Loyola University Chicago

School of Education

Making the grade

Loyola, Senn partnership proving to be a win-win for all

By Gillian McGhee  |  Student reporter

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Loyola President and CEO Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., announced a partnership between the University and Nicholas Senn High School in May 2012, the plan was two-fold: to help develop Senn into a quality neighborhood school and to create a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate (IB) program there.

Less than two years later, that partnership has proven much more fruitful than the initial goals.

Senn has since become the first Chicago Public School to have a wall-to-wall IB program and has gone from one of the lowest performing high schools in the city to one of the best, thanks to a critical change in administration when Susan Lofton took over as principal in 2010.

Lofton said Senn’s transition was underway when it teamed with Loyola, but the University helped speed the school’s success. She also said, the partnership has proven to be a truly collaborative effort.

“Loyola did not presume to have a panacea,” she said, “and we did not assume that Loyola would shake a money tree at us.”

Charlie Tocci, Loyola’s faculty coordinator for Senn, says neither party intended for the partnership to be a top-down relationship.

“We work on a principle of mutual benefit,” he said.

Loyola has helped establish two 4-year programs for neighborhood students attending Senn. They can now focus on one of two concentration areas—digital journalism or global environmental studies—as they earn their CPS high school diploma.

“We chose digital journalism and global environmental studies because they align well with the resources and materials we have here at Loyola,” Tocci said.

Several units from the University are involved in the partnership, including the Schools of Communication, Education, and Social Work. Also involved are academic departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, units from Student Support Services, and Athletics. 

John Slania, the associate dean at the School of Communication, meets weekly with Senn teachers to help plan lessons for the digital journalism class. Loyola and Senn have brought fine and performing arts faculty and staff together to develop curriculum, while undergraduate admission representatives meet with Senn students to explain the college application and acceptance process.

Zehra Gokal is a Loyola freshman studying elementary education who graduated from Senn last spring. Gokal, who has lived in West Rogers Park all of her 18 years, said attending Loyola has been a life-long dream.

“I have always been around Loyola,” she said. “Even my mom has dreamt about it.”

During her time at Senn, Gokal was the vice president of Future Teachers, an afterschool program that brings Senn students and Loyola education students together. The group meets weekly and occasionally tutors neighboring elementary school students. The experience convinced Gokal that she wanted to go to Loyola and become a teacher.

School of Education assistant professor Vesna Cejovic, one of the co-sponsors of the Future Teachers group, said Senn also helps students in Loyola’s education program by giving them a setting for observation and clinical work.

“Senn provides us with clinical experiences that are a little more guided because of this relationship,” said Cejovic, who also serves as the faculty coordinator of school and community partnerships. “It’s a very interactive experience that might just be observation for students from other universities.”

Recent School of Education graduate Megan Johnson was a self-proclaimed “guinea pig” in the partnership, and she spent an entire academic year in Senn as it transitioned to a wall-to-wall IB school. She completed her observation hours in the fall of 2012 and requested to student teach there in the spring.

“Being able to spend an entire year in a school gave me such a strong perspective and understanding,” she said. “I played a role in planning the units and was able to work as part of the team, not just as a student teacher.”

Fresh out of college, Johnson landed a full-time teaching position at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, which is applying to become a wall-to-wall IB school. She teaches a world studies course and a comparative world religions course that she developed—a rare opportunity granted to a first-year teacher.

She attributes her freedom, confidence, and preparedness to her immersive experience at Senn.

Thus far, the partnership has proven to help both institutions and their students advance the educational experience.

“This is what is important about the partnership: Loyola and Senn have a mutual vision of what quality education looks like,” Lofton said. “It is about the whole person.”

Did you know?

The teacher preparation program at Loyola’s School of Education is fully accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organization and allows graduates to teach in IB schools around the world. Loyola, in fact, is the only undergraduate institution in the U.S. approved to prepare pre-service teachers in all three IB programs—the Primary Years Program, the Middle Years Program, and the Diploma Program.