WEST TOWN — Next year, Wells Community Academy high school students will have the chance to take a psychology class, thanks in part to the teacher who raised hundreds of dollars to buy books for the new course.
Wells, 936 N. Ashland Ave., is considered "underutilized" by CPS and is on probation. The school, made up of nearly 94 percent low-income students, uses the money it has to offer core classes and specialized academy programs along with a limited number of electives.
But extras like psychology, until now, haven't made the cut.
As the school tries to turn itself around, raise money for new initiatives and better prepare teens for college, history teacher Ashley DiFilippo has made starting the new class her mission.
Emily Morris introduces the West Town teacher and her efforts to provide students with a rare elective class:
DiFilippo, who has a degree in social science from Illinois State University, said it was her high school psychology class that gave her the passion to take courses on the subject in college.
She gave informal surveys to her history classes and found that "over and over again," students said they wanted a psych course.
"To me, that’s a big deal — to get them excited about something," she said.
After getting the go-ahead from the school to start the class for any student interested this fall, DiFilippo launched a fundraiser using DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding site for teachers, and raised $492 for textbooks within less than five hours.
"I was going to do it whether I had books or not, and so obviously having books now is going to help tremendously," DiFilippo said.
Four donors contributed to the cause, and some added encouraging words about what the course meant to them or that they, too, didn't have the chance to take psychology in high school and wish they did.
"It was amazing," DiFilippo said. "I just was so happy that people cared so much."
When the class is offered starting this fall, any student will have the chance to take it, though juniors and senior will be given preference, DiFilippo said.
While Wells has attracted attention for the struggles the school is facing, DiFilippo said she notices things changing for the better.
"Overall every teacher here is really dedicated to what they do, and we’re just constantly trying to improve it," she said.