NEAR WEST SIDE — As CPS graduate Francisco Peralta discusses a new technical training program that will help him get a decent job despite his undocumented status, his 2-year-old brother sleeps comfortably in his lap.
Because of his academic success and his undocumented status, Peralta is one of six college freshmen to qualify for the new program partnering Chicago Public Schools Military Schools and Forte Knowledge, a Chicago-based company that is providing "students with high-quality technical training that can prepare undocumented youth for careers in computer programming, design and information technology."
The program also will connect the students with jobs with a "Chicago company making between $40,000-$60,000," according to Todd Connor, executive director of CPS service leadership programs.
But while Peralta does the training and before he can move on to the job, he has to care for his siblings, which includes watching 2-year-old Miguel Angel during the day and walking his other three siblings to school because both of their parents work.
"He's the most attached to me," Peralta, of Gage Park, said of Miguel Angel, who he brought to an interview last week because he couldn't find another babysitter. The youngster didn't wake up or make a peep the entire time. "He was feeling tired on the bus ride over here, so he just leaned his head on my shoulder and just went to sleep."
Unlike Miguel Angel, who was born in the U.S., Peralta spent the first three years of life in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, before coming to the Chicago area. His family lived in Uptown, then Cicero and has been in Gage Park since 2007. He is not an American citizen — even though "I know way more about U.S. history than Mexican history," he said — and is receiving financial aid for college through an Illinois Dream Fund Scholarship.
He never missed a day of classes in four years at Phoenix Military Academy. His grade point average was 4.67. He took seven Advanced Placement classes: English language, English literature, Spanish language, Spanish literature, U.S. history, psychology and environmental science.
"I like being in school," Peralta said. "There were those days I didn't want to wake up, but I still got there on time."
Connor said providing a helping hand to students like Peralta, who often face many challenges along with their undocumented status, is the goal of the new program.
"The question for me has been what do we do with this talent pool to ensure they don't end up falling into the shadow economy, or not proceed on productive paths?" said Connor, of Lakeview, who estimates 20 percent of the CPS Hispanic population in JROTC is undocumented.
Peralta has crammed the four-month program, which began Aug. 19, into his busy schedule, attending classes twice a week at the Lyric Opera Building downtown.
The Forte program, which is conducting a fundraiser to provide students with professional clothing and a laptop, also provides interview preparation courses and resume-building advice. A key facet of the program is "quality assurance testing" of software, where Peralta and other students perform a series of "tests that guarantee the quality of the code that is built."
The three-part course begins with manual testing and theoretical knowledge, followed by automation testing — where students utilize a tool called QTP to automate the testing process — and concludes with an interview preparation class.
"This is my first time being introduced to many of these things, but I’m having fun," Peralta said.
Connor helped select the first six students for the program because they were "leaders in their schools and top academic performers." He noted if the program is successful and "these students transition into full-time careers while taking classes at night, we will look to expand and further formalize the partnership next year."
”It would be a great disservice to the city to keep these students from reaching their max potential,” said Steve Kreynin, founder and CEO of Forte Group and Forte Knowledge. “Based on the marketplace, we have a great deal of confidence that these top-performing talented students will enter the vibrant Chicago tech community."
Larry Fedin, an IT account manager at Forte, said primarily start-up companies or mature companies that have apprenticeship programs will be hiring the students. They will start with internships, leading to full-time placement. Fedin noted the students will receive positions even though they don't have four-year college degrees.
Peralta's parents, Leoncio and Maria Griselda, work construction and in a sewing factory, respectively. Peralta's end goal is to be employed in a far more lucrative field, including possibly working for NASA.
He said he's beyond thankful for living in this country. He has a cousin roughly his age in Mexico who quit school two years ago and has been searching for a job as a mechanic ever since — with no luck.
Peralta's email signature for the past few years is a quote stating "In the end, it's not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away."
He says, for him, "it represents to live each day to the fullest."