Celebrating the Class of 2018: Noble Academy College Signing Day

When graduating senior Christian Tam told a cafeteria full of younger students at The Noble Academy’s college signing day, “I’ll be going to…,” they corrected him before he could even mention his college.

“Graduating from!” voices in the crowd shouted eagerly.

“Graduating from Northwestern University,” Tam finished, revealing his gray-and-purple college t-shirt to thunderous applause and cheers.

This group of 117 graduates includes four Posse Scholars and four students bound for the Ivy League. Nearly one-quarter of the class is headed to the state’s flagship college campus, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All but a handful are moving on to 4-year colleges.

“You are the big siblings in this family. You have set the bar high,” Principal Lauren Boros told them.

Among the Noble Network’s 18 Chicago campuses, Noble Academy, on Chicago’s Near North Side, takes a unique instructional approach. All classes use the Harkness Method of seminar instruction, originally developed at Phillips Exeter Academy, a New England boarding school with a long history of preparing wealthy students for college.

In Harkness classrooms, a teacher and a group of 13-15 students converse about the subject at hand around an oval table. Students lead the discussion; the teacher gently guides and facilitates. It takes a lot of work outside the seminar room to come to a discussion prepared; students put in the work in part because they don’t want to let down their classmates. Each summer, up to eight Noble Academy students visit Phillips Exeter. Noble Academy teachers have also taken part in exchanges with Phillips Exeter teachers.

The faculty at Noble Academy includes a former Chicago Public Schools student who went on to Phillips Exeter and Columbia University, then joined Teach for America and is now a Harkness teacher, using the instructional practices she first encountered as a high school student herself. You can read more about her experiences and the partnership between Phillips Exeter and the Noble Academy here.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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