Two Comers Become One: The Future of Gary Comer College Prep

Two Comers Become One: The Future of Gary Comer College Prep
Published On: November 28th, 2023Categories: 2023, Campus Life, Gary Comer College Prep, Gary Comer Middle School

This school year, Noble Schools’ Gary Comer College Prep (GCCP) campuses are fulfilling their promise to the Grand Crossing neighborhood that they made in 2011—to provide a continuous, holistic education from 6th to 12th grade. In the spring, Noble announced that Principal JuDonne Hemingway would be the first principal to lead both Gary Comer Middle School and Gary Comer College Prep—turning that promise of 13 years in the making into a reality.

With the two schools getting closer to becoming One Comer (as we like to call it here at GCCP), the Comer leadership team established three big priorities for this year:

  • Build a high-performing, cohesive staff team
  • Create a school culture that is clear, consistent, and connected
  • Provide academic rigor, relevant teaching, and joy in our classrooms

While we’re still not done with our first semester yet, here is a glimpse of the work we have started.

High-Performing, Cohesive Team

Over the summer, the priority was ensuring Comer felt like a team! We had a lot to do to get on the same page and build a strong sense of community. During our professional development time, One Comer started to take shape in reality.

To kick off our journey, we had a whole staff retreat where we were able to engage with our teams, get to know each other, and share our priorities for the year.

  • People fill the room full of tables. The people are laughing and interacting. Some people have on tall birthday hats.
  • 9-12 ELA team cit in a circle and talk. Some people are writing .
  • Staff at one comer in an event space with lots of tables. The room is full. A few people have on aprons and various colored chef hats
  • (4) Staff of one comer sit on couches. They are talking, eating, and reading. There is also a child who is watching a tablet.

Photos from the One Comer retreat.

Ms. Franklin, a social worker who recently transitioned to the high school from the middle school, said that the staff retreat was a great way “to hear the perspectives of other staff members” and learn more about how the high school operates.

“As the only school social worker, it is nice to have a community to lean on,” Franklin said.

Mr. Richardson, a member of the high school College team, also appreciated the opportunity to connect at the retreat.

“It helped shape a sense of community between staff and was a good introduction for what we want One Comer to be,” Richardson said, “Now, we need to continue to build on this progress throughout the year.”

Staff have also had a chance to connect over shared student activities.

For example, recently, our middle school cheerleaders got to cheer at one of the high school games.

Cheerleaders in the stands shake their pom poms and cheer on the team. They are wearing green and white cheer tops and skirts.

The 6th-8th grade Gary Comer cheer team joined the high school for a game.

“I loved being involved in the high school game and felt connected to their team,” said Ms. Flowers, cheer coach at the middle school. She said that, after the game, her students were even more excited to go to high school and join in on all the activities.

“It definitely felt like more of a Catamount community for me after this,” Flowers said.

Clear, Consistent, and Connected School Culture

The call across all Noble Schools campuses this year is to provide a clear, consistent, and connected school culture. Our students and staff deserve a campus where clear expectations are consistently upheld to foster connections within the school community.

Holding to this network-wide priority has become even more essential to help our two schools feel more like one community. GCCP’s Culture and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) teams have taken the lead in doing this work—working with one another and other staff to de-escalate situations and make sure our scholars feel seen, heard, and connected to the broader school community.

Together, the two teams facilitate peer mediation, build out partnerships with therapy organizations, and help scholars identify, talk about, and process their emotions—an integral part of creating a connected and consistent culture.

Ms. Martin, our dean of SEL and social work for 6th to 12th grade, reflected on how the emphasis on SEL has helped with school culture:

“SEL has shifted the culture to truly be more inclusive and restorative. Students not only take accountability for their role in conflict—they proactively seek resolutions. This has facilitated a climate of collaboration and built a community of belonging for all.”

One way we started to build community was through door decorating during advisory time! Scholars discussed what it meant to be part of a community and what they wanted theirs to look like.

One way we started to build community was through door decorating during advisory time! Scholars discussed what it meant to be part of a community and what they wanted theirs to look like.

Staff at the middle school are incredibly grateful to partner with the 9th-12th grade staff to align best practices when it comes to restorative discipline practices, such as doing weekly reflections—a time for students to reflect on the choices they made and how their behavior can impact the larger community.

Together, the two schools are making progress on building this stable school culture so that the educational experience is consistent from 6th grade through 12th grade.


It is no secret that students learn best when they are a) enjoying their class and content (Joy), (b) being pushed to perform at their grade level or beyond (Rigor), and when they can see the real-life application of what they are learning (Relevance). We incorporate this both in and outside of our classrooms in a variety of ways, including Joy Fest activities, providing office hours, and Freedom Friday classes.

Freedom Fridays are one of the most popular offerings at the middle school and a core part of GCCP’s strategy to provide rigor, relevance, and joy. Every Friday, students get individualized, one-on-one instruction—right at their level. If they’re struggling in a specific class, they get extra individualized support in that subject. If they’re doing well in classes, they get to choose what they want to do—allowing them to explore passions and find new interests!

For students interested in music, Guitars Over Guns offers mentorship and musical instruction to scholars not only every Freedom Friday but on Mondays and Wednesdays after school. You can learn more about our partnership with them here.

Other examples of Freedom Friday opportunities include a chess club, art class, and a new partnership with Chicago Urban League to offer braidology, environmental justice, and entrepreneurship courses.

While staff haven’t implemented Freedom Fridays at the high school campus yet, Comer leadership is looking at ways to do so for next school year.

Another way that relevance and joy came to life for our middle school scholars recently was through an author visit! For many of our students, this was their first opportunity to hear from an author on the importance of reading and writing.

We were thrilled to partner with Burst Into Books to have author Kwame Mbalia come and speak to our scholars and donate signed copies of their books to our schools. Mr. Mbalia talked to our students in an assembly and then spent individual time with students in their advisories.

Our students were eager to engage in conversations about the author’s journey and writing process.

Author + Smith 7th grade advisory pose for a picture in a classroom

Author Kwame Mbalia visits the 6th-8th graders at Gary Comer College Prep.

“It was cool to have a role model in the building and inspiring to see someone from Chicago live out their dream and make something of themselves,” said Kenya, an 8th grader at Comer.

Another 8th grader, Jamier, also loved hearing from a fellow Chicagoan.

“Mr. Mbalia became a New York bestseller, and it was inspiring to see someone from Chicago be able to do that,” Jamier said.

Kwame Mbalia sits on stage smiling for the picture. He is holding a Gary Comer bag.

Mbalia sits on the stage at Gary Comer's middle school campus after his talk.

#OneComer is still a work in progress, but we are proud of the growth we’ve had thus far. We’re excited to partner with our families and community to continue to build an exceptional experience for all of our Catamounts—both middle and high schoolers.

If you are a Comer parent interested in learning more about the transition to One Comer and how staff are building a stable school culture, come to our next Parent Advisory Council meeting on November 28! Follow us on social media for more details:

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