Although the current school year has barely begun, eighth graders are already turning their attention to 2011. It’s time to start shopping high schools.
Admittedly not quite as glamorous as a college tour of, say, the Ivy League, the Chicago Public Schools circuit includes a stop this weekend at Lane Tech’s annual open house, held Sunday, Nov. 7, noon – 3 p.m. (doors open at 11 a.m.) at 2501 W. Addison. Mollie Hart, director of admissions, expects 5,000-6,000 prospective students and their parents to attend the event, which includes a student-led tour of the building and the opportunity to meet with teachers, coaches and counselors.
Competition is stiff among students to qualify for a highly-coveted slot at Lane or one of the eight other selective enrollment high schools within CPS. According to Hart, “Last year, we had 10,000 students choose Lane and we only accepted 1,000.”
Yet at the same time, the selective enrollment schools are vying amongst themselves to attract the best and brightest students.
Hart visits nearly 100 elementary schools each year, touting the benefits of Lane Tech. “But if I don’t have the parents interested and excited—they’re the ones who really make the final decision,” she said. “[The open house] is our main chance to get them in the building to see what Lane Tech is all about.”
Parents have become increasingly savvy when it comes to evaluating the relative merits of the various selective enrollment high schools, particularly as more and more information has become available online.
Some fixate solely on ACT scores, and by this measure Lane frequently lags its top-tier peers, Hart explained, simply because it tests so many more students. Lane’s enrollment surpasses 4,000, nearly twice that of Whitney Young, and four times that of Northside or Payton College Prep. “If we take our top 200 or 400 students, our score is comparable to the other schools,” she said. (Hart is working with administration to post just that sort of information on the school’s web site.)
In other instances, size works to Lane’s advantage. “We can offer things the other schools can’t,” Hart said, pointing to Lane’s 28 college-level courses, its extensive list of electives, and concentrations in art, music and TV/video production, among others.
But let’s face it, academics are only half of the high school equation (if that). For parents concerned about their child’s social experience, worried their student will get lost in Lane’s cavernous halls, the open house aims to show the opposite.
“Yes, it’s a big building,” said Hart, but much in the way that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, Lane is a patchwork of smaller communities within the larger school. The diversity of the student population—more than 65 different languages are spoken in students’ homes— is evident in Lane’s 33 ethnic clubs (the school’s International Days are an annual highlight). Extracurricular clubs run the gamut from anime to vegetarian, and athletics range from bowling to water polo—including recent city championships for cross country, softball, soccer and volleyball.
“What I tell parents and students is that when you get in the building, you find your fit,” Hart said. “A kid can walk in here and it doesn’t matter who they are, they’ll find someone similar.”