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Online learning for some Noble alum has long been part of their plan to finish what they’ve started. In 2013 when Sarai Romero graduated from Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy, she had already obliterated obstacles and made history for her immigrant family. A Dreamer, Sarai earned private scholarships from local philanthropists like John Rowe, former CEO of Exelon and naming donor of Rowe-Clark; she used those funds to enroll in Dominican University. Soon, Sarai would again be challenged with unforeseen obstacles that threatened to end her pursuit of a college degree; until she found another path.

“I did not know my limitations as an undocumented immigrant until I was in high school. I was brought here at age three, I didn’t realize I wasn’t born here,” Sarai explained, “when I took Drivers Ed, my friends were getting their licenses and my teacher told me I didn’t qualify because I wasn’t a US citizen. It didn’t really hit me until my Junior year when DACA became a thing and I attended a presentation. My teacher asked me why I didn’t tell anyone, and it was all thrown on me at once that I had to find a way to pay for college.”

Newly motivated and understanding the challenge ahead, Sarai decided to transfer from her neighborhood school to a Noble school. She said, “after realizing my status I needed to go to a school that would get me the type of education to actually go to college which was my dream.” Sarai was accepted to Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy and began a long process of making up credits and preparing to apply for private scholarships to fund her college dream. Each day, she traveled 45 mins across town at 6 am, since there were no Noble campuses near her neighborhood in 2012**. “I studied and did what I had to do as if I didn’t have any limitations – now I know more.I knew I wanted to go to college and my immigration status wouldn’t and didn’t stop me,” said Sarai.

Sarai Romero
Rowe-Clark Alumna &
Noble Forward Participant

Fall 2013, Sarai enrolled at Dominican University with a full scholarship, she dreamed of studying psychology and helping people. She soon learned that as a Dreamer, there were certain careers that she would not be allowed to pursue. Sarai explained that because she couldn’t pursue the career of her choice, she began taking a bunch of different classes but was unmotivated and didn’t know what to really do. “In life sometimes you have to go through experiences before you really know what you want to do. I had to step away so I could get myself together,” she said. Sarai left Dominican after her first year and began working as a hostess in a restaurant.

In fall 2018, Noble announced that it would enter a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University to offer a pathway for Noble alum, who had left school, to finish their degree online. The Noble Forward program began with 27 alumni enrolled; Sarai was one of the first to sign up and get back to pursuing her degree. The program is online and self-paced; although students participate through a cohort model and receive one-on-one coaching. “So much of my time during college I didn’t have any support – I am so grateful for this program because I have had the support I need to get through hard classes and emotional times. I felt so terrible when I left Dominican because I wasn’t learning and my parents risked their lives to come here for better opportunities for us,” Sarai expressed. “There were so many people rooting for me, but so many things got in my way.”

Sarai was awarded a DACA scholarship for the program, enrolled as a communications major, and in 18 months completed all requirements for her associate degree. She plans to continue in the program to complete a bachelor’s degree and work in Human Resources. “Having a 2 year old son, I don’t always have time to be online and log in, but with Noble Forward I can choose when I log in,” said Sarai, “It’s up to me how long it takes me to finish my BA [Bachelor of Arts], I want to get done in no more than 1.5 years.”

“Noble Forward has also helped me start getting into what I want to do. I’m talking with [my counselor] now about how we can further support other DACA students in the program to help them get through it. I’m preparing to lead some development sessions. This program is giving me the experience I need to get into my profession.”

“Stories like Sarai’s is the reason we wanted to start the Noble Forward program,” said Eric Rapp, Director of Noble Forward, “many of our alumni had started a degree program and for a multitude of reasons were unable to continue. We had to ask ourselves how to best support these alumni, and we knew we had to take a different approach.” Noble decided to partner with online and accredited university programs, Southern New Hampshire University and Brandman University, which provided a competency-based learning solution for alumni who are now working, taking care of their own families, or have other commitments preventing them from being able to attend a traditional degree program.

Sarai expressed that while she has always had the support of her family to push forward and finish her education, it was the combined knowledge and support of the Noble Forward counselors who helped her stay focused and get through challenges with tutoring and one-on-one coaching sessions.

“Going through this program will allow me to not just get my education but to network,” she said, “I know at the end of the day when it’s time to find a job the program will give me the resources and help me.”

To learn more about the Noble Forward program or enroll, visit NobleForward.org.

** In 2016, Noble’s Mansueto High School campus opened to serve students from the Gage Park and Southwest Chicago community. 

Have other ideas of stories we should share? Please send your ideas to communications@nobleschools.org

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