IN A CHICAGO neighborhood where the number of violent crime reports ranks 9th among Chicago’s 77 communities, DRW College Prep is making a difference in the lives of hundreds of high school students.
DRW College Prep sits just six miles away from its benefactor, Chicago-based principal trading ﬁrm DRW. Through the school, DRW and its founder and CEO, Don Wilson, are helping bridge the gap between poverty and prosperity. DRW funded a signiﬁcant portion of the startup costs to launch DRW College Prep and continues to partner with the school—providing both ﬁnancial and human resources.
Wilson is passionate about education. “When I think about how to allocate philanthropy and volunteer time, I am most interested in projects that have a long-term impact on improving the community in which we live,” he says. “Nothing comes closer to accomplishing that than education.”
DRW College Prep is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which includes 16 high schools in Chicago’s most disadvantaged communities. Noble was recently named the best performing public charter school network in the country.
DRW College Prep opened in August 2012 to 200 incoming freshman and will graduate its ﬁrst class next spring. The school is making steady progress toward its enrollment goal of 800 students, with 625 students enrolled for the 2015-16 school year.
Wilson says it is a great partnership for DRW. DRW employees are invested in the school that carries their company’s name. Employees mentor students, teach enrichment classes and coach teams. “There is a growing belief among young people coming out of college that they have an obligation to give back to the community,” said Wilson.
One program brings 20 “at-risk” DRW College Prep students to the DRW ofﬁces twice a month. Students are paired with DRW team members to engage in activities that teach leadership skills, ﬁnancial literacy, relationship building and creative thinking. The program is intended to expose students to the workplace and give them the opportunity to experience the world beyond their neighborhood. DRW also hosts DRW College Prep faculty and staff for annual team building exercises, which include sailing on Lake Michigan.
While it is too early to tell how successful DRW College Prep students will be, if statistics on Noble graduates are any indication the results will be remarkable. Eighty-three percent of Noble students graduate from high school within ﬁve years compared to the Chicago Public School average of 69%. Noble is focused not only on helping students get into college but helping them graduate from college. Ninety percent of Noble students enroll in two or four-year colleges and Noble students graduate at three times the national average for low income students.
An early measure of DRW College Prep student success is their ACT scores. ACT is a standardized test that measures student readiness for college. At 19, their 2015 scores were just below the Illinois state average of 20.6 and well above their neighborhood average of 14-15.
As you approach the DRW College Prep building, it is not immediately obvious that you have arrived at a school. It is housed in a renovated power plant in the Homan Square neighborhood—the home of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog campus from 1905 until 1973. Massive arched windows and skylights, railroad structural lattice and some of the original power-generating machinery make for a unique academic setting. The students are required to wear khaki and navy uniforms emblazoned with the DRW College Prep emblem, but black or white socks are no longer mandatory. Instead, students wear colorful and patterned socks that rarely match.
In some respects, DRW College Prep is a traditional high school. Core subjects—English, social studies, math and science—are offered in both regular and Advanced Placement classes. The DRW College Prep sports program includes football, volleyball, cross country, basketball, softball, baseball, soccer, cheerleading and dance team.
But distinct differences in their approach result in a high level of achievement. Enrollment in DRW College Prep is open to all students who are committed to learning, can adhere to the strict discipline policy, attend school regularly and accept responsibility for their behavior.