BRONZEVILLE — Mike Bansley graduated from De La Salle Institute in 1953, and remembers those days as a time he learned discipline as well as a morality that has guided his life since.
Now, the De La Salle grad is elated that his two grandnieces are enrolled in the historic institution.
"The legacy goes on," Bansley said. "What can you say? Thank you De La Salle."
De La Salle, 3434 S. Michigan Ave., celebrated its first day as a coed campus Monday, as girls are now enrolled at classes on campus for the first time in its 128-year history.
"This is an historic moment in time," De La Salle's President Paul Novak told students. "You are history makers."
Monday was the culmination of five years of planning, as De La Salle worked to prepare its Bronzeville campus for the girls previously enrolled at its Lourdes campus at 1040 W. 32nd Place in Bridgeport. The occasion was marked by a school assembly, where notable alumni spoke to students about the school and the opportunity a coeducational facility could offer them.
The school still is being overhauled to accommodate the new students, as a major construction project is in the works to house the expected 1,200-student enrollment that will come with the new coed classes (There are about 930 current enrolled, the school said). Combining the campuses will allow for a new curriculum, where all of the school's resources can be dedicated to one campus and one student body, school leaders said.
The move charts a path forward for the Catholic institution, and leaders said they are excited about what the future holds.
"Your light is so bright," Novak said as he donned his special solar glasses that he plans to use to view Monday's eclipse.
De La Salle students attend a school rally Monday, the first day of coed classes. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
The decision to go coed followed a school survey showing the single-sex school environment is no longer the driving reason parents send their children to De La Salle, officials said when they announced the decision.
Instead, families looked for outstanding academic programs when deciding on a high school. Near the top of the list, you’ll find athletics, technology, club activities and faith formation, or a steady exposure to religious teachings, Principal Diane Brown said. And by concentrating their efforts on one campus, those areas that families want in a school can be strengthened, she said.
"It gives us the opportunity to do some wonderful things," Brown said. "It's really going to strengthen our community."
Diversity has always been one of the schools strengths, officials said. One alum — former professional basketball player and class of 1977 graduate Ray Rhone — told students his favorite aspect of De La Salle is its "richness of diversity." Learning to talk to others helped him in his professional basketball career in Europe and elsewhere, he said.
"When I came to De La Salle, it was a reflection of the entire city of Chicago," Rhone said. "It was a little uncomfortable at first. That was the basis of me being open-hearted."