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North Park Plays Key Role in Greater Albany Park Education Coalition

North Park's Diana Hernandez-Azcoitia facilitates a teachers' forum held on campus in September

CHICAGO, IL (March 8, 2007) – North Park University's electronic sign on Foster Avenue often proclaims its role as "an anchor in the community since 1891." As evidence that the University continues to fulfill this ideal, it has emerged over the last two years as a key participant in the Greater Albany Park Education Coalition (GAPEC).

Spurred to action by alarming statistics, including the fact that only eight out of every 100 Chicago Public School (CPS) freshmen will earn a college degree within five years of graduation, the Albany Park Neighborhood Council (APNC) launched GAPEC in the spring of 2005. The group includes five elementary schools, two middle schools, and three universities, including North Park, Northeastern, and DeVry.

GAPEC began by gathering school administrators on North Park's campus for an initial discussion to assess schools' needs and identify aspirations. Later that summer, a community-wide meeting with a similar theme was held with CPS Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan – again, on North Park's campus. Subsequent gatherings were arranged for high school students, parents and, just last September, teachers, all with the shared purpose of building a vision for improvement from the ground up.

Maria Guzman is an Albany Park resident and mother of five, with children ranging from 11 to 26 years old. She is also an APNC board member and parent volunteer with GAPEC because she believes in "trying to get the schools to communicate. It isn't just 'I've finished my work. You're next.' The question is 'How will this student do at the next level? What do they need so that they can be successful?'" She noticed her older children were missing some tools as they progressed through school. "I don't want that for the younger ones," she shares. "I want the high schools to be prepared when they get there, so that they can have opportunities to succeed."

The work continues this spring through a symposium GAPEC is organizing for all of the parties involved – administrators, community members, students, parents, and teachers – to compare findings from their respective gatherings, find commonalities, and develop an agenda for the future.

According to Diana Hernandez-Azcoitia, director of North Park's School of Education and the University's primary liaison to GAPEC, North Park's role within GAPEC is much more than simply a facility host. "In direct response to the needs of our community, North Park is equipped to provide professional development to area teachers through ESL and bilingual endorsement. We place our students in field experiences in local schools and, in turn, provide tuition waivers for teachers. Our goal is to be truly intentional about helping neighborhood schools succeed," Hernandez-Azcoitia says.

As a result of this purposeful involvement in the surrounding community, North Park's School of Education has seen a dramatic increase in the number of future teachers selecting urban settings for field experiences. Hernandez-Azcoitia estimates 70-75 percent of students are electing to stay in the city and notes that this is "demystifying the urban teaching experience, cracking down on common fears, and making long-term urban service a more desirable option."

Through GAPEC, North Park will continue to broaden and deepen its relationships with and service to its community, even as the community works together to increase cooperation and communication. In the end, the same goal is shared by all – to serve the young men and women of Albany Park and provide them with a quality education and tools for a successful future.