For the first time since Austin High School became a community high school in 1890, a fall school semester is beginning without an Austin High School basic academy for community students.
The new Austin Polytech Academy High School is opening this month. The small school is the second to be housed in the building that was previously known as Austin Community Academy High School. It will be joining the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy at the campus, located at 231 N. Pine, which has a full year under its belt. The Entrepreneurship Academy opened in August of 2006.
The loss of the larger school, however, was felt during the two-day Homecoming event held by the Austin High School Alumni Association on Aug. 30 and 31.
“Although Austin High School as we know it is gone, we want to assure that those associated with the former academy know there are those who care about what happens to them after they leave the school,” said Diondai Brown-Whitfield, CEO of the Alumni Association.
“We want them to know that even though the school they knew is gone, we are still very much interested in their post-graduation studies and want to help them find the resources necessary to be successful afterward.”
On Thursday, Aug. 30, the association held a formal press conference where nearly 30 students and alumni gathered to share in the remembrance of the school’s 117-year history.
“Even though those who attended did so at varying times, the thing that unites us is the shared history of the school,” said Whitfield, who attended Austin High from 1975 to 1979. “Whether you attended in 1930s or 2000, you have your memories of the school.”
One of the issues raised at the press conference is the way former students acrimoniously felt dismissed by Academy staff and CPS. Some students felt there was so much emphasis placed on finishing the final semester last spring and opening the Polytech School this fall, that assistance to students such as financial aid counseling for college was kept to a bare minimum. Staff, they felt, just wanted to end the semester as quickly as possible.
“Many students felt shortchanged and under a tremendous amount of pressure to work in spite of the teachers leaving and programs dissipating,” said Whitfield. “They felt they had no advocates at the school, and those students who needed the extra tutoring to graduate did not receive it and therefore could not graduate.”
According to Whitfield, 167 students graduated in the June 9 ceremony of the final Austin High School class. This number is far below the 210 graduates the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, leaving over 100 students who did not march.
Where are they?
“Some of them are in college,” said Whitfield, “Others are still not in school yet because they need to take classes over again and need to track down their transcripts at the Board offices downtown. Some have to take their GED. Even others are still not back in school and may be fated to be lost in academic limbo for years.”
Despite such issues, the alumni wanted to celebrate the “strength” of the school by coming together in support of what the school means to the community, both as a landmark and a location brimming with history. On Friday, Aug. 31, Austin High School Day at Brookfield Zoo, the alumni held an Austin Family Picnic at the zoo.
Patrons wearing maroon and white said they were there in support of Austin High. Alumni were given “buy one get one free” entrance passes to use at the zoo.
Though the turnout was low for this year’s event, organizers expect the Homecoming event will continue on an annual basis.
“Austin began as a family. The family was challenged and is now committed to reunions to support the students in the building and our alumni of Austin High,” said Whitfield.
Former Austin High School students are encouraged to contact the alumni at 773/954-6569 or visit their website: www.AHSCAA.org.