we generate, about $4,000 a year, goes back into the program.”
“I just had an amazing zucchini bread that the kids actually made here, so terrific place, terrific place,” CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said. “When you see a school that focuses on college readiness and career education, you know, we need more of these kinds of schools across the city.”
Brizard is a big fan of this model - of course everybody loves a winner.
“We have a 92 percent graduation rate, and 83 percent of those kids go on to college, but eventually they're going to go to work, and we prepare them for both,” Hook said. “The last few years we've averaged about 1800 applications each year, for the freshmen, and we have about 150 available freshman spots.”
An amazing donation by Dennis Pietranduono last week could "deliver" even more prestige to Chi-AG. Vega and Calling Card, two standard bred pacers, are both pregnant and due to foal next spring.
“The mares are going to live here, the babies are going to be born and raised here, and the kids are going to help with everything,” Pietranduono said. “We're going to get them prepped for sale, sell the yearlings at auction, and the money goes back into the school.”