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Albany Park Middle School 8th Graders Just Want to Get in a 'Good School'

By Tanveer Ali | December 12, 2014 8:48am
 Melissa Ruiz (l.) watches as her daughter Alissa applies for selective enrollment high schools online.
Melissa Ruiz (l.) watches as her daughter Alissa applies for selective enrollment high schools online.
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DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali

ALBANY PARK — As she was filling out an application for some of the city's most competitive high schools, ASPIRA Haugan Middle School eighth grader Alissa Ruiz explained why she was doing it.

"I just want to get into a good school and have a good future," said Ruiz, an all-A student.

Friday marks the deadline for eighth graders in Chicago to apply to attend CPS' magnet and extremely competitive selective-enrollment high schools.

For Alissa and a large number of her other classmates at Haugan, a charter school at 3729 W. Leland Ave., applying for these schools has become important, even if the students aren't able to get in the schools of their choice.

Last year, 147 students applied to at least one of the city's selective-enrollment high schools.

Second-year Principal Pablo Ortega estimates that 175 out of 220 of Haugan's eighth graders applied this year.

"There is an opportunity that has been afforded to them and we want them to try," Ortega said.

This year, the school has held a series of 11 sessions helping parents through the applications. The sessions are simple — parents sit with their child in a computer lab with a teacher on hand to help with any questions.

A couple dozen attended each of the sessions, according to Ortega, that parents have said has proved helpful in guiding children to the next step.

"I'm interested in how she is doing in school, and above else, want to support her," Maria Gutierrez, mother of 13-year-old Gabriela, said at a recent session. "This helps me understand what is going on."

Last year, the city's selective enrollment high schools received 16,826 applications for 3,200 freshman spots, about 20 percent. Just 11 percent of those who applied from Haugan were granted spots, according to school data.

Ortega added that he isn't satisfied with the 11 percent acceptance rate: "That number is not one we are comfortable but we want to move that needle."

Originally open in 2005 as a high school, Haugan went through a few changes before becoming just a middle school. Now it serves a population that is 91 percent Hispanic and 98 percent low-income from throughout the Northwest Side.

Haugan is an average performing school when looking at test scores, according to CPS data. But it has been a big draw for parents who disliked their other options.

"I didn't like the neighborhood school in my area," said Alissa's mother, Melissa Ruiz, who lives in Hermosa.

Ortega notes that the school has programs like "boot camps" in February every year aimed at bringing up where students need to be in language arts and math.

"We're proud of the fact that we are able to send our students from the underserved communities to the Northsides, the Youngs and the Lanes of Chicago," Ortega said referring to three of the city's selective enrollment high school.

Those are among the schools that Alissa is applying to. She'll find out in a few months after she takes a qualifying test.

What happens if the straight-A student doesn't get into any?

"We're just crossing our fingers we don't have to worry about that," mother Melissa Ruiz said.

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