Learning Labs at the Center

The Center empowers BOTH pre-service college students in education who will be teaching in high need schools and marginalized PK-12 students enrolled in high-need schools with experiential education that provides access, resources and opportunities to both groups to grow and learn throughout the academic year and the summer, and from year to year. We invite you to learn about opportunities for you to serve our Junior/Senior Scholars and join our Promise Teacher Corps.


Since its inception, the Junior/Senior Scholars program has served nearly 5,000 low-income, marginalized students from partner elementary and secondary schools in Chicago and Aurora, Illinois. Each year, the program provides direct service to 200 K-12 students, sends the “college-bound message” to several thousand students through family events at partnering schools and college connection programs, and advances its college-bound mission through its “Promise Teacher Corps” and “Junior/Senior Scholar Graduates.” The program provides comprehensive and ongoing opportunities year around and from year to year for these youth including tutoring and mentoring, field trips, weekend retreats, college preparation classes, work internships and an academic summer camp.


According to The National Report Card on Higher Education, Illinois is among the states with the highest disparities in preparation for and participation in higher education. Ninety-five percent of white 18- to 24-year-olds hold a high school credential, compared to only 73% of nonwhites. 52% of 18- to 24-year-olds from high-income families enrolled in college in 2006, while only 23% from low-income families did. Only 21% of Illinois graduating seniors in 2009 had achieved the ACT benchmark score (21 or greater) that signifies college readiness (ACT High School Profile Report).

The odds for students in Chicago’s public schools are even more alarming. According to a recent report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, more than 40% of all students who enroll as freshmen in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) drop out before their senior year, and only 9% “earn a 4-year college degree by the time they are in their mid-20’s.” This lack of educational achievement for high school students in Illinois has dramatic implications for the future. Without proactive intervention, first generation, low-income and minority youth in Illinois will struggle to achieve full participation as productive members of our city’s economy and communities.

The Center’s Junior/Senior Scholars Program is designed to address this need.

THE JSS Model and Key Activities

Like the highly successful Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the Junior/Senior Scholars program believes that early and ongoing support for children in high-need schools is critical so we too designed a pipeline that begins planting the seed of college aspiration with children in kindergarten. That pipeline offers increasing support as children grow from early childhood, to elementary school, to middle school, to high school and into college, and it is supported, like the HCZ, by strong relationships and foundational components that engage parents and family and make them partners in the education enterprise.

Link 1 targets kindergarten-aged children and introduces college vocabulary while beginning to build an awareness of college as a positive goal.

Link 2 targets elementary grades and begins to build academic skills and deepen students’ understanding of college.

Link 3 focuses on middle school and develops academic skills and an understanding of the path to college and careers.

Link 4 concentrates on the high school experience advancing academic development and building college and career skills and dispositions that end in the students’ application and admission to college.

Link 5 expands programming to include support for our Scholars who are college students, helping connect them with the support they need to graduate successfully with a postsecondary degree.

By consistently building high quality learning experiences and activities outside the normal school day that students and parents can depend on, implementing parent involvement programs, creating peer support for academic activities and achievement, developing stable and supportive relationships and raising student aspirations, the Junior/Senior Scholars Pipeline to College program enables elementary, middle and high school students to meet and exceed the average achievement level for students of similar age and experience.

Junior/Senior Scholars Summer Camps

Each summer, the Junior/Senior Scholars Program designates a project oriented theme to focus the Scholars’ studies and activities providing an integrated study around a science theme as well as the opportunity to explore the arts including visual arts, instrumental and vocal music, and drama. Recent themes included topics like: materials engineering, technology, and space. Each theme highlights the new Next Generation Science Standards and emphasizes the importance of the engineering design process, as well as the scientific method as it frames the cross-curricular teaching and learning about critical real-world problems. Students engage in problem solving using reading, writing, mathematical computations, geography, current events, scientific investigations and the engineering design process. The JSS summer camps invite students to learn about important scientific concepts and use those concepts to solve problems that engage students in the engineering design process. Each summer brings real life issues to the forefront to understand how STEM impacts the quality of life in the world of the past and today and the possibilities for tomorrow. Students take part in their own problem-solving investigations in which students consider problems and the possibilities for solutions. In addition to thematic cross-curricular learning throughout the summer, students will engage in a Math Olympics, a science fair and Engineer Challenge Days. Speakers from industry join us on Engineering Challenge Days to share their experiences and broaden the student’s ideas about future pursuits as they head off to college. In addition, they are engaged in an engineering challenge and asked to complete the project and evaluate it. Many ideas that are developed continue on during the academic year. Finally, students in fifth through eighth grade participate in an overnight campout where they take on the outdoors, hike Volo Bog, identify trees and many other critical science activities.


The Junior/Senior Scholars program has established itself as an influential and seamless 1st to 16th grade experience and has twice been named an exemplary practice by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

  • 98.7% of parents report that the program greatly contributes to their children’s academic progress and that their children are very enthusiastic about the program. First grade students through seniors in high school have all progressed to the next grade.
  • Junior Scholars are more likely than their peers to “meet or exceed standards” on standardized tests.
  • According to our partner principals, students who participate in the academic summer camp begin school in the fall with the skills and knowledge they need to move forward.
  • High school students’ scores increased in successive years in the program in the following areas of Leadership: Communication Skills, Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and Leadership Habits
  • 100% of the class of 2021 enrolled in a college preparatory curriculum at each of their respective high schools, and the percentage of Scholars enrolled in a college preparatory pathway has increased steadily each year for the last four years.
  • Seniors applied to and were admitted to at least three colleges.
  • All of those who were eligible to apply for FAFSA applied.
  • Senior Scholars have an average GPA of 2.83.
  • 94% made satisfactory academic progress this year.
  • ACT scores of Senior Scholars ranged from 16 to 29 with an average of 22.
  • Several of our Scholars have continued to pursue masters degrees and doctoral degrees after graduating from college
  • 100% of the graduating students:

    • have working knowledge of Post-Secondary Education Opportunities.
    • were able to identify five or more colleges that could be possibilities for a good fit with their interests and skills.
    • were able to identify two financial aid options.
    • completed all of their college applications by November 1.
    • produced a credible resume.
    • perceived themselves to be ready for college.
    • received some kind of scholarship for academic accomplishment, service in the community or ROTC.

Every year, 90-100% of Scholars (approximately 15 students each year) graduate from high school and enroll in college the next fall. Our Scholars have graduated from or are currently enrolled at top colleges and universities across the country including Yale University, University of Illinois, Pomona College, Purdue University, University of North Carolina, Washington University, Benedictine University, Northern Illinois University, Morehouse College, North Central College, Aurora University, Texas A & M University, Western Michigan University, DePaul University, and Illinois State University among dozens of others.


College students, our Promise Teachers, are the ones who teach the Junior/Senior Scholars! During the school year, they work in the JSS pipeline developing teaching skills in core areas – reading and math – or subject matter, e.g. Pre-Calculus or World History, and also learn communication skills, building relationships with students, parents, and colleagues, and developing students’ social emotional wellness. During the summer Promise Teachers complete a rigorous internship and learn all aspects of teaching: planning, implementing, and evaluating lessons and fostering parent engagement. The Center places special emphasis on their developing of culturally responsive practices. 

As a result, Promise Teachers are well equipped with the knowledge, skills and disposition to teach in high need schools and have the eager desire to do so.  Promise Teachers solves the problem of filling in the gap that currently exists in finding highly qualified teacher to teach and to remain in high need schools. 

Also, the pre-service teacher  candidates who dedicate their time and talent to work in our Junior/Senior Scholars projects in order to create change and make a difference for real kids’ education are our Promise Teacher Residents. These candidates grow themselves as courageous and effective teachers who we are proud to introduce as our Promise Teacher Residents. Together with the Promise Teacher Fellows they form our Promise Teacher Corps.

Our Promise Teacher Corps are the people who change – and may well save – students’ lives. We celebrate our Promise Teacher Fellows— who have gone on after graduation and licensure to cement their commitment to provide all children with a great education by dedicating their professional lives to teach in a high-need school—as well as our Promise Teacher Residents, the current student candidates who work year around to provide support and enrichment readiness for college to students in the Chicago Metro area.

Promise Teacher Leadership

Schools value teachers who will not only make significant contributions to learning in their classrooms, but who will provide leadership on classroom teams, on school and district committees and in the community. The best teacher candidates will be those who develop skills in advocacy and leadership in education. The Promise Teacher initiative at North Central College provides many opportunities to develop leadership skills through hands on advocacy for Junior/Senior Scholars and through planning, orientation and implementation of various components of the Junior/Senior Scholars Program. Team leaders who work with this aspect of the program take learning from the classroom to the real world and increase the opportunity to learn by doing while providing a service to meet a real community need.

Team leaders:

  • Implement best practices in teaching and learning
  • Monitor, record and report student progress
  • Communicate effectively with students, parents, colleagues and administrators at both community school sites and colleges to deliver tutoring, enrichment and mentoring programs
  • Create a safe and nurturing environment in which diverse youth grow academically, socially and emotionally
  • Collaborate with community participants, peer cohorts and K-12 faculty and administrators to implement all-school and family night programs in the school and community
  • Learn through experience about critical issues in urban education and best practices in education to narrow the achievement gap
  • Develop knowledge and a working definition of multicultural education
  • Build service, activism, advocacy and leadership skills
  • Connect experiential learning with traditional coursework
  • Share their collective learning with others and develop a real world network
  • Assist in orientation and debriefing sessions with new peer tutors and mentors
  • Plan for and coordinate the logistical support needed for the success of their project including such things as transportation to and from the project


To advance the understanding of effective teaching and learning in high-need schools, summer internships have been developed in which a learning community of 10 to 20 college students is established to learn about urban education by implementing a summer academic camp for 80 to 100 inner city youth from ages six to 18 with community and college campus components. Internships include teaching experiences in grades one to 12 in all content areas, and internships in teaching music, physical education and art. Applications are available in the Urban Education Lab Office.

Student interns learn, through active engagement, to collaborate with peer cohorts, K-12 faculty and administrators and the community while reflecting on and conceptualizing their evolving understanding of effective education. Interns work together to solve problems involving inequities and they address the important issue of education in a democratic society.

Summer interns

  • Design lesson plans and units
  • Broaden their understanding of the Common Core Standards in Mathematics and English Language Learning and the Next Generation Science Standards
  • Implement Evidence-Based Practices
  • Monitor, record and report student progress
  • Provide instruction to develop the diverse needs and talents of students in their classroom
  • Communicate effectively with students, parents, colleagues, administrators and school personnel
  • Create a safe and nurturing environment in which diverse youth grow academically, socially and emotionally
  • Collaborate with community participants (parents, teachers and administrators and students), peers, coaches and administrators
  • Advance their understanding of:

    • Critical issues in urban education
    • Best practices in education to narrow the achievement gap
    • Knowledge of and an appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism
    • Service, advocacy, activism and leadership in education

  • Connect experiential learning with traditional coursework
  • Share their collective learning with others

Applications for the summer internship are available from the Center by clicking https://forms.gle/Tr7om1jxTmocNqJ79 or by contacting Jan Fitzsimmons via email at jan@center4success.com

If you are interested in engaging with the Center’s Experiential Learning by working with Junior/Senior Scholars or the Promise Teacher Corps, contact Jan Fitzsimmons via cell phone (847.707.1673) or email jan@center4success.com