BOYCP celebrates first graduating class

(The Gate/Marlen Gongora)

(The Gate/Marlen Gongora)

Around this time four years ago, the Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School (BOYCP) was in its final stages of completion. Fast forward to June 10, 2017, and the first graduating class was on the campus football field ready to take their seats as they prepare to make their parents, peers and community proud. The first BOYCP graduating class is special in many ways, and they are ready to embark on their new journey.

BOYCP 2017 Graduates Left to Right: Esquipulas Santoyo, Rudy Calderon, Joshua Preciado, Adriana Rueda, Zaima Torres, Emily Romero, Maria Salto (The Gate/Nancy Chen)

BOYCP 2017 Graduates. Left to Right: Esquipulas Santoyo, Rudy Calderon, Joshua Preciado, Adriana Rueda, Zaima Torres, Emily Romero, Maria Salto (The Gate/Nancy Chen)

 

UIC-bound Class of 2017 Salutatorian Rudy Calderon originally attended Lincoln Park High School during his freshman year. Early on, he received a tour from Mr. Salinas, one of the counselors at BOYCP. He immediately knew he wanted to be a part of the school.

He transferred three weeks into his freshman year.

“Mr. Salinas invited me two days after I stopped by and immediately I felt the drastic difference, [mainly] in the way people socialized and it really did feel like the place I wanted to continue with,” said Calderon.

He felt included in the process of creating the culture of the school. He remembers meeting the art teacher, Mr. Anderson. “He immediately told me; ‘I am planning to start a photography class’ and that is something I [was] interested in and he followed through, and it was something I ended up joining,” said Calderon. “It’s a really connected place, although there are different classes that students take, I feel like everyone kind of understands where everyone is coming from and takes everyone with open [arms], and that includes both the staff and the students.”

BOYCP 2017 Graduates. Left to Right Kevin Franco, Zorian Flowers & Joey Santillan. (Photo Courtesy of Zorian Flowers)

BOYCP 2017 Graduates. Left to Right Kevin Franco, Zorian Flowers & Joey Santillan. (Photo Courtesy of Zorian Flowers)

West Point-bound Zorian Flowers, gave the welcoming speech during the BOYCP graduation. He described the graduation experience as a new stepping stone. “It was an experience saying goodbye to everyone that you made family [with] for the past four years, but it was also great because it was a new stepping stone into the future and each and every one of us realized that and we tried to keep our composure but after hearing the wise words of the teachers and the principal, it set in, that we wouldn’t be students in Back of the Yards anymore–a place that we called home for the past four years.”

While Flowers was not nervous to speak to students, he acknowledged the community of people who worked hard to advocate for the school’s construction and opening. He did not want to disappoint anyone. “It wasn’t that scary to talk in front of all the students but it was a big nerve wreck to be talking in front of people who’ve worked for 20 years who fought to have [BOYCP].”

Patricia Brekke signed on to be the principal in Jan. 2013. It required direct community engagement for Brekke to assess the needs of students who were going to be attending high school within the next one to two years.

BOYCP graduate Yesenia Hernandez decorated her cap for her graduation on June 10, 2017. (The Gate/Marlen Gongora)

BOYCP graduate Yesenia Hernandez decorated her cap for her graduation on June 10, 2017. (The Gate/Marlen Gongora)

Brekke remembers feeling disconnected from the community and asked Emilio Carrasquillo to lend some space and allow her and her crew to work from the Park Federal Savings Bank basement.

“We were kind of housed there and what we did was, [we] went to the parent meetings that were happening at Lara, the parent meetings that were happening at Seward, so whenever [we] had an opportunity to engage with the community, those were the things we did so we could hear a little bit of what parents really wanted from the high school,” said Brekke.

As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, the IB training took place in the same bank. Trainings prepared teachers to welcome first-year students. Calderon attests by mentioning that while his IB Math was challenging it was created in a way that worked for everyone and Ms. Schneider, the IB Math teacher, was determined to have everyone understand all the lessons.

“Brekke and all the staff made sure that we were able to keep up or push ahead accordingly,” said Calderon.

Brekke mentioned that the students often called themselves guinea pigs but that they pushed her and teachers to do better. Flowers, is among one of many students who agreed with the statement. “I think that every day you just realize you are a guinea pig at the school and that everyone looked up to you,” he said.

IMG_9003

Priscila Chavez-Jimenez and her parents visit Fiesta Back of the Yards after the BOYCP 2017 graduation ceremony.

Brekke had the vision of creating a school model where it didn’t matter if students were coming from the north or south side of 47th or the east or west side of Ashland. The four years have proved to be something special.

“Just like we had high learning expectations for them, they had high expectations of us to make sure we were ready for them. I told this class they pushed me to be a better principal, but they also pushed our teachers to be better planners and thinkers about what it means to get kids ready for postsecondary success from freshmen year on.”

Congratulations to BOYCP and all the graduates of 2017!!!