EAST VILLAGE— The top three honor roll students at Wells Community Academy High School were chauffeured to their first day of school in sports cars while others enjoyed music, breakfast and more welcome-back perks, courtesy of a marketing firm that has taken a West Town high school under its wing.
Karen Roman, Wells', the top student in her sophomore class, emerged from a $200,000 Lamborghini Huracan driven by a professional driver.
"It was amazing," Roman said of her trip to the school at 936 N. Ashland Ave. in West Town's East Village neighborhood.
Three honor roll students arrive in race cars at Wells. [Alisa Hauser/Vine]
Roman said she selected the neighborhood school because of its pre-law academy, one of three specialized programs that includes a senior year internship.
Two other top students were also driven to school in Ferrari 458 Italias (sticker: $243,000): senior Lavelle Thompson and junior Janet Torres.
Victor Rosario, a senior and North Lawndale resident, is starting his first year at Wells after having attended the nearby Noble Street Charter High School since his freshman year. Rosario said that he had good grades at Noble Street but wanted more independence.
"I want to make more choices on my own. I don't need hand holding," Rosario said.
Jason Peterson, chief creative officer at Havas Worldwide Annex, a marketing firm with a nearby office, helped organize the opening day festival and rented the cars from Xtreme Experience.
"All this hoopla is great, but when we picked up [Thompson] and saw his mom cry, that's what it's about. Kids that are in music or sports get a lot of attention. We are celebrating the honor roll students," Peterson said.
In addition to a recently launched weekly knitting group, the Annex plans to organize a gun swap as part of a goal to introduce something new at Wells each semester.
"Give us your gun, we'll give you a job, or have you record in our studio," Peterson said of the swap.
Chicago Police officer Robert Poholik, in his third year of patrolling the school grounds full-time with a partner, welcomed back students in the school courtyard.
"It's a lot of pizzazz for the first day. I think it's really great and it motivates the kids," Poholik said.
Wells' principal Rita Raichoudhuri, in an interview last month, said that the school had to lay off eight members of its faculty and staff and it is expecting to lose about 23 percent of its students this year, going from 560 to about 430.
"There is a sense of loss and grief. This [opening day festivities] will be part of the healing process," Raichoudhuri said.
Raichoudhuri, who previously described Wells as a lone wolf surrounded by charter schools, said that the biggest struggle Wells faces is a misconception parents have about neighborhood schools.
"If you are a neighborhood school, you are inherently bad just because you are a neighborhood school. How do we get people away from that mindset?" she asked.
Raichoudhuri said that the school's metrics have steadily improved as the enrollment declines.
According to Raichoudhuri, 67 percent of Wells' graduates go to college, over a third of those to four-year institutions.