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Whitney M. Young Magnet High School

Whitney M. Young High School is a college preparatory magnet school in Chicago serving a highly diverse student population. In 2009, it was named a National Blue Ribbon School, and in 2010, Newsweek magazine listed it among the country’s best high schools. The school has remarkably high test scores, has received a Silver Medal from U.S. News & World Report for being among America’s best high schools, and is first lady Michelle Obama’s alma mater. As a student there, Mrs. Obama was inducted into the National Honor Society, served as the senior class treasurer and was on the executive board of the student council.

The school emphasizes the development of well-rounded students. Its website boasts that it offers “61 honors-level courses, a technology emphasis, peer tutoring programs in all subjects, and a nationally recognized Advanced Placement (AP) course program, with 23 AP courses.” Sixty-seven percent of Whitney Young teachers hold advanced degrees beyond the bachelor’s level. An English teacher was recently awarded the 2010 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first-time novelists. Besides offering a rigorous academic program and a highly qualified faculty, the school is home to a vibrant fine and performing arts program, which includes a repertory theater, a musical performance program, dance courses and numerous studio art classes. In addition, the school offers an array of extracurricular activities, such as a 200-member National Honor Society and a popular peer leadership organization. Other clubs include a traditional Chess Club and an unconventional Seinfeld Club, among others.

“I’m teaching the best and the brightest,” says Jay Rehak, an English teacher. “It’s a joy.” Rehak says students are highly motivated and that members of the school community look out for one another. “If somebody sneezes in my room, everyone says ‘God bless you.’ That’s the kind of place it is.”

Rehak says the stability of the administration and the faculty contributes to the success of the school. Teachers and administrators try to spend their entire careers there. He has worked at the school for 17 years, as has Principal Joyce Kenner, an experienced administrator and a highly acclaimed educator. Rehak estimates that on average teachers stay 15 years. “Kids know that I have a long history there,” he says. “I’ve taught their brothers and sisters, sometimes aunts and uncles. It creates a feeling of community.”

As the school’s union delegate, Rehak works closely with Principal Kenner, “a woman I just have great respect for,” he says. “We’ve had our differences over the years, but we work everything out. I know she cares about the school.” So does the school’s Local School Council, a site-based governing board made up of six parents, the school principal, two community members, two teachers and one student, who work together to meet students’ needs.

 Thanks to high standards, numerous resources and remarkable educators, Whitney Young students excel. Just look at alumna Michelle Obama. After her success at Whitney Young, she graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School and worked for the prestigious Sidley & Austin law firm, before becoming a mother of two and the first African-American first lady. Her success is more the rule than the exception at Whitney Young. Two years ago, more African-American seniors there passed the English Language AP exam than in any other school in the world.


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