Amid the closing of numerous schools in recent years, and despite the current CPS teachers union strike that affects 350,000 students, charter schools such as Austin Career Education Center (ACEC) continue to operate and provide educational services to Chicago’s youth and young adults.

“The longer [the strike] goes on, the more we might try to see students getting into school where they can,” said Assistant Director Ann Gottleib. “We support teachers having fair hours and fair pay, and certainly understand what the union is trying to do while also believing that students should be in school.”

Public charter schools make up almost 10 percent of the Chicago Public Schools system and about 2 percent of all public schools in Illinois. As such, the Career Center offers more counselors, smaller classes, longer school days and up-to-date technology, issues that are at the heart of the CPS strike.

The school’s administrators, Gottleib said, believe in a compromise that results in more choices for teachers and students. She wishes she could pay her teachers more, but believes that what they get is fair for their hours. They are there, she added, because they believe in putting the students first, while having access to a system that is also responsive to the instructors’ needs.

“I’ve worked in CPS, and some schools have that, and some don’t,” Gottleib said.

Starting in the 1970s as an adult literacy program, the Career Center has now expanded to provide secondary education for many displaced students who need to finish their graduation requirements. The staff comprises eight full-time teachers, two special ed instructors, a part-time college counselor, and a social worker. At full enrollment, they service about 180 students per semester from the age of 17 up.

They have a fully functioning computer lab and an iPad for personal, interactive lessons. They only teach four subjects – math, science, social studies and English – but they also offer a community and family environment that is conducive to a positive learning experience.

At ACEC, students are helped to recognize other educational opportunities, Gottleib explained, such as college preparation, participating in a book club to promote literacy, and going downtown to see theatrical plays. The school’s students also visit the city’s farmers markets to examine the increased need for fresh fruits and vegetables within low-income areas.

In Sarah Compton’s science class, the students not only talked about eating healthy, but they also made healthy meals and snacks in the school.

“It took one student to try making a salad, and then they all wanted to try it. These are just things that are not readily available in their areas,” she said.

Deedra Davis, 18, appreciates the individualized attention she gets from her teachers due to the smaller class sizes.

“The teachers don’t just sit by and watch you struggle,” she said. “They work with you and try to get you the help that you need.”