have hope

Earlier this week, I got on a Divvy bicycle to tour Hope Academy on Chicago’s west side.

“Be careful,” was the advice I kept hearing.

I thought this was a warning to wear my helmet on the ride.

It turns out, Chicago Hope Academy is in East Garfield Park, which has been nicknamed the “murder capital of Chicago.”

For good reason. Violent crime in East Garfield Park is 805% greater than the national average.

When people think of crime and Chicago, this neighborhood is what they fear.

But the second you walk into Hope Academy, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a dangerous neighborhood. You feel like you are in a suburban Christian school.

Walk through the front door and Bible verses fill the hallways.

Pennants for Notre Dame, Harvard and Columbia are lined up above the lockers. Those are the universities Hope Academy’s alumni have attended.

But outside its doors, everything changes.

Just down the street is Manley High School. Manley is a fortress. It has a capacity of 3,000 students, but only 81 attended there in 2021. Of those, only 21 will ever graduate.

Chicago Hope Academy’s graduation rate is 100%. Of those graduates, 80% go to college.

Same kids. Same neighborhood. Very different outcome.

The reason isn’t per-student funding: Hope Academy is significantly cheaper.

It isn’t the teacher-to-student ratio: Manley is close to one teacher per student.

It isn’t that the students are cherry-picked: Both schools serve the same area.

The difference is community.

At Chicago Hope, there are no metal detectors. In fact, none of the lockers have locks on them.

“Stealing is not something we are concerned about here,” said Scout Muzikowski, the admissions director. “We are all in this together. So, people don’t steal.”

Inside of their school gymnasium, I walked by Boston Celtics power forward Jabari Parker.

At the adjacent court, there were neighborhood kids practicing free throws.

This is not what I expected to see. An NBA player working on his jump shot, next to families that have never had access to safe, indoor basketball courts.

Community is more than just people living next to other people. It involves sharing life, being invested in the outcomes of your neighbors.

The results are amazing. The neighborhood of East Garfield Park is transforming.

Kids are being bussed in from Chicago suburbs, paying $10,000 a kid, to learn soccer skills on Chicago Hope’s field. Hope’s only stipulation: you can use our field, but you have to let kids from our neighborhood come to the camp for free.

It’s a win-win.

As I left Chicago Hope Academy, I walked past Chicago Blackhawks all-star Patrick Kane. I started laughing as I thought about everyone telling me to “be careful.”

I went outside and put my helmet back on. I felt completely safe.

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Matt Paprocki

President @illinoispolicy the nation’s leading state-based think tank.