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University/School Partnerships: Engagement, Access & Success

University/School Partnerships: Engagement, Access & Success

The partnership between Senn High School and Loyola University Chicago was established in 2012 with the focus of supporting a public neighborhood high school in the Edgewater community. This partnership set out to represent a powerful model for how universities and schools could partner to support one another in mutually beneficial ways.

On the Loyola side, the School of Education, and in particular, the Teaching and Learning program area, has taken a leadership role in the Senn-Loyola Partnership. Loyola listened and worked with Senn to identify opportunities for engagement that support teachers, strengthen academic success, build college access and success, and advance civic engagement. In working to best understand the areas for growth and development, Loyola has then been able to strategically leverage its vast resources to work toward our goals.

The Senn/Loyola Partnership is organized around three broad strategies: College access and success; Teacher development; and Civic engagement. A wide variety of initiatives have emerged within these strategies during the partnership that engage Senn and Loyola administration, faculty, staff, and students in meaningful ways.

Senn junior Johann Gonzalez participated in several college access and success initiatives: “I was one of the lucky few to actually work with Loyola with their Summer Science Internship and Partners for Success programs. It was something you can't find anywhere else and you get to find what interests you while helping the community.” Partners for Success brings current Loyola students to campus seven times during the academic year to experience campus life facilitated by Senn graduates now studying at Loyola. The Summer Science Internship offers paid opportunities for Senn students who are interested in science to work in a university Biology, Chemistry, or Environmental Science lab with faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. Another innovative project is March to College. During Loyola’s March spring break, every Senn students comes to campus to explore our campus and learn more about what college life is like.

Claire Saura, Senn’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Coordinator, feels “a change in the climate at our school because of Loyola's involvement in the Senn community. More students and parents are excited about college and think of their high school learning activities as valuable experiences that will prepare them for post-secondary education. When I speak with seniors they are able to make connections between what they are learning here and what they will be expected to do in college…They feel ‘at home’ on Loyola's campus and that enforces the feeling for them that they too belong on a university campus. The opportunity for a college education is not just for others -- it's for them.” The results have been impressive. Before the partnership, less than 10 Senn students applied to Loyola each year. The 2018-19 academic year saw 125 students apply and 20 enroll at Loyola.

Teacher development has also been an important feature of Loyola’s engagement with Senn High School. Loyola’s School of Communications played a significant role in the development of Senn’s Digital Journalism program and its ongoing development. “From the beginning I worked closely with John Slania, who served as the most incredible mentor imaginable. He taught me how to make reporting and writing accessible to high school students, and he always cheered me on, even when things didn't go according to plan. Since then, I got my Masters from Loyola in Digital Storytelling, and I've been able to help expand the program to include multi-media,” said Senn Journalism teacher Michael Cullinane.  The newest development in our partnership has been the launch of the Rogers Edge Reporter, a hyper local news source for Rogers Park and Edgewater communities run entirely by Loyola and Senn journalism students. 

Loyola's Center for Science and Math Education has played a pivotal role in strengthening academics at Senn by supporting the development of a two year sequence of design courses. “CSME began collaborating on a Design course aimed at helping neighborhood students recognize a path through high school that could lead to IB courses or other areas of study of interest to them. A two-year project-based course sequence that meets the CPS computer science requirement and builds math, science, and engineering skills” was developed in collaboration with Senn teachers. Design students were able to participate in a sustainability challenge sponsored by the Illinois Science and Technology Institute in 2017. One team of Senn students designed roof top windmills for Senn.

In collaboration with Loyola’s School of Education, Senn transformed its IB strategy from a discreet program to a schoolwide initiative. MYP coordinator, David Gregg, said that “Senn's MYP for all is, in part, possible because of the support from Loyola around engaging in joint professional development. Senn's faculty are treated as co-teacher educators with student teachers, which further helps them to reflect and improve upon their practice.” Today, all 1425 students at Senn have equitable access to IB courses and the majority of Loyola’s Education students earn a Certificate in IB pedagogy.

Finally, collaboration around shared interest in social justice and civic engagement has led to several initiatives promoting active student voice and engagement in our educational institutions and communities. Senn was named an Illinois Democracy School in 2017, one of only ten schools so named in the City of Chicago. As a Democracy School, Senn now features a school-wide Democracy Schools working group, student council, student voice committee, service-learning cohort, and service-learning club. Additionally, Senn students have been able to participate in Loyola’s Summer Civic Action and Leadership Institute while Civics students participate in the Allow Good program. Allow Good features Loyola School of Education students facilitating weekly lessons with juniors, which enable students to explore organizations and issues in their communities and, ultimately, deliberate together to select organizations for $500-$1,000 grant.

But the partnership does not end with graduation. Currently, 20 David Prasse Community School Scholars are studying at Loyola University Chicago (in addition to other Senn students on campus). The Scholars receive a broad set of supports that support their academic achievement and social involvement on campus. The Prasse Scholars are extraordinarily active on campus and in the community, identifying ways and motivating others to be civically engaged. Current Loyola sophomore Jonathan Molina finds the ongoing support to be valuable: “I was paired with Emily [for mentoring]. This was a very helpful tool as having an upperclassman with experience really helped ease the transition.”

The first Senn/Loyola Partnership Coordinator, Prof. Charlie Tocci, says this about this unique partnership: “I'm most proud that we conceptualized the partnership to extend beyond the formal institution-to-institution relationship - which is important and has been the bedrock of our work - but that we broadened the partnership to include Senn students. This allowed us to ask questions like, how can we get more Senn graduates to matriculate at Loyola and support their success? How can we bring the resources of a university directly to Senn students? How can we bring Senn students to the university?”

How to Get Involved

Loyola faculty, staff, and students are invited to get involved with the Senn/Loyola Partnership. To learn more about volunteer or engagement opportunities, visit our website. Interested volunteers are invited to suggest projects or initiatives of variable duration or sign up for an existing initiative.