EAST VILLAGE — Eleven returning Wells Community Academy High School students won't forget their first day back after getting a ride before school in a helicopter or sports car Tuesday.
And countless others at the school at 936 N. Ashland Ave. will likely strive to make the honor roll in hopes of getting the same treatment.
"It was a really good experience and made me feel good that I'm doing something right. Seeing the [city] skyline from above was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anybody," said Rufus Burk, a senior at the school who enjoyed the ride despite his fear of heights.
Tuesday was back to school for all CPS schools as well as for the 403 students at Wells Community Academy High School in West Town's East Village.
The helicopter was initially scheduled to land in the field behind the school, but because the new field is still under construction, the helicopter took off and landed from Chicago Helicopter Experience, 2420 S. Halsted in Bridgeport.
The students were driven to school in a van, just in time for the 9 a.m. bell.
Burk and four classmates — Hannah Patino, Stevie Gibbs, Michael Llangari and Matthew Perez — rode in the helicopter together, while Jocelin Olea, Reginard Adu, Charbel Messazussu, Jocelyn Castillo, Carzell Felton and Mykola Dydych were each picked up in a different "super car" sports car from their homes and chauffeured to school by a professional driver.
Messazussu, who sat in the passenger seat of a white Porsche, said it was "so exciting."
"I wasn't expecting it, the whole thing. I knew I was getting picked up but I didn't know anything else," Messazussu said.
Both the helicopters and sports cars were arranged by The Annex, a marketing firm with a nearby office that has taken a West Town high school under its wing. Last year, The Annex worked with Xtreme Experience to provide rides for three honor roll students and this year they doubled the number to six and added a helicopter for five students.
"Let's shift the perception of school. No more gold stars; this is a real activation, a cool experience for students who might not know that the whole community is behind them," said David Muniz, an art director at The Annex who co-founded the initiative last year.
For the vast majority of Wells students who arrived by foot, bus, bike and parent drop off, watching their honor roll peers get special treatment was inspiring.
Principal Rita Raichoudhuri said 133 percent more students were on the honor roll, earning a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, last year than the year prior.
"It's so exciting. Even in talking to kids who did not make it this year, they are aspiring to it for next year. It's giving them hope and goals to work for. Teens respond to this type of incentive," Raichoudhuri said.
Sgt. Robert Poholik, one of two Chicago Police officers assigned to the school, watched the sports cars pull up to the curb and was among the small army of students, teachers, The Annex employees and news media crews welcoming back the top students.
"I think it's a great way to start the year off with a bang. It gives the students an incentive to be on the honor roll. It's going to leave an impression on them and be a positive start to having a good year," Poholik said.
Christian Wtuchich, a freshman who is entering Wells after graduating from St. Helen School, put the fanfare into perspective.
"I'm going to try to be on the honor roll. I want to have good grades and to be honest, I don't care about the cars. I'm just ready for school," Wtuchich said.