Because of a dire budget situation, Chicago Public Schools may have to cut Summer Quest, an enrichment program that is some students' only ticket to college. If this opportunity disappears, it would be a tragedy for alumni, parents, and local youth throughout the city.
While most high school students can only dream of attending Harvard University, Idessa Butler, a senior in high school at Al Raby School in Chicago, spent several weeks during the summer of 2009 studying at the prestigious university. Butler took international relations and biomedical ethics. “The classes were definitely a challenge, but it gave me a taste of the college life,” she says.
Butler says that it also made her more aware of the diversity in the United States. “My school is 99.9 percent African American and I would not be as ready to face diversity in college had I not gone to Harvard,” she says. Butler’s summer experience was made possible by the program Summer Quest, an organization which has given Chicago Public School students scholarships to study abroad, take summer classes at a university, or to explore the wilderness for the past six years.
Unfortunately, the economic downturn has not spared this program. In May 2009, $250.000 was cut from the program budget due to the enormous deficit of the Chicago Board of Education.
In April of 2009, Ron Ruberman, chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools revealed that the Chicago Public Schools were facing a $475 million dollar deficit. The CEO said that Chicago was hit with similar budget shortfalls due to the economic downturn of recent years.
Dr Raul Luna, Vice principal at Prosser career Academy in Chicago, says that the budget cuts have affected students all over the city. "Teachers have been fired, programs have been cut, and there is just less money to help the students," he says. Enrichment programs such as Summer Quest have been cut from the budget.
“The summer of 2010 will be limited to 50 students and we will have to raise money to even achieve that,” says Rhonda Bell, the program’s coordinator since 2004. The number of students able to participate this year is significantly lower than the hundreds of participants of past years.
Joe Lee, a 2009 graduate of Northwestern University who spent one of his high school summers studying at Boston University, says Summer Quest changed his life. “I am quite confident that I would not be in the field of education through the Teach for America program had it not been for Summer Quest,” he says. “Often time, students need that spark to light the fire of change in their souls, and Summer Quest did just that.”
Despite the program’s huge success of 80% college enrollment for alumni compared to 52 percent for the Chicago district, the future looks doubtful for the program. The program will be unable to fund international travel this year. In the past, students traveled to Turkey, Spain, China, Thailand, Paraguay, and Argentina through Summer Quest.
Even though limited funds remain for the program, Summer Quest alumni have been working hard to raise money. From selling ice cream to cutting hair at a barbershop, alums are trying their best to save the program.
Gabriel Lara, a junior at Hubbard High School and Summer Quest alum, hopes that the program continues to thrive. “Summer Quest is valuable and essential for low income students in Chicago. Summer Quest changes lives”