The Atlantic

How Student Internships Saved a Chicago School

Once on the verge of closing, Chicago Technology Academy has turned itself around with a “real-world” educational initiative.
Source: Chris Berdik / The Hechinger Report

CHICAGO—One May morning, 22 stories above Chicago’s Wabash Avenue, Aurice Blanton ignored the stunning spring view of Lake Michigan. He had work to do. He toggled his computer between a budget spreadsheet and his color-coded schedule, double-checking figures for an upcoming meeting with his supervisor at CNA Insurance.

Blanton, a high-school senior, was interning for the firm’s information-technology group. He liked the spreadsheet work, he said, not because of a newfound love for insurance or accounting, but because it has taught him that he is more capable than he thought.

“This was something I never thought I could do,” he said. “I hated math. Numbers used to intimidate me.” The day’s other meetings included lunch with CNA’s senior vice president of corporate communications, a mini-lesson on project management, and a check-in with the staff member serving as his mentor.

As an African American teenager from inner-city Chicago, Blanton didn’t look like most of the other people in the high-rise offices, and that was kind of the point. Most students at his school, Chicago Technology Academy (ChiTech for short), don’t come from places with a lot of college graduates and corporate connections—the sort of folks who can show young people, by example, that they can prosper in the professional world.

So, for the past two years, every ChiTech senior has spent a month out of school working full time at (largely) tech-oriented internships. With this “Real-World Learning” program, ChiTech joins a growing number of schools devoting

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