At Johnson College Prep, parents are over the moon, juniors and seniors are switching plans, and college counselors are working to help support them after it was announced this spring that Johnson students and their parents could go to college for free.
In February, Hope Chicago, a local college scholarship program, announced that they would pay for everything – tuition, books, room and board – for all current 500 students and their parents. CBS even covered the exciting moment on 60 Minutes.
That isn’t the end of the story, though.
After the announcement, the Johnson College team set to work to help students and parents take advantage of this incredible opportunity. We sat down with Tyesha Nickson, a college counselor at Johnson, to hear about what it’s been like at the school since the announcement and what she hopes the opportunity will do for the Englewood community.
JOHNSON COLLEGE PREP AFTER THE ANNOUNCEMENT
“Everything has been like a whirlwind,” Nickson said, “When Hope was announced, it made students stop in their tracks and re-evaluate their college plans.”
The same week when the announcement was made, the College team at Johnson was helping seniors work through their financial aid award letters and understand their out-of-pocket expenses for different schools. The announcement provided so much relief from that stress of figuring out how to pay for college, Nickson said.
“When the announcement happened in our gym room, you could feel the tension being lifted off of the kids,” Nickson said, “Literally, everyone was crying because we understand the stress.”
Students were so thankful, Nickson said, and many who might not have been the best students in high school are now motivated to do better in college.
“A lot of them feel like they’ve been given a second chance,” she said.
Coordinating with Chicago Hope staff, keeping parents informed, and helping scholars navigate through the changes in their plans was a little bit “chaotic”, Nickson said. Some of her students planned to go to out-of-state colleges and universities, but because Hope Chicago only covers in-state schools, they are now sticking closer to home. Others who weren’t planning to go at all decided to go to community colleges. For one student, it completely changed the game.
“One in particular opted out of community college and decided to go to National Louis,” Nickson said.
This particular student was an STLS scholar – a Student in Temporary Living Situations – who was staying with another student’s family this year. Without the scholarship, he was going to have to settle on more affordable community colleges that don’t offer housing. Now, Nickson said, he’ll have more stable housing at National Louis University, paid for by Hope Chicago.
“Before the Hope scholarship, we really didn’t know how to help. You know, there’s only so much we can do. We only have so many resources that we can find that would be helpful to those students,” Nickson said, “But, just in the nick of time, things changed. So, that was a blessing.”
While Hope Chicago currently only partners with in-state public schools and a few private ones, like National Louis, Nickson says Hope is looking to expand and she hopes to see HBCUs (historically Black colleges & universities), trade programs, and other schools added to their list.
HOPE FOR THE ENGLEWOOD COMMUNITY
Born and raised in Englewood herself, Nickson is excited about the opportunities the Hope Chicago scholarship could bring to the Englewood community. She hopes parents in particular will take advantage of the opportunity to go back to school.
“I want parents to be free economically, educationally, and be empowered in their own households,” Nickson said, “A lot of that will come through them going back to school so they can get better jobs, take care of their families, and change this neighborhood.”
Englewood has seen and continues to see a lot of disinvestment – abandoned buildings, few grocery stores and restaurants, and high poverty and unemployment rates. Nickson believes that there are so many opportunities for investment in the neighborhood, but says that they’re being taken by people and organizations outside of the community. She hopes that both parents and students can change that.
“One thing that I always tell the kids is that I can’t wait to see them come back and buy back the block… and prove everyone wrong,” Nickson said, “Like, great things happen in Englewood and great people come out of Englewood.”
Pattilyn Beals, another Englewood native and an organizer at Noble who serves Johnson College Prep (JCP) as well as several other of our South Side schools, is also looking forward to the impact of the scholarship.
“Being born and raised in this very community and now in a position of servitude to the community, I’ve witnessed firsthand the result of a lack of post-secondary opportunities,” Beals said, “This scholarship will literally change lives and, in alignment with Noble’s goals, make leading choice-filled lives even more of a reality. It truly brings me so much joy to know that these families can proceed forward in an educational journey without fear of debt and monetary uncertainty.”
The joy and hope expressed by both Beals and Nickson cannot be overstated.
“I love my JCP babies, and I’m proud of the work that they have put in this year,” Nickson said, “I’m excited to see what the class of 2022 does.”