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North Park Alumni Brighten Up San Miguel Schools

David D’Antonio Illuminates Opportunities for Chicago’s At-Risk Youth

Education shines a light into darkness, illuminating the path toward hope, achievement, and fulfillment. For children growing up in low-income neighborhoods, in families struggling to fulfill basic needs, with their grades and self-esteem suffering under the strain, a caring, quality education can truly transform lives.

David D’Antonio C’2008 helps inspire these transformations every day in his work as a full-time volunteer teacher at the Gary Comer Campus of the San Miguel Schools in Chicago. The schools operate with the support of roughly half salaried and half volunteer teachers, each carrying the same intensity of responsibilities. As a volunteer teacher, D’Antonio receives a small living stipend and lives in a church.

North Park University alumni have been working at the San Miguel Schools since 2004. At the Gary Comer Campus, Tim Gus Johnson C’2002 is the eighth-grade teacher, and Jon Ecker C’2004 is the school counselor. Assistant principal Kathy Donohue speaks highly of their contributions: “We’ve had nothing but great success from North Park alumni. They have been wonderful team members and friends, dedicated to the children and the mission of San Miguel. When David D’Antonio came on to teach sixth grade math and science, we knew his degree from North Park was a good sign. For us at San Miguel School Gary Comer Campus, a North Park degree means something when we are looking for potential teachers. With such an excellent track record with alumni, we know that amazing things must be happening at North Park!”

San Miguel is a tested and proven success story, one that lights the way along avenues of opportunity for children who don’t always experience success. Assistant principal Kathy Donohue says, “Our long-term approach of helping middle school children and then following them through the rest of their educational career means donor investments in our program aren’t fleeting. All investments help us achieve our short-term goals of operating an outstanding middle school, and our long-term goals of impacting the lives of youth in the Austin neighborhood.”

Teaching sixth-grade math and science for the second year, D’Antonio says his studies as a philosophy major at North Park motivate his work with the private Christian middle school. “Philosophy started with one question: What is the just life?” he explains. “What is the highest good—how and why? Education is the means through which a just life can be recognized, learned, and pursued.”

Transforming Lives & Neighborhoods

The mission of the San Miguel Schools is to transform lives and neighborhoods, and to equip Latino and African American youth with the resources to excel academically, socially, and spiritually. Students are accepted based on the criteria of academic underperformance, financial need, and living in proximity to the schools. “We intentionally enroll at-risk students—those with math and reading skills below the third-grade level—to enter our school at fifth grade,” D’Antonio says. “By the time they get to eighth grade, they are on level and caught up.”

The first San Miguel campus opened in 1995 in the historic Back of the Yards neighborhood, and today, it serves 80 Latino students in grades 6 through 8. Founded in 2002 in the Austin neighborhood, the Gary Comer Campus serves 110 African American students in grades 5 through 8.

The Gary Comer Campus Class of 2008 achieved the best standardized test results in the school’s history. “It’s a miraculous school with a determined mission and model,” D’Antonio continues. “In this neighborhood, with the socioeconomic challenges our families face and with the quality of the public schools around, children have no other options.”