GRAND CROSSING — Mayor Rahm Emanuel got a lot of negative feedback on the internet after announcing his tough new graduation requirements for Chicago Public Schools students.
But at Hirsch High School on the South Side, his plan to require all students to have a job offer or college acceptance letter in order to graduate has been embraced by most.
The requirement would "keep people off the streets,” said freshman DaShawn Williams, 15, adding that it will pressure kids to think harder about life after high school.
The school’s counselor Jenny Robbin said as part of her job she has always worked on a post-high school plan with students.
“I think it’s a good thing, but I don’t think it’s anything new, she said. “It’s always been our job to help them find the next step and be there if they need it.”
She hopes that if the plan is approved, it would make students take their futures more serious and even potentially keep them away from violence and gangs.
The argument among those online has been that students shouldn’t be babied and, as adults, they can make their own decisions, she said.
“But a lot of these students are coming from first-generation families who never had anyone in college before and so they need that guidance,” Robbin said.
Student Jamie Owens, 14 — who would be affected by the policy if approved — said she wants to go to college and study architecture but what about the kids who don't know what's next?
“Maybe you just don’t want to go to school anymore,” Owens said. She personally thought it was a good idea, though. “People will have something to look forward to," she said.
Under the plan announced by Emanuel April 5, students wouldn’t be able to graduate without proving they have a post-high school plan. They would have to show an acceptance to a college or university, a trade school or have a job offer. It would take effect starting with the class of 2020.
The idea, part of the mayor's pledge to remake the CPS for the 21st century, is likely to be rubber-stamped by the Board of Education made up of members appointed by the mayor.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson said current freshmen — who are set graduate in 2020 — would be the first to be required to provide a plan. About 60 percent of CPS graduates had a plan in place when they walked across the stage last year, she said.
"We are reinventing what high school is," Emanuel said, adding that 80 percent of the jobs available to current students would require at least two years of post-college studies.
Freshman Dmani Plummer was skeptical of the plan, saying not everyone wants to go to college, and the job market isn't exactly booming.
“People won’t graduate because some won’t know what they’re going to do yet until they get out of high school,” Plummer said. "It’s hard getting jobs already."
Hirsch freshmen Dmani Plummer, Jamie Owens and DaShawn Williams pose with principal Larry Varn. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
Principal Larry Varn said that it’s common for many of the students, even those close to graduating, to not have any plans.
“We have to plant that seed early,” he said. “As soon as they get here we need to start exploring their options and give them an opportunity to decide what they’re going to do. We must start watering that seed until it blossoms and grows into reality around what they want to do.”
All students who graduate from a public Chicago high school are automatically admitted to the City Colleges — which would give students a way to provide school officials with a post-graduation plan and meet the newest requirement.
Chicago would be the first school system in the nation to enforce such a requirement, Emanuel said.
Students would need one of the following under the plan:
• College acceptance letter
• Military acceptance/enlistment letter
• Acceptance at a job training program, like a coding boot camp
• Acceptance into a trade apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship program
• Acceptance into a "gap-year" program
• Current job or job offer letter