Teacher and students in a classroom

The Lasting Impact of High Jump

After hearing from two students and a teaching assistant currently in High Jump, we want to share with you once again the real and powerful impact of the program as told from the perspective of students who went through it.

But this time, we wanted you to hear from two of our alumni who graduated from High Jump over a decade and a half ago, to give you an idea of the way that High Jump is not just a program that helps students for two years in middle school, but a program that creates a lasting impact on the trajectories of our scholars’ lives.

An Educational Wonderland

“I was a kid who always liked school. I was curious and loved learning, but I always had an appetite for more. My neighborhood school felt easy, and I often felt bored. I remember coming home from 6th grade one day and my mom said I had some mail. It was a large white envelope with the words HIGH JUMP in big bold letters on the front. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my parents, my stay-at-home mom and my dad, a cab driver, and we went through everything. I was hooked, we were hooked. This letter offered something of an educational wonderland: a two-year academic enrichment program, 6-weeks of instruction during the summers, two Saturdays a month during the school year, with classes in math, science, literature, visual and performance arts, field trips across the city, an annual outdoor retreat, and significant support for getting into the best high schools across the county. But then it dawned on me, this sounds really expensive, “How much is all of this going to cost? Can we even afford this?” To my surprise, upon closer review we missed the part where it said “tuition-free,” and that we wouldn’t have to pay for anything. Looking back, I think that was one of my earliest experiences that showed how much other people were willing to support me and the depths of their generosity.”

Annas Rahman | Cohort 16 | Graduated High Jump in 2006

Annas went on to go to his dream high school at Northside College Prep, then double majored in political science and neurobiology at Northwestern University, and is now currently completing his residency in Internal Medicine at Rush Medical center with plans to become a cardiologist and to make an impact in improving healthcare systems as a whole. Annas is also a proud member of the High Jump Young Professionals Board.

Supporting The Scholars of Tomorrow

High Jump is a thriving testament that every little bit of investment we make in our communities and the scholars of tomorrow compounds exponentially as time goes by. 16 years ago, when I was an 8th grader waiting on my high school acceptance letters, I wasn’t sure where life would take me, but I felt like my community had placed an invaluable amount of confidence in me to succeed. And to me, that was incredibly reassuring. My time at High Jump had helped me to find my voice as a young woman and it was the first time I felt like I had a social safety net of my own since immigrating to the United States as a child. I remember learning about entrepreneurship and the stock market while I was at High Jump, and sure enough, today, I am a successful business consultant, focusing on people related matters and transactions events at West Monroe in Chicago. But I didn’t get to be who I am today on my own; they say it takes a village, and I like to say it takes two rigorous High Jump summer sessions. I was a scholar of tomorrow then, and that is why I feel it’s important for us to support the scholars of tomorrow today.

Dilara Akgunduz Lesser | Cohort 17 | Graduated High Jump in 2007

In addition to attending the Latin School of Chicago, graduating from Carleton College, receiving her masters degree from Georgetown University, and working as a senior consultant at West Monroe Partners, Dilara is also a dedicated High Jump volunteer and a proud member of the High Jump Young Professionals Board.

The Power of Community

I graduated from High Jump in the year 2000, and now, more than two decades later, it’s clear to me that High Jump has been with me every step of the way. Before High Jump, I knew I was capable, but I’d yet to truly discover that my voice mattered. I found a community of people that affirmed me. Each class was designed with intention. Each field trip broadened our perspective. Each challenge invited us to reach higher. And my peers, they helped me feel known. High Jump has always been and continues to be a lifeline for Chicago middle schoolers. While I studied social work, I began not just to feel but also to understand the power of relationships—the power of community. High Jump, this community, the teachers, my classmates, the leaders, all of you that make this community possible, helped me trust in my tomorrow. High Jump held space for me. High Jump builds relationships with peers and adults who show up every day to fight for their future. And it’s in those thin spaces of being stretched beyond what you think you’re capable of, in those moments of feeling known, that High Jump students learn to thrive at all odds. They begin to understand the power of community, and they, too, go on to make a difference.

Heidi Ortolaza-Alvear | Cohort 10 | Graduated High Jump in 2000

After High Jump, Heidi became a Daniel Murphy scholar, attended a boarding school in Pebble Beach, CA, graduated with a degree in psychology from Carleton College, received masters degrees at the University of Chicago in social work in public policy, and now works as the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Esperanza Health Centers and is a proud be High Jump board member.

Annas, Dilara, and Heidi are just three out of over 2,500 High Jump alumni who have gone on to become powerful leaders, citizens, and agents of change in Chicago and beyond. As we continue to grow our programs to serve even more students every year with your support, the number of High Jump alumni and their stories will only continue to grow.

High Jump is just the beginning of a successful educational journey for many students. More than ever, we must continue to build equitable learning opportunities for Chicago’s middle school youth.

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